LAST SHOTS FIRED BY THE ORPHAN BRIGADE
April 29, 1865, near Stateburg, South Carolina
This article presents several notes written by Orphan Brigade members concerning the last actions of the Brigade, while serving as mounted infantry in central South Carolina. A discussion on the date(s) of this last battle follows. Click here for further information on the final campaign in South Carolina.
"North Carolina has claimed, through
the public press, the honor of having made the last fight, east of the Mississippi, but we
think that the facts will bear us out in the assertion that Colonel Thompson and his
Fourth Regiment won that distinction for their own old Kentucky. He was engaged with the
rear guard of Potter's Division, April 29, 1865, when General Lewis received the order
announcing surrender, or truce, and dispatched last to him to recall these old veterans
from their familiar work, and led them to Washington, to part with their
"friends," as they called their trusty rifles, when looking wistfully at them
for the last time."
"This regiment fired the last shot for the Confederacy, east of the Mississippi River. On the 29th day of April, 1865, five companies of this regiment, under command of Captain John H. Weller, then Acting Lieutenant-Colonel, were engaged with the rear guard of Potter's Division, when a courier brought them the news that General Joseph E. Johnston had surrendered them on April 26th. "Supplementary Report to Roster of Fourth Kentucky Regiment Infantry Volunteers, Confederate States Army," Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Confederate Kentucky Volunteers, War 1861-65, Vol. 1, Frankfort, 1915, pages 192-193 (author unknown, but possibly Thomas W. Thompson or John H. Weller).
"The brigade was actively engaged with
the enemy when the sad news was received on the 29th day of April, 1865, near Statesburg,
S. C., that both Lee and Johnston had surrendered, that the Confederate Government was
overthrown, and its flag, embalmed in the tears of the South, was furled forever. That
evening George Doyle of this county, a private in Company A, Ninth Kentucky, was killed
and I believe him to be the last man who fell under the Confederate flag."
"Kentuckians' blood was shed on the
soil of every State. The last man killed in the war was a Kentuckian, a member of the
Orphan Brigade, which was fighting April 29, 1865, near Statesburg, S.C., when the news
came that both Lee and Johnston had surrendered late that evening. George Doyle, of Logan
County, Ky., a private in the 9th Kentucky Infantry, was killed. He was, as his commander,
Col. John W. Caldwell, reported, the last man who fell under the Confederate flag."
"On the 29th of April, 1865, our
brigade - that is, what little of it was left - was serving as mounted infantry on the
Santee river in South Carolina, among the scenes of the old Revolution. It was engaged in
battle when the order came from Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the department,
putting an end to hostilities. Immediately, a truce was sounded, yet George Doyle, a
member of Company A, Ninth regiment, heeded it not, but mounted his horse, and like the
enraged Mamelukes that rode down against the invulnerable squares of Napoleon, so did
George Doyle ride down single handed against the Federal lines of infantry, and perished.
I think I am therefore authorized in stating that George Doyle was the last Confederate
soldier to lose his life on the field of battle - at least east of the Mississippi river -
in our Civil war.
Discussion -- There is some doubt about the date of this last skirmish, since Potter's troops were all back in Georgetown (on the coast) by April 25, and the Federal accounts overwhelmingly state April 21 as the date of their last action. Obviously, if part of the Orphan Brigade was still fighting on April 29, they were not fighting Potter's troops. The news of the first armistice agreed upon between Gens. Sherman and Johnston was received by the Orphans about April 20, and they relayed this news to Potter's rear guard on April 21, resulting in a truce. Orphan accounts by Johnny Green, Emory Speer, and John Weller would seem to support April 21 as the date of the last action. The last known report of the Orphan Brigade is a list of casualties in the 4th Kentucky Infantry, dated April 28, 1865, at Camp Boykins Mill, South Carolina. This report appears to show the casualties of the final action (John Weller is listed as wounded slightly in the head). In addition, George Doyle's death appears to have occurred about April 20, when Potter's force was around Manning's Mill (before they started back toward Georgetown).
Click here to see a map showing these locations.
However, it seems clear that the Orphans were still fighting somebody on April 29, 1865, nearly three weeks after Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. The date of April 29 first appears in the 1868 edition of Thompson's brigade history. Thompson had the official brigade records and reports upon which to draw his narrative, which was begun before the end of the war, lending weight to this date. While it is unknown when the Supplementary Report on the 4th Kentucky was written, or who wrote it, if it was written by Col. Thompson (as was the rest of the report), we may assume that he knew on what date his men fought their last. Although John Weller was reported wounded on April 28 (the wound could have happened prior to that date), he could still have been fighting on April 29.
It must be remembered that there were actually two armistices between Gens. Sherman and Johnston. The first, on April 18, 1865, which resulted in the truce of April 21, was not approved by Sherman's superiors, who ordered hostilities to be resumed. The final agreement of April 26, in which Johnston surrendered all his forces, would not have been known to the Orphans until about April 29. So it is entirely possible that a detachment of the 4th Kentucky Infantry could still have been fighting on April 29, although the identity of their enemy on this field remains unknown.
Of course, although this was the last action for the Orphan Brigade (whatever the date), it wasn't really the last action east of the Mississippi. However, it may well be that George Doyle was the last Confederate killed east of the Mississippi.
Compiled by Geoff Walden; copyright 1998; all rights reserved.
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Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at) live.com
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