Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade
THE ORPHAN BRIGADE AT JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
Following the battle of Murfreesboro (and their tragic assault on 2 January 1863), the
Orphan Brigade joined the Army of Tennessee in the area of Manchester, Beech Grove, and
Wartrace, TN, to regroup. The Orphans camped in this area from January through late May
1863. While here, Ben Hardin Helm was promoted to command of the
Brigade, to replace Gen. Hanson, killed at Murfreesboro. Camp life was punctuated by
occasional excitement, such as a surprise attack by Federal cavalry on an Orphan outpost
at McMinnville, TN, on 21 April, in which a few of the Kentuckians were captured. Perhaps
the greatest excitement was caused by a trial drill in May between the Orphans and Adams'
Louisiana Brigade, both of which units had reason to believe themselves the best drilled
in Breckinridge's Division. Regiment after regiment faced off against one another, with
the Kentuckians victorious on each occasion. Marching orders cut the competition short,
but the championship was never in doubt to the Orphans.
Orders came on 23 May for Breckinridge to travel to Vicksburg,
as he had the previous summer, to join Gen. Joseph Johnston's forces in an attempt to
relieve the river city. By the end of the month the Orphans had reached Jackson, the state
capital, where they were to remain in idleness during the siege of Vicksburg. They moved
toward Vicksburg in early July, but they were too late to engage the enemy, and they fell
back to Jackson. Here they went into prepared trenches on the far left of the Confederate
line, in front of Town Creek, with their left flank resting on Pearl River, guarding the
pontoon bridges that the army would use in case of retreat.
The Federals approached on 10 July and settled down to siege actions and
sharpshooting. The Orphans were stationed immediately in the rear of a mansion belonging
to a Col. Withers, an old veteran. The Colonel took up a musket to defend his property,
but was killed during an attack on 12 July, and his mansion was burned when the
The only general action involving the Orphan Brigade came on 12 July, when Gen. Jacob
Lauman's Division of the Federal 13th Corps attacked Breckinridge's Division. The attack
came mainly in front of Adams' Brigade in the center, but the rightmost regiments of the
Orphan Brigade were able to place an oblique fire into the enemy. Cobb's
Battery was heavily engaged, with sections supporting both Adams and Stovall (on the
right of the division). In a little over forty minutes, the Federals lost over half their
numbers in killed, wounded, and captured. Maj. Rice Graves, Breckinridge's Chief of
Artillery, led a patrol into the area between the lines following the failed Federal
attack, capturing 200 prisoners and three Union flags.
The Orphan infantry suffered only five wounded, the bulk of the casualties falling on
the men of Cobb's Battery. Two were killed and seven wounded, including Pvt. B. A. Dudley,
whose face and hands were badly burned by explosion of a cartridge during loading.
Johnston evacuated Jackson on the night of 16 July, leaving by way of the pontoon
bridges over the Pearl River that the Orphans had guarded. The Orphans formed the army's
rear guard (as was their habit), eventually falling back to the vicinity of Morton, MS.
Here, in "Camp Hurricane," they passed a peaceful six weeks, before joining the
Army of Tennessee once more for the Chickamauga Campaign.
--- Geoff Walden
Thompson, Orphan Brigade (1898), pp. 205-209; Kirwan, Johnny
Green, pp. 80-82; Davis,
Jackman Diary, pp. 74-81; Edwin C. Bearss, The Siege of Jackson, July 10-17, 1863
(Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1981), pp. 84-88; Report of Casualties in Breckinridge's
Division in the Skirmishes before Jackson, July 1863 (National Archives Microfilm M836,
Roll 2); Official Records Atlas, Plate 37.
Back to Battle Honors
Revised: Wednesday, 11-Dec-96 10:23:16 PST