Desha Letter

    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 

Letter from Capt. Jo Desha, 5th Kentucky Infantry


Augusta, Ga.       Feb. 21, 1865

My Dear Sir,

     Maj. Hays, who starts tomorrow for Richmond, has kindly consented to carry letters for me, and I avail myself with peculiar pleasure of the chance to write you. I acknowledged your favor last fall I think in which you sent me the interesting letter from Doct. Campbell upon the subject of my queer wound. I used his treatment for a while but did not derive much benefit from it except the blisters which my surgeon pronounced unnecessary. My hand has improved very much however and I hope in a very short time to be able to take command of my company of 12 men. Was at the brigade at Aiken, S. Ca. a day or two. Left it yesterday feeling unusual as yet to the duty of a "cavalry man on a rampage"- which they about starting on. "Brother" Ben is still at Montgomery in a disabled condition, but comfortable & improving. I think I wrote you after I rec'd from you the telegrams concerning that Brigadiership. I have much to thank you for my dear sir. I believe I did not answer yours from S.W.Va., Sherman having cut communications shortly after it was received causing me to put it off from time to time- Expected to have been in Richmond before this time on cars but have been prevented by various causes.

     Gen'l Lewis has urged me recently to go there or, rather has urged me in case I should go there, to try to assist him in getting our brigade ordered to Ky. to establish a permanent lodgement. His reasons are pretty good ones too for the move. He thinks that we could hold a position in E. Ky. near enough to the plains to subsist against a very large force of the enemy - this giving employment to more of their forces than we could elsewhere do - could recruit our ranks largely from those men in Ky. that will not come out to join us. That in case of Sherman's overrunning N. & S.C. we will be forced to depend on Ky. & Tenn. for subsistence & avail ourselves of that advantage we should soon begin movements in that direction. Certainly if any such movement were contemplated, what brigade would be the proper one to be sent there and perhaps the other Ky. commands.

     The justice too of giving the brigade a fair chance to recruit by furloughing men & officers in various parts of the state he dwells upon ... and I am almost a convert to his opinion, little as opinions are in the habit of interesting me in war matters.

     Affairs do look a little blue now - But something is bound to "corn up" to our advantage I think. The defection and demoralization in our army is appalling - mostly attributable to want of discipline, consequent upon a prolong campaign. There is more dodging & skulking hereabouts than I once believed. Our brigade is pretty gay - desertions from it are unfrequent of course. I hope indeed it be deemed advisable to send it to Ky. I may come to Richmond in a few days. Am strongly tempted to apply for a leave. My hand will render field service in cavalry quite annoying for some little time yet. Please speak a word in favor of Gen. Lewis' project, if it meets your approbation.

     Colonel I would like to be lifted out of my present position if practicable, but I do not know what to ask for, so I suppose had better wait till something presents itself that I may be considered fit for, hoping that when it may occur, I may not be so unfortunate as to be unable to accept as was the case last fall.

     Hoping to learn soon that you are well. With grateful & pleasant memories of your many kindnesses & of what we may now call old times

Your friend

Jo. Desha


Col. Wm. Preston Johnston
          Richmond Va.


NOTES: Capt. Jo Desha entered Confederate service as Captain of Co. C, 1st Kentucky Infantry, in April 1861. When that regiment’s 12-month service was up, he organized Co. I, 9th Kentucky Infantry, in the Orphan Brigade. This company was transferred to the 5th Kentucky Infantry in August 1863, and returned to the Orphan Brigade with the 5th in October 1863. Capt. Desha led a distinguished career in the Confederate Army, twice being named to the Roll of Honor for heroism in action (Murfreesboro and Chickamauga). He was once presented an engraved revolver by President Jefferson Davis.

Col. William Preston Johnston was the son of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. He too had been a member of the 1st Kentucky Infantry, before being promoted to Colonel and aide-de-camp to President Jefferson Davis. Serving as the President’s private secretary, he wielded considerable influence behind the scenes in Richmond.

Capt. Desha’s wound, alluded to in his letter, was a severe one, suffered in the Orphan Brigade attack at Dallas, Georgia, 28 May 1864. His left arm was so badly shattered that he did not regain the use of it during the remainder of his service. His brother Ben Desha, serving as Major of the 9th Kentucky, had been wounded and disabled at Jonesboro, at the end of the Atlanta Campaign.

Capt. Desha was offered a commission as Brigadier General in September 1864, to replace Gen. Adam R. Johnson in southwestern Kentucky, but he was obliged to decline due to his disabling wound.

The Orphans never totally abandoned their dream of returning to serve on their home soil, and their status as mounted infantry seemed for a time to give promise of making such a move a reality. Many of the Kentuckians urged their friends in Richmond to support such a move, and Col. Johnston was probably in favor of it as well. But the needs of the service kept them in South Carolina until the end of the war.


Ed Porter Thompson, "History of the Orphan Brigade" (Louisville, 1898), pp. 491-496, 830.

"Capt. Joe Desha," Confederate Veteran, Vol. 10 (1902), pp. 370-371.

This letter appeared originally in the "Mountain Rebel," newsletter of the 5th Kentucky Infantry reenactment unit, ca. August 1987.   Printed here by kind permission of Jimmie Epling.


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