Sutlers played key supply role in Battle of Perryville

October 06, 2003|PHIL PENDLETON

"Everything has a story behind it." Those are the words of Suzanne Boyd, one of the sutlers at the Perryville Commemoration and Reenactment Saturday. Sutlers were the merchants who sold supplies to soldiers that their armies didn't provide.

Boyd and her brother, Dorris Boyd, are from Christian County and travel from battlefield to battlefield to sell everything from handmade lanterns and folding chairs to period clothing.

"Every year I learn something different," said Suzanne. "I love the history behind all this stuff." She holds up a nightcap worn by soldiers to "keep their

ears warm." But right before battle, the soldiers would place their money in the top of the cap and fold it over, then put their uniform cap on top of it. She said if soldiers were wounded during battle and a thief tried going through their pockets looking for money, they wouldn't find anything because it would be under their hats.


Many sutlers travel with the reenactors and set up camp alongside them, just like during the war. "Each unit had their own sutlers," said Dorris Boyd. Suzanne said she and Dorris go to any event within a two-to-20 hour drive. "We just got back from Gettysburg."

Many of the sutlers are actually re-living the purpose they served during the war. The Boyds estimate that 75 percent of their customer base comes from soldier reenactors.

"I do 50,000 miles a year," said sutler Del Warren of Liberty, Mo. "40 to 42 events (a year)," he said.

Warren said Perryville was "neat" because the reenactment is on the original battle ground. He sells everything from authentic-looking cigars to confederate and union coats and pants. Army coats and pants cost $75. Another sutler had canteens for $50. "Everything is hand-made," said Dorris Boyd. "Specialty items are usually higher," he said.

Warren said he's been a sutler for 17 years. "I enjoy the people and the outdoors," he said.

"Sutlers had to be careful," said Boyd. "If your side lost that battle and you didn't get away, the other side would come in and take everything you had."

He said sutlers' prices were really high because of that risk. "The men (soldiers) thought they were robbing them the whole time," he said. "They had a high risk business."

Ron Kuhl of Louisville is attending his third Perryville event as a sutler but said he spent six years as a reenactor. "I enjoy meeting people," he said.

Kuhl had an officer's cot for $80 and a desk or "secretary" for $125. He admits many of the soldiers in 1862 probably wouldn't have bought many of the items he was selling. "Sutlers mostly carried soap, candles, and sewing equipment."

Phil Pendleton can be reached at

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