Henry P. Bottom House, Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site

9 10 2016

1862 Perryville Property Map (Courtesy of Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site – PBSHS) HPB marks the Henry Bottom Farm

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.


H. P. Bottom House today (battleofperryville.com)

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 P. Bottom (PBSHS)

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.


H. P. Bottom House in 1885 (PBSHS)

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.


H. P. Bottom on Cemetery Wall, 1885 (PBSHS)

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.

Thanks to historian Kenneth W. Noe, author of Perryville – This Grand Havoc of Battle, and Kurt Holman of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site for their assistance.

Petersburg: The Crater, 10/2/2016

7 10 2016

Last week, on my way home from a golf outing in Willimasburg, Va, I stopped in Petersburg. The original plan was to hit as many Seven Days battlefield sites as I could on the way back home, but since I was with my OLDEST brother Jerry, I opted to visit a the sites at which our great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, had fought with his regiment, the 205th PA. That meant Petersburg. In the process, we also visited The Crater, since it’s within the boundaries of the Petersburg National Battlefield. Below are a few photos from that visit. Click the images for larger ones – I think they’re all pretty much self-explanatory. The crater itself is fairly small, but consider the erosion over the years and the use of the site as a golf course for a while. I suspect the remnants are more impressive from atop the works, but access is for good reason restricted.



Fort Morton, the 14 gun battery from which Ambrose Burnside observed the Battle of the Crater




Fredericksburg – 9/28/2016

6 10 2016

Last week, after stopping in to visit with John Hennessy at Chatham, I set out for Williamsburg. My original intent was to visit the battlefield at Malvern Hill along the way, but the weather was bad and I was burning daylight. So I decided to do a quick turn at the Fredericksburg battlefield’s visitor center and the Sunken Road at Marye’s Heights. I hadn’t been there in quite a few years. Here are some photos I snapped as my phone battery died. Click on them for larger images.


Chatham – 9/28/2016

4 10 2016

Last week, I took a little trip down to Williamsburg, Va, for three days of golf with my brother Jerry. Friend John Hennessy invited me to stop on the way to chat and lunch, so I took him up on his offer. We yakked in his office upstairs at Chatham for a while (said hi to Frank O’Reilly, whom I had not seen in years, and later on the lawn reader Barry Larkin), then had lunch at Foode, which is located in the 1820 National Bank of Fredericksburg building. In fact, we ate in the vault! Abraham Lincoln visited this building in the spring of 1862. All in all I spent about 3 hours talking to Mr. Hennessy – the good news for us is that he was receptive to another Bull Runnings tour, perhaps in the Fall of 2017. I then headed off on my way to Williamsburg. Below are some photos of Chatham and the bank building. Click on the thumbs for larger versions.



Repro pontoon section



The notes of “Home Sweet Home”

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These catalpas may have been described by Walt Whitman after the Battle of Fredericksburg






3 10 2016


Hi all! I just got back from a few days in Virginia, and managed to squeeze some Civil War stuff in around some bad golf (mine) in some bad weather on some beautiful Williamsburg area courses. I’ll have the CW related stuff up soon, including a trip to Petersburg with my oldest brother to follow in the steps of our great-grandfather. Also some Bull Run touring info (we may be looking at two dates next year – shout out if that sounds good to you). But for now, I offer this shot from the first tee of the Black Heath course at Ford’s Colony Country Club. I thought it would be a good idea to hit over those trees on the right. Good idea, poor execution. Theme of the day.

Preview: Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory”

24 09 2016

Layout 1The third and final volume of David A. Powell’s history of The Chickamauga Campaign – Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863, has been released by publisher Savas Beatie. (You can find my notes on the first two volumes here and here.)

This completes the most thorough history of the campaign to date. Volume III is a mixed bag, wrapping up the first two volumes and providing meat and potatoes statistics and research tidbits that all footnote readers will enjoy. The narrative portion of the book picks up on the morning of September 21, with both armies dealing with the immediate effects of defeat and victory. Three chapters follow both armies to the environs of Chattanooga. Two chapters discuss the costs and consequences of the campaign, and appendices deal with rear guard cavalry action in The Last Clash at Chickamauga and the relationship between William Rosecrans, James Garfield, and Charles Dana.

Then the fun begins. In a manner reminiscent of Joseph L. Harsh’s wonderful Sounding the Shallows, Powell offers the reader insight into both the numbers of the thing and the researching and writing process itself. Five appendices include: Union Order of Battle; Union Losses; Confederate Strength with Sources and Methodology (arranged in Order of Battle format); Confederate Losses (Powell provides the most detailed and complete look at Confederate numbers and losses to be found); and a Return for Polk’s Corps for October 22, 1863.

These are followed by a magnificent 85 page (!) bibliography. Powell’s extensive use of newspaper accounts from all points of the compass is impressively displayed. The different contemporary newspapers from which he drew number approximately 150!

The whole book is complimented with bottom of the page, detailed footnotes (with the exception of the Union OOB through Confederate Losses appendices which employ end-notes for purposes of style).

This is a great capstone to Powell’s take on the Chickamauga campaign (and let’s not forget his Campaign Atlas and his iconoclastic look at Confederate cavalry during this time, Failure in the Saddle). Don’t miss it.

Preview: Rasbach, “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign”

22 09 2016

joshualchamberlainandpetersburgcampaignrasbach2016savasbeatieThis just in from Savas Beatie (there is no hyphen in that title, you know): Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign: His Supposed Charge from Fort Hell, his Near-Mortal Wound, and a Civil War Myth Reconsidered, by Dennis A. Rasbach.

It’s hard to read the full title and not get the impression that the book possesses iconoclastic, sacred-cow slaughtering characteristics. In fact the dust jacket notes are peppered with words like presumed, perpetuation, interpretation, mantle of authority, meticulous case, primary evidence, and body of evidence. By themselves not indicative of anything, but consider them and the book’s title together and, well, you start to see where we’re headed. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. This book considers, among other things, the accuracy of the identification of the actual site of the action in which Chamberlain was wounded, generally accepted for many, many years as along the Jerusalem Plank Road between the future site of Fort Hell (Sedgwick) and Rives’s Salient of the Dimmock Line (future site of Fort Mahone). Rasbach contends that the focus of Chamberlain’s attack was more than a mile away from there.

Other, similar theories on other battlefields have been shouted down with references to monument placement and lack of veteran divergence from accepted narratives, but in this case Mr. Rasbach is laying everything out there for consideration. Adherents to the classic interpretation will have to deal with his presentation on its merits.

You get: 176 pages of narrative, including a retrospective tour; plenty of illustrations, primarily maps, though the tour includes many modern day photos; Orders of Battle for June 18, 1864; an appendix on Chamberlain’s wound and treatment; another on the role of maps in evaluating Chamberlain’s account; bibliography, mostly published works but also ten manuscript sources and seven newspaper accounts; and full index. Footnotes are bottom-of-the-page.