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Rotary report: Perryville Battlefield manager speaks about park’s opportunities for growth

By DAVE FAIRCHILD

Danville Rotary

Can Perryville’s historic site become a year-round attraction? Byran Bush, the new Perryville Battlefield park manager, told Rotarians on Feb. 1 that is exactly what he intends to do.

He believes that Perryville’s 1,000 acres of the pristine natural habitat can draw many more tourists if access to the park’s location is improved and more information about the park’s natural history is provided. First, though, improvement to many of the park’s facilities must be made. Most are decades old and long overdue for upgrades.

Bush has only been on the job for six weeks, but his background and experience has prepared him well. He is taking over the reins of the park from Joni House, who retired at the end of August.

Bush, a Louisville native, holds a master’s degree. His thesis dealt with Civil War history on the western front. He has published more than a dozen books and frequently contributes to magazine articles.  

He has been a Civil War reenactor and served as a board member and curator for the Old Bardstown Civil War Museum and Village.

The Battle of Perryville (also known as the Battle of Chaplin Hills) was fought on Oct. 8, 1862, in the Chaplin Hills west of Perryville. It was the culmination of the Confederate Heartland Offensive.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi won a tactical victory against a single corps of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Union Army of Ohio. The battle is considered a strategic Union victory, since Bragg withdrew to Tennessee soon thereafter. As a result, the Union retained control of the critical supply corridor for the Union Army for the remainder of the war.

Here is a brief summary of the key elements Bush plans to leverage:

  • Perryville Battlefield’s School of the Soldier: An interactive historic learning experience  developed for fourth- and fifth-graders, the program emphasizes the significance of the U.S. Civil War and its effect on Kentucky, but can be tailored to other age groups.
  • Perryville Battlefield is also a wildlife refuge that features a variety of habitats. Approximately 1,000 acres of preserved land contains woodlands, grasslands, open prairie flowered grasslands and dense thickets, where dozens of species of birds can be observed. The park has a dedicated “Bird Trail” that meanders through these habitats.
  • Self-guided tours are provided on several walking trails. Over 40 interpretive signs are part of the nearly 20-mile trail system. Maps are available at the museum. 
  • The Civil War comes to life in the Perryville Battlefield Museum. Visitors can examine actual battle artifacts, a Civil War display, and a map with the layout of the battle. Upon exiting the museum, many tourists stop by the Confederate monument that was erected in 1902 and the Union monument that was added in 1931.
  • Mr. Bush presents a continuing series of one-person interpretations at the park. His next presentation, titled “Union Colonel Daniel F. Griffin of the 30th Indiana Infantry,” is scheduled for May 9, June 24 and July 11.  
  • A new event, Spring Fest, will incorporate outside organizations, such as the Garden Club of Danville and the National Association of Butterflies. 
  • Special exhibits are planned, starting in September and running through this year’s reenactment. The first will be called “Death and Dying in the Civil War.” Starting in November and running through January, a new exhibit on Christmas in the Civil War will be introduced. 
  • Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 will feature a ghost walk at the battlefield. Many people believe the battlefield is haunted. Bush published the book “Haunted Battlefields of the South” a couple of years ago.