McDonough, James L. War in Kentucky From Shiloh to Perryville. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press
19 November 2012
James McDonough's War in Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville uses exerts from diaries, letters, and
participant recollection to explore the strategic importance of Kentucky for both sides in the Civil War.
War and Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies was
also used as a reference. McDonough focuses on the under-examined facets of the Civil War in
Western Theater to recount the Confederates attempt to gain control of Kentucky. McDonough
identifies collective leadership deficiencies on both sides and argues that 1862 should be the decisive
year of the war.
June 20, 1862, Jefferson Davis, commander of the 11 states that made of the Confederate States
of America, removed General P.G. T. Beauregard from the command of the army of the Mississippi.
Braxton Bragg was appointed his successor at a time the Confederacy's circumstances were low.
McDonough does not claim the south would have won under Beauregard's command, however,
McDonough criticizes the Confederate tactics for lack of a clearly defined military objective and
suggests Beauregard may have offered stronger leadership.
McDonough sets the stage for his account of the Kentucky battles by outlining the
Confederacy's precarious state in the winter and spring of 1862. During this time, the Union
successfully launched a joint army-navy offensive in capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. These
victories were described as great triumphs that presented the Union with many opportunities to weaken
and pose great threat to the Confederacy. The Confederates made a futile attempt to impede the
Federal advance. They failed, losing the battle at Shiloh. Shiloh was the largest battle, measured by
numbers engaged and causalities, of the Civil War as well as all battles in American history up to that
time. This delineated a chain of events from which the Confederacy would not recover.
The importance of the Union victories over Fort Donelson and Fort Henry can not be
exaggerated. In, The Story of the Confederacy, author Robert S. Henry writes, “Fort Donelson, in many
ways, may be considered the critical event of the Civil War.” i “Fort Henry Fell with ease. Poorly located on low ground, not well planned and poorly armed, it was threatened as much my rising water
as by approaching Yankees.” ii These vital events opened up the Tennessee River as an area of
penetration all the way to the state lines of Alabama and Mississippi.
Federal troops moved further south, severing Confederate communication on the Mississippi.
Yankees continued up the Tennessee, taking control of Memphis and Charleston Railroad line, moving
on to Nashville, a major arsenal and supply depot. Under the direction of General Braxton Bragg, the
operation originally began with the plan to face General Buell in Middle Tennessee. Instead, Bragg
was influenced by General Edmund Kirby Smith, who had a strong desire to conquer Kentucky. The
southerners launched an ineffective encroachment. Confederates sacrificed thousands of soldiers in
their effort to protect the Memphis Charleston Railroad. The southerners had the advantages of
numbers and the element of surprise. However, due to lack of military placement and implements of
war, the Confederates failed. The progress of the Yankees and the struggle for the railroads continued.
The Rebel generals understood the importance of Kentucky. However, a strategic plan in taking
Kentucky cities such as Lexington or Louisville, or another strategic location was never formulated.
The Confederacy lacked number in...