First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 



by Dr. John Cunningham, Ravenna, Tex.


   I was the first lieutenant of Company G, 4th Kentucky Infantry, during the great battle of Shiloh and put in two full days. Many people of to-day have the wrong conceptions of the soldiers' enjoyment in a great battle. They had their fun. In the regiment were several wags, amongst whom were "Devil Dick," "Wild Bill," and "Stauff Williams." On one occasion the regiment was behind a low embankment at rest. Our friends (?) [sic] the Federals were speeding many stray messengers of death immediately over us. Wild Bill proposed to bet Devil Dick a dollar that he could not lie flat on his stomach and elevate his heels above the embankment for one minute. The bet was accepted and money staked. So up went Dick's heels. At the expiration of the time Dick's heels came down minus a heel tap. A hearty laugh went up at Devil Dick's recklessness and loss of a heel tap. Had the ball been one inch lower, the imp would have lost a foot.

   At our first engagement with an Illinois regiment we fired a couple of volleys at about one hundred yards distant, then charged with a double-distilled Rebel yell. The Federals vacated. The 4th Texas [4th Kentucky ?] was halted immediately on the position recently occupied by the Federals and where sixty-five of their dead and wounded were left. One fresh Dutchman, with a big toe shot off, was yelling: "A surjohn, a surjohn!" [surgeon].  Stauff Williams, of our company, would yell out at the top of his shrill voice: ''You d---Dutch son-of-a-gun, if you don't stop that racket, I'll shoot a trace chain through your breadbasket!" Dutchie hushed quickly. All present were amused at the ridiculousness of both men.

   A wild, weird scene was witnessed on Sunday evening. Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge and his entire staff had halted immediately in our rear, beneath the great, spreading branches of a majestic oak. The Federal gunboats were shelling the battlefield. A large shell struck the giant oak just beneath the branch and, bursting inside, tore the tree into splinters. General Breckinridge and staff, scenting danger, dashed out. Gen. George B. Hodge, a staff member and hard of hearing, did not instantly comprehend the situation; but, casting his eye upward, he caught on. Seeing the falling wreck, he electrified his charger with both spurs and dashed from the jaws of death. Then the old 4th cheered and yelled at the escape of their favorite general. I could write of many amusing incidents, but must not ask too much space now.

--  From Confederate Veteran, Vol. 16 (1908), p. 577.



"Devil Dick" was Pvt. John M. Slusser of Co. D, 4th Kentucky Infantry.  "Wild Bill" was Pvt. Thomas B. Wright of Co. D.   "Stauff" Williams was probably Pvt. William S. Williams of Co. G.

The heel tap that "Devil Dick" lost was a metal plate attached to the heel of army brogan shoes, to keep the leather heel from wearing out prematurely.

The "Illinois regiment" was actually the 46th Ohio Infantry.

Click here to read more about the Orphan Brigade at the battle of Shiloh.

Click here to read a post-Shiloh letter from Capt. John Trice of Co. G, 4th Kentucky Infantry.


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