Uniforms of the Orphan Brigade
Text & Photos by Geoff Walden
As Kentuckians in the Confederate Army, exiled
from their homes for most of their career, the Orphans were in a rather unique situation.
They could not draw uniforms and equipment from their home states (in contrast to soldiers
from North Carolina (for example), who were well supplied by their home state throughout
the war), nor, for most of the war, could they reliably receive civilian clothing from
home. From early 1862 until the end of the war, they were dependent on the Confederate
Quartermaster system to clothe and supply them.
The Kentuckians training at Camps Boone and Burnett would have presented a motley
appearance indeed. Some Kentucky State Guard (KSG) companies brought their uniforms and
equipment with them into Confederate service, a few units wore uniforms specially made by
the ladies of their home towns, but most men went into service wearing simply civilian
clothing. Many retained this clothing even up to and following the battle of Shiloh. The
original quartermaster records for the Kentucky Brigade, which are in the National
Archives, show uniform issues beginning in mid-1862, and continuing through the end of
1864 (at which time record keeping largely broke down). In fact, except for periods on
extended campaign, the typical Orphan Brigade soldier was tolerably well equipped from
late 1862 through late 1864, and rarely presented the rag-tag appearance of popular
conception. ("The Confederate Gray Uniform," Confederate Veteran 2(7), July
1894, p. 207 (William Bemiss was in the 6th Ky. Inf.); photos of the KSG encampment in
Louisville, August 1860, Kentucky Historical Society collections; National Archives,
Record Group 109, Chapter VIII, Vols. 67-72; Geoff Walden, "Clothing Issues of 4th
Kentucky Infantry, CSA," Reenactors Journal 3(6), June 1992, p. 15)
The Kentucky State Guard uniforms varied by company. Some were gray, some blue; some followed Federal regulations, some were simple hunting shirts. An example of such a uniform may be the coat identified to Pvt. Henry Hall of the 4th Kentucky Infantry, now in Stones River National Battlefield Park. This cadet gray frock coat has blue trim, and it originally had Kentucky state seal buttons.
Other early war uniforms were privately purchased, or made by concerned citizens at
home. Images show soldiers of the 6th Kentucky Infantry in dark single-breasted frock
coats and light kepis. Other images show 2nd Kentucky soldiers in light colored frocks and
dark kepis. The men of Co.G, 2nd Kentucky,the
Hamilton Guards, wore a distinctive uniform made by the ladies of their home town in
Bourbon County. Maj. James Hewitt of the 2nd Kentucky used his personal funds to purchase
special overcoats for his regiment during the winter of 1861-62. One of these unique
hooded coats survives today in the Kentucky Military History Museum. (Images of J.C.
Peden and G.R. Peden, 6th Ky. Inf., Barren County Courthouse, Glasgow, KY; images of J.W.
Payne and J.C. Bourne, 2nd Ky. Inf., Kentucky Historical Society collections;"The
Flag of the Hamilton Guards," Confederate Veteran 33(10), October 1925, p. 363;
Thompson, History of the Orphan Brigade (1898), p. 439)
We gratefully acknowledge the generous permission of the owners in allowing us to show their images and other information on this page. All Kentucky Military History Museum items appear by the kind courtesy of Thomas Fugate, curator.
Comments to page authors:
Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at) live.com
All contents copyright ©1996-2013, Geoff Walden, Laura Cook. All rights reserved. No text or photos may be reproduced without the permission of the owners. We gratefully acknowledge the generous permission of the owners in allowing us to show their images and other information on this page.