The Orphan Brigade: The Kentucky Confederates Who Couldn't Go Home

The Orphan Brigade: The Kentucky Confederates Who Couldn't Go Home by William C. Davis

Book: The Orphan Brigade: The Kentucky Confederates Who Couldn't Go Home by William C. Davis Read Free Book Online
Authors: William C. Davis
keep the Kentuckians in reserve because, used as they were to hard marches and fast ones, they could move speedily to any threatened point in the line. It may have been, too, that Breckinridge had never before been in a battle.
    That night the Orphans slept with their arms at their sides. “The night was clear, calm, and beautiful as such nights always are in the spring-time,” wrote Ed Thompson. Tired as they were from the hard march, the Kentuckians slept well except for the occasional firing of scouts in their front. The morrow was the Sabbath. In their front, behind Grant’s unsuspecting lines, lay Shiloh Church. With the coming of dawn these slumbering Orphans would attend the devil’s service. 20


“Baptized in Fire and Blood”
    “T HIS DAY WILL LONG BE REMEMBERED ,” Jackman wrote in his diary on April 6, 1862. Indeed it would. The men roused from sleep at 3 A.M . that morning. No bugles sounded the reveille in order not to alert any lurking Federals that an army stood poised to attack them. Instead, orderly sergeants shook the men of their companies to awaken them. They started fires and boiled water for their morning coffee. Just then Breckinridge galloped along the line yelling, “Boys, fall in. You have better work before you than eating.” Minutes later they heard the roar of cannon as the battle opened just over a mile from their camp.
    The Kentuckians formed in the road, the other brigades of the reserve corps taking place behind them. Officers spoke quietly to the men, calming their nerves. Others harangued their privates, trying to excite their martial ardor. Captain D. E. McKendree of “Old Joe” Lewis’ Company D addressed his men briefly in the road. He was a jolly sort, one used to making his rounds of a camp, visiting everyone briefly before moving on to the next group or tent, always saying, “Well, men,
I must let my light shine around
!” Now he shone as he told his nervous charges: “Boys, we are about to be engaged with the foe for the first time. It will pain me to see any man falter; and for heaven’s sake don’t let it be said, by those whom we love at home, that one member of Company D disgraced himself.”
    Soon the brigade stood ready to move, “Old Trib” Trabue at itshead. When Breckinridge gave the order, the Orphans marched up the road at the double quick, some of them still munching the hardtack from their interrupted breakfast. They were twenty-four hundred strong, reasonably well armed, and as ready for a fight as they would ever be. This was the battle that would drive Grant out of Tennessee, out of Kentucky, and return them to their homes. Thus it was fitting that at least one member of Hanson’s 2d Kentucky marched with the brigade today. John Mahon, an Irishman of Company G, took a wound at Donelson and thus left before the surrender. He was back in the ranks now for his revenge. 1
    Marching in the darkness toward the sound and flash of the big guns, the Kentuckians found their advance slowed by Polk’s corps in their front. Finally, still before light, they drew close enough to the battle line that Trabue ordered them to unsling their knapsacks in a pile and leave a guard for them. Trabue called for volunteers, but no one wanted to be left behind and miss the battle. The man finally ordered to stay tried bribing another to take his place with extra pieces of hardtack, to no avail. Indeed, even men of the brigade who had been in arrest begged release long enough to take part in the fight. One of Breckinridge’s teamsters, in the guardhouse for some infraction, talked the general into freeing him just for the battle.
    The men seemed lighthearted. To a captain of the 4th Kentucky it seemed incongruous. “Why did we not be more serious, and shake each other by the hand and bid fond
?” For a time even, the brass band of the regiment played martial airs, until too near the battle line. Then they “melt away into thin air and are seen no more.”

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