Perryville The Kentucky Campaign: A Confederate Victory?

Which side won the Kentucky Campaign

  • Union Victory

    Votes: 11 78.6%
  • Confederate Victory

    Votes: 3 21.4%

  • Total voters
    14

General JJ

Cadet
Joined
Jan 24, 2019
This campaign is generally regarded as a victory for the U.S. which I've never until now questioned. Recently my view has been challenged by some friends, whose main arguments are:

  • Bragg may have failed to retake Kentucky but he got away with a large amount of loot (beef cattle, weapons, cloth, mules, etc)
  • The Confederacy regained lost ground like Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee that the Union would spend the next 9-12 months regaining
  • Perryville was a tactical victory
Now I ask you all, does this argument hold up?
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
A major criteria for Confederate victory or success was to ensure that Kentucky was decisively placed in the Confederate orbit by inducing scores of Kentuckians to join the southern cause and by installing a pro-southern state government. The Bragg/Smith invasion clearly failed on that measure.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
This campaign is generally regarded as a victory for the U.S. which I've never until now questioned. Recently my view has been challenged by some friends, whose main arguments are:

  • Bragg may have failed to retake Kentucky but he got away with a large amount of loot (beef cattle, weapons, cloth, mules, etc)
  • The Confederacy regained lost ground like Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee that the Union would spend the next 9-12 months regaining
  • Perryville was a tactical victory
Now I ask you all, does this argument hold up?
Conventional wars aren't won by stealing cows. The side that wins does it by siezing and holding enemy territory. In the case of guerrlla warfare which both sides used extensively in the ACW victory can be achieved when the enemy looses the will to fight which didn't happen in the case of the ACW as Union countering forces never gave up including in Kentucky.
Leftyhunter
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
1. Bragg did not take a convoy loaded with loot out of Kentucky. Bragg had no choice but to retreat after Perryville. He only a three day’s rations. Due to the effects of El Niño, the earliest, coldest onset of winter was about to trap him in Western Kentucky. The poverty of the region & overt hostility of the population would have destroyed Bragg’s army.

As it was, they made it through the passes into TN just in time. While he was in Kentucky, the goofy CSA departmental system had removed Chattanooga from Bragg’s command. As a result, the supplies that were ordered to Knoxville never arrived.

The retract from the TN border to Knoxville was an agony of extreme cold & starvation. Pickets were found frozen to death, standing like crystalline statues sparkling in the moonlight. Bragg left the army & went to Richmond to meet with Davis. He reported that he did not know how many men he had left or even where they were.

The wagon train that supposedly carried the booty of the Kentucky invasion was anything but. Believing the wildly exaggerated support for the CSA recieved from Morgan, thousands of stands of arms had been carried to Kentucky. To Bragg’s fury, only a few hundred recruits flocked to the colors. Bragg’s enemies claimed that the convoy of wagons loaded with unissued arms was really his loot. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

2. The Kentucky campaign did put Middle Tennessee under CSA control. Unfortunately, the area had been picked clean by quartermasters & foragers of both armies. Bragg’s supplies had to be hauled in wagons from Northern Alabama. On the eve of the Tullahoma Campaign June 1863, The Army of Tennessee had no meat rations. Bragg did retake Middle Tennessee, but did not profit from it. By July 4th, Bragg was retreating across the Tennessee River.

3. Bragg was sitting on a platform listening to a speech by the new CS governor of KY when distant thunder morphed into approaching gunfire. As he would at Stones River & Tullahoma, Bragg fought Perryville in the ad hoc manner of a blindfolded child swinging at a piñata.

The simple facts are that any of the disjointed tactical victories Bragg might have gained at Perryville, it was not a strategic victory. The declared goal of the Kentucky incursion was to bring Kentucky into the Confederacy. By that standard, it was a colossal failure. Whatever tactical success Brag might have had paled into insignificance in the glare of that reality.

Note: Connelly’s Army of the Heartland has stood the test of time. His meticulous scholarship on the CSA side of the Kentucky incursion was a triumph of its time. The voluminous footnotes are a goldmine that 21st Century CW curious minds can access with the touch of a finger.
 
Joined
Mar 28, 2014
Location
Atlanta
It was largely successful because it postponed the loss of Chattanooga by a year and transferred the theater of war from north Alabama almost to Ohio. Any day the war was conducted outside the South was a good day for the Confederacy. I am amazed at all the people who claim that if a campaign doesn't achieve all its objectives, then it is a failure.

Sherman didn't destroy The Army of Tennessee, so the Atlanta campaign was a failure?
So D-Day was a failure because Caen wasn't captured the first day?
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
It was largely successful because it postponed the loss of Chattanooga by a year and transferred the theater of war from north Alabama almost to Ohio. Any day the war was conducted outside the South was a good day for the Confederacy. I am amazed at all the people who claim that if a campaign doesn't achieve all its objectives, then it is a failure.

Sherman didn't destroy The Army of Tennessee, so the Atlanta campaign was a failure?
So D-Day was a failure because Caen wasn't captured the first day?
Tactical victory without strategic impact is what I am talking about. A straw man like your all or nothing goals argument don’t apply to what happened in Kentucky. That is like claiming that a football team didn’t win the game because they scored a field goal in the last second to achieve victory.

A recap of Bragg’s announced intentions & results are order. Bragg didn’t force Buel to abandon Nashville. He didn’t capture Louisville. The supply line to Nashville was not permanently severed. The population of Kentucky did not rise up & join the CSA. Bragg did not destroy Buel’s army. The imagined riches of the Bluegrass did not support Bragg’s army. Cincinnati was neither threatened nor taken. In the end, Bragg’s army did spend a cold starvation winter in Middle Tennessee after loosing 1/3 of its strength at Stones River, which is a very strange definition of Victory.
 
Joined
Mar 28, 2014
Location
Atlanta
Tactical victory without strategic impact is what I am talking about. A straw man like your all or nothing goals argument don’t apply to what happened in Kentucky. That is like claiming that a football team didn’t win the game because they scored a field goal in the last second to achieve victory.

A recap of Bragg’s announced intentions & results are order. Bragg didn’t force Buel to abandon Nashville. He didn’t capture Louisville. The supply line to Nashville was not permanently severed. The population of Kentucky did not rise up & join the CSA. Bragg did not destroy Buel’s army. The imagined riches of the Bluegrass did not support Bragg’s army. Cincinnati was neither threatened nor taken. In the end, Bragg’s army did spend a cold starvation winter in Middle Tennessee after loosing 1/3 of its strength at Stones River, which is a very strange definition of Victory.
I stand by my comments. If the same campaign had occurred in 1863 and 1864, Lincoln loses re-election.

The opening question related to the Kentucky campaign, not Murfreesboro.

I am not blind to Bragg's many faults and mistakes. I just think his few accomplishments deserve some recognition.
 

Dave DuBrucq

Corporal
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Location
Tennessee
It was largely successful because it postponed the loss of Chattanooga by a year and transferred the theater of war from north Alabama almost to Ohio. Any day the war was conducted outside the South was a good day for the Confederacy. I am amazed at all the people who claim that if a campaign doesn't achieve all its objectives, then it is a failure.

Sherman didn't destroy The Army of Tennessee, so the Atlanta campaign was a failure?
So D-Day was a failure because Caen wasn't captured the first day?
When the clearly stated goal of bringing Kentucky into the Confederacy failed as did the hoped for recruiting bonanza, what did the Confederacy gain? Nothing so long as Bragg continued to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Losing Kentucky was not a good day for the Confederacy, it was a disaster.

As to Sherman at Atlanta, he would have defeated and destroyed the Army of Tennessee had Hood not given up the fight and left with his army. Instead, Hood went to Tennessee where he destroyed the Army of Tennessee himself.
Would you say the Germans were victorious at Normandy because Montgomery could not take Caen in the first week? I think not. Caen was taken and held and the Germans were driven out of France. The same principle applies to Bragg in Kentucky. He held nothing and was forced out of Kentucky. That was followed by serial defeats in Tennessee culminating with the loss of Chattanooga.
Victory is measured in enemy territory captured and held and the destruction of the enemies ability to resist. By either of those measures, Kentucky cannot reasonably be called a Confederate victory.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
If the same campaign had occurred in 1863 and 1864, Lincoln loses re-election.
While not entirely coordinated, Bragg's 1862 Kentucky "Heartland" offensive coincided with Lee's Maryland campaign, which shared a similar aim of inducing Confederate recruitment in those respective states, and of forcing federal armies to withdraw and/or defend northern territory. Both campaigns were strategic failures, albeit each having limited tactical success along the way. The point being that had Bragg's offensive occurred in 1863 there is little reason to suppose that it would attain any greater success at that time, particularly given the grand failure of Lee's Pennsylvania incursion of that year. It's not even worth speculating about 1864 because the strategic situation in the west was so radically different by then, after the Union had successfully rolled up the Mississippi River and Middle Tennessee.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I stand by my comments. If the same campaign had occurred in 1863 and 1864, Lincoln loses re-election.

The opening question related to the Kentucky campaign, not Murfreesboro.

I am not blind to Bragg's many faults and mistakes. I just think his few accomplishments deserve some recognition.
We all know that the June 1863 Tullahoma Campaign made any foray into Kentucky a subject for imagination & what if’s.

The Kentucky Campaign did not happen in a bell jar. Isolating it to events north & south of Cumberland Gap takes the events out of context making them isolated & irrelevant strategically. The vicious firefights over the few sources of water at Perryville are tactically interesting, no doubt. The campaign, however, was not about waterholes. It was about strategic objectives stretching from Ohio to Georgia.
 

Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
It may or may not have been a victory but it was some of the best leadership Old Brax would do in the war. Hess hailed it as a great achievement, to get his army in and to get them out before they starved, with a few blunders not withstanding. I read the book "Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man in the Confederacy." I read as much as I could stand, it was a well written and researched book but Bragg....is a hard man to like.
 
Joined
Mar 28, 2014
Location
Atlanta
When the clearly stated goal of bringing Kentucky into the Confederacy failed as did the hoped for recruiting bonanza, what did the Confederacy gain? Nothing so long as Bragg continued to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Losing Kentucky was not a good day for the Confederacy, it was a disaster.

As to Sherman at Atlanta, he would have defeated and destroyed the Army of Tennessee had Hood not given up the fight and left with his army. Instead, Hood went to Tennessee where he destroyed the Army of Tennessee himself.
Would you say the Germans were victorious at Normandy because Montgomery could not take Caen in the first week? I think not. Caen was taken and held and the Germans were driven out of France. The same principle applies to Bragg in Kentucky. He held nothing and was forced out of Kentucky. That was followed by serial defeats in Tennessee culminating with the loss of Chattanooga.
Victory is measured in enemy territory captured and held and the destruction of the enemies ability to resist. By either of those measures, Kentucky cannot reasonably be called a Confederate victory.
"Victory is measured in enemy territory captured and held and the destruction of the enemies ability to resist."
Not in all cases. The South didn't need to capture Kentucky or destroy the A of C, it simply had to survive.

Bragg did not "lose Kentucky". It was in Union hands already. At least he made a decent effort to regain it.

"What did the Confederacy gain?" See my first message - Chattanooga for a year.

"Hood not given up the fight and left with his army". Actually, Hood was hanging out in NW Georgia driving Sherman crazy when Sherman decided to burn Atlanta and head to Savannah.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
It may or may not have been a victory but it was some of the best leadership Old Brax would do in the war. Hess hailed it as a great achievement, to get his army in and to get them out before they starved, with a few blunders not withstanding. I read the book "Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man in the Confederacy." I read as much as I could stand, it was a well written and researched book but Bragg....is a hard man to like.
It isn’t about liking or no liking Bragg. Davis’ decision to keep Bragg in command after the Kentucky fiasco was a major, arguably fatal error. Bragg’s lack of long term planning coupled with his chronic inability to inspire confidence all but assured defeat & the loss of Tennessee in 1863. Davis & Johnston ranked Bragg. They certainly share a great deal of the blame for that strategic defeat of the highest order.
 
Joined
Mar 28, 2014
Location
Atlanta
It isn’t about liking or no liking Bragg. Davis’ decision to keep Bragg in command after the Kentucky fiasco was a major, arguably fatal error. Bragg’s lack of long term planning coupled with his chronic inability to inspire confidence all but assured defeat & the loss of Tennessee in 1863. Davis & Johnston ranked Bragg. They certainly share a great deal of the blame for that strategic defeat of the highest order.
I agree that Bragg should have been replaced at some point before Chickamauga, but I'm not sure who would have been the best person to take over. At the time, maybe Hardee made the most sense. Who would you have picked?
 

Dave DuBrucq

Corporal
Joined
Oct 28, 2020
Location
Tennessee
"Victory is measured in enemy territory captured and held and the destruction of the enemies ability to resist."
Not in all cases. The South didn't need to capture Kentucky or destroy the A of C, it simply had to survive.

Bragg did not "lose Kentucky". It was in Union hands already. At least he made a decent effort to regain it.

"What did the Confederacy gain?" See my first message - Chattanooga for a year.

"Hood not given up the fight and left with his army". Actually, Hood was hanging out in NW Georgia driving Sherman crazy when Sherman decided to burn Atlanta and head to Savannah.
Why was it in union hands? Because after Confederate General Leonidas Polk failed in his attempt to take Kentucky for the Confederacy. Polk ordered Gideon Pillow to occupy Columbus. The Kentucky legislature passed a resolution ordering the withdrawal of only Confederate forces. Governor Magoffin vetoed the measure, but the legislature overrode the veto. They petitioned the Federal Army for help. Grant entered Kentucky on 6 September, 1861. In addition, the General Assembly ordered the flag of the United States be flown over the Capitol in Frankfort, declaring it's allegiance with the Union.

While Confederates challenged Union control, including Forrest's and Morgan's Cavalry raids, they never succeeded in gaining control of the state. Moreover, Confederate incursions only served to help align Kentucky more strongly with the Union. Some 125,000 Kentuckians flocked to the Federal Banner as compared to 35,000 who took up with the Confederacy. On January 19, 1862, General George H. Thomas defeated Confederate forces at Mill Springs. CS Brig Gen Felix Zollicoffer was killed when he blundered into the Federal Camp in the Fog. The Confederates were forced to retreat across the Cumberland River and many of them drowned.

Following this, Edmund Kirby Smith was unable to dislodge George W. Morgan's Federals from Cumberland Gap. Bull Nelson's inexperienced troops took a licking at Richmond and Wilder surrendered at Munfordville. While tactical victories, they accomplished little else. While Bragg was bragging about defending Kentucky during the installation of a Confederate Governor, Buell's Federals descended on Frankfort and put Bragg to flight. Bragg retreated to join Smith and they abandon Kentucky. For the remainder of the war the Confederates would not, and likely could not make any effort to seize and hold Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Middle and West Tennessee were lost to the Federals. Retaining possession of Chattanooga for another year did them little good or no as Bragg managed to lose that as well. If that is your definition of a victory, so be it. It was a strategic debacle for the Confederacy.

And then there is Hood. Hood's activity in norther Georgia was little more than a nuisance. It did not interfere with Sherman's plans. Hood knew well a straightforward fight with Sherman would have not ended well. What may have stalled Sherman was the retention of Johnston, who would have defended Atlanta instead of abandoning it. Instead, Atlanta was burned and Sherman marched, virtually unopposed, to Savannah.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
It may or may not have been a victory but it was some of the best leadership Old Brax would do in the war. Hess hailed it as a great achievement, to get his army in and to get them out before they starved, with a few blunders not withstanding.
Bragg was hobbled by an irritable disposition and personality, which caused him much grief in terms of exhibiting real leadership ability. But purely on the merits, Bragg was not a totally ineffectual commander, at least in terms of planning is concerned. At Stones River, Bragg's envelopment of Rosecrans' right flank by Hardee's Corps was an effective move, although it fizzled out throughout the day without effective follow-up. In the mountain ridges south of Chattanooga, Bragg conceived potentially effective plans to set upon the divided Corps of the AotC and destroy them in detail, plans that were apparently thwarted by probable insubordination of his subordinate commanders, Hindman and Polk. This is not to say that Bragg was a brilliant military planner; he was maneuvered out of Tennessee, flummoxed by the situation at Chickamauga, and mishandled the defense of Chattanooga. But compared to most other Confederate Army commanders, he falls somewhere in the middle.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I agree that Bragg should have been replaced at some point before Chickamauga, but I'm not sure who would have been the best person to take over. At the time, maybe Hardee made the most sense. Who would you have picked?
That is certainly a vexed question. As Mrs. Chestnut noted, Jeff Davis clung to the same group of failures, no matter what. Lincoln, on the other hand, was not shy about letting heads roll. In the last months of the war, an entirely new cast of generals was in charge on the Union side, the same old failures on the CSA side. I can't see where Davis would have done anything but what he did, stick to Bragg.

It isn't an original idea from me, but a group of very highly regarded military historians & little ole me did discuss this topic during the fall. The consensus was that Davis should have sent Longstreet to replace Bragg. The reasoning was that Longstreet had both the personal prestige & temperament to put an end to the teenage girls on their periods (something I know a great deal about) at the same time command discord in the Army of Tennessee. He would have been faced with a near impossible task, so nobody expected a miracle. However, absent the discord & inability to make long term plans that typified Bragg's tenure, Longstreet had a chance to manage things intelligently. Would he have turned the situation around... unlikely. At least it would have been managed better.
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
This campaign is generally regarded as a victory for the U.S. which I've never until now questioned. Recently my view has been challenged by some friends, whose main arguments are:

  • Bragg may have failed to retake Kentucky but he got away with a large amount of loot (beef cattle, weapons, cloth, mules, etc)
  • The Confederacy regained lost ground like Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee that the Union would spend the next 9-12 months regaining
  • Perryville was a tactical victory
Now I ask you all, does this argument hold up?
KY stayed in the Union due to this invasion and the CSA’s inability to respect their neutrality. This campaign allowed Union forces to take the entire state. How that amounts to helping the situation in TN and MS and AL is beyond me.

If there is one place the CSA Lost and Lost fast, it’s in the Western theater. The KY campaign only gave the western union army the excuse it needed to win.

In sum, it was a blunder.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
If there is one place the CSA Lost and Lost fast, it’s in the Western theater. The KY campaign only gave the western union army the excuse it needed to win.
That is a fact. Long before Bragg's Kentucky offensive in 1862, Polk had "lost" Kentucky for the Confederacy by foolishly occupying Columbus in September 1861, thereby ending that state's so-called neutrality. It provided an opening for Grant to quickly occupy Paducah, strategically located at the notch controlling the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, leading to Grant's movements against Fts. Henry and Donelson, and the Confederate abandonment of Bowling Green, its pivot point on the Kentucky/Tennessee defensive line.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
An important point to consider on this map.

1862 map of Kentucky.jpg

Library of Congress
A look at this map will tell you why Kentucky was not going to secede. Notice how many rail roads touch on Northern Kentucky as opposed to the one, the L&N-N&C combination that connected to Atlanta Ga. Kentucky's trade was not with the South. Economically, Kentucky was linked to the states in the old Northwest & New England states. Cutting off their trade at the Ohio River would have been ruinous. The slave-holders in the Bluegrass, where the vast majority of Kentucky slaves worked in the flax industry etc. knew that without the Fugitive Slave Law in force, there was no way to keep their slaves from crossing the river to freedom. The mountainous eastern third of the state contained folk that were implacably hostile to slave-holding. Right up until the last year of the war CSA officials like Hood indulged in magical thinking about liberating Kentucky... apparently they did not have access to good maps.
 
Top