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    First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 


 

THE ORPHAN BRIGADE AS MOUNTED INFANTRY

CAMPAIGN IN SOUTH CAROLINA, APRIL 1865

 

Geoff Walden

 

     The second phase of the Orphan Brigade’s service as mounted infantry began about the first of April, 1865. The first phase, opposing Sherman’s March to the Sea, had ended at Savannah in late December 1864. From January to March 1865 the mounted Orphans were stationed along the Savannah River between Savannah and Augusta, operating on both sides of the river in both Georgia and South Carolina, but mainly near Augusta, to guard against an anticipated Federal move against the important arsenal and powder works there. During this period, in February, the Orphans met to draw up a remarkable set of resolutions in support of Confederate victory. (Click here to read these resolutions; click here to read an interesting letter of this period from Capt. Jo Desha, 5th Kentucky Infantry.)

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Map of the Central South Carolina Campaign
Click here to see a larger version with explanatory caption.

     About the first of April, the 9th Kentucky under Col. Caldwell was ordered to Sumter, SC, to protect the railroad there. On 5 April a force of two Federal brigades (2700 total) under the command of Brig.Gen. Edward Potter left Georgetown, SC, on the coast, with the object of destroying railroad tracks, trestles, and rolling stock in the areas of Sumter, Camden, and Florence. The 9th Kentucky Mounted Infantry (and local militia – a total force of some 600 defenders) fought Potter’s force at Dingle’s Mill, three miles south of Sumter, on April 9. The rest of the Orphan Brigade, hurrying to Caldwell’s support, arrived near Stateburg, west of Sumter near the Wateree River, on April 14. Here they fought and repulsed some of Potter’s troops on the 14th, but on the following day Potter brought up his entire force, pushing the Orphans back, but unable to reach the railroad they guarded.

     Col. Lee’s 2nd Kentucky Mounted Infantry, on detached service, laid a skillful ambush at Reynold’s Ford (called McClernand’s Ford by the Kentuckians) on Swift Creek, near Spring Hill (north of Sumter) on April 18, inflicting heavy casualties on the surprised enemy. Meanwhile, the rest of the Brigade fought Potter’s troops in one of the largest battles of the campaign, at Boykin’s Mill, ten miles south of Camden. In this battle, the Orphans fought the famous 54th Massachusetts regiment of black soldiers. The Confederates held the Federals for some six hours, but as they were outnumbered by over 2-to-1, they were finally compelled to retreat. (Click here to see an interesting note about the 4th Kentucky Infantry from this period.)

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Site of the battle of Boykin's Mill, with the postwar mill building
in the background (photo by Geoff Walden)

     The last large-scale battle in the East was fought at Dinkin’s Mill, at the crossing of Rafting Creek a few miles north of Stateburg, on April 19. The Confederates were again forced back, and now found themselves in the rear of Potter’s force, unable to prevent him from advancing on Middleton Depot and destroying the trains there on April 20. His mission accomplished, Potter started his force back toward Georgetown on April 21. News of the armistice between Gens. Sherman and Johnston reached both sides on April 21, with skirmishing still going on, and a truce was arranged.

     In spite of this truce, and period reports that show Potter’s force back in Georgetown by April 25, there are several accounts that show a part of the Orphan Brigade still fighting Federals in South Carolina on April 29, 1865, nearly three weeks after Gen. Lee had surrendered in Virginia. It must be remembered that the initial armistice between Gens. Sherman and Johnston was not approved by Sherman’s superiors, and the final surrender of Johnston’s forces did not take place until April 26. It must also be considered that as mounted infantry, the Orphan Brigade often fought as detached elements. It is entirely possible that one of these detached elements (in this case, the 4th Kentucky Infantry) found Federals to fight somewhere near Stateburg, SC, on April 29, and that both sides were informed of the surrender on that day, and hostilities finally ceased. To read a full discussion of this final action, and the controversy surrounding the date, click here.

     This final campaign was little more than a footnote in the history of the war. Although the mounted Orphans fought valiantly and skillfully to accomplish their missions, their numbers were never enough to seriously threaten or impede the Federals. However, they did manage to protect the railroad stock in western South Carolina for two weeks, and their constant harrying of Potter’s flanks doubtless saved the surrounding countryside from much further devastation. A taste of what the entire area would have suffered is shown by the looting, burning, and terrorism conducted by Potter’s troops in Sumter and Camden (see, for example, pages 264-266 of Anne King Gregorie’s History of Sumter County; Weller). Indeed, although the Federal official reports treat the Confederates as more of an annoyance than any significant threat, these same reports make it clear that the Confederate forces were able to turn them from their planned path, and keep their forces closed up on the main body, on several occasions.

     The nature of this mounted skirmishing resulted in few casualties among the Orphans, and the majority of these were wounded. Only a few deaths were reported during this period. One of these was Eli Lonaker of Co. G, 6th Kentucky Infantry, who accidentally killed himself with his rifle during the final campaign (Thompson, pp. 788-89). About the 18th of April, near Camden, John Miller of Co. I, 2nd Kentucky Infantry was killed while scouting the Federal positions (Thompson, p. 290).

     The most tragic Orphan death was that of George Doyle, Co. A, 9th Kentucky Infantry. The circumstances surrounding his death are somewhat unclear, but he was reportedly captured by Potter’s troops about the 20th of April. Refusing to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Union, Pvt. Doyle was reportedly executed by Potter’s black soldiers (Thompson, p. 810; Report of the Adjutant General, pp. 414-415). This happened while Potter had his headquarters at Melrose, the Matthew Singleton plantation near Manning’s Mill, south of Middleton Depot. This property is today encompassed in Poinsett State Park, and park records corroborate this story, without, however, mentioning Doyle’s name (Thurmond).

     Other interpretations relate that George Doyle was killed in battle, as late as April 29. John Jackman of the 9th Kentucky reported that when the truce was announced, Doyle "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" (Jackman, "Seeking Adventures"; Confederate Veteran, 1905 - this note was probably also written by Jackman; Kirwan, p. 195 - Johnny Green does not say precisely whether Doyle was killed in battle or murdered; Jackman was not present at this time, so he did not witness Doyle's death).

     A fitting conclusion to this final campaign was written by Ed Porter Thompson, the Orphan Brigade historian:

Dying in the Last Ditch -- A good deal was heard about the determination of Southern men to die in the last ditch rather than submit to Northern domination; but the serious work of four years stopped a little (although comparatively little) short of this dire consummation. It is not extravagant to claim, however, that the main body of men who lived and fought till the struggle seemed to be hopeless would have gone to this extremity at the call of leaders whom they really trusted. The temper of the Kentucky soldiers during the last days, taken in conjunction with the fact that, several times before, they had refused to give ground without orders when imminent destruction stared them in the face, warrants the assertion that if, like Leonidas and his little band, they had been posted with orders to "guard the pass" against overwhelming odds, live or die, there would have been a virtual repetition of the old story that "none were left to tell the tale." (Thompson, p. 293)


 

References

Confederate Veteran, Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1905, p. 201., Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1905, p. 201.

Gregorie, Anne King
History of Sumter County, South Carolina. Sumter: Library Board of Sumter County, 1954.

Jackman, John S.
"Seeking Adventures," newspaper clipping in Jackman’s Journal, Library of Congress; untitled clipping from the Louisville Courier-Journal, 5 September 1894.

Kirwan, A. D. (ed.)
Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1956, pp. 192-195.

"List of Killed, Wounded, & Missing in 4th Ky. Rgt. Mtd. Ifty.," Camp Boykins Mills S. Ca., April 28th ’65. National Archives Microfilm M836, Roll 3, Frame 9.

Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky: Confederate Kentucky Volunteers, War 1861-65.  Vol. 1.  Frankfort, KY, 1915.

Speer, Emory
"Kentuckians Fought the Last Battle of the War," newspaper clipping dated 30 January 1908, John Jackman Journal, Library of Congress.

Thompson, Ed Porter
History of the Orphan Brigade. Louisville: Lewis N. Thompson, 1898, pp. 283-293, 436-438, 788-89, 810.

Thurmond, Amy
Poinsett State Park History. [n.p., n.d.], Poinsett State Park files.

Thurmond, Amy
Poinsett State Park History Mysteries. [n.p., n.d.]. Poinsett State Park files.

War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Ser. I, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 1026-1037 (reports of Gen. Potter and his officers)

Weller, John H. (under penname of "Fred Joyce")
"From Infantry to Cavalry, Number IV," Southern Bivouac, Vol. 3, No. 7, March 1885, p. 301.

Other information came from correspondence with Dr. Daniel Rush in Columbia, SC.

 

Copyright 1998, Geoffrey R. Walden; all rights reserved.

 

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