Atlanta Campaign

    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 



The campaign for Atlanta in the summer of 1864 was the most severe test for the Army of Tennessee, and the Orphan Brigade as part of it. Active combat started for the Brigade on 7 May 1864, and did not cease until 2 September, nearly four grueling months later. The Orphans began the campaign by manning various positions on Rocky Face Ridge, outside Dalton, Georgia (as you drive south on I-75 toward Atlanta, you pass through Mill Creek Gap just before Dalton, with Rocky Face Ridge to your right). From there they marched to Resaca, and participated in the defense of that town on 14-15 May. The 2nd and 4th Kentucky regiments repulsed several heavy assaults from their works at Resaca.

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At Resaca the Orphan Brigade was stationed in strong works along the ridge line in the distance, facing west (right).  The Federals attacked from another ridge (on the right of the photo), across the valley of Camp Creek (right center of the photo), toward the Confederate positions.

As Gen. Johnston's Army of Tennessee was continually outflanked, the Orphans fell back to the south, arriving near Dallas, Georgia, on 25 May. Here, on 28 May, they participated in a fateful assault that never should have been. What was meant to be a probing action turned into a full-scale assault, and supporting units fell back before the Orphans got the word, leaving them to attack the Federal works alone. The Brigade lost 51 percent of its strength in this doomed attack.

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At Dallas, the Orphan Brigade attacked from fortified hills to the right of this viewpoint, across the road, and toward the Federal works that were located on the higher ground in the center distance.

The Orphans went on to man the Pine Mountain line (where Gen. Leonidas Polk was killed) and the Kennesaw Line. They saw heavy skirmish action, but did not participate in the main battle of Kennesaw Mountain. As part of Bate's Division, Lewis' Orphan Brigade attacked on the Confederate right during the battles of Peachtree Creek (20 July 1864) and Atlanta (22 July), but they were unable to turn the Federal lines. The Orphans referred to this latter action as the battle of Intrenchment Creek, after a water course that ran near their lines.

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During the battle of Intrenchment Creek (Atlanta), the Orphan Brigade attacked along the general route of this modern road, toward the Federal lines on the ridge line in the left center distance (where the school is today).


Battle flag of the 5th Kentucky Infantry, captured at Atlanta, 22 July 1864
(collection of Benjamin David Ennis, photo courtesy Philip Ennis)


On 6 August 1864 the Brigade found itself on the far left of the Confederate line, where it was attacked by a strong Union probing force near Utoy Creek. Here, brother fought against brother, as the Federal 11th Kentucky Infantry attacked the 4th Kentucky Infantry of the Orphan Brigade. The Orphans were once again successful in repelling the Federal attacks. (The site of the battle of Utoy Creek is located today in Cascade Springs Park, on Cascade Road in western Atlanta.)

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Historical marker on the Utoy Creek battlefield

As the Federal noose around Atlanta grew ever tighter, the Orphans became part of a force moved south to Jonesboro to protect the last remaining rail line into the city. A desperate assault on 31 August 1864, which claimed many Orphan lives, failed to dislodge the Federals. The next day, Hardee's depleted corps was left to defend Jonesboro against nearly the entire Federal army. Hardee's men stood their ground against repeated attacks, but finally, the brigade to the Orphans' left gave way, and the Federals surged around the Kentuckians' left flank and rear. Many men of the 2nd and 6th regiments were overrun and captured, along with the battle flag of the 6th Kentucky. The remainder of the Brigade fell back to a more defensible position. Among those who would serve no more was the faithful color-bearer of the 4th Kentucky Infantry, Robert Lindsay, mortally wounded during the attack on the 31st.

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Battle flag of the 6th Kentucky Infantry, captured at Jonesboro, 1 September 1864
(Kentucky Historical Society / Military History Museum)


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Grave of Robert Lindsay
Ensign, 4th Ky. Vol. Inf.
Jonesboro, Georgia

The battle of Jonesboro marked the end of the Atlanta Campaign, and the end of the Orphans' infantry service. They were issued horses and mules, and converted to mounted infantry. As such, they opposed Sherman's March to the Sea. The campaign had taken a terrible toll on the Orphans. They started in May at Dalton, 1,140 strong. By the time the Brigade reached Jonesboro, it had compiled a total of 1,860 cases of death or hospitalization. Many men were wounded multiple times and returned to the ranks. On 1 September, the Brigade could muster only 240 men in the ranks. Yet, during this entire campaign, fewer than ten men deserted. (Thompson, "Orphan Brigade," 1973 ed., p. iv)

--  compiled by Geoff Walden


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Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at)
Laura Cook
: lcook62 (at)

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