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On the morning of October 8, 1862, Union Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio faced east across rolling terrain toward Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi northwest of Perryville in Boyle County, Kentucky. Between the lines of Major General Alexander McCook’s I Corps of Buell’s army and Major General William Hardee’s Left Wing of Bragg’s lay Henry Bottom’s farm. Situated on the western bank of the mostly dry Doctor’s Creek, where it crossed the Mackville Road, the farm’s stone and rail fences would afford cover for the troops but also make maneuvering problematic.

On that very hot, dry and dusty day, the homestead’s proximity to a water source placed it squarely in the path of the gathering storm. Much of the coming battle would rage over the 760-acre farm, in fighting marked by command confusion, erroneous assumptions, personality conflicts and miscommunication on both sides. The largest battle fought in Kentucky, it proved to be the climax of a Confederate campaign meant to carry the war in the West from northern Mississippi to the banks of the Ohio River.

Henry Pierce Bottom, born in 1809, was a Baptist farmer, cabinetmaker and justice of the peace, and the latter distinction earned him the nickname “Squire.” He and Margaret “Mary” Hart, 10 years his junior, married in 1840 and had two sons, Samuel and Rowan. Also living at the Bottom House in October 1862 was Henry’s 77-year-old uncle, William. Henry owned eight slaves, and William two more. All 10 slaves lived in a single dwelling on the property.

In addition to his uncle, Henry was surrounded by relatives: Across the road to the north lived his widowed mother, Mary “Polly” Bottom; to the south was his cousin Sam; to the northwest was another widowed cousin, Mary Gibson. In 1860 Bottom was raising sheep and swine on his farm, valued at $16,000, while also growing oats, wheat, rye, corn, peas, beans and potatoes.

On the day of the battle, the Bottom’s substantial barn was filled with threshed wheat and oats for the approaching winter. During the fighting around the buildings— mostly between Colonel William Lytle’s Union brigade and those of Confederate Brig. Gens. Daniel Adams, Bushrod Johnson and Patrick Cleburne—several shots from Confederate artillery struck the barn, and one shell set it ablaze. The heat became so intense that nearby Union soldiers could do nothing to help wounded comrades trapped inside. That inferno in turn started a grass fire that would eventually kill a few more incapacitated men who were lying in the open.

After Bragg’s Confederates achieved a tactical victory, they withdrew on October 9, leaving the farm a shambles. Bottom had already lost his fences and barn, and by this time the house and outbuildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. The battle resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 men, and their remains littered the field.

With the Union forces focusing on tending their own casualties, the dead Rebels were left where they lay. When feral hogs living in the nearby woods became a ghoulish nuisance, the Federals impressed Bottom and other local slaveholders to assist with burying the Confederate dead. Later still, after the troops marched off, Henry with other residents, in addition to students from the nearby Kentucky School for the Deaf, exhumed and reinterred many in a plot on the Bottom Farm. Altogether they buried 347 men, about 30 of whom they had managed to identify from their possessions, in a compact mass grave.

Henry Bottom remained on his farm after the war, but for the first time he was forced to buy food to feed his family. And the Squire’s trials didn’t end there—Union forces would make additional demands on him in the course of the war. Bottom later filed a claim against the U.S. government for damages that occurred after the battle: $1,282 for “commissary” items such as pork, beef, bacon, cattle and sheep; and $3,580 for “quartermaster” goods, including wood, corn, hay and oats. In addition to showing that the losses were incurred after and not during the battle, however, a claimant had to prove that he had been a loyal citizen of the United States. Some of Henry Bottom’s neighbors claimed he was not only disloyal but the area’s most prominent secessionist, which led to his claim initially being denied. But in 1902, a year after Henry died, his son Rowan refiled the claim. This time the counter-testimony of other neighbors—who attested to his Unionism and disparaged his detractors’ motivations—resulted in Rowan being awarded $1,715 by act of Congress in 1914.

Henry, who lived until age 92, is perhaps best remembered for the Confederate cemetery he created on his property. After the war he had attempted to construct a stone wall around the burial ground, but in 1885 it was incomplete and overgrown, and would remain so for several years. On October 8, 1902—the 40th anniversary of the battle—the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated a 28-foot-tall granite monument at the site, which had been completely walled in.

Today the restored Bottom House sits on private property just outside the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site (see, which consists of 745 acres, with another 300 protected by easements and more than 7,000 total acres recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The park also includes a visitor’s center and museum, walking trails and a Union monument near the Confederate cemetery.


Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here