"THE BOYS OF COMPANY
by Vince Barker
The following is a short history and story about four of my brave Confederate ancestors, all who hailed from the hills of Breathitt County, Kentucky, and who all served in Company B, 5th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. Although they were not all related during the war, in the years following the war, their names would forever be connected through their children and other descendants.
When the Civil War came to Kentucky, the state was torn apart. Being a "border state" there were strong allegiances to both North and South. Although the eastern portion of the state was generally pro-Union, there were pockets of hard core pro-Confederates. These people were mainly mountaineers from the counties of Carter, Morgan, Breathitt, Johnson, Floyd, Perry, and divided loyalties during the war. Breathitt County was known as "Bloody Breathitt" well into the 20th Pike. For generations after the war, feuds and killings were commonplace, all rising from the Century.
The largest group of Confederates to come from Breathitt County became Companies B and D of the 5th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, which was re-organized in September 1862, after its initial one year enlistments had chosen to join cavalry units or simply go home. Four of the men in Company B: William and George Chaney, Richard South, and John P. Gum, were ancestors to many of us in the Chaney Camp. Richard South would become the company First Sergeant. This is probably because at the time he was 50 years old, had been the first sheriff of Breathitt County back in 1839, and because his family was very powerful in the County. Two of his cousins, Capt. W.T.B. South and 2d Lt. Jerry South were the Company Commander and Second Lieutenant of the company, respectively.
For its first year in the field, the 5th Kentucky spent the majority of its time guarding the salt works and mountain passes along the Kentucky Virginia border. Although their only fighting consisted of a few small skirmishes, the duty was very arduous, consisting of many marches and counter marches, and as in most other units in the Civil War, sickness was rampant. During this time, Pvt. Gum received extra pay for helping care for his sick comrades at their field hospital in Virginia.
Then in August, 1863, the 5th Kentucky, along with several other mountain units, were ordered to join Gen. Buckners Corps in Knoxville, as he was about to join Gen. Bragg and the Army of Tennessee. The units arrived just in time to take part in the battle of Chickamauga. Held in reserve until late in the day on Sept. 20th, the 5th Kentucky and the other regiments of their brigade were called up to help drive off the last remaining Union forces from Snodgrass Hill. During this, their first real battle, the 5th Kentucky helped capture two entire Union regiments, and half of another. An officer present stated that the 5th performed "like men of a hundred fights".
As the Army of Tennessee held the heights overlooking Chattanooga for the two months following Chickamauga, the 5th Kentucky was permanently assigned to the legendary Kentucky "Orphan Brigade". Over the next 18 months, they would add considerably to the brigades already legendary reputation as hard fighters. During the disastrous retreat from Missionary Ridge on November 25-26, 1863, the 5th Kentucky was temporarily assigned to Gen. Patrick Cleburnes Division to help cover the retreat. Their actions helped save the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
After spending the winter of 1863-64 at winter quarters in Dalton, Georgia, the 5th Kentucky would participate in almost every battle and skirmish of the 100 days Atlanta Campaign, starting on May 7, 1864 at Resaca. This three months of constant fighting would end the existence of the Kentucky Brigade as an effective infantry force, and would cost them over half their numbers, including many of the boys of Company B.
One of the worst engagements would come at Dallas on May 28th. Because of a series of miscommunications, the Kentucky Brigade attacked almost the entire Union XV Corps, alone. The 5th Kentucky was leading the way. Although the brigade was finally given the order to withdraw, the 5th refused. They had gone too far, only yards from the Yankee breastworks to turn back now. Finally the regimental commander, Col. Hiram Hawkins, rode to the front of the regiment, grabbed the colors and ordered his men to withdraw. When the men had returned to their lines and the smoke cleared, the boys of Company B could see their First Sergeant, Richard South, lying dead at the very head of where they had charged. He was only twenty yards from the Yankee breastworks.
On about June 20th, while the Kentuckians were on the Kennesaw Line, another of these four boys of Company B would give the ultimate sacrifice. Pvt. John P. Gum was killed while the brigade was involved in heavy skirmishing the entire week leading up the main battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27th.
The worst for the 5th Kentucky came on July 22, 1864, during the battle of Atlanta. They were again involved in a poorly planned attack near Intrenchment Creek. Many of their men were lost, along with their colors. Pvt. William Chaney was shot in the left wrist and would spend the next two months in an Atlanta hospital. Brother George Chaney would be captured two days after the battle and would spend the remainder of the war at Camp Chase Prison in Columbus, Ohio. He would not be released until June, 1865.
For the remainder of the war, the 5th Kentucky and the rest of the Orphan Brigade were designated as "mounted" infantry, their numbers too few to act as an effective foot infantry force. Their time was spent harassing Gen. Shermans massive army as it moved through Georgia and into the Carolinas. The end came on April 26, 1865, when Gen. Johnston, Commander of the Army of Tennessee, officially surrendered to Sherman. The Kentucky Brigade would not officially lay down their arms until May 6th. At the time, Pvt. William Chaney was on a scouting mission in North Carolina. He would not surrender until May 10th, back in Atlanta, one of the last of his army to do so.
Hard times did not end for Pvt. Chaney at wars end. They were only beginning. After nearly starving to death and being shot at constantly as he made his way home, he arrived only to have another brother, James, killed while standing next to him, on the very day he returned home. The feuding had already begun. Sometime later, Williams father, John, would also be killed.
William and Loutishe Chaney, ca. 1910
As for the connection between these four boys of Company B; 1st Sergeant Richard South turned out to be the grandfather of William Chaneys future wife, Loutishe South Haddix. George Chaney, Williams brother, would later marry Loutishes mother, Kitty, when her husband died. And years later, when the Chaney family, like so many others, left the hard times and killings of Breathitt County for a better life in northern Wisconsin, Williams daughter Katherine, would marry Tom Gumm (a second "m" was added to the Gum name sometime after the war). Tom was a nephew of Pvt. John P. Gum. Today, a good many descendants of this large and extended family still live in the Crandon area. Although large in size, they remain close and loyal in times of need, true to their Kentucky mountain heritage.
First published in "The Kentucky Explorer" Vol. 13, No. 3, August 1998, pp. 26-27; used by kind permission of the author.
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