Orphan Brigade

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First Kentucky Brigade
Country Confederate States
Allegiance Kentucky
Branch Confederate States Army
Nickname(s)"Orphan Brigade"
ArmsEnfield rifled muskets
EngagementsAmerican Civil War
Commanding officers
Postbellum logo of the Orphan Brigade

The Orphan Brigade was the nickname of the First Kentucky Brigade, a group of military units recruited from the Kentucky to fight for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. The brigade was the largest Confederate unit to be recruited from Kentucky during the war. Its original commander was John C. Breckinridge, former United States Vice President and candidate for president, who was enormously popular with Kentuckians.


Brig. Gen. John C. Breckinridge commanded the Kentucky Brigade until 1862

The regiments that were part of the Orphan Brigade were the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th Kentucky Infantry Regiments. Units of the Orphan Brigade were involved in many military engagements in the American South during the war, including the Battle of Shiloh. In 1862, Breckinridge was promoted to division command and was succeeded in the brigade by Brig. Gen. Roger W. Hanson. At the Battle of Stones River, the brigade suffered heavy casualties in an assault on January 2, 1863, including General Hanson. Breckinridge—who vehemently disputed the order to charge with the army's commander, General Braxton Bragg—rode among the survivors, crying out repeatedly, "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans," noted brigade historian Ed Porter Thompson, who used the term in his 1868 history of the unit. The name came from how the Confederacy viewed its soldiers from Kentucky (which remained in the Union, but was represented by a star in both countries' flags).[1] The term was not in widespread use during the war, but it became popular afterwards among the veterans.

Brig. Gen. Benjamin H. Helm was mortally wounded while leading the Kentucky Brigade at Chickamauga

The Orphan Brigade lost another commander at the Battle of Chickamauga, when Brig. Gen. Benjamin H. Helm, Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law, was mortally wounded on September 20, 1863, and died the following day. Major Rice E. Graves, the artillery commander, was also mortally wounded.[2]

The Orphan Brigade served throughout the Atlanta Campaign of 1864, then were converted to mounted infantry and opposed Sherman's March to the Sea. They ended the war fighting in South Carolina in late April 1865, and surrendered at Washington, Georgia, on May 6–7, 1865.[3]


When the Orphan Brigade was mustered into service, weapons were in short supply. The troops were armed with old smoothbore muskets (some flintlock and others percussion) along with shotguns and hunting rifles(Hawkens). They were given a bounty if they brought their own rifle. Some men had no arms at all. Only a week before the Battle of Shiloh, every regiment except the 9th Kentucky was issued a supply of Enfield rifles imported from England (the 9th armed themselves with Enfields captured during the battle).

From that point onward, most of the Orphan Brigade carried the long three-band Model 1853 Enfield rifle. When the unit surrendered in March 1865, some men were still carrying the same rifles they'd had since Shiloh.


The original units of the Orphan Brigade[edit]

Maj. Rice E. Graves, 1862, commanded Graves' Battery

Other units that joined the Orphan Brigade[edit]

  • 5th Kentucky Infantry
  • 41st Alabama Infantry (fought as part of the Orphan Brigade at Murfreesboro, the Siege of Jackson and Chickamauga)
  • 31st/49th Alabama Infantry

Formally in but not directly serving with[edit]

  • 1st Kentucky Cavalry, organized at Bowling Green 1861

Notable members[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Georgia Historical Commission, http://www.spaldingcounty.com/historical_markers/picture12_cropped.jpg
  2. ^ Hughes, pp. 79–83, 87–88, 90–95, 105, 113–116, 120–121, 124–125, 133, 135, 137–139.
  3. ^ Thompson, 1898 ed.
  4. ^ Thompson, 1898 ed., p. 434
  5. ^ "Page 1050 of History of the Orphan brigade - Kentucky Digital Library". Kdl.kyvl.org. Retrieved 2016-02-02.


  • Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, Jr., The Pride of the Confederacy—The Washington Artillery in the Army of Tennessee, Louisiana State University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8071-2187-8.
  • Thompson, Edwin Porter (1868). History of the First Kentucky Brigade. Cincinnati, Ohio: Caxton Publishing House.
  • Thompson, Edwin Porter (1898). History of the Orphan Brigade. Louisville, Kentucky: L. N. Thompson.
  • Davis, William C. (1980). The Orphan Brigade: The Kentucky Confederates Who Couldn't Go Home. Garden City: Doubleday.

External links[edit]