Unit History


 5th KY Volunteer Infantry


Company B  "Nelson Grays"

            The 5th KY regiment was made of up men from all over the state.  Most were from Logan, Daviess, Nelson, Jefferson, and Harrison counties.  Some came from as far away as Ireland and Texas, but they all had the same desire: to fight for the cause in which they believed was right.  Company B of this regiment was from two areas: Bardstown and Louisville. 

            The men from Louisville were part of a pre-war State Militia company called the "Citizens Guard". Simon Bolivar Buckner formed this company on his return to Kentucky after living in Chicago.  The other members of this company called themselves the "Nelson Grays".  I found no record of this name as a pre-war State Militia company listed anywhere in the Militia Company rolls.  Most likely, they adopted the name in honor of their home county, Nelson County.  This was a common practice that many companies followed when the war first started. 

            The "Nelson Grays" broke Camp "Charity" on the night of September 26, 1861, heading in the direction of Bowling Green.  Camp "Charity" was simply a Southern sympathizers' farm where men could meet and head "South" in large groups for safety.  It was located about three miles from Bloomfield.  Some 300 men were gathered at "Charity" when they arrived.  They Nelson Grays were given food and shelter in this place.  They arrived in the Green River Valley area on September 30.  This was the camp of the 2nd KY Infantry, which had been sent forward to guard the Green River with Byrne's battery for support.

            On October 2, 1861, the members of the Nelson Grays were sworn into service for a period of three years, or the duration of the war.  However, this was not the official regiment organization.  These men were simply sworn into Confederate Service.  The Citizens Guard arrived into camp on October 4th.  They were sworn into service shortly after arriving.   The men who arrived from Camp "Charity" were all moved to Bowling Green to be formed into regiments. On October 7th, Colonel Thomas Hunt began to organize the 5th.  He took the four companies that were already in camp, and began the tedious process of drilling the men.       

            While these men were at Bowling Green, the men of Company B lived in some of the nicest accommodations they would enjoy until after the war.  The Citizens Guard brought with them their own tents and supplies.  These tents had wood planking on the bottom, as well as dressers to store their supplies.  Some of them even had curtains dividing their bunks.  However, these luxuries were about to disappear for a very long time.

            The men were moved to Russellville a short time after Hunt arrived, where three more companies joined them.  They remained in this area until the end of November when they were transferred by train back to Bowling Green.  At the end of November, Hunt formally swore them into Confederate Service, under the assumption he would be able to raise the additional companies to make it a full regiment.  The men were officially sworn in, and they were issued their first uniforms from the Confederate Government.

            At this time that a problem arose with the designation of the 5th KY regiment.  On November 14, 1861, Hiram Hawkins officially swore his regiment into Confederate service in Eastern Kentucky.  Since he had a full regiment of men and he applied earlier, his men were given the regimental number of 5th as well.  In October of 1862, this problem would finally be solved with Hunt's regiment being now called the 9th KY, and Hawkins being allowed to continue to call his regiment the 5th KY.

            Members of the 5th KY were among the first of the brigade to engage the enemy.  The skirmish took place at a location called Whippoorwill Bridge, about 6 miles South of Russellville, KY.  It was one of the main bridges on the Louisville and Memphis railroad.  Colonel Hunt placed thirteen men under Sergeant O'Connor to protect the bridge from local Home Guards who wanted to burn it.  

            On the morning of December 4th, about 90 Home Guards attacked the guard detail.  The men of the 5th KY fought as long as they could, but they were eventually surrounded, and forced to surrender.  This was not before they had wounded several Union soldiers and suffered severe casualties themselves.  Two men were killed, Hatch Jupin from company B and George Campbell from Company A.  These were the first of the brigade to die in battle fighting for their country.  Joe Wilson, also of company B, was severely wounded in the hip and continued to fight until another bullet took of one of his fingers.  The Federals set fire to the bridge, and quickly marched back to Rochester before Confederate reinforcements could be rushed up.  The bridge, however, failed to burn down. 

            The rest of the 5th was stationed in Bowling Green, performing military drills.  They spent most of the day drilling and taking care of their camps.  The Kentucky troops spent most of the early months of their enlistment learning what they would need to know to survive the war.  Their bodies became used to the cold temperatures, they learned how to cook palatable meals out of fat bacon and cornbread, and mostly, they learn how to care for their rifles. 

            Weapons were the most pressing problem for this regiment.  The fact was they had very few.  On January 2, 1862 a complaint was made to the War department that its regiment was in desperate need for weapons.  A weapons count in the regiment showed that they had 246 serviceable weapons in the regiment, plus 70 outdated flintlocks.  Some companies that were former state guardsmen were very well armed.  These companies, A and C, were enlisted for twelve months by Simon Bolivar Buckner under the condition  they would supply their own weapons. 

            During the 5th KY's stay in Kentucky, they spent time like most of the early war regiments: drilling and learning the art of war.  They took their turns on picket at various bridges and roads in and around the Bowling Green area.  They also worked on the fortifications around Bowling Green to protect "their" state capital from federal attack.  Every once and a while they would be rushed to the front lines because of a federal advancement.  However, there was no great federal advancement towards Bowling Green.  That took place in the southwest, towards Forts Donaldson and Henry.

            The early months of 1862 would be the last months that the 5th KY would remain in their own state.  Several events were taking place that would force the 5th KY and the rest of the Central Army of Kentucky out of the state forever.  On January 19, General George B. Crittenden was defeated at the battle of Mills Springs.  This allowed the Federals to break through the eastern defense of the Confederate line.  The Federals' next step was to break through the western part of the defense.

            On February 6th, Confederate Fort Henry was surrendered to the Federals.  The United States Navy had shelled the fort, forcing the Confederate army to retreat to the more strategic Fort Donaldson.  When Fort Henry fell, General Albert Sydney Johnston a Kentuckian by birth, decided it was time to evacuate Bowling Green.  On February 11, 1862, the order was given to abandon Kentucky without a fight.

            The 5th made their way slowly out of Kentucky.  All of the supply wagons had gone ahead of the units, so the men had to rely on what they had with them to keep them warm.  On the night of February 13th, they camped at Franklin, the county seat of Simpson County.  This was the last night that many would spend on their native soil.  On Valentine's Day, they 5th and the rest of the men crossed the state line into Tennessee.  The 5th continued to travel south towards Nashville.  They finally stopped and made camp on the 16th, five miles south of Nashville on the Mufreesboro pike.  As they set up camp, they learned that Fort Donladson had fallen.

            The 5th stayed here until the 18th of February.  They had very few tents, and it rained almost non-stop.  The mud was so bad that they had to lay planks to walk through the camp on, and if you fell off one, you would sink up to your knees in mud.  They set out for Murfreesboro on the morning of the 18th, and arrived on the 20th.

            Their stay here was a short one.  The army was reorganized during this time, and the 5th KY was attached to the "Reserve Brigade".  It consisted of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th KY infantry units, three battalions of companies from various states, 1st KY Cavalry, as well as Byrne's and Cobb's batteries.  The stayed here until the February 28th and then they moved southwest, with their final destination being Cornith, Mississippi.

            The march towards Cornith was a hard and long one.  It rained constantly, so the roads were always muddy, which made the going more difficult.  The 5th started out with tents enough to accommodate most men, but they lost most of them the night of March 14.  That night a severe storm came in with such strong winds, that nearly every tent, pot or pan, blankets, and everything that was not on a soldier blew away.  Members of the 5th simply used scraps of blankest and bits of broken tents to keep them as dry as possible throughout the night.  They did not receive any more tents until they arrived at Cornith. 

            The 5th arrived at Cornith on March 19th, where they were assigned a camp located at Burnsville, about twelve miles southeast of Cornith.  Here they once again began drilling.  The regiment drilled hard to get back into shape for the upcoming battle, which everyone knew was coming.  Colonel Hunt was not present for all the drills, because he had been assigned by Breckinridge to go to Atlanta to return the with wounded and stragglers from the various regiments.  Atlanta is where the men were taken after the retreat from Kentucky.  Hunt found quite a few men there, including men from Company B such as Johnny Jackman and Johnny Green.

            Scouts continued to report that the Union army was camped at an area known as Pittsburgh Landing, a few miles North of Cornith.  The men knew that the great battle they had all been longing for was about to happen.  On April 3, the men of the 5th KY finally received what they all had been in desperate want of: new rifles.  Several hundred brand new Enfield rifles had finally arrived to rearm the worst armed the Kentucky regiments.  Many of the men in the 5th received them, but not all.  They were in such high demand that as the 5th was marched towards Shiloh, Johnny Jackman was a nap and had laid his brand new rifle up against a tree, when he awoke from his nap, he found an old rusty flintlock in its place.

            The brigade was finally issued orders on April 4th to cook three days rations, strike the tents, and prepare to move off to face the enemy.  The march North towards Shiloh was hampered by constant rain.  The army wanted to arrive at the location quicker than they did to strike the Federal army a surprise blow before reinforcements could arrive.  The commanding officers decided to attack, and on the night of April 5th, 1862, the men ate the rest of their soggy three-day rations and slept on their arms for the upcoming battle.

            The 5th and the rest of the Kentucky Brigade were part of the "Reserve Corps" commanded by General Breckinridge..  They were to follow Polk's Corps into battle, and reinforce him as needed.  The Kentucky Brigade was put in this position purposely by General Johnston.  He was aware that the men were used to long and quick marches at double time.  He had noticed this during the retreat out of Kentucky.  He knew the Kentuckians could be counted on to rush quickly towards the fighting. About 9:30 a.m., they fell under enemy fire for the first time.  The brigade assaulted a Federal brigade made up of Ohio, Illinois and Iowa troops, that was preparing to flank a portion of Polk's Corp.  The brigade was now smaller with the 3rd KY, Byrne's battery and the 4th Alabama being sent elsewhere to reinforce Polk's Corp.  The 5th was placed on the far left of the brigade line, as they prepared to meet the Federal advance.

            The 5th and the rest of the brigade fought with the Federals for about an hour and fifteen minutes.  The 5th was in the thick of the fighting losing several color bearers, as well as several officers.  The 5th, only eight companies strong, suffered horrible causalities.  Company A took 64 men into this first assault, and lost 64 percent of them.  The 5th did have the honor of capturing the first strand of Federal colors for the brigade.  They found a beautiful silk banner on the ground with the goddess of liberty and the motto " We will die for our county" on one side, and "Victory or Death on the other."  They kept the staff for their own flag that was shattered in the battle, and gave the flag itself to General Breckinridge as a trophy of the regiment first battle.

            The 5th and the rest of the brigade finally routed the 46th Ohio and the rest of the federal brigade out of their camps.  They took several prisoners and the rest of the 5th, and 6th KY exchanged their broken down rifles for new Enfields with the captured federal prisoners.  In all, the brigade took 1,393 rifles, 11 swords, and 4 cannons.  The 5th was finally properly armed.

            The brigade was involved in the final charge that broke the famous "Hornets Nest".  They were not directly assaulting the breastworks but were skirmishing on the flanks of the enemy, so their losses were few.  Later in the day, Breckinridge arrived with the news of General Johnston's death  He quickly prepared his Corps for one more assault to push the enemy into the Tennessee River.  By the time it was organized, it was too dark, so the attack was called off.  The men of the 5th spent the night in the vacated camp of the 6th Iowa.

            The men of the 5th were better able to re-supply themselves than they had so far during the war.  The men found plenty of extra blankets as well as socks, shirts, draws, and pants.  The men joined the 6th KY in a raid on the 46th Ohio's sutler.  Men filled themselves with cheese, tin beef and fruit, as well as bacon and hardtack.  The men also found a supply of beer, whine and brandy.  The men of the 5th felt that the day's fighting was a success, and all they had to do the next day was bury their dead, and continue marching north towards Kentucky.

            On Monday April 7th, the brigade formed early.  Col. Hunt ordered the men to get rid of all of their food and booty they had taken from the Yankee camps.  He did not want them to be slowed down during the battle today.  When Hunt rode down to inspect the lines, he noticed that Sergeant Henry Cowling still had a wheel of cheese attached to the end of his bayonet.  Col. Hunt, "almost took his head off and made him throw the cheese away."  The men of the 5th reluctantly shed their full knapsacks one again, and posted guards next to them as they marched off to do battle.

            General Beureguard, who had repalced Johnston as overall command, ordered Trabue and the rest of the Kentucky Brigade forward past the Shiloh Church.  The brigade was then ordered to the far right of the Confederate line, but before they got arrived, a Union brigade attacked them.  The Kentuckians fought with the Union soldiers for nearly four hours with little success. 

            The 5th KY on the other hand was having luck pushing back the Union lines.  General Beureguard had them anchor the Confederate lines.  They pushed back one Union regiment through their camps, and were in the process of reforming their ranks when Hunt was given the order to retire to the rear.  It was around 2:00p.m. when Beaureguard decided that he must retire his army to save it.  He ordered Breckinridge to place his small Corps to cover the army's retreat.  The men of the 5th, as well as the rest of the brigade, stood in line of battle for another two hours resisting Federal attacks while the rest of the Confederate Army retreated back towards Cornith. 

            The brigade acted as rearguard for the next three days.  They had little or no food, and the food they did have was wet and soggy from sitting in haversacks for three days.  The brigade camped near the Mickey House, were they waited for a Federal advance, and buried the dead from the battle.  On Friday, April 11th, they arrived at Cornith with the rest of the army.  The brigade's total loss for the two days of fighting, as well as acting as rearguard, was 844 men killed and wounded, out of 2,400 men.  The 5th KY alone lost 134 men out of its small regiment of eight companies.

            The rest of the month of April, the 5th stayed around the area of Cornith.  The army was once again reorganized.  The Kentucky Brigade was broken up into two Kentucky Brigades, with the 5th being put into a brigade with the 4th KY, as well as several Alabama regiments.  General Helm was given command of the Brigade that the 5th was in, and the 5th finally got around to electing some officers.  Since they did not have a full regiment, they put off the election of officers, hoping to wait until they had a full regiment to do so.  They decided that they could not wait any longer, and they elected a Lieutenant Col., as well as a Major.

            While the army reorganized at Cornith, the Union Army began advancing in that direction.  On May 28th, the 5th and the rest of the brigade were ordered to strike tents, and move forward towards the intrenchments.  The brigade was covering the far-left flank, so they missed much of the hard fighting that took place.  On May 29th, the order was given for the army to begin retreating once again, and General Bragg wanted a reliable rear guard.  This honor fell to the 5th KY, a Mississippi regiment, as well as Cobb's guns.  They were to protect the whole Confederate Army of Mississippi.

            As the rest of the army left the trenches on the 29th of May, Hunt's men stayed in them.  This little "army" was facing the entire Union Army.  They had heavy skirmishing with the Federals during the day, but at nightfall, the enemy retired.  So did the 5th.  Around midnight, Hunt pulled his men out of the trenches, and began moving South towards Tupelo.  They marched all night, and into the afternoon of the 30th.  Hunt finally allowed his men a short rest at the crossing of the Tuscumbia River, where Hunt burned the bridge.  This eliminated the best place for the Federals to cross and attack the Confederate army.  Hunt's men were finally allowed to rest for the first time in 36 hours. 

            Hunt marched the men all day and night of June 1st, and the next day halted at noon when he heard that Federal cavalry held the town of Booneville.  This was the major junction that led to Tupelo, and the rest of the Confederate army.  While the men rested and fed, Hunt held a council of war.  The other commanders could not decide what to do, so Hunt told they to fend for themselves, he was going to march the 5th straight through Booneville and into Tupelo.  The Federal in his front did not put up much of a fight, and after a couple hours of skirmishing, they retired, and Hunt marched the 5th back into Confederate camp.

            The men tried to "rest" while in Tupelo, but it was a miserable area.  They suffered for fresh water to the point that wells were dug.  The summer heat was almost too much to bear, and there were not many fresh rations.  When they could find a farmer willing to sell them fresh food, it was at so high a price that they could not afford to purchase it.  Their stay here did not last long.  On June 23rd, the men received orders on where they were needed next.  The call came from Vicksburg!

            The men's stay at Vicksburg was only for about four weeks.  While they were there, they took turns with other brigades manning the trenches that faced toward water, and received constant shelling from Union gunboats.  They acted as battery guards, and participated in a few small skirmishes with Union Marines aboard gunboats.  Some of the men of the brigade actually got to serve as gunners on the C.S.S. Arkansas.  Here they fired the cannon, and repelled a Union boarding party of Marines and sailors from the U.S.S. Essex.

            The Kentucky troops were very anxious to get out of Vicksburg.  The brigade's numbers were deteriorating.  It was not the constant shelling and skirmishing that was taking its toll, it was disease.  The men suffered greatly from malaria, diarrhea, and dysentery.  On June 22nd, 628 men out of the Kentucky regiments were in the hospital.  The men did not fear dying in battle for their cause, but they hated seeing their fine brigade ranks depleted by disease as they sat in Vicksburg.  Relief for the men did finally come. On June 25th, the men were ordered to accompany General Breckinridge in his expedition attack Baton Rouge.

            On June 27th, the Kentuckians were put on a train that eventually ended up at Camp Moore, Louisiana.  Here Breckinridge received additional reinforcements, and he organized his men.  Of the several regiments and home guards he had in his small army, there was a total of five Kentucky Infantry regiments and Cobb's guns.  On July 30th, Breckinridge expressed that the heat and disease has taken its toll on the men, and he feared the battle could not be won.  General Van Dorn refused to listen, but he did dispatch the C.S.S. Arkansas down to deal with the Federal gunboats that were anchored off shore.  On the same day, the men began the long, fifty-mile march to Baton Rouge.  Afterwards, they considered this the hardest march of the war.

            The 5th and the men suffered greatly during the march.  It was extremely hot, and the men who were barefoot, burnt their feet on the sand.  The men had to rely on stagnate pools of water to quench their thirst, and many fell ill.  In fact, the march cost Breckinridge 600 men.  They suffered from hunger, snakebites, thirst and many died of heat stroke.  Kentuckians, being from the upper South, were not accustomed to this kind of heat, and they paid for it.

            The men arrived on August 3rd, ten miles from Baton Rouge.  Here they rested and prepared for battle.  During the night, some local Partisan Rangers, were surprised by a Federal skirmish line, and retreated back into camp.  It caught the Kentuckians by surprise, and they started firing into the black night.  Several men were killed and wounded.  Among the dead was Captain Alexander Todd, Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law, and his other brother-in-law Ben Hardin Helm, commander of the Kentucky Brigade, was wounded.  Because of his wound, Colonel Hunt took command of the Brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel John Caldewell commanded the 5th during the battle.

            During the first part of the battle, the 5th was held in reserve to support the battery of artillery attached to the brigade.  Company A was detached as pickets to the far right of the Confederate advance.  They did not encounter any enemy, and suffered no casualties during the battle.  The men stayed where they were until General Breckinridge ordered them forward in person for the second attack.  They fell into line on the left side of the 4th KY, and immediately advanced.  They slowly pushed back the enemy for 25 minutes until ordered to retire in small ravine to reform lines.  Here at this ravine, General Breckinridge led the men forward personally.  They once again attacked and pushed the enemy back into the town.  The whole army was ordered to retreat because the gunboats were still there and were shelling the ranks.  The 5th took two hundred and twenty-two men into battle and losing: nine killed, 24 wounded, and one missing.

            On the way down from Vicksburg, the C.S.S  Arkansas ran into engine trouble, and it was forced to be scuttled to prevent capture.  The Confederate army had pushed the Union army back into the town, but could not complete the victory because of the gunboats.  If the Arkansas had been able to defeat the gunboats, the victory would have been a complete one.  Instead, the Confederate army was forced to retreat back to Port Hudson.  Their stay here would not be long, because as they were marching to Port Hudson, General Bragg was making preparations to liberate Kentucky, and he wanted all available Kentuckians to join in.  On August 18th, the Kentuckians received the orders they had been waiting a year for, cook three days rations and prepare to march towards Kentucky!

            On August 19th, the brigade marched out of Port Hudson, towards Jackson, Mississippi.  The march was not a bad one considering the march to Baton Rouge.  It rained non-stop, but it helped keep the dust settled on the roads, and keep the men cool from the summer heat.  When the brigade arrived in Jackson on the 22nd, they were the talk of the town.  This was because of the way they looked.  This was the first time the city had seen men who had been on a constant campaign since the May.  The men of the "Orphan Brigade", looked very much like orphans.

            The men had not bathed since the day before the battle of Baton Rouge.  Most of them had not received uniforms since before Shiloh.  Many of the men's pants were full of holes, and barely covered a man's private areas.  Some men had shell jackets, but no shirts on below them, and vice versa.  The oddest site that people noticed was their footwear.  Many men went barefoot, which was not a common sight for a Southerner during the summer.  The problem was the sand was so hot that they burnt their feet on the long marches.  Men began to construct moccasins out of the supply of skin available in the swamps and rivers they had marched through.  They used the skin of salamanders for their moccasins.

            They stayed in Jackson until September 19th.  Their stay here was the best thing they could have done at the time.  The men received fresh uniforms, to replace their old rags, as well as shoes.  The rations they were issued were of greater quantity, and they could fish, and buy vegetables from local markets.  This greatly improved the health of the men.  While they were stationed here, their ranks began to swell.  All the men who had been sick and wounded were beginning to recover, and they did not want to miss the chance to go back home.  When the brigade marched out to catch the train that would eventually end in Mobile, Alabama, the brigade was the largest it had been since they marched on the field at Shiloh.

            Another important event that happened to the brigade was being able to add their battle honors to their flags.  Up until this time, the flags simply showed the regiments numerical designation, as well as what state it came from; i.e. 5th KY.  General Breckinridge gave the order allowing the men to inscribe Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Baton Rouge.  This was a huge morale boost to the men, and they could not wait to march into Kentucky with these honors flying above them.

            On September 27th, the brigade boarded two steamboats heading up to Montgomery.  The 5th KY boarded the Waverly, an old run down cotton boat, while the 4th and 6th KY boarded the R.B. Taney, a fine passenger steamer.  As the boats took off, the Taney, already had a head of steam, and quickly passed the other ship.  As they passed the Waverly, the men waved at the 5th, and their regimental bands began to play.  This was more than the 5th could take.  Company H of the 5th was nearly all steamboat men before the war, and they quickly took control of the Waverly.  They began to throw anything that would burn into the fireboxes, and quickly the old boat overtook the Taney.  The Taney even tried turning sideways in the middle of the river to stop from being passed, but the experienced steam boat men of Company H, guided the boat around her, and took the lead.

            On September 30th they reached Montgomery, and immediately caught trains to Atlanta.  Once there, they caught another train north into Tennessee.  On October 3rd, the men of the 5th and the rest of the brigade pitched their tents in Knoxville.  They had been traveling non-stop, day and night, for eight days, and were exhausted.  The brigade waited here for supplies to catch up with them, and then headed up into Kentucky.  It was during the next few days that the fabric of the 5th KY would be changed.

            While most members of the 5th KY had enlisted up for three-year terms, some companies were enlisted for only one year, mainly companies A and C.  General Simon Buckner enlisted these companies for a period of twelve months, on the understanding that they would supply their own rifles.  The rest of the regiment enlisted for three years.  When these companies saw that their time was about to expire, and the Confederate Conscription Act had been passed, which gave the Confederate Government the right to keep the soldiers as long as they wanted to, they refused to fight anymore.  They simply stacked their arms, and asked to be discharged.  Company B, was immediately ordered to guard these men, with loaded rifles.  They were talked into rejoining the regiment, with the understanding that General Breckinridge would look into the affair.

            When the brigade reached Knoxville, the 6th KY also stacked arms.  They were also a twelve-month regiment, and wanted to be let go, or made mounted infantry.  General Breckinridge finally arrived on the scene, and gave such a moving speech, talking about how disappointed he was in them, and then he talked about duty to their cause.  When he was done, all the twelve-month men re-enlisted for the rest of the war.  This was the last time the men had this kind of trouble.

            It was during this brief stay that the men of the 5th KY found out that they were to be redesignated the 9th KY.  The men were not happy.  They had fought and died under their flag as the 5th KY at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Baton Rouge.  They were not ready to give the name up.  When they finally received their new Hardee pattern flag, they made sure that it read "9th, formally the 5th KY".  This way the could still show that at one point they were some of the first to volunteer for their state, and also that the men who died defending the flag as the 5th KY would not be forgotten.  The regiment was redesignated the 9th KY on October 4th, 1862.  From that date on, these men would  continue to fight and die for their country, as the 9th KY Volunteer Infantry.