Thomas Owens

    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 

"When Brother Fought Against Brother"
The Owens Brothers, 4th Kentucky Infantry

Author Unknown - Ca. 1898

   Of the many interesting incidents of the Civil War which evidence the devotion of different members of the same family to opposite sides in that truly fratricidal contest, and remind us that an all-wise providence so shapes and controls human actions that circumstances bordering on the marvelous frequently happen, none, perhaps, ever occurred showing a more marvelous parallel and a more singular coincidence than the enlistment and service of the two Kentucky boys, the Owens brothers, Cols. Thomas and Abner B. Owens. In that terrible war father fought against son, and brother against brother on the same bloody battle field, yet knew it not until the smoke of battle had cleared away and revealed to the survivor the ghastly sight of kith and kin slain, perhaps, by his own hand. But, a happier fate awaited the Owens brothers. Although participating in many of the great battles and skirmishes in the South and West they were permitted to return home to their friends at the close of the war.

   Thomas Owens enlisted as private in Company I, Fourth Kentucky Infantry, Confederate Army, at Bowling Green, November 7, 1861. Abner Owens enlisted as private in the Kentucky Infantry, Federal Army, at Camp Dick Robinson, in October 1861. For nearly two years they were arrayed against each other in many hard fought battles in Kentucky and Tennessee, neither of them knowing that the other had enlisted, during which time each one had been promoted to sergeant of his respective company. It seems that fate had decreed for them a surprise, a brief, yet happy, meeting, brought about in a truly providential manner. When the Confederate Army evacuated Chattanooga one of the company rolls of Company I was accidentally dropped. This roll was in the handwriting of and signed by Thomas Owens, he being company clerk of his company.

   A few days after the evacuation the Federal Army took possession of Chattanooga, and this bit of paper, which had been tramped on and crumpled and kicked aside by thousands of Federal and Confederate soldiers during their marching and countermarching preparatory to the terrible battle that was soon to follow, lay in the direct path of Abner Owens. He saw it, and without halting or breaking ranks, moved by an irresistible impulse, he picked up the paper, and at once recognized the handwriting and the name to be that of his brother, Thomas Owens. In the battle of Chickamauga both were slightly wounded, and afterward each was specially complimented and promoted for gallant services.

   After the battle of Chickamauga and while the Confederate forces occupied Missionary Ridge, investing the Federal Army in Chattanooga, Abner Owens, while on picket duty, made known to the Confederate pickets the circumstances of finding the company roll, and learned to his great joy that his brother, although wounded, was still alive. Col. Thomas Owens, with several others, had been selected for a special purpose to communicate with the enemy between the picket lines, and having heard from one of his own pickets that his brother was at a certain point in the Federal lines, after his special mission had been performed, he availed himself of the pass which he had from Gen. Bragg and went to a point in the Confederate lines opposite to the point where his brother was stationed. He signaled with a newspaper, which was at once responded to, and the two brothers started at the same time and met midway between the two lines. For three consecutive days these two brothers, one wearing the blue and the other the gray, met at the same point and spent the whole day together in perfect amity; in full view of the soldiers of both armies.

   The officers and private soldiers of two great contending forces, while they watched each other to gain some advantage, looked upon these meetings with moistened eyes and would have dealt severely with friend or foe that raised a hand to interrupt them. Words cannot express the pleasure of those joyous meetings, no more than language can portray the heartaches that followed the termination of these interviews, caused by a change in the military situation. The brothers did not meet again until the close of the war. Upon comparing notes after they returned home other most singular coincidences were discovered, in each being wounded in the same battles, and in about the same way, and each having been alike promoted for gallantry in the same fights, and returned home about the same time. At present Col. Thomas Owens is a prosperous lawyer and politician in Carlisle, Kentucky, and Col. Abner Owens is a prosperous merchant in Missouri.

The Kentucky Explorer, Vol. 13, No. 5, October 1998, p. 62


This remarkable coincidence was also reported in Thompson’s History of the Orphan Brigade (1898), page 232; in which was described the further coincidence that each of the Owens brothers served as a Sergeant in Co. I, 4th Kentucky Infantry, in the opposing armies.

Thomas Owens rose to the rank of 1st Sergeant (the "Col." was an honorary post-war rank). He served during the Atlanta Campaign in the Corps of Sharpshooters. He returned home after the war and became a lawyer in Carlisle, Nicholas County, where he died in 1902.

Kentucky Federal records show only one Abner Owen/Owens/Owin, a Private in the 52nd Ky. Mtd. Inf. USA. This unit was organized in late 1863 and remained in Kentucky, operating against guerrillas and lawless bands. However, the rolls of Co. I, 4th Ky. Inf. USA show two men who could be the brother "Abner" described above. The most likely was Sgt. Asa B. Owens; the other less likely possibility was Pvt. Aaron Owens. Both of these men are listed as having enrolled in the unit in January 1864, but this is simply the date that the regiment reenlisted and "veteranized;" both of these men are shown as "Veterans," meaning they were already in the regiment and had reenlisted. Based on his rank, Sgt. Asa B. Owens was probably the brother that Thomas Owens met between the lines. (Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky (US Army), Vol. 1 (1866), pp. 672-673, 682-683; Vol. 2 (1867), pp. 514, 520)

--  Geoff Walden


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