Looking Back: Soldiers ruin another church

February 29, 2004|STUART SANDERS

Editor's note: This is the last of four stories that Stuart Sanders wrote about the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville and research into war claims that were filed. Other articles were about The Danville Theological Seminary, The Presbyterian Church and Episcopal church.

When the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville left thousands of blue-clad Union troops crammed in churches across Danville, no denomination was spared.

Mary Harris, a Danville housekeeper, remarked that "the churches were filled as rapidly as they could bring them; I couldn't say which church was filled first." The First Baptist Church, then located on Broadway Street near the intersection of Broadway and Third, was no exception. This house of worship also became crowded with the sick and wounded.

Testimony from a 1907 war claim hearing provides an accurate description of the structure. Anna Bowman, who was "matron of the Deaf and Dumb Institution," lived at the corner of Third and Broadway. "Just one house (was) between the Baptist Church and my home," she testified. "It was a brick building, rather longer than wide. And it was surrounded by an upright fence, as I recall it, on two sides and back ... It had one story, and in the back of the building there was a gallery, across the rear end of the church. The windows had plain, ordinary glass. The walls were plastered."


Additional testimony by bank director James L. Bruce described the church as "a brick building of one story with a gallery (balcony) across one end, high ceilings, large windows, three or four windows on each side, (made of) plain glass." The structure, which had a steeple with a church bell, was 40 feet wide by 60 feet long, and contained walnut pews and a walnut pulpit. Mary Harris called the church "a very nice comfortable building."

When the troops converted the space for a hospital, Harris recalled "the main building and the gallery across one end of the church were occupied" by the sick and wounded. Pews were initially used as beds, but the soldiers eventually removed them and stacked them outside and in the gallery. The pews were replaced with cots, a rare luxury for wounded soldiers in Danville. Across town, most of the wounded convalesced on straw piled on the floor.

The wounded men left a vivid impression on Anna Bowman. "I remember seeing them lying on the floor and on benches, with the bandages on their arms and legs and heads."

Bowman and other citizens helped these wounded by supplying them with food, blankets, and other supplies. Mary Harris noted that residents "waited on them as best we could."

When the weather turned cold, Harris and other citizens nailed cotton cloth over the broken windows to prevent drafts. In most of the church hospitals the windows were broken to provide ventilation.

Several residents testified that the First Baptist Church was the last house of worship to be vacated by the soldiers. According to teacher Henries Wilson, the church was occupied a day or two after the Battle of Perryville and was in use as a hospital until the late spring or early summer of 1863. It is likely that this occupation lasted for nearly eight months.

When the troops left, the church was in shambles

When the troops left, the church was in shambles. Housekeeper E.E. Akin, who lived in Danville at the corner of Second and Main streets, toured several churches where she would "take new milk up to the church." Included in her rounds was the Baptist Church, and she said the building was in a terrible condition after the occupation.

"It was pretty bad," she said. "The windows broken, fences all gone, front and back, too. It was badly knocked up."

In addition, the floor "looked dirty and bad" and the walls were "badly scarred.

Mary Harris concurred. She testified that "it was in a very dilapidated condition." Walls and pews were "defaced," pews were split for kindling, and other pews were removed. "I know there was cooking done in the house," Harris said.

Even the pulpit, which was used as a table to hold medicines, was ruined. Furthermore, the fencing around the church was gone. "They burned this fence for fuel," Harris noted. "I saw them taking the boards and saw them burning them."

Once the wounded and sick left, the congregation probably concluded that they could restore their building and resume worship there. This site, however, was not to be free from military use.

In the spring of 1863, Union Col. Thomas Z. Morrow used the church to muster his men into the service, and they were, according to Akin, "mountain men from Kentucky and part of Tennessee." Morrow's troops, who became part of the 32nd Kentucky Infantry, used the church to pick up uniforms, guns, and ammunition. Later, when Confederate cavalry raided Danville, Morrow left with his men and spared the church from further occupation.

Sadly, 15 to 20 years after the war, the First Baptist Church burned to the ground. "The same congregation rebuilt after the burning on the same lot and the church now stands on that lot," Bruce said.

Today, this newer First Baptist Church building, constructed in its present form in 1902, continues to grace Broadway, where it sits next to the Boyle County Library.

In the early 1900s, the Baptist congregation attempted to get $1,900 for damages and rental fees by filing a war claim against the Federal government. In August 1907, that claim was rejected.

Danville Baptists, just like the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians, never received reparations for their church's conversion into a hospital. Such was the effect of the Battle of Perryville on individuals and the institutions designed to uphold and protect them.

Stuart W. Sanders is director of the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association.

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