Fight With the First Kentucky Brigade

The official report of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry Volunteers states, that Lieutenant William H. Harkness was killed in action at Bald Knob while engaged with Confederate General John H. Lewis' First Kentucky Brigade, known as the "Orphan Brigade."

During the battle of Stones River, Union General Rosecrans, set a trap for Confederate General Bragg's army. The trap was sprung on General Breckinridge's (later General Lewis') Kentucky Brigade and terrible casualties inflicted upon them. John Morgan, commander of the First Kentucky Brigade was killed early in the battle. Within less than an hour, between 1700 and 1800 men were killed or mortally wounded.

After the battle at Stones' River subsided, General Breckinridge rode through the dead and dying in the rear of the Confederate lines. Upon seeing the shattered and commander-less brigade, he exclaimed "My poor Orphans! My Poor Orphans." The nickname stuck and the First Kentucky Brigade became known as the "Orphans."

I have extracted two sections from the official report of the battle for Kenesaw Mountain, GA, "June 20, advanced, deployed as skirmishers. June 21, advanced as support of Forty-ninth and Fifteenth Ohio, deployed as skirmishers. These gallant regiments drove the enemy from a position known as Bald Knob. The Eighty-ninth relieved the Forty-ninth Ohio, which had taken an advanced position in the wood to the right of the knob. The enemy contested this advanced position with obstinacy, and our casualties were 2 killed and 14 wounded. Here fell Lieut. William Harkness, Company H, an energetic and brave officer, a sincere Christian, and urbane gentleman." ...

Headed: Headquarters Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry Volunteers. Near Atlanta, GA. September 13, 1864.
..."Of the commissioned officers of the Eighty-ninth I can speak with pride and pleasure. Not one of them ever faltered in his duty. Ever foremost in the charge, the record of the Eight-ninth's dead and wounded tells the story more eloquently than tongue or pen. To the already illustrious dead can be added Lieut. William Harkness, Company H, and Lieut. N. Street Company D." .... From The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume XXXVIII In Five parts. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891. Report No. 56. Report of Lieut. Col. William D. Williams, Eighty-ninth Illinois Infantry. pp. 401-5.

The Confederate viewpoint of the battle for Kenesaw Mountain is also interesting. The following is paraphrased from the History Of The Orphan Brigade. Edwin Porter Thompson, History of the Orphan Brigade, Louisville, KY: Lewis N. Thompson, 1898. Second edition.

On the Nineteenth of June, the Confederate army was formed with its left on or near the Marietta and Lost Mountain road. The right on Marietta and Canton Road. The center, under General Loring was stationed at Kenesaw Mountain.

While at Kenesaw Mountain, the most important action that the Kentucky Brigade was engaged in, occurred on the 20th of June.

During the day Gist's brigade, extending General Bate's line to the right was covered in front by a strong detachment of skirmishers from the Kentucky Brigade. In the afternoon, the enemy made three unsuccessful assaults upon this outer line. Each time the Federal troops were repulsed. After being reinforced, the Union forces made a fourth attempt, which was successful.

Last Modified on 2012-12-29 13:45:52-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson

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