First Kentucky "Orphan" Brigade 


 

SURRENDER OF THE ORPHAN BRIGADE

"The Blackest Day of Our Lives"

Geoff Walden

 

Click the links for further details on the battles, sites, and people mentioned; click here to read a collection of vignettes and period writings about the surrender.

   The end of the War Between the States found the Kentucky Brigade serving as mounted infantry in South Carolina. They had opposed Sherman's March to the Sea in the fall of 1864, skirmishing with the Federals at such locations as Stockbridge, Oconee River, and Savannah, Georgia. Following the evacuation of Savannah, the mounted Orphans operated in eastern Georgia and western and central South Carolina.

   In April 1865, a Federal force under Gen. Edward Potter moved inland from Georgetown on the coast, with the goal of destroying rail lines and centers near Sumter, and further disrupting Confederate communications and transportation. The Orphan Brigade, under Gen. Joseph Lewis, opposed Potter's forces at such local sites as Dingle's Mill, Stateburg, Boykin's Mill, and Dinkin's Mill. The Orphans were included in Gen. Joe Johnston's surrender of the Army of Tennessee on 26 April 1865, but they had one battle to fight first. According to Brigade records, the 4th Kentucky Infantry fought a final skirmish on 29 April 1865, near Stateburg, South Carolina, nearly three weeks after Gen. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.

   The Kentuckians were ordered to move back to Washington, Georgia, to surrender their arms and be paroled by Gen. James Wilson's Federal forces. Arriving in Washington on 6 May 1865, the Orphans were met by Capt. Lot Abraham of the 4th Iowa Cavalry. Capt. Abraham was an ideal parole officer, since he sympathized with the plight of his former foes, and did everything he could to ease their condition. He allowed each man to keep his horse or mule, and every seventh man was permitted to keep his musket for the long journey home (although these muskets were supposed to be turned in to the Federal authorities once the men reached home, the Enfield belonging to Henry Rau of the 4th Kentucky Infantry is still in the family's possession today).

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Henry Rau's unsurrendered Enfield
(private collection)

   John Jackman of the 9th Kentucky eloquently described the Orphans' last bivouac: the camp duties, the bugle calls, the quiet talks around the camp fires, now for the last time. The arms were taken to Gen. Lewis' headquarters and piled in heaps, muster rolls were prepared for the parole, and on the morning of 7 May 1865, the Orphan Brigade as a unit ceased to exist. Before they broke up for the homeward trip, they had one final duty to perform. Rather than surrender their battle flags, torn, tattered, and with the names of many battles written upon their fields, the Orphans allowed Mrs. Bettie Phillips, wife of Capt. William Phillips of the 4th Kentucky, to cut the flags into small pieces for the men to take home as mementos. A star cut from the flag of the 9th Kentucky, brought home by Sgt.Maj. Johnny Green, is in the collections of the Filson Club in Louisville today. The crossed cannons cut from the same flag survive today in the family of Ensign James Foulks, the final color-bearer of the regiment.

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Crossed cannons from the 9th Kentucky flag
(courtesy Matt Grubb)

   The original parole records, taken home to Iowa by Capt. Abraham, show that he paroled 526 officers and men of the Orphan Brigade at Washington, Georgia. The records are not complete, however, and as many as 800 or 900 may have been included in the surrender. The Brigade began its career in 1861 with some 4500 men. The rest filled graves all across the South, or hospital beds, or prison cells. Some had been discharged, and some deserted. But for all, the long war was finally over.   With paroles in hand and an uncertain future in front of them, the survivors started the long journey home.

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Original parole, signed by Capt. Lot Abraham, of Pvt. Daniel L. Smith, Co. F, 4th Kentucky Infantry
(collection of Jacob Heistand House, Campbellsville, Kentucky; courtesy Steve Menefee)

Click here to see another Washington parole certificate, issued to Pvt. M. V. Dyer
of the 9th Kentucky Infantry; courtesy Rod Halsey.

 

Sources:

Ed Porter Thompson, History of the Orphan Brigade (1898), pp. 283-286, 416, 436-438, 489-490

John Jackman, "Journal" (various articles), Library of Congress

Lot Abraham Papers, Iowa State Historical Society

Official Records, Ser. I, Vol. 49, Pt. 2, pp. 652 ff.

A. D. Kirwan, Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade (Lexington, 1956), pp. 194-197

 

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URL: http://www.rootsweb.com/~orphanhm/washsurr.htm

 

Comments to page authors:

Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at) live.com
Laura Cook
: lcook62 (at) hotmail.com

All contents copyright 1996-2014, 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.

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