Plans are under way to mark the 150th anniversary of two Civil War battles in Central Kentucky.
The sesquicentennial of the Battle of Richmond will be Aug. 25 and 26 in Madison County; the actual battle was fought on Aug. 30, 1862.
And the re-enactment of the Battle of Perryville, the largest Kentucky conflict, will be Oct. 5 through 7 in Boyle County; it was fought on Oct. 8, 1862.
In the Battle of Richmond, Confederate Maj. Gen. Kirby Smith's newly dubbed "Army of Kentucky" marched north in the searing heat of August 1862 and encountered 7,000 Union troops led by Gen. Mahlon Manson. In what some historians have called the most decisive Confederate victory of the war, the Southerners drove the Union troops beyond the Kentucky River.
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"It was so hot you could wade the Kentucky River in a lot of places," said Paul Rominger, managing director of the Battle of Richmond Association. "A few soldiers waded across and went toward Winchester."
Smith would advance to Frankfort, which he occupied from Sept. 3 to Oct. 4, 1862, when Richard Hawes was inaugurated as a Confederate governor. However, federal troops cut the ceremony short when their guns lobbed shells into the outskirts of Frankfort, ending Hawes' inaugural address in mid-sentence.
On Aug. 18 this year, the Saturday before the re-enactment weekend, a seminar about the battle will be held at Lake Buck Lodge at Blue Grass Army Depot. Speakers will talk 15 to 20 minutes each about various personalities in the battle, and then Civil War historian and author Kent Masterson Brown will give an address, Rominger said.
The 45-minute re-enactment will be staged at 2 p.m. Aug. 25 and 26 at Battlefield Park on U.S. 421 south of Richmond, across from the depot. The re-enactment weekend drew nearly 7,900 visitors last year.
An added event this year is a 30-minute skirmish that will be at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 26 on the depot property. About 600 acres of the ground on which the battle was fought is now part of the depot. Interpretive signs along a depot walking trail tell of the battle.
"The Army says this is only the second time that a Civil War re-enactment has been done on a federal base," Rominger said. "The other was done at Fort Benning, Ga. ... The re-enactors are extremely excited about this, to be on the depot battlefield."
As the price of gasoline creeps up, re-enactors who drive from as far away as Arkansas, Michigan, Ohio and Texas might decide not to come, Rominger said. He said some of Gen. Manson's descendants do plan to attend the battle. Some of Maj. Gen. Smith's descendants visited in December.
Rominger said the Richmond association is in the process of acquiring more battlefield land, "but ... it's not something I can discuss."
The gains made by the Confederates at the Battle of Richmond were lost a little more than a month later at Perryville, the bloodiest battle in Kentucky.
"Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since," Tennessee Pvt. Sam Watkins wrote about the battle at Perryville. "The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar."
About 22,000 Union troops under Gen. Don Carlos Buell opposed 16,000 Confederates led by Gen. Braxton Bragg. Before the day was over, 2,500 men were dead and an additional 5,000 wounded filled every house, church and barn in the area.
Both commanders were severely criticized — "Bragg for his failure to hold Kentucky, Buell for allowing the Confederates to withdraw safely," according to A Tour Guide to the Civil War. Buell was relieved of command after Perryville.
But the battle decided Kentucky's fate in the war. Unable to maintain its occupation of the state, the Confederacy gave up its aspirations for Kentucky, and the state remained loyal to the Union.
This year's Perryville commemoration will focus on re-creating small selected portions of the 1862 battle.
Re-enactments have been held at Perryville for years, but Oct. 5 will be the first time that military participants will be able to retrace the steps of the Union and Confederate armies by the same routes they used to arrive on the field 150 years ago. The routes for this "preservation march" were secured with the cooperation of private property owners neighboring the battlefield, said Joni House, preservation and program coordinator for the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.
"For the re-enactors, a big part of this is reliving what their ancestors did," House said. "So they're excited to be walking in their forefathers' footsteps."
The Civil War Trust, the largest non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of battlefields, is in the process of buying 250 acres of property to add to Perryville. When that addition is final, the site will have more than 1,000 acres.
Previous re-enactments have attracted about 30,000 people, including 4,000 re-enactors. House said she thinks at least 3,000 re-enactors will be at this year's events.
"I would caution people: Do not try to come out here an hour before the battle, because you'll never get in," House said. "This is an all-day thing. Come early and plan to stay late. We'll have all kinds of different ancillary events going on, so you can entertain yourself all day."
House said she hopes that people don't see re-enactments solely as entertainment.
"I really want folks to know that 150 years ago, on the very ground that they're standing, some 17-year-old kid died, very far away from home and very alone," House said. "I'd like for them to consider for just a few minutes that young man who didn't make it back to Ohio or Alabama or wherever they came from. His life was over and everything he was going to be was over."