What was the "Orphan Brigade?"
The Orphan Brigade was formed in October 1861 from a group of Kentucky units that mustered into Confederate service in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky in the summer and fall of 1861. Due to Kentucky's neutrality policy in the summer of 1861, men wishing to join the Confederacy traveled to Camps Boone and Burnett, near Clarksville, TN. Here, the nucleus of the Orphan Brigade was formed.
Seal of the Confederate Government of Kentucky
The following units composed the Orphan Brigade at its formation:
2nd Kentucky Infantry, organized at Camp Boone, 17 July 1861
3rd Kentucky Infantry, organized at Camp Boone, 20 July 1861
4th Kentucky Infantry, organized at Camp Burnett, 13 September 1861
6th Kentucky Infantry, organized at Bowling Green, KY, 19 November 1861
9th Kentucky Infantry, organized at Bowling
Green, 3 October 1861, as the 5th Kentucky Infantry
1st Kentucky Artillery (Cobb's Battery), organized at Bowling Green, 20 September1861
Graves' Battery, organized at Bowling Green, 8 November 1861
Byrne's Battery, organized in Washington County, MS, July 1861
John Hunt Morgan's Cavalry Squadron, organized at Bowling Green, 5 November 1861
Some of these units left the Brigade for other organizations, and other units joined later. Through most of its career, the Orphan Brigade was composed of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th Infantry regiments, and Cobb's Battery.
Throughout this page, we will use the designation "9th Kentucky Infantry" for Col. Thomas Hunt's regiment. When organized in 1861, this regiment was known as the 5th Kentucky, and it is so-called in many period records. However, another regiment in Eastern Kentucky had also formed as the 5th Kentucky; since this regiment had perfected its organization first, the Confederate War Department redesignated Hunt's regiment as the 9th Kentucky in October 1862. To confuse the issue even further, the Eastern Kentucky 5th Kentucky Infantry (reorganized) joined the Orphans in November 1863, and served with them through the remainder of the war.
(See Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky; Confederate Kentucky Volunteers (hereafter cited as AGR), Vol. I, Frankfort, 1915, pp. 280-283, 410-411, 458-459.)
The Orphan Brigade served all across the South, from Bowling Green, KY, to Baton Rouge, LA, and from Vicksburg, MS, to Camden, SC. They participated in most of the major battles of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, earning a reputation for steadiness in battle and unequaled prowess in drill. Following the Atlanta Campaign, the Orphans were converted to mounted infantry. The end of the war found them in South Carolina, where the 4th Kentucky Infantry fought one of the last actions east of the Mississippi River on 29 April 1865. The survivors of the Orphan Brigade were paroled at Washington, Georgia, on 6-7 May 1865.
(See Geoffrey R. Walden, "Kentucky's Famous Orphan Brigade," America's Civil War, Vol. 4, No. 2, July 1991, pp. 12, 63-66; regimental histories in the AGR; Thompson, 1868 (pp. 392-393)/1898; "Captions and Records of Events," Compiled Service Records of Kentucky Confederate Soldiers, National Archives Microfilm Series M319.)
Why the name "Orphan Brigade?"
The name "Orphan Brigade" was apparently a post-war invention by the veterans. It may have been in limited use by the end of the war, but it was not a widespread name like "Stonewall Brigade." During the war, the Orphan Brigade was generally known as the Kentucky Brigade, or the First Kentucky Brigade. There have been two theories put forward as to the source of the name, both are probably partly correct.
Following the Orphans' disastrous assault at Murfreesboro on 2 January 1863, in which they suffered devastating casualties from massed Federal artillery, Gen. Breckinridge rode along their lines. Distraught at the obvious high casualties, he cried out, "My poor Orphan Brigade! They have cut it to pieces!" ("E.P. Thompson," Confederate Veteran, Vol. 4, No. 11, November 1896, p. 368). In this battle, the Brigade commander, Gen. Roger Hanson, was mortally wounded. The Kentuckians again lost their commander, Gen. Ben Hardin Helm, at Chickamauga, further contributing to their feeling of being "orphaned."
Another possible source for the name was the general situation faced by the Kentucky Confederates. When they left the state in February 1862, they were never able to return as a unit during the war. Cut off from supplies, recruits, and even mail from their homes behind enemy lines, the Kentuckians began to see themselves as "orphans" whose only home was the Confederate Army (Thompson (1898), p. 29).
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