Kentucky's Orphan Brigade: the Soldiers who fought for the Confederacy During the American Civil War---Reminiscences of the Orphan Brigade by L. D. Young with a General History of the Orphan Brigade by Ed Porter Thompson
The Orphan Brigade was the nickname given to the First Kentucky Brigade―the largest brigade to be recruited in the state consisting of the 2nd,3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th Confederate Infantry regiments―during the American Civil War. Its original commander was the popular John C. Breckinridge who had been a U.S Vice-President. The brigade fought in many engagements during the war. Most notably at the Battle of Stones River where after a particularly costly assault, General Braxton Bragg lamented as he saw the battered survivors, 'Oh, my poor orphans'. This sobriquet was reputedly derived from the fact that whilst Kentucky itself remained within the Union, its soldiers served both causes and the state was represented by a star on the national flags of both protagonists. The 'orphan' appellation was not widely used during the war but, promoted by Thompson, the unit's historian, became popular among veterans afterwards. This special Leonaur edition contains a well-regarded first-hand account and a history of the unit edited from Thompson's more expansive volume.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
“That subordinate must always obey his superior”—is the military law. In furtherance of Bragg’s order, we were assembled about three o’clock on the afternoon of January 2, 1863 (Friday, a day of ill luck) in a line North of and to the right of Swain’s hill, confronting Beatty’s and Growes’ brigades, with a battery or two of artillery as support. They being intended for the bait that had been thrown across the river at the lower ford, and now occupied an eminence some three-quarters of a mile to the right-front of the Orphan’s position on Swain’s hill.
This was the force, small as it was that Bragg was so anxious to dislodge. Between the attacking line and federal position was a considerable scope of open ground, fields and pastures, with here and there a clump of bushes or briars, but the entire space was in full view of and covered by the enemy’s batteries to the left of the line on the opposite side of the river previously referred to. If the reader will only carry these positions in his eye, he can readily discover the jaws of the trap in this murderous scheme.
A more imposing and thoroughly disciplined line of soldiers never moved to the attack of an enemy than responded to the signal gun stationed immediately in our rear, which was fired exactly at four o’clock. Every man vying with his fellowman, in steadiness of step and correct alignment, with the officers giving low and cautionary commands, many knowing that it was their last hour on earth, but without hesitating moved forward to their inevitable doom and defeat. We had gotten only fairly started, when the great jaws of the trap on the bluff from the opposite side of the river were sprung, and bursting shells that completely drowned the voice of man were plunging and tearing through our columns, ploughing up the earth at our feet in front and behind, everywhere.
But with steadiness of step we moved on. Two companies of the Fourth regiment, my own and adjoining company, encountered a pond, and with a dexterous movement known to the skilled officer and soldier was cleared in a manner that was perfectly charming, obliquing to the right and left into line as soon as passed.
By reason of the shorter line held by the enemy, our line, which was much longer and the colours of each of our battalions being directed against this shorter line, caused our lines to interlap, making it necessary, in order to prevent confusion and crowding, that some of the regiments halt, until the others had passed forward out of the way. When thus halted they would lie down in order to shield themselves from the enemy infantry fire in front, who had by this time opened a lively fusillade from behind their temporary works.
While lying on the ground momentarily a very shocking and disastrous occurrence took place in Company E, immediately on my left and within a few feet of where I lay, A shell exploded right in the middle of the company, almost literally tearing it to pieces. When I recovered from the shock the sight I witnessed was appalling. Some eighteen or twenty men hurled in every direction, including my dear friend, Lieut. George Burnley of Frankfort. But these circumstances were occurring every minute now while the battle was raging all around and about us. Men moved intuitively—the voice being silenced by the whizzing and bursting shells.
On we moved, Beatty’s and Growes’ lines giving way seemingly to allow the jaws of the trap to press with more and ever increasing vigour upon its unfortunate and discomfited victims. But, on we moved, until the survivors of the decoy had passed the river and over the lines stationed on the other side of the river, when their new line of infantry opened on our confused and disordered columns another destructive and ruinous fire.
Coupled with this condition and correlative to it, a battery of Growes and a part of their infantry had been cut off from the ford and seeing our confused condition, rallied, reformed and opened fire on our advanced right now along the river bank. Confronted in front by their infantry, with the river intervening; swept by their artillery from the left and now attacked by both infantry and artillery by an oblique fire from the right, we found ourselves in a helpless condition, from which it looked like an impossibility to escape; and but for the fact that two or three batteries had been ordered into position to check the threatened advance of the enemy and thereby distract their attention, we doubtless would have fared still worse.
We rallied some distance to the right of where we started and found that many, very many, of our noblest, truest and best had fallen. Some of them were left on the field, among whom was my military preceptor, advisor and dear friend, Captain Bramblett, who fell into the hands of the enemy and who died a few days after in Nashville.