"The real causes of dissatisfaction in the South with the North, are in the unjust taxation and expenditure of the taxes by the Government of the United States, and in the revolution the North has effected in this government, from a confederated republic (a voluntary union of states) to a national sectional despotism."
Charleston Mercury Editorial
Four Conn Brothers, my ancestors from Cobb County, Georgia, were Confederate soldiers in the 41st Volunteer Infantry of Georgia. All of them were privates in Company B, known as the Cobb County Men - Kennesaw Infantry.
The oldest brother, William Elisha Conn, was 25 years old, married, and the father of three young children when he enlisted on March 4, 1862. He died of fever in Atlanta just six weeks later. His youngest son, John Thomas Zachary Conn, was only six months old at the time of his father's death. Little JTZ lived to be an old man and was my great grandfather.
The next two brothers, James Walter Conn (20) and John Thomas Conn II (19) were mustered into the Confederate army on the same day as their older brother. Their younger brother, Wesley Ballenger Conn, was not old enough to join the army with them, but he would do so upon coming of age, August 15, 1863.
Brothers John and James, along with their regiment, were assigned to the Army of Tennessee under the command of General Braxton Bragg. For seven months they marched and fought their way across Alabama, into Mississippi, up through Tennessee and on to Perryville, in central Kentucky. There on October 8, 1862, they met the full force of a Northern army which outnumbered them almost three to one.
It was at Perryville that my uncles were involved in one of the most heroic charges of the War Between the States and put the enemy to flight - at least for one horrific but glorious day.
In the next few tips I invite you to walk with me over the hallowed hills and hollows where they and thousands of their comrades fought for liberty - and many of them died.
"...the Ground around was slippery with blood, many a poor dark looking powder begrimed Artillery man was lying stretched out upon the ground around us, torn and mutilated, their countenances plainly indicating the awful manner of their death."
Union Captain Robert B. Taylor
It was up the steep blood stained slope of Parsons' Ridge that John and James Conn charged with their battalion, facing not only cannon shot but also artillery fire. Along the way they repelled a furtive bayonet charge by an inexperienced 123rd Illinois Infantry. Still, at one point it seemed that the Union army had successfully stopped the Confederates as casualties mounted.
Men fighting to defend their lives, their liberty and their homes, and families have a higher motivation than those who do battle merely for political ideals, such as preserving the Union. The Confederates, not taking time to count their dead, regrouped and made another desperate assault on the Union Battery. Half way up the steep slope the Confederates dropped to their bellies to escape the cannon fire, franically reloading and firing again.
Somewhere along the way, either on Parsons' Hill or the next one, Uncle James was missing. He is no doubt one of the hundreds of unidentified Confederate veterans who are buried on this battlefield.
Maney's men, including Uncle John and possibly Uncle James (If he wasn't already a casualty) finally reached the top of the hill. At their feet was the slain body of the leader of the Union battery, Lt. Charles Parsons (for whom the hill was named), and many of his men. The Confederates captured seven of the eight cannons and watched the remainder of the terrified Union soldiers retreat down the far slope and into a corn field.
To their horror, they looked up to see a larger company of Union troops taking their positions on the next ridge, Starkweather's Hill.
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
As a stood all alone, gazing over the Confederate Cemetery at Perryville I felt a strange sensation - almost a presence - as though I had reconnected with a long lost member of my family. My Uncle James is more than likely one of the unidentified Southern soldiers who is buried in this mass grave. I knew that I had strong feelings about the injustice of the War Between the States, but I was still caught by surprise when a tear welled up.
The Confederates counted 532 killed, 2,641 wounded and 228 missing, for a total of 3,401 casualties. Union casualties were even higher.
Henry P. Bottom, a farmer who owned most of the land upon which the battle was fought, organized a group of civilians - his slaves and some neighbors - to bury the Confederate dead. Most of them were placed in two large pits. Bottom identified and recorded as many of the names as he could, but hundreds remain unknown to this day.
Uncle John Thomas Conn, who was captured, was later exchanged and returned to fight again. He was at the battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee, many months later when General Grant's forces recaptured the cannons Maney's men had taken at Perryville.
John was among the 25,000 Southern soldiers who finally surrendered with General Joseph E. Johnston to the infamous Union General William T. Sherman at Durham, North Carolina on April 26, 1865 - 17 days after Appomattox.
My Uncle John was paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina on May 1, 1865. He is the only one of the four Conn brothers who came home from the War.
"After the belt of woods was passed we entered a cornfield, the enemy followed sharply and their bullets cut stalk and leaf and rattled the kernels from the drooping ears beside us, every now and then claiming a victim."
Union Soldier Albion Tourgee
Ohio 105th Infantry
At the time of the Battle of Perryville a field of ten-foot-high cornstalks, brown and dry from a severe drought, covered this valley between Parsons' Ridge and Starkweather's Hill. Hidden in the corn were 660 Union soldiers from the 21st Wisconsin Infantry - greenhorns, who had just been mustered into service a month earlier. Some of them had never fired their rifles. For more than an hour they had been listening as Terrill's Union brigade battled Maney's men for control of Parsons' Hill in front of them. As the advancing Confederates took control of the hill, Terrill's panicked and retreating Union soldiers burst through the corn. Some of the Wisconsin infantry men held their ground. Others blended with Terrill's brigade and fled.
As the Confederates advanced, Union soldiers positioned on the Starkweather's Hill, beyond the cornfield, fired indiscriminately into the corn. Being hit by "friendly fire" from behind and Confederates to the front, the boys from Wisconsin fired only once before turning and running for their lives.
During this chaos all of the officers in the 21st Wisconsin were either killed or wounded. Having driven the Union forces from the cornfield and smelling victory, the Conn Brothers and Maney's Brigade continued in hot pursuit, up the next hill.
"I immediately opened ... fire on them at a distance of 250 or 300 yards, with canister, and continued it with shell and spherical case as the enemy retired."
Confederate 1st Lieutenant William B. Turner
Turner's Mississippi Battery
When General Maney's Confederates came to the fence pictured in the last tip, and saw the Union battery on top of Parsons' Ridge, some of the men sought cover behind the split rails. The Union cannons on the hill fired down on them, shattering posts and rails, and killing and maiming scores of Southern soldiers.
Maney ordered Lieutenant William Turner's artillery to position themselves on this small knoll to support the foot soldiers. Turner's four cannons thundered away at the eight big guns of the Union battery, slowing their fire enough to aid in the charge of the Confederate infantry.
Confederate artillery was crucial to the success of the Confederate advance at Perryville, providing cover for the infantry brigades during their heroic charge.
"I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!"
Union General William T. Sherman
Union troops at the Battle of Perryville suffered 889 killed, 2,965 wounded and 433 missing, for a total of 4,287 casualties. Although the South won a tactical victory during the battle, they were sorely outnumbered and could not have sustained a long conflict. Short of both men and supplies, the Confederates departed Perryville that night, leaving Kentucky to the Union.
The Northern dead were later moved to Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Jessamine County, Kentucky. This monument was erected by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1901 to honor the Union army. It stands beside the Confederate monument and cemetery.
"I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game."
President Abraham Lincoln
The logical place to start any visit to Perryville Battlefield State Park is at the Museum and Visitor Center.
Here you will find an information desk staffed by helpful people, maps and a gift and book shop. There is also a very informative video about the Battle of Perryville, shown upon request, which provides a good orientation for those visiting the battlefield for the first time.
The thing I enjoyed most about visiting Perryville is that with the help of a map obtained at the Visitor Center, and with interpretative markers on the actual battlefield, I was able to follow the exact flow of the conflict in which my uncles fought 145 years earlier. This page will focus primarily on the one small segment where my uncles participated in what was a much larger overall battle. It was here on the north flank of the line that many historians say the fighting at Perryville was the fiercest of all.
The Visitor center is open seasonally, April 1-October 31; 9 AM-5 PM. Open by appointment remainder of the year.
Group rates available.
"Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since. The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar. The iron storm passed through our ranks, mangling and tearing men to pieces.... Our men were dead and dying right in the very midst of this grand havoc of battle."
Confederate Private Sam Watkins
Tennessee 1st Infantry
After General Maney's brigade fought their way through the cornfield they faced what would be their last challenge of the day. From the top of Starkweather Hill a battery of 12 cannons, so close to one another that they were almost touching, were aimed at the Rebels. Behind the big guns was a Federal infantry brigade of 2,200 men with rifles and bayonets.
Reinforcements from the 1st Tennessee Infantry, under the command of Colonel Hume Field, joined the depleted ranks of the General Maney's Confederates. The Colonel reported his regiment "was ordered to charge, which it did with splendid style, with close, compact ranks, killed all the horses and men of the battery and driving its support away."
As the reinforced Confederate stoops swept up the steep slope. Evan Davis of the defending Wisconsin 21st said, "their bullets came like hail. I often wondered how any of us escaped with our lives."
Maney's men took the hill, and the Federals retreated with six of their twelve guns back to another ridge.
The day was growing late, supplies were running low and both sides were exhausted. So there the battle ended - a tactical victory for the South.
"... [ As] soon as the fence was reached, in full view of the battery, such a storm of shell, grape, canister and minie balls was turned loose upon us as no troops scarcely ever before encountered. Large boughs were torn from the trees, the leaves themselves shattered as if by lightning, and the ground ploughed in deep furrows.
Confederate Lieutenant Colonel William Frierson
It was in this small valley, at a split rail fence that John and James, with their regiment, emerged from the woods. Across a pasture and up Parsons' Hill to they saw the Union Army, positioned with eight cannons aimed at them. The cannons thundered, belching fire and wounding or killing dozens of Southern soliders.
General George Maney, who was commanding the Confederate brigade of 1,800 men, knew that he had to take the hill and silence those guns quickly. Four Confederate cannons were rolled into position and began answering the Union battery.
Hiding from view of the Union army by the rolling terrain, Maney formed his men into two lines. Amidst the thundering concussion and swirling smoke of the cannon fire, the Confederate troops advanced again to the edge of the woods at this fence line. Then, to the surprise of the Union cannon crews, and with a Rebel Yell, John, James, and the rest of Maney's Men charged up the hill and into the deadly fire.
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