Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Perryville Under Fire

Last week, just before my trip to Chickamauga, I received from Amazon the latest title to cover the Battle of Perryville, Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle.  Written by former Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association director Stuart Sanders, it is a one hundred and sixty page softcover book that deals with the effects of the fight of Perryville on that small town as well as the numerous surrounding communities that were touched in the fall of 1862.  Perryville, an intense battle that lasted five hours, left hundreds of dead and wounded upon the battleground, the wounded who had to be gathered and moved to one of dozens of temporary hospitals, and the dead who had to be identified and buried.

The eleven chapters deal mostly with these two themes, the wounded and the dead, and how dealing with both stretched the resources of Perryville, already dealing with a summer long drought and the drain of supplies that both armies required, to its breaking point.  Nearly every home, church, school, barn, shed, and other type of structure were used as makeshift hospitals, noted as such by the piles of amputated limbs found outside of doors and windows.  The numerous first person accounts describing these scenes of abject horror are not for the easily distraught, as many of the descriptions are vivid and gut-wrenching.  But it is in the first person accounts that Mr. Sanders has given us the means to see the true damage that a battle brings, for days, weeks, and months, on the area in which the battle was fought.  Without water, without enough medical supplies, without clean conditions, the men stood little chance of survival if they had been wounded severely.  Diseases were rampant, and the soldiers were not the only ones to suffer and die as many of the local citizens who helped nurse the wounded also took ill and passed away.

Sanders has done an efficient job of getting the reader to be influenced by not the glory of battle and dying for a cause, but understanding the horror that comes from being wounded by a minie ball or a shell fragment and how some of the wounded were left for days without care or shelter.  He also lets us understand the disgraceful way that the dead were the fodder for local hogs and crows, and how that some men were buried in graves so shallow that when it would rain that an arm or a leg might pop out of the ground.  Not a glorious end.

As you might be able to gather, this is not a book for the timid.  There are enough descriptions that bring vivid images to life.  However, it is a book to understand what an area goes through after a battle during the Civil War.  I recommend this book for several reasons as one can never have too many books about this pivital battle, but caution the reader to be prepared for some shocking passages. 

This book can be found at numerous book sellers.  I bought mine from Amazon.

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