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Towards night the engagement subsided. Fearfully outnumbered, our troops had not hesitated to engage at any odds, and despite the cheeks they had encountered at times, the enemy was driven two miles from his first line of battle. As darkness fell the conflict was over. A few shots from long range guns were exchanged. The full round moon rose in the east and lighted the dismal scene. In half an hour the picket fires of the opposing armies were visible five hundred yards distant, and our wearied men laid down on their arms.
The immediate results of the battle of Perryville were in our favour. We had captured fifteen pieces of artillery by the most daring charges, had inflicted the loss of four thousand men on the enemy, and held several hundred of his prisoners. Our own loss was estimated at twenty-five hundred, in killed, wounded and missing. The enemy had lost one of their best generals on the field—Jackson. Seeing his men wavering, he had advanced to the front line, and, waving his sword, cheered and urged them on. While thus displaying an extraordinary courage he was struck in the right breast by a piece of an exploded shell, and fell from his horse. It is said by those near him that he said only, "Oh God!" and died without a struggle.
But the success of Perryville was of no importance to us; it was merely a favourable incident and decided nothing. It is probable General Bragg had it in his power here, by concentrating his troops, to crush the enemy's force in Kentucky; but he allowed himself to be deceived as to the dispositipn of the enemy's forces, scattered his own, and engaged and defeated the head of the Yankee column with less than fifteen thousand men.* Had he fallen with his whole available force, forty thousand men, on the- enemy at Perryville, it is not improbable that he might have dispersed the Yankee army and given it such a blow that it would not have made a stand this side the Ohio river.
* It is proper to state, that an apology for General Bragg, in this matter, was offered in the public prints, to the effect that before the battle of Perryville General Kirby Smith had communicated to General Bragg his positive . belief that the real attack was threatened upon him, whilst the feint was upon Perryville, and urged reinforcements; and that this was the reason why General Withers' division was sent to General Kirby Smith and was not sent to Generals Polk and Hardee.
Unfortunately the battle of Perryville was another experience of Shiloh, without any decisive results. Had we have had five thousand more men, or had Withers been there, we might have completely routed the enemy, leaving us the way clear to Louisville. No troops in the world ever fought with more desperate courage than ours. Whole regiments of our men went into that fight barefooted, fought barefooted, and had marched barefooted from Chattanooga. The brunt of the battle was borne by General Cheatham's gallant Tennesseeans. No soldiers of the Confederacy ever fought with greater bravery.
Ascertaining that the enemy was heavily reinforced during the night, General Bragg withdrew his force early the next morning to Harrodsburg, where he was joined by Smith and Withers. On the 10th, all our forces fell back to Campx Breckinridge (Dick Robinson), the cavalry holding the enemy in check at Danville. It was supposed that General Bragg would have made a stand here, as, the place was very defensible and gave him the opportunity of sweeping the country and driving off by private enterprise or cavalry force vast herds of cattle,, so much needed by our army. The camp is in an acute angle formed by the junction of Kentucky and Dick's rivers, with high and impassable and perpendicular cliffs for long distances up these rivers, except at a few crossings; and the upper line of the angle has high and commanding hills, suited for artillery defences. It was said that it was impregnable to any other attack than that of famine.
But moved by various considerations, and excited by the superiority of Buell's numbers, it was determined by General Bragg that the whole army should make its exodus from Kentucky; and in order to secure the immense quantity of captured stores, goods, clothing, &c> much of which had also been purchased, with some five thousand head of cattle,'hofses, mules, &c, that the retreat should commence on the night of the 12th. On that day, Sunday, orders were received to cook four days' rations for the march. Major-General McCown, with General Hilliard's Legion, and a cavalry force and artillery, was ordered to defend Fishing Ford, across Dick's river, and commanding the road to Camp Breckinridge, in our rear, to the last extremity.
The distress of those people of Kentucky who were friendly to the South, on learning that tltey were to be abandoned by our troops, was the most affecting circumstance of the sad retreat. When our troops abandoned Lexington, the terrour, dismay and anguish of the inhabitants were extreme. The women ran through the streets crying and wringing their hands, while families hastily gathered their clothing, packed their trunks, and obtained wagons to depart, the greatest distress prevailing.
The retreat commenced on Sunday night, the 12th October, Major Adrain's cavalry conducting the advance train of Gen. Kirby Smith. That night piles of goods, clothes, &c, were burned that could not be .carried off fr^n the warehouse. Long before day on the morning of the 13th, the whole camp was astir. If any one doubted that wTe were actually retreating, the burning piles of abandoned stores, gun-carriages, &c, were sufficient to convince him of the deplorable fact.
At gray dawn the troops reached Bryantsville, about two miles from the camp, where the whole command of conducting the retreat was turned over to Gen. Polk. Already train after train of wagons had passed, and others were still forming and joining in the immense cavalcade. Ammunition trains and batteries of captured artillery had preceded. Then followed trains of goods, wares and merchandise, provision trains of army stores, trains of captured muskets, escorts of cavalry, artillery drawn by oxen. Then came private trains of refugee families, flying with their negroes for safety—ladies and chilIren in carriages, stage coaches, express wagons, omnibuses, fcwggies, ambulances, jersey wagons, and every conceivable vehicle imaginable, and following, came the wagons of the different brigades of General Smith's army, with infantry, cavalry and artillery in the rear. Intermixed with the throng were thousands of head of cattle, horses and mules.
The effect of our retreat along the road everywhere was sinking and depressing in the extreme. No miniature banners waved, no white 'kerchiefs greeted our troops with approving smiles from lovely women, and no wild cheer was heard responsive to the greetings wkich had attended their march to Kentucky. Trembling women stole to the doors to look upon the strange, mystified scene before them, and as the truth gradually forced itself upon them, their eyes fiiled with tears, and they shrank back, fearing even to make the slightest demonstration of friendliness—all was sullen, downcast and gloomy.
The enemy was in pursuit, and making a strong effort to flank us, so as to cut off our trains, and it was necessary to urge'on the teams night and day for fear of capture. For some portion of the way the road lay along the bed of Dick's river, a miserable $ooky branch, which our troops had to cross and recross for six miles in a dark and hazy night. Scenes of terrible confusion and delay occurred along this road. Wagons broke down, were overturned, and frequently stalled, and in the former case were often abandoned. The bawling of the teamsters to their mules, the cracking of their whips, and volleys of oaths in the most outlandish gibberish, which none but the mules could understand, were kept up all night. In the day time more cheerful scenes relieved the retreat. The foliage of the forest trees and brushwood enlivened the wayside with their rich hues of dark maroon splendor to brilliant crimson.
The retreat was admirably covered by Gen. Wheeler. From the battle-field at Perryville to Cumberland Gap this General conducted his movements in the same masterly manner thai had characterized him in the previous part of the campaign He retarded the enemy by various means. When he reached the hilly country he obstructed the road by felled trees. By all such ingenious devices, he, with a small force, enabled the baggage trains and straggling infantry to escape capture. From Altamont to Cumberland Gap he encountered the enemy twenty-nine times, seriously damaged him, and saved much of our infantry from capture. At Rock Castle the enemy abandoned the.pursuit; our whole train of stores being up, and not even a wagon lost, except those abandoned on account of breaking down.
We must leave here an account of the movements of Gen. Bragg until the time shall come for us to see how his retreat from Kentucky through Cumberland Gap transferred the most important scenes of the war in the West to the memorable lines of Nashville. Deplorable as was this retreat, it was not without some circumstances that palliated it, or relieved the grief of the public mind. It is certain that it was a disappointment to the enemy, who had expected to crush our forces in Kentucky, and were not prepared for the news of their liberatio^from the toils which they flattered themselves had been so industriously and elaborately woven around them.
It is probable, too, that under the circumstances, after our own army had blundered so badly in the first stepfc of the campaign, its retreat from Kentucky, without the burden of defeat and without material losses, was preferable to alternatives which otherwise would have probably befallen it. It had entered into Gen. Beauregard's plan of campaign in the West, before he had been superseded, to regain the control of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, and thus prepare for future operations. The construction of works on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers so as to command them, was plainly an important concern; and, according to General Beauregard's idea, should have been preliminary to the active campaign i& the West. With these works, it appears probable that an advance might have been made with safety into Kentucky; and even had we failed in the taking of Louisville and Cincinnati,