The Irish at Perryville: The 5th Confederate and 10th Ohio at the Squire Bottom Farm

The Battle of Perryville, Kentucky was the ‘high water mark’ of the Confederacy in the Western Theater. On 8th October 1862 Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of the Mississippi smashed into elements of Don Carlos Buell’s Union Army of the Ohio (mainly the I Corps), bringing on some of the most savage and confused fighting of the conflict. Much of this heavy combat took place in the vicinity of a house and barn on the Squire Bottom Farm to the west of  Doctor’s Creek. Among the units caught up in the vortex of death were the 5th Confederate Infantry, a largely Irish formation from around Memphis, and the 10th Ohio Infantry, the majority of whom were Cincinnati Irishmen. 

The Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, 1862 (Harper's Weekly)

The Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, 1862 (Harper's Weekly)

In late 1862 the 5th Confederate Infantry were commanded by Colonel James A. Smith, and formed part of Brigadier-General Bushrod Johnson’s brigade. They entered the fight on the left flank of the brigade line, moving to cross the almost dry bed of Doctor’s Creek and engage the Federals to the west. The advance quickly descended into confusion with units becoming separated before they had even crossed the watercourse. Indeed the first fire the 5th Confederate endured was from a Rebel battery which mistook them for Union troops. Eventually resolving this ‘friendly fire’ incident and getting back on track, the Memphis Irishmen moved across the Creek bed and up the hill on the far side towards the blue-clad lines. Sweeping towards the Squire Bottom Farm, the 5th Confederate were finally about to get the grips with the enemy- including some of their countrymen in the 10th Ohio (1)

The Union brigade that faced the Rebel Irishmen was under the command of Colonel William H. Lytle. Lytle had started the war as Colonel of the 10th Ohio, but for today the regiment was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Burke. He and his men had already been in action for some time, acting as skirmishers and also facing a Confederate threat to their left. Burke watched from high ground as the fresh Rebel attack swept over the Creek and past the Bottom House to his right. He was in a position to enfilade the enemy line, and promptly ordered his men to open fire into the advancing Rebels. Their bullets raked through the soldiers of Bushrod Johnson’s brigade, including many of their countrymen in the 5th Confederate. (2)

Captain C.W. Frazer of the 5th had more worries than just the 10th Ohio. Directly to their front he and his men were encountering the plunging fire of Union troops ensconced behind a stone wall. Frazer remembered that they advanced with ‘a stone fence on the right and a rail fence on the left…when from the stone fence, thirty steps away, a volley…fired into us without note or warning. The shock was terrific- the line swayed as one body, leaving a track of dead and wounded to mark its former position; then with a yell that burst simultaneously from officers and men, [we]charged over dead and dying, drove the enemy from the fence, and held it.’ (3)

The fight now degenerated into an exchange of volleys at close range, as the death toll rose. The killing that engulfed the stone wall and fences of the farm soon took a gruesome twist. Squire Bottom’s Barn stood on the Federal side of the front-line, and was being used by some of the Union wounded for shelter. As the attack reached its crescendo, a Confederate shell arced through the air and exploded in the barn. Filled with tinder-dry materials, the building- and those inside it- were engulfed in flame. Frazer remembered that ‘amid the clash of arms we heard the shrieks of the wounded as they burned…the fight went on.’ (4)

The Squire Bottom House, Perryville. The 5th Confederate and 10th Ohio were engaged near here (Photo: Hal Jespersen)

The Squire Bottom House, Perryville. The 5th Confederate and 10th Ohio were engaged near here (Photo: Hal Jespersen)

The high ground held by the 10th Ohio and their comrades in Lytle’s brigade began to tell, and the Confederate attack stalled. The 5th Confederate were nearing the point of collapse when they looked around and saw what appeared to be a Union line advancing on their rear. Colonel Smith turned to Frazer, saying ‘Captain, have you a white handkerchief? I am afraid we will need one.’ Frazer replied that there ‘was not one in the regiment; and you have on the only ‘biled shirt,’ the lower end of which will answer if occasion requires.’ However the men coming up behind them were not Federals, a fact soon made clear when they raised the Rebel yell. These Confederates wore blue as they were decked out in elements of Union uniforms captured earlier in the campaign at the Battle of Richmond. They signalled the arrival of yet another Irishman on the field; the advance was that of Corkman Brigadier-General Patrick Cleburne’s brigade. (5)

Although the arrival of Cleburne meant that the 5th Confederate were almost finished their days fight, the men in the 10th Ohio still had much to endure. As the Union line began to be forced back, they found themselves exposed and almost cut off, with the enemy closing in on both flanks. Charging forward to relive the pressure on their line, they suffered mounting casualties as the situation became desperate and the regiment neared collapse. Knowing that they had to retreat in an orderly fashion to avoid disastrous casualties, Lieutenant-Colonel Burke grabbed a bugle and sounded the halt himself. He formed and dressed the lines, calmly ordered skirmishers to the flanks to cover the retreat, and extracted his command. (6)

The battle would rage until darkness, with the Union I Corps eventually being pushed back more than a mile. Confederate commander Braxton Bragg had not been aware that he faced the entire Army of the Ohio at Perryville, thinking he was just engaging just a portion of his foe’s superior strength. His Federal counterpart Don Carlos Buell remained equally ignorant of events; he was unaware that a battle was even being fought, preventing the other two Union Corps from fully participating in the engagement. Nightfall brought a realisation on Bragg’s part of his precarious position, and he ordered a retreat from the field that ultimately ended in the abandonment of Kentucky by the Confederates. There were many men who would not be part of the Confederate retreat or the Federal pursuit; during the days fighting the 250 men of the 5th Confederate Infantry lost 6 killed, 34 wounded and 5 missing (18.8% of their force) while the 528 soldiers of the 10th Ohio Infantry withstood the staggering losses of 60 killed, 169 wounded and 8 missing (44.9% of their strength). (7)

The 10th Ohio would go on to become the army’s Provost Guard, a role they would perform at the Battle of Stones River. The 5th Confederate became part of Cleburne’s soon to be famous division, fighting all the way to Bentonville, North Carolina in 1865. The Civil War Trust are currently campaigning to save 141 acres of the ground at the Squire Bottom Farm in Perryville, where the lives of many men from both of these regiments were changed forever. They have reached 94% of their target and are closing in on their goal- if would like to contribute towards their efforts click here.

(1) Noe 2001: 220, Frazer 1886: 148; (2) Noe 2001: 226-7; (3) Frazer 1886: 147-8; (4) Noe 2001: 228, Frazer 1886: 148; (5) Frazer 1886: 148; (6) Reid 1868: 79; (7) Noe 2001: 372, 374;

References & Further Reading

Frazer, C.W. 1886. ‘Fifth Confederate’ in Lindsley, John Berrien (ed.) The Military Annals of Tennessee

Noe, Kenneth W. 2001. Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle

Reid, Whitelaw 1868. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Her Generals, and Soldiers, Volume II

Perryville Civil War Battlefield

Civil War Trust Battle of Perryville Page

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Categories: 10th Ohio, 5th Confederate, Battle of Perryville, Kentucky

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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14 Comments on “The Irish at Perryville: The 5th Confederate and 10th Ohio at the Squire Bottom Farm”

  1. November 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    The 10th Ohio came out of Cincinnati where there were at least five Union militia Irish units. Burke’s older brothers all held commissions in the British army–but that was strictly a career move. The Burke family was Irish nationalist in its philosophy. Two members of the 10th Ohio, Captain John Fanning ( a prewar sergeant in the elite 2nd U.S. cavalry) and Lt. Timothy McNiff were both arrested in Ireland in 1865. But by far the most famous Fenian in the 10th was Captain T.J.Kelly who helped James Stephens out of an Irish jail in 1865. Kelly and Lt. Tim Deasy, held by the British in gaol, were also the reason for the Manchester Martyr attempt in 1867.
    Stephen McGroarty and John O’Dowd,company commmanders in the 10th eventually became colonels in other Ohio regiments and both were promoted to Brevet Brigadier Generals in the U.S. Army.
    Befire the war, the Sarsfield Light Artillery company was the most hated Irish conpany in Cincinnati. Several officers in the Sarsfields had the British consul in Cincinnati relieved of his post for illegally recruiting American citizens for service in the British army during the Crimean war.

    • W. Styple
      September 30, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

      Does anyone have post-war information on Capt. John Fanning? When did he die?

      • October 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

        Hi,

        I have never looked into that but he may well have had an obituary- it might be worth searching for him at the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America which is a great resource of historic newspapers: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

        I hope this is of some use,

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

    • October 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      The move to declare Charles Rowecroft (British Consul in Cincinnati) personna non grata was instigated by Irish immigrant William G. Halpin. In August 1856 Rowecroft was deported and suffered a “mysterious death at sea” while en route to London.
      In the 1850s, Halpin was the conduit through which many Irish entered into the pre-war Ohio militia units (and other units) cited by Mr Kane. Halpin was president of the Emmett Immigrant Aid Society in Cincinnati. In Jan 1856 at Rowecroft’s instigation, Halpin and 11 associates were arrested charged with attempting to raise an Irish immigrant Army to liberate the old country (violation of the 1818 U.S. Neutrality Act). He was exonerated. In 1863, Lt Col Halpin commanded the 15th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment and after the war General Halpin played a significant role in the Fenian Brotherhood, the 1867 Rising, and related Irish affairs. The quisling John Corydon arranged for Halpin’s arrest in July 1867. He was tried and sentenced to penal servitude.

      • October 28, 2013 at 8:00 am #

        Hi Bill,

        Many thanks for sharing this information on Halpin- a fascinating character and one I am certainly going to have to look into more.

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

      • October 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

        Damian — I’m slowly completing Halpin’s biography. It’ll be a “masterpiece” — if I can find a publisher.

      • October 31, 2013 at 8:22 am #

        Hey Bill,

        I hope you do- I would certainly love to read it!

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

      • October 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

        Shortly after his arrival in Cincinnati (1848), Halpin joined the United Irish Society and within a year was its president. On the surface, the United Irish Society was a benevolent and literary society whose stated objectives were to financially assist needy Irish families and educate Irish immigrants on how to become more effective and upwardly mobile U.S. citizens. Over time the Society morphed into the Exiled Sons of Ireland and later the Robert Emmett Immigrant Aid Society as founded in New York by John O’Mahony
        The Society worked to accomplish the overt mission, but it also provided cover for a more vital activity. The Society was a front organization to conceal two important functions: fund raising for uniforms, arms and equipment, and recruiting, organizing and training an “Irish Army” inside the Ohio State Militia. Halpin’s colleague and mentor, Daniel Conahan was an officer in the Ohio State Militia. Conahan commanded the first all-Irish company formed in Cincinnati – the Montgomery Guards of six companies assigned to the Washington Battalion. The other five companies were: the Sarsfield Guards, the Sarsfield Artillery, the Republican Guards, the Queen City Cadets and Shield’s Guards. The Ohio Militia issued arms and they routinely drilled at Military Hall located at the corner of Ninth and Western Row. This was a perfect venue for the Irish to obtain military training needed to save the home land. Several companies were commanded by Irishmen—Captain Burke commanded the Queen City Cadets, a company formed in 1853, and Captain Tiernan commanded another. They formed the core of the Ohio 10th Regiment in the Civil War.

  2. October 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    My Great, Great, Grandfather William Wilson McKee was killed at the Battle of Perryville. He was a Corporal for the Union Army. He was originally from Wheeling, WV and his brother George was also in the Union Army in the Cavalry.

    • October 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

      Hi Randy,

      What unit did William serve in at Perryville? Have you read Kenneth Noe’s book on the campaign? It is a superb study, I highly recommend it if you haven’t.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  3. Ronald Head
    October 8, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    didn’t Morgan’s Men take part in this? My maternal 2nd great grandfather rode with him until he was KIA around Oct. 22nd.

    • October 13, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Ronald,

      It was Morgan’s raid into Kentucky that served as one of the catalyst’s for the Confederate Campaign there, so they played a very important part. What was your 2nd great grandfather’s name?

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  4. September 20, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    We dug a piece in Memphis that we believe is a 5th confederate regiment civil war relic. It was dug from a privy with other relics that would all date from the early to late 1860’s. They are on the web images and also on our website thememphisdiggers.com.

    • September 23, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      Hi Buddy,

      Thanks for the comment- sounds really interesting I will be sure to check it out!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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