Centre College During the
Antebellum Era and the Civil War
By Laura Garrett
The fall of 1862 was hot and dry. One Centre graduate and Confederate soldier wrote in his diary that "I know not when I suffered more from heat and dust than I did today. The thermometer rose to 94 degrees in the shade ..." The drought left the town of Perryville with the most water in the region. It was this water that drew Confederate General Braxton Bragg to Boyle County: his troops took possession of Centre's campus that September. Mrs. E. B. Patterson, wife of Centre professor Robert Patterson, wrote that the soldiers would sit on the lawn in front of Old Centre at night singing "Dixie," the anthem of the Confederacy.
The Battle of Perryville took place on October 8 and 9, with Gen. Bragg's troops fighting Union soldiers under Gen. Buell. The second day of the Battle, only six students came for classes at Centre, so classes were cancelled and the campus buildings were turned into hospitals. Said one student: "I saw the poor, sickly wounded soldiers all over [Old Centre]." The fighting spread to Danville as well: Mrs. Patterson wrote that a shell exploded near her house and "seemed to shake the house and filled it with the odor of 'villainous saltpeter.'" Later that evening, drunken soldiers knocked on Mrs. Patterson's door and demanded dinner.
Wounded soldiers from both sides filled Danville's buildings after the Battle, until when on October 11 a short battle near the present-day Boyle County Fairgrounds gave the Union a victory. Mrs. Patterson wrote that citizens shouted with joy when the Union troops entered the town, and when a soldier placed an American flag near Centre's campus, "it was greeted with shouts and cheers by the Union men, and with tears of joy by the women." One of Mrs. Patterson's slaves cried out, "T'ank de Lo'd! T'ank de Lo'd! De Yanks is comin'."
The Union army occupied Centre"s campus for another eight months, leaving Old Centre in shambles. One member of the class of 1864 wrote that "there was not much left except the walls. The desks and chairs were practically used up. Some of the class rooms that had heavy oak benches were simply defaced by names being cut on them. The large majority of the benches in the old chapel were useless, badly broken up." At the end of the War, Centre received $430 in restitution for damages from the federal government. The Battle is considered a turning point in the Civil War, for it helped the Union to maintain control of Kentucky.
|Painting depicting the Battle of Perryville|
R. G. McRae, "Perryville Battlefield State Park," date unknown, University of Kentucky Postcard Collection
The Battle of Perryville took place on October 8 and 9, 1862. For months after the battle, Union and Confederate wounded soldiers filled Danville's buildings seeking medical care. The care they needed was hard to administer, for Boyle County was in a drought and there were few equipment and food resources to spare. About 2,500 troops died in Danville, from battle or from disease. Soldiers continued to need hospitalization through 1863; Old Centre was used as a hospital through September 1863 - eleven months after the Battle - while college classes were held in the library.
photo taken in 1860
Robert Patterson was a math professor at Centre from 1858 to 1864. When Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan's troops came to Danville in September 1862, Patterson was arrested by the Confederate troops and was released only upon the condition that he would never bear arms against the Confederacy. During the Battle of Perryville the next month, Patterson left Centre for fear that he would be drafted into the Confederate Army. His wife, Mrs. E. B. Patterson, wrote one the most comprehensive memoirs of Danville during the Civil War.
"Two Divisions of Buell's Army Attacked by Bragg at Perryville"
"Victory in Kentucky"
These articles appeared in the New York Times a couple of days after the Battle of Perryville.
|Birdseye View of Danville, Ky., 1910|
Centre College Special Collections
This 1910 picture of Danville was taken from the steeple of The Presbyterian Church, looking east along Main Street. When Union and Confederate soldiers entered town in the fall of 1862, they would sometimes fight in small skirmishes along Main Street.
|Reception of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers at Danville, Kentucky, After Driving Out the Rebels|
Drawn by Mr. H. Mosler
Harper's Weekly, November 8, 1862
This is an artist's rendering of Union Gen. Buell's troops marching into Danville after winning the Battle of Perryville. The Union soldiers won the Battle after a skirmish near the present-day Boyle County Fairgrounds.
|Mrs. E. B. Patterson|
"War Reminiscences," 1886
Mrs. E. B. Patterson lived in Danville from 1858 to 1864; she was the wife of Centre math professor Robert Patterson. Throughout her time in Danville, she wrote numerous letters to friends and family detailing her experiences during the Civil War. In 1886, she edited these letters into the essay "War Reminiscences," published by Herald and Presbyter, a weekly newspaper. Mrs. Patterson's purpose in publishing her letters was to show a woman's perspective on the Civil War. She said in her introduction:
"Almost all the 'War Papers' have been written by those who participated in the battle scenes described. The historians, too, have all been of the stronger sex. Possibly some readers might be interested in a woman's homely experiences and observations, situated as she was on the border, whose shifting line left her sometimes on the Union and sometimes on the Confederate side."In the excerpts above, Mrs. Patterson describes (from left) the homesickness of the young Confederate soldiers who camped on Old Centre's lawn in September of 1862; the flight for safety that she, her slaves Nisie and Davy, and her children took when the Battle of Perryville began on October 8, 1862; and the welcoming of the victorious Union soldiers into Danville at the end of the Battle of Perryville.