First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 

DEC 30, 1862-JAN 2, 1863

by Laura Cook

The captured men of Ft. Donelson, as well as their officers had been paroled and exchanged in August and September of 1862, in Vicksburg. They reunited with the Kentucky Brigade at Knoxville, TN, and fought together at Murfreesboro.

Upon the reuniting of the brigade, Col. Hanson was now the senior officer. He was given the command of the Kentucky Brigade, and raised to the rank of Brig. General.

   Gen. Roger W. Hanson (shown as a Colonel in this 1862 cdv)

January 2, 1863, found the Kentucky Brigade and Hanson, entering the fourth day of the Battle of Murfreesboro. Shortly after noon, Breckinridge rode to Bragg's headquarters to receive his orders. Without consulting any of the other commanding general's as to position, reconnaissance or terrain, Bragg ordered Breckinridge to take his division and capture high ground occupied by Federals on his front. Breckinridge protested, complaining that even if they took the high ground, they would be open targets for the Federal artillery on an adjoining ridge. Bragg would not relent and a dejected Breckinridge went back to give the orders to his division.

   Gen. John C. Breckinridge (Library of Congress)

All of the division generals objected to these orders, but Hanson objected the strongest. He called the order "murderous" and was so infuriated he wanted to go to headquarters immediately and shoot Bragg. Breckinridge and Brig. Gen. William Preston managed to talk Hanson out of this. Breckinridge, however, told Preston that should he die, he wanted it known to all that he believed the attack to be unwise and had tried to prevent it. This was the first and only time that Breckinridge spoke of dying before a battle.

Sadly, the attack turned out exactly as Breckinridge had predicted. Once the ground was taken the Federal artillery opened fire on Breckinridge's division. Hanson was one of the first to fall, mortally wounded. The Kentucky Brigade was once again orphaned. The price of this battle was high as the Orphans lost 27% of their brigade.

When the battle ended, Breckinridge surveyed the damage. He had great anger at the suicidal and senseless order by Bragg, which had cost the life of Hanson and many others.....and great sadness at the observation of what was left of his old brigade. This was too much for him. A tear came from his eye.

"My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans!", he cried, "My poor Orphan Brigade! They have cut it to pieces!"

Sources and further reading:
Davis, William C. "Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol"
Davis, William C. "The Orphan Brigade: The Kentucky Confederates Who Couldn't Go Home"
Long, E.B. "The Civil War Day by Day"
McPherson, James M. "Battle Chronicles of the Civil War" 5 vol

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Comments to page authors:

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

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