The Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade at Stockbridge, Georgia
Text & maps by : Geoffrey R. Walden
Following the battle of Jonesboro and the fall of Atlanta, the Kentuckians of Gen. Joseph Lewis' Confederate Orphan Brigade were ordered to the area of Griffin and Barnesville, Georgia, to be converted to mounted infantry. Here they received their horses, mules, saddles, and tack, and learned the rudiments of mounted scouting. They were assigned to Iverson's Division of Wheeler's Cavalry Corps.
The Orphans' first assignment as mounted infantry was to scout the roads leading southeast from Atlanta. In late October 1864, the Brigade headquarters was established in Stockbridge, on the main road from Atlanta to Macon (now US Hwy. 23). Other roads came into Stockbridge from Buckhead and Decatur, making it an important crossroads.
To cover the area between Stockbridge and Atlanta, the left wing of the Fourth Kentucky Mounted Infantry, under the command of Acting Major John Weller (Captain of Company D), was moved forward on the Decatur road about eight miles. Weller established his command post at the intersection of the main road to Atlanta and a road leading eastward (now the intersection of Stagecoach Road and Anvilblock Road, seven miles north of Stockbridge). He spread his videttes, under the command of Captain Jack Brown of Company C, out a couple of miles to the north, along the old stagecoach road from Decatur to Columbus. The area to the left, covering the main Atlanta-Macon Road, was guarded by the Second Kentucky Mounted Infantry, and part of the Fifth Kentucky Mounted Infantry was posted on Weller's right.
Capt. Jack Brown, 4th Ky Infantry (courtesy Phil Van Bussum)
Weller and his Fourth Kentuckians settled down to a peaceful period of scouting and making the acquaintance of the local folks. Weller in particular enjoyed the company of a Miss Nannie Stubbs, who lived in a house on the stagecoach road near the northern limit of Weller's area of responsibility (near the modern intersection of Bouldercrest Road and Panthersville Road). So popular was Miss Stubbs that officers from the other regiments were frequent visitors to her house, even though they had to leave their assigned sectors to do so. This gave Weller something to worry about, primarily because he was afraid the others would eat up all the Stubbs' rations!
Not all was carefree, though. One day the Orphans received a report that marauding Yankees had attempted to molest (fortunately unsuccessfully) two young ladies in the neighborhood. Their sense of honor and decency aroused, men of the Fourth Kentucky rode toward the enemy's lines and managed to capture two of the offenders. These were soon found swinging from trees beside the road, a grim reminder of the efficiency of these battle-hardened veterans.
The period of mostly quiet scouting was shattered on November 15, 1864, when Sherman's huge force turned its back on Atlanta and started on its March to the Sea. The Right Wing, consisting of the 15th and 17th Army Corps and the main supply trains, headed south and east toward Rough and Ready, Morrow, and McDonough. This route took them through Stockbridge, and into a collision with the Orphan Brigade.
On the afternoon of the 15th, as Weller was visiting Miss Stubbs (as usual!), he received reports of fighting near his headquarters, two miles back down the road. Hastily bidding farewell to Miss Stubbs, he headed for the scene of the action. He found his men contesting the advance of the 17th Army Corps on the road from Atlanta. The Federal Right Wing had split at White Hall (on the railroad just southwest of Atlanta), the 17th Corps heading east and then south toward Stockbridge on the McDonough and Decatur roads, while the 15th Corps headed south on the Jonesboro Road toward Morrow's Station, then cut across to the Macon Road toward Stockbridge. These two forces were to unite at McDonough, then move on toward Milledgeville.
While the Second Kentucky Infantry on the left fell back, Weller's wing was reinforced by the remainder of the Fourth Kentucky from Stockbridge, and the rest of the Fifth Kentucky came up on their right. A lively running battle ensued, the Orphans dismounting at every opportunity to use their long Enfield rifle-muskets as traditional infantry. However, an entire Army Corps against a couple of understrength regiments was long odds, and the Kentuckians were compelled to retire toward Stockbridge. Finding the Federals in their rear (from the Macon road in the Second Kentucky's sector), the Fourth and Fifth regiments were forced to find a route along country roads to the north and east of Stockbridge. Following a harrowing night ride, they arrived in McDonough and reunited with the rest of the Orphans.
The Federals camped that night just to the west and north of Stockbridge (along Reeves, Panther, Upton, and Brush Creeks), and proceeded on their way to McDonough the next day. The Orphans' actions northwest of Stockbridge had not been a significant check to Sherman's Right Wing, although they did force the 17th Corps to detour off their planned route. In a larger sense, the Orphans' determined resistance served notice to Sherman that his raid through Georgia would not go unopposed. The Orphans moved back toward Lovejoy and Griffin, and then on to Ball's Ferry, south of Milledgeville, where they again opposed the Right Wing at its crossing of the Oconee River in late November. Sherman went on to capture Savannah in December, and his goal of Marching to the Sea was realized. The Orphans patrolled from eastern Georgia into central South Carolina, where the Fourth Kentucky Infantry fought in one of the last organized actions of the War Between the States on April 29, 1865. On May 6-7, 1865, the Orphan Brigade laid down their arms and were paroled at Washington, Georgia, able at last to return to their homes in Kentucky.
Orphan Brigade Marker at Stockbridge, Georgia
Fred Joyce [pen name for John Weller], "From Infantry to Cavalry," Part III, Southern Bivouac, Vol. III, No. 6 (February 1885), pp. 252-255.
"Swift Justice," Southern Bivouac, Vol. III, No. 5 (January 1885), page 214.
Ed Porter Thompson, History of the Orphan Brigade (Louisville: Lewis N. Thompson, 1898), page 282.
Albert D. Kirwan, ed., Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1956), page 173.
War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office), Series I, Volume 44, pp. 66, 81, 99, 119.
Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895) , Plate 60, No. 2, Plate 101, No. 21, Plate 69, No. 5, and Plate 70, No. 1.
Georgia Highway Historical Markers in Stockbridge - US 23 at Valley Hill Road, North Henry Blvd. at the First United Methodist Church, and North Henry Blvd. at Burke St. (Stockbridge Presbyterian Church).
Note: The above reconstruction of the events at Stockbridge is drawn mainly from Weller's narrative. The Federal official reports barely mention this affair, and only the 15th Army Corps reported fighting Lewis' Orphan Brigade. However, the routes followed by the 15th Corps were clearly much to the west of Weller's area, while the route of the 17th Corps took them right through Weller's area. Unfortunately, there are no comparable reports for the rest of the Orphan Brigade to match Weller's narrative. Johnny Green of the 9th Kentucky Infantry said he fought at Stockbridge, but without details. We must assume that the 6th and 9th Kentucky Regiments were posted to the left of the 2nd Kentucky, and these formed the force engaged by the Federal 15th Corps.
This article first appeared in "The Chickamauga," newsletter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Gen. Ben Hardin Helm Camp #1703, Vol. 1, No. 5, Nov.-Dec. 1995.
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Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at) live.com
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