Weapons of the Orphan Brigade

    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 

Weapons and Equipment of the Orphan Brigade

Weapons of the Orphan Brigade

The infantrymen of the Kentucky Brigade were armed with a variety of small arms. Early in the conflict, arms of any type were in short supply, and the regiments forming at Camps Boone and Burnett were furnished with outdated flintlock muskets, Belgian rifles, and even civilian hunting rifles and shotguns. The flintlocks were mainly old US military muskets, Models 1808-1822, which had been held in the Nashville arsenal. The Belgian rifles were clumsy .69-.71 caliber muzzle-loaders of an obsolete pattern. (Thompson, Orphan Brigade (1898), pp. 48-49; "Civil War Reminiscences" (9th Ky. Inf.), p. 46)

US Model 1816 Musket (Flintlock)

The Brigade was only slowly armed; when they advanced to Bowling Green in September 1861, only about half of the 4th Kentucky was armed. A few arms were issued at Bowling Green, but most of the regiments were only fully armed just prior to the battle of Shiloh, and the 9th Kentucky had to wait for muskets captured on April 6 at Shiloh.

Those arms issued just prior to Shiloh, and captured from the Federals who surrendered in the Hornets Nest at Shiloh, were the English Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle-musket. The Enfield was imported in large numbers by both sides during the war, and it was probably the most popular musket in the Confederacy. The Orphans were delighted to receive their brand-new Enfields just before Shiloh, and their writings make continual references to their pride in these guns throughout the rest of the war. Some of the muskets surrendered at the end of the war were the same Enfields issued in April 1862. Click here to see a photo of an Enfield carried by a soldier of the 4th Kentucky Infantry at the end of the war.  (Thompson (1898), pp. 81, 86; "From Infantry to Cavalry," Southern Bivouac 3(7), March 1885, p. 301)

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Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle-Musket
(collection of Geoff Walden)

The Enfields used in the Orphan Brigade were the long, or 3-band rifle-musket, made by several commercial firms in Birmingham and London. They had a .577 caliber bore, and fired a conical lead "minie" bullet. Some of the ammunition was imported from England, but most was manufactured in Southern arsenals such as those at Columbus and Augusta, GA, and Selma, AL. (Official Records, Ser. I, Vol. 30, Part 2, p. 202; for general information on the Enfield and other rifle-muskets, see: Earl J. Coates & Dean S. Thomas, An Introduction to Civil War Small Arms (Gettysburg, PA, 1990)

Bundle of Cartridges from Columbus Arsenal (replica)

Although the Enfield was the musket of choice in the Orphan Brigade, older percussion smoothbore muskets continued in service, at least into 1863. Some of these were US M1842 muskets, and some were older flintlocks that had been converted to percussion. These were especially lethal at closer ranges, particularly when firing a "buck-and-ball" cartridge, which consisted of a .69 caliber round lead ball and three .31 caliber buckshot. (OR I, 20, 1, p. 792: Thompson (1898), p. 49; "Civil War Reminiscences" (9th Ky. Inf.), p. 46)

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.69 caliber "buck & ball" ammunition
(balls are originals, cartridge is a replica)
(collection of Geoff Walden)

The Kerr rifle was a special sharpshooter weapon used by the Orphans during the Atlanta Campaign of 1864. Eleven of these English long-range target rifles were issued to the best marksmen in the Brigade, who formed an elite corps. These sharpshooters, commanded by Lt. George Hector Burton of the 4th Kentucky, operated in small numbers in the dangerous area between the lines, choosing enemy officers and artillerymen as their favorite targets. They were credited with driving off the Federal battery that fired the fatal shot at Gen. Leonidas Polk on Pine Mountain in June 1864. The Kerr rifle resembled a P1853 Enfield, but it had special sights and a .451 caliber bore with hexagonal ratchet rifling, requiring special ammunition. (Thompson (1898), pp. 240-243, 268-271; Geoffrey R. Walden, "The Kentucky Sharpshooters," The Kentucky Explorer 9(5), October 1994, pp. 62-64)

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London Armoury Co. Ltd. Kerr Rifle
(collection of Geoff Walden)

Officers carried swords and pistols of many different styles and makes. Capt. Ed Porter Thompson of the 6th Kentucky carried a sword made in New Orleans by Thomas, Griswold & Co. (Echoes of Glory, Confederate Vol. (Time-Life Books, 1991), pp. 70-71). Col. Robert P. Trabue of the 4th Kentucky was presented a Colt revolver in September 1861 (Filson Club files, Louisville, KY). Gen. Breckinridge carried two Colt revolvers, one 1860 Army model (.44 caliber) and one 1851 Navy model (.36 caliber) (Kentucky Military History Museum).

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Gen. John C. Breckinridge's pistols and saddle holsters
(Courtesy Kentucky Historical Society / Military History Museum; photo by Tom Fugate)

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The artillery batteries of the Orphan Brigade were also armed with a variety of cannons, including M1841 6-pounder smoothbores, M1841 12-pounder howitzers, and M1857 12-pounder "Napoleon" guns. Graves' Battery at Fort Donelson reportedly had one 10-pounder Parrott rifle, in addition to its 6-pounder smoothbores (another report indicates that Graves' Battery at Donelson had one rifled 6-pounder [M1841], two howitzers [M1841], and three brass smooth-bore pieces [M1841]).  The Napoleons of Cobb's Battery were given pet names by the men, honoring the wives of their favorite commanders: Lady Breckinridge, Lady Buckner, and Lady Helm. The infantrymen of the Brigade never really forgave the troops who were supposed to support Cobb's Battery at Missionary Ridge, when the battery was overrun during the collapse of the Confederate center, and the guns were captured. (Thompson (1898), p. 231; Lot Young, Reminiscences of a Soldier of the Orphan Brigade (Louisville, ca. 1917), p. 71); "Company B" by Virginius Hutchen, manuscript in the Filson Club, Louisville)

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M1841 6-pounder Gun
(author's photo)

M1841 12-pounder Howitzer
(author's photo)

M1857 12-pounder Gun
(author's photo)


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10-pounder Parrott Rifle
(author's photo)



---   compiled by Geoff Walden


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Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at) live.com
Laura Cook
: lcook62 (at) hotmail.com

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