The Battle of Perryville is known as the largest battle in Kentucky during the Civil War, but to some local families, it’s much more personal than that.
“Oh, we’ve heard these stories since we can remember …,” said Scott Hankla.
He and brother Ren Hankla grew up with stories of their family’s involvement in the battle.
“Most of what we know is not actually documented in black and white, but they are stories that have been in our family for generations ...,” said Scott Hankla, who now lives in Frankfort.
Ren Hankla returned to the family farm in Perryville, across from the battlefield, and built a home in 1977. A brick house still stands on the farm that was used during the battle, and the family has stabilized the structure to keep it standing. The house was built in 1830 by Robert Walker and passed down to Thomas Williams.
The Hanklas’ grandfather, Lorenzo Goodknight Hankla, married into the Williams family, and he and wife Nannie occupied the home after Thomas Williams died. Later, Nannie died and Lorenzo married Laura Lankford. They had five children, all of whom were born in the brick house. Of those five, Henry Hankla was Scott and Ren Hankla’s father.
The brothers’ grandfather, Lorenzo, lived near the battlefield at the time of the war and was about 16 years old. Lorenzo went over to the battlefield after the fight to “look around after it was over. He was told by a Union officer to bury the bodies,” Ren Hankla said. “But he became very, very ill at the site, and he got out as soon as he could.”
“It was so grizzly, that he just wanted to get out of there,” Scott Hankla said.
Most of the soldiers were buried where the entrance of the park is today, Scott Hankla said.
Susannah Clairborne Hankla Goodknight, the brothers’ great-great-aunt, and her husband, Jacob, lived near the battlefield in a house that was used by the Confederates as a field hospital, and the family vacated the home. The brothers have heard stories of a violin — or fiddle — player who made his way through the makeshift Goodknight hospital to entertain wounded soldiers and comfort them.
After the Confederates were treated and left, Union soldiers then occupied the Goodknight house for about three days.
“The home was left incredibly damaged after that, and Susannah filed a War Claim for $1,739.50 to recover the losses from damage to her home and farm caused by the Union Army,” Scott Hankla said.
The house was razed in 1920, and the brothers own the site where it was located.
“One important thing some don’t know is that the soldiers who were being treated at the hospital who died were buried in a family cemetery about 100 yards from the house, in the Goodknight Family Cemetery,” Ren Hankla said.
The brothers said the area was probably the only choice for burial at the time.
“They dug a trench and buried the arms, legs and other parts of soldiers there,” Scott Hankla said.
Ren Hankla said some stories say the individual rocks sticking up in the cemetery are soldiers’ graves as well as those of family members.
The Hanklas have stabilized the other remaining old brick home, formerly their grandfather’s, as much as possible, including replacing the roof and restoring all of the rooms except one, and left it on the property but say the structure is not occupiable at this point. Ren Hankla actually lived in the house while his home was being constructed in 1977.