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Orphan Brigade

The 4,000-man 1st Kentucky Brigade was organized in the summer of 1861. Not recognized by their home state, which remained in the Union, the soldiers were forced to train in Tennessee. In February 1862, the Confederate army was forced out of Kentucky, and with it went the 1st Kentucky Brigade, never to return during the war. This forced exile gave the unit its nickname, "Orphan Brigade."

The 1st Kentucky Brigade covered itself with glory in the battles it fought with the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee: the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, Stones River, Jackson, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge, as well as throughout the Atlanta campaign and against Sherman during his march to the sea. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Gen. John B. Hood, who served at different times as commander of the Army of Tennessee, both declared the Orphan Brigade the best in their army. President Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law, Ben Hardin Helm, was one of the Orphan Brigade's generals until he was killed at Chickamauga. Another of its generals, Roger W. Hanson, was killed in the tragic Confederate charge during the final day of battle at Stones River. Of the 1,200 members of the Orphan Brigade engaged in the charge, 400 did not return. Division commander and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge rode among the survivors crying, "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans!"

Exiled from its home state of Kentucky, the Orphan Brigade was unable to recruit new troops to fill its ranks, but the brigade managed to maintain its spirit and had few desertions. For the final months of the war the brigade was mounted and served as cavalry. One of the last Confederate units in the East to surrender, the soldiers of the Orphan Brigade laid down their arms in the first week of May 1865, at Washington, Ga. Only 500 of the original 4,000 members of the brigade remained.

Fascinating Fact: The Orphan Brigade had such a reputation for hard fighting that its services were sought after by various Confederate generals. As a result, the Orphans found themselves in the thick of many bloody battles.

Photo John Washington Payne, Chief Bugler; courtesy Kentucky Historical Society; Kentucky Military History Museum Collection
Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
MCMXCIII Atlas Editions, USA
D3 602 01-16