Bowling Green Letter

    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 

Newspaper Letter from the 2nd Kentucky Infantry
Bowling Green, December 1861


Camp Near Bowling Green,
December 2, 1861.

Editors, Courier Journal:

   Our Regiment (the 2d), together with the Third and Fourth Kentucky, the First Kentucky Cavalry, and Lyon’s Artillery, under command of Brig. Gen. Breckinridge, left our camp at this place on Sunday, the 17th ult., for the purpose of meeting the Yankees, who, it was reported, had crossed the river at Rochester, Butler County, and was advancing on Russellville, under the traitor Crittenden. In consequence of the roads being very bad, almost impassable, we traveled quite slowly. The boys who had been penned up here in camp for weeks past, were glad to again get out to the country, and joyous at the prospect of trying their trusty rifles upon the scoundrels who would overrun and lay waste our country. As we passed through Warren and Logan, we received the welcome shouts of the quiet farmers, who still remained upon their farms, and the cheering smiles of their fair daughters. The old farm houses looked cheerful, and nothing was wanting to fill up the picture of rural life. The frosty mornings, the saddened tone of the wind, brought to mind memories and fond recollections of the past, and spoke of hopes and joyous anticipations, that like the leaves had faded and fallen.

   On Monday we passed through Shakertown, where live the 'gentlemen of peace,' who, surrounded by every luxury of life, neither feel nor understand the importance of the agitating movements that are daily transpiring around them, but with the true spirit of their ancestors, pursue daily avocations as if nothing had transpired, and all was yet peace. These good people will neither sell or give to the soldiers, who are protecting their homes, but claim to be perfectly neutral. As our little army passed through their streets, both sexes gathered in squads, and in their curious and peculiar way wished us success.

   Wednesday we passed through Russellville, which, like Bowling Green, is filled with refugees, who have been compelled to flee from their homes in Northern Kentucky. After hard walking over a rough and muddy road, we pitched our tents at Rochester, on Sunday evening, and found, as we might have expected, that the Yankees had recrossed the river and fled, fearing, I suppose, that "Buckner's Indians" were after them, and that they would spring upon and scalp them ere they could fly the country.

   Butler county is almost solely inhabited by Lincolnites, and indeed it seems a fitting place for such creatures. Where you find an educated and reading man, nine times out of ten he is Southern in sentiment, but dare not express himself. One lady told us that her husband had been driven from his home, and she and her daughters were daily insulted, and she feared when we left her house would be burned over her head.

   Finding it impossible to meet the Yankees, we broke up our camp at Rochester on Tuesday, and took the road back toward Bowling Green, where we arrived yesterday and pitched our tents, being out just two weeks. But very few of our men fell back on account of sickness. The men stood up well and are fresh and eager for another tramp.

   The Lincolnites had plundered and robbed every house in and around Rochester, paying no more respect to Union men than to Southern. They had stolen everything that fell in their way.

   Our regiment, numbering eight hundred and ninety fighting men, deserves, as do all the others, the highest praise for the manner in which the officers and men conducted themselves during the entire march. General Breckinridge's brigade is one of the finest in the service, and the boys but ask an opportunity to show themselves worthy of the cause in which they are engaged.


(from the Louisville Daily Courier, Dec. 6, 1861; copy courtesy Jimmie Epling)



This letter was probably written by James L. White, 1st Sgt., Co. G ("Hamilton Guards"), 2nd Kentucky Infantry. It recounts one of the first "campaigns" of the Orphan Brigade.  Lyon’s Artillery was the First Kentucky Artillery, later known as Cobb’s Battery. The abbreviation "ult." in the first paragraph stands for "ultimo," meaning "last"; that is, the 17th last, or November 17th. The "traitor Crittenden" was Col. Thomas L. Crittenden, US Army (his brother George was a General in the Confederate Army).

The Shakertown referred to was South Union, Kentucky -- an enclave community for members of the United Society of Believers, or Shaker, religion. Along with their brethren at Pleasant Hill (near Harrodsburg), the pacifist Shakers maintained a precarious neutrality during the Civil War, openly helping neither side except when forced to.

"Buckner’s Indians" was a sobriquet applied to Kentucky Confederate units by Unionist newspapers in the state. The Confederates turned the tables and made maximum use of the name themselves. Some of the Orphan Brigade units reported after Shiloh that captured Federal soldiers were actually convinced that the Kentuckians were real Indians, and would scalp them. (see "Army Reminiscences," Jackman Journal, Library of Congress, p. 198)

My thanks to Susan Lyons Hughes of the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, for the information on South Union.


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