PERRYVILLE by Kenneth W. Noe


The Grand Havoc of Battle
Email this review


A detailed account of how the Civil War engagement at Perryville, Kentucky, changed the lives of the soldiers, officers, and civilians who endured its brutality.

Noe (History/Auburn Univ.) untangles the complicated events leading up to and during the crucial battle between the forces of Union General Don Carlos Buell and Confederate General Braxton Bragg. His analysis emphasizes the effects of the opposing commanders’ personalities on their armies. Noe argues that Buell’s sympathies for the Confederate cause combined with his meticulous planning to produce an operational timidity that mystified and infuriated his Union subordinates. Likewise, he asserts that Bragg experienced monumental mood swings, which undermined his self-confidence and allowed subordinate generals to pursue their own uncoordinated plans. Under the guidance of these weak commanders, the two armies blundered into each other on October 8, 1862. Since neither Buell nor Bragg understood that they faced the bulk of the other’s armies, both generals made significant tactical errors: Bragg fed his regiments piecemeal into an inferno of Union artillery and small arms crossfire; Buell stubbornly refused to adequately reinforce his defensive lines or even believe that a major battle was unfolding until the combat was almost over. Making extensive use of personal letters and later interviews with the combatants, Noe vividly creates a horrific picture of the carnage that resulted from this incompetence, with many regiments suffering 50 percent casualties. He concludes that the heavy losses inflicted on Confederate forces constrained Bragg to abandon his attempt to capture Kentucky for the South, making Perryville a significant turning point in Civil War’s Western campaign.

The definitive history of a key battle that demands thoughtful consideration by anyone interested in the Civil War. (maps, illustrations, b&w photos)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8131-2209-0
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2001