Danville is a small town in the center of Kentucky with a large history. It played an important role in the development of Kentucky as a state and, along with nearby Perryville, an important role in the keeping Kentucky in the Union during the Civil War.
Danville is an old town by Kentucky standards. It dates back to the 1770’s making it one of the first European settled towns in the territory. It was first settled in 1774 by John Crow, and became an actual town when Walker Daniel bought 76 acres and designed the town grid in 1783. At that time this area was part of the state of Virginia. Danville hosted several conventions leading up to Kentucky gaining independence and becoming a state. In 1788 Virginia gave its permission for Kentucky to become independent and in 1792 Kentucky became the fifteenth state, and Danville was its first capital.
Boyle County Courthouse 1940 - See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Danville’s history is present for all to see in Constitution Square, a park in the center of town that has become home to replicas of many important buildings from Danville’s history. The one original building left is the Post Office. The also includes replicas of the original jail, the Presbyterian Meeting House and Greyson’s Tavern.
The entrance at the northwest corner passes by the Governor’s Circle which is built around a statue of two men taken from the state seal and flag. There is a plaque commemorating each of Kentucky’s governors. Nearby are two historical markers dedicated to the role of African Americans in fighting for the Union forces during the Civil War.
Danville has been home to several colleges since it was first formed. Transylvania University was founded there in 1783 before moving to Lexington. Today it is home to Centre College, a small liberal arts college. Four other universities and colleges have satellite campuses in Danville.
We also found two very good restaurants. One was Jane Barleycorn’s Market and Bar. The food was fresh and locally sourced. We had a wonderful dinner there. For breakfast we went to The Hub Coffee House and Café. Excellent coffee and breakfast wraps.
Perryville Battlefield – Perryville KY
Ten miles from Danville is the site of the Perryville Battlefield. Perryville was an important battle during the Civil War. Like Maryland, Kentucky was a slave state that did not leave the United States in 1861. In the fall of 1862 the Confederate Army made an attempt to tear the border slave states away from the Union. I have always loved walking around battlefields. It is often hard to understand battle tactics, but walking around you get a very good feel for what happened. It helps that the state of Kentucky has put together a very good walking trail (of about 2 miles) that covers the main parts of the battle, and over 20 miles of walking and driving trails in total. The trails have been set up with places to stop that include very good explanations and battle maps.
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
What really struck me is that as I was walking around the site, it was easy follow why the Confederate Army might have had what some people call a tactical victory, but still lost the day. The main forces were The Army of Ohio under General Don Carlos Buell against The Army of Mississippi under General Braxton Bragg. As the two armies faced off, the Army of Mississippi took the offensive and attacked the lines of the Ohioans. But the General Buell’s forces had greater numbers and they had set up a series of defensive lines along a sequence of hill tops. This meant that as General Bragg’s troops advanced, they were forced to constantly fight literally up-hill battles, leaving casualties strewn across the battlefield. By the end of the day, even though they had “won” many of the skirmishes, they were in no condition to continue, especially as the Union forces were being reinforced. Bragg was forced to retreat to Danville, and back through the Cumberland Gap.
Walking through the fields and hills of battle site, you can see why the battle turned out the way it did. The rolling hills were steep enough to give serious advantage to whomever could control the top of the hill, and that was always the Union Army. Now, I am no historian, but I believe that this win for the Union Army was well planned and thought out. They knew that the Confederates had to be on the offense, so they created a series of defensive lines that allowed them to force the Confederates to constantly fight from inferior and more dangerous positions.
The Battle of Perryville, along with the Battle of Antietam, played a key role in the Civil War. The first two years had been mostly wins for the Confederacy. President Lincoln was looking for an appropriate time to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, and these two Union victories, less than a month apart, gave Lincoln that opportunity.
I would love to come back to Kentucky. There is the whole Bourbon industry that I would love to explore. But if I do, I plan and passing through this part of Kentucky again.
Getting There: Danville sits at the junction of U.S. 150 which comes southeast from Louisville and U.S. 27 which come south from Lexington.