Perryville Battlefield one of America’s best preserved Civil War sites

Published 6:43 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2019


Guest columnist

It seems that Perryville Battlefield is referred to continuously as a “diamond in the rough.” I, however, think of the Battlefield as a polished gem.

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It is perhaps the best preserved major Civil War battlefield in the United States. It is substantially preserved; the soldiers who fought there would know it now; it has dedicated volunteers and passionate supporters from across the United States.

This year, it was the jewel of the American Battlefield Trust’s visit to Kentucky. Perryville Battlefield has received so many preservation and conservation awards that it would take all the space allowed in this editorial to list them.

Over the last year, the park was visited from individuals from all 50 states and 28 countries. It was the training grounds for the United States Army, that utilizes the terrain as a school for officers. The school buses rolled through the park all spring, bringing Kentucky school kids to the park.

Just last week, there was a large antique car tour. Groups like that use the park as a regular stop.  The summer months are full of tours and visiting groups both large and small. Yes, we do tour buses very well. They visit one of the best Civil War museums in the state, watch a well-done interpretive movie and are assisted by staff that are always ready to help with specific information, whether it is about great grandpa or the 1st TN Infantry. Visitors enjoy over 12 miles of what Ed Bearrs (National Park Historian Emeritus) called “one of the best interpreted Civil War battlefields in the country.”

In the spring and early summer, thousands of wildflowers turn the park into a living wreath, befitting the hallowed ground that it is. In the fall, Monarch butterflies put on a display seldom seen in Kentucky. The habitat work was paid for totally by a National Resource Conservation Grant received by the Friends of Perryville Battlefield. Since that time, thousands of more dollars and volunteer hours have been invested in that project by those very dedicated people.

People ride their horses and walk their dogs daily. The annual reenactment is a boon for the community and the national battle reenactments draw thousands of visitors and pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

Most importantly, it is the ground upon which the citizens of our nation bled to achieve the more perfect union that we now — most certainly — are. It cannot be forgotten that first and foremost, this is a landscape that must always be protected and should remain in our culture above the everyday and average places. It does not have ATV trails or zip lines, but if you remain long enough, it will speak to you.

Are there rough edges? Oh yes! The park needs many things and the facilities need updating and improvement for better access and interpretation. There needs to be adequate staffing and better equipment. However, in a decade worth of government budget cuts, these have all suffered.

Can either state or federal government provide the funding? Hard to say. The state’s budget is a mess and the National Park System is nearly $11 billion behind in deferred maintenance. The money and efforts to preserve and sustain the park will continue to come from private organizations and individuals.

The resource for tourism and economic development is there and well preserved. Local officials and economic development groups need to focus on ways to improve their ability to capitalize on the visitors who come through their communities on the way to the park. They must also help convince their state officials that investing in Perryville’s infrastructure is as important as investing in a marina on a lake.

Local citizens should come and visit the park and really explore and learn about the gem they have in their backyard. And please, stop referring to it is a diamond in the rough. As Civil War battlefields go, it is really a gem that might just equal the Hope Diamond!

Joni House is a former park manager at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. She retired Aug. 31.