In recognition of yesterday’s 154th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville, here is the unedited version of my Collateral Damage article which ran in the June, 2011 edition of Civil War Times magazine. Click the images for larger ones.
On the morning of October 8, 1862, northwest of the town of Perryville in Boyle County, Kentucky, Union Major General Don Carlos Buell’s gathering Army of the Ohio faced east across rolling terrain toward Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi. Between the lines of Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook’s First Corps of Buell’s army and Maj. Gen William Hardee’s Left Wing of Bragg’s lay the farm of Henry Bottom. The area of the house and barn, on the western bank of mostly dry Doctor’s Creek where it crossed the Mackville Road, was also improved with stone and rail fences, some lining the road and creek, which would both afford cover and make maneuvering bodies of men problematic. On this very hot, dry, and dusty day the homestead’s location in the valley separating the two armies and its proximity to a water source placed it squarely in the path of the gathering storm. Bottom’s 760 acre farm was the ground over which much of the battle would rage. The battle would be marked by command confusion, erroneous assumptions, personality conflicts, and miscommunication on both sides, and proved to be the climax of a Confederate campaign meant to carry the war in the west from northern Mississippi to the banks of the Ohio River.
Henry Pierce Bottom was born in 1809. He was a Baptist, a farmer, a cabinet maker, and Justice of the Peace, which earned him the moniker “Squire”. He took Margaret “Mary” Hart, 10 years his junior, as his wife in 1840. They had two sons: Samuel (1841) and Rowan (1848). Also living at the Bottom House in October 1862 was Henry’s 77-year-old uncle, William. Henry owned eight slaves, aged three to sixty-two, and Uncle William owned two more, aged two and twenty-two. All ten slaves lived in one dwelling on the property.
Henry was surrounded by relatives: across the road to the north lived his mother, the widow Mary “Polly” Bottom; to the south was his cousin Sam; to the northwest another cousin, the widow Mary Gibson. In 1860 Henry’s farm, where he raised cattle, sheep, and swine, and grew oats, wheat, rye, corn, peas, beans, and potatoes, was valued at $16,000.
On the day of the battle, the Bottom’s substantial barn was filled with threshed wheat and oats for the approaching winter. During the fighting around the buildings, mostly between Colonel William Lytle’s Union brigade and those of Confederate Brig. Gens. Daniel Adams, Bushrod Johnson and Patrick Cleburne, several shots from Confederate artillery struck the barn. One of those shells set the structure ablaze. The heat was so intense that nearby Union soldiers could do nothing to help their wounded comrades trapped inside. This inferno in turn started a grass fire which would eventually kill a few more incapacitated men lying in the open.
After what was a tactical victory, Bragg’s Confederates withdrew on October 9, and Henry Bottom’s farm was in shambles. He had already suffered the loss of fences and barn, and the house and outbuildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. In addition, the battle resulted in over 1,400 men killed in action, most of whom littered the field afterwards. The Yankee garrison understandably focused on tending to their own, and consequently dead Confederates were left unprotected from the elements. As feral hogs from nearby woods became a ghoulish nuisance, Henry Bottom and other local slaveholders were impressed by the garrison to assist in burying the Confederate dead, which they hastily did. After the occupying troops marched off, Bottom, other locals, and some students from the nearby Kentucky School of the Deaf exhumed and relocated many of the bodies to a plot on his farm. There they interred the bodies of 347 men, about 30 of whom he was able to identify from their possessions, in a compact mass grave.
Henry Bottom remained on his farm after the war, but he was economically and spiritually broken by the effects of the battle – for the first time, he was forced to buy food to feed his family.
Henry filed a claim against the U. S. government for damages that occurred after the battle as a result of additional demands by the army: $1,282 for “commissary” items such as pork, beef, bacon, cattle and sheep; and $3,580 for “quartermaster” goods including wood, corn, hay and oats. But in addition to showing that the losses were incurred after and not during the battle, a claimant had to prove that he had been a loyal citizen of the United States. Some of Henry’s neighbors claimed he was not only disloyal but was the area’s most prominent secessionist, and his claim was denied. But in 1902, his son Rowan re-filed the claim. The counter-testimony of other of Bottom’s neighbors attesting to his Unionism and disparaging the motivations of his detractors was considered by the Court of Claims, and Rowan was awarded $1,715 by act of Congress in 1914.
Henry, who died in 1901 at the age of 92, is perhaps best remembered for his Confederate Cemetery. He had attempted to construct a stone wall around the site, but in 1885 it was incomplete and overgrown, and would remain so until the next century. On October 8, 1902, thanks to fundraising by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a twenty-eight foot tall granite monument was dedicated within the now completely walled-in cemetery.
The restored Bottom House can be viewed just outside the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, which consists of 745 acres, with another 300 protected by easements and over 7,000 total acres recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The park also includes a visitor’s center and museum, walking trails, and a Union monument near the Confederate cemetery. The “Squire” Bottom house is on private property.