Unit History-Part 2

The Breckinridge Greys

A Tale of 2 Fifths, Part 2
History of the 5th Kentucky Infantry, C.S.A.

This is the history of the eastern 5th of Col. Hiram Hawkins, rather than the western 5th commanded by Col. Thomas Hunt.  Authorities in Richmond approved the organization of the eastern 5th first, so the western regiment was re-designated the 9th Kentucky Infantry.  The western 5th served in the First Kentucky Brigade through the war.  The eastern 5th served in the mountain region, joining the first Kentucky Brigade in the fall of 1863. 

     The 5th Kentucky Infantry in essence served in three brigades during the war: 1) Marshall’s/Preston’s in the mountain region; 2) Kelly’s Brigade in the Army of Tennessee, more or less a temporary organization; and 3) Lewis’ (First Kentucky) Brigade in the Army of Tennessee.  In September 1864, Lewis’ Brigade was mounted and attached to Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps in Georgia, serving as mounted infafntry.

The regiment was raised from Bath, Breathitt, Franklin, Grant, Jessamine, Harrison, Henderson, Magoffin, Morgan, Owen, Pendleton, and Shelby counties.


October 22, 1861           Organized near Paintsville as a 12 month unit.

December 10, 1861        Department HQ countermanded Maj.Gen. George B.

                                    Crittenden’s orders for the Fifth’s transfer to

Nashville, based on Marshall’s protest to keep the unit in eastern Kentucky for recruiting.

December 30, 1861        Paintsville KY.  1,000 present.

January 3, 1862             Paintsville KY.  Marshall reported 594 of 806 men fit for

                                    duty–many were sick.

January 10, 1862           Engagement at Middle Creek.  The 5th under Col. Williams

                                    was positioned on the Confederate right.  The regiment had 

                                    no overcoats & few blankets.

January 23, 1862           Letcher County KY.  Marshall reported 400 men of the 5th


February 7, 1862            Edward O. Guerrant, staff officer of Gen. Marshall, observed the 5th as a “large fine looking, ill clad regiment” numbering 1,000.

March 19,1862              Estimated 400 present.

May 17, 1862                Engagement at Princeton VA. 

May 27, 1862                Near Tazewell Court House VA.  The 5th and Shawhan’s KY cavalry company put on a sham battle for spectators in the evening.  Gen. Marshall present.

September 7, 1862         Col. May led the 5th, 750 strong, into Kentucky with

                                    Marshall’s advance (Perryville campaign).

Oct. 20-21, 1862            Hazle Green KY.  Reorganized for the war.  The 12 months’

                                    men were mustered out, 3 companies (325 men) remaining. 

                                    Col. Hawkins was directed to take position at Prestonsburg

                                    to recruit the unit.

Nov. 18, 1862                Consolidated into 8 companies.

Dec. 20, 1862-Jan. 3, 1863.  Operations against Carter’s Virginia-Tennessee Raid. 

                                    The 5th numbered 310 men.  Col. Hawkins, commanding

                                    the 5th along with the 64th VA, marched 70 miles in 3 days,

                                    with no tents or camp equipage, in the effort to cut the

                                    federal cavalry off.  Hawkins was unable to reach Marshall’s

                                    converging forces in time for the skirmish at Jonesville,

                                    Virginia January 2, 1863.

January 25, 1863           Estimated 300 present.

June 11, 1863                Ordered from western Virginia to reinforce troops at

                                    Cumberland Gap.

August 22, 1863            Companies A & B, Desha’s Infantry Battalion were added as

                                    Companies I & K.

Sept. 19-20, 1863          Battle of Chickamauga GA.  “…Acted with the courage and

                                    coolness of veterans.” 

Participated in the capture of 2 regiments & part of third.

Sept.-Nov. 1863             Siege of Chattanooga TN.

November 3, 1863          Transferred to Lewis’ (First Kentucky) Brigade.

November 23-25, 1863    Battle of Chattanooga TN.

December 14, 1863        Returns for the Army of Tennessee show the following for

                                    the regiment:  Effective total, 160.  Total present, 201. 

                                    Aggregate present & absent, 350.  Number of arms, 165. 

                                    Rounds of ammunition (in cartridge boxes) per man, 32.

May-September 1864     Atlanta Campaign.

May 5-11 – Rocky Face Ridge

May 14-15 – Resaca

May 15-18 – Adairsville

May 25-June 4 – New Hope Church

June 25-27 – Dallas

June 27 – Kennesaw Mountain

July 20 – Peach Tree Creek

July 22 – Atlanta

July 28 – Ezra Church

July-September – Siege of Atlanta

August 5-7 – Utoy Creek

Aug. 31- Sept. 1 – Jonesboro

September 4, 1864         Barnesville GA.  Lewis’ Brigade mounted, to serve as

                                    mounted infantry.

May 6, 1865                  Paroled at Washington GA.

Battle Descriptions

Ivy Mountain                Engagement                November 8-9, 1861                

Opposing Forces:  CS: Col. John S. Williams (250)

                            US: Brig.Gen. William Nelson (1500-1600)

Casualties:            CS: 10 k; 15 w; 40 m; Total = 65         

                            US: 6 k; 24 w; Total = 30 (reported)

The engagement at Ivy Mountain was a Confederate delaying action.  Fighting lasted over an hour.  Col. John S. Williams’ force in the area consisted of 9 companies of infantry and 5 mounted, totaling 1010 men.  In contrast to well-equipped counterparts, Williams said “my men were badly clad and badly armed, with not a knapsack, haversack, or canteen.  They carried their powder in horns, gourds, and bottles.”  Cartridge boxes arrived after the ensuing engagement.  “We had powder and lead, and made our own cartridges and molded our own bullets.”  He fell back as Nelson’s advanced in two columns.  Williams moved in the direction of Pound Gap, observing federal movements and waiting for an opportunity to make a stand. 

When Captain Thomas’ company discovered the Union advance guard at Ivy Creek, Col. Williams took the infantry companies of Captains Jack May and Hiram Hawkins and 20 mounted men under Lieutenant Van Hook to reinforce him.  Dispositions were made for defense of the position, bordered by the Big Sandy River on the right and Ivy Mountain on the left.  Captain Thomas had already burned the bridge over Ivy Creek to impede the federal advance.  Horses were taken to the safety of a deep cave, and the force of 250 men was positioned on foot half a mile in front of the burned bridge.  Williams left to deal with other troop movements, the command falling to Captain May. 

Nelson’s army of 1600 men with 6 pieces of artillery appeared in front of May about 1:00 pm on the 8th.  Nelson described the site as a narrow defile of the mountain, thickly wooded with underbrush, and the road very near the river and only 7 feet wide.  As his column rounded the sharp curve around the mountain, Williams said the bluecoats “were received by 250 rifles and shot-guns, in point-blank range.”  The yankees were thrown back, unable to see the Confederates in their front, but pressed forward again with the same result.  Nelson also referred to Confederates firing on his position from across the river.

After retiring beyond the range of Confederate shotguns (with which presumably the mounted units were armed) federal infantry moved up the hills and outflanked May’s position, forcing him to fall back.  Nelson admitted 6 killed and 24 wounded, which must be sorely understated given the terrain, the concealed Confederate position, and the element of surprise.  Williams stated southern losses at 10 killed, 15 wounded, and 40 missing (of whom many returned). 

At Piketon, Williams posted a rear guard of 400 men while the remainder continued toward Pound Gap.  The Union advance was rapid.  Captain Thomas’ company of sharpshooters prevented federal artillery from getting into desired positions, and returned fire to musketry and shelling while Williams drew his force off in good order.  Losses during the brief action at Piketon were limited to several on each side.

Federal success was short lived.  General Nelson believed the ill-supplied Confederate force was not in condition to advance.  He withdrew part of his force to Catlettsburg, the bulk of it all the way to Louisville.

After reaching Pound Gap, Williams left history another glimpse of the courage and tenacity of his soldiers.  “Many of our men are barefooted, and I have seen the blood in their tracks as they marched from Ivy to this place.”

Middle Creek               Engagement                Jan. 10, 1862                            

Opposing Forces:  CS: Marshall’s Brigade – Brig.Gen. Humphrey Marshall    

                            (2240 present; 1967 effective Jan. 2)

                            US: Eighteenth Brigade – Col. James A. Garfield (At least 2100)

Casualties:  CS: 10k; 14w; Total = 24     

                  US: 2k; 25w; Total = 27

Confederate Units Present:

     5th KY (Col. John S. Williams); 29th VA (Col. A.C. Moore); 54th VA (Col. R.C. 

     Trigg); 34th VA Cav Bttn (Lt.Col. W.E.Simms); VA Mtd Rifles Co (V.A. Witcher);

     VA Battery (Capt. William C. Jeffress); Company (Holliday); Mounted Companies

     (Captains Clay & Thomas)

Union Units Present:

     14th KY (Col. L.T. Moore); 22nd KY; 40th OH (Col. Cranor); 42nd OH (Garfield’s); 

     Squadron OH cavalry (Maj. McLaughlin); 1st KY Cav (6 co., Lt.Col. Letcher)

Advancing on December 23, 1861, Col. James A. Garfield led an expedition of over 2000 federals from Louisa toward Paintsville with the intention of driving Humphrey Marshall’s Confederate force out of Kentucky.  Monitoring the federal advance, Marshall posted his line of battle on the hills along Middle Creek to receive them.  Garfield’s force appeared about 10 am, but dispositions were not made and fighting did not begin until noon. 

According to Marshall, Thomas’ and Clay’s companies were dismounted and posted on the Confederate left on the opposite side of the creek along heights commanding the plain of Middle Creek.  Jeffress’ four guns, supported by the 54th VA, Witcher, and Holliday, held the center.  The 5th KY and 29th VA comprised the right of Marshall’s line.

Three volleys from Jeffress’ artillery scattered an early advance of Union cavalry on the center.  They were not seen again, at least in mounted formation.  The troops on the left were never threatened, and never fired a shot.  Most of Garfield’s efforts were against the Confederate right.  Attesting to a supply of faulty artillery ammunition, Garfield stated that many of the Confederate shells did not explode.

The engagement lasted some four hours until Garfield withdrew down the creek, through Prestonsburg, and back to Paintsville from whence they had come.  Garfield reported a successful campaign after retreating to the safety of Paintsville.  He estimated Confederate losses at 60-85 killed besides the wounded.  Marshall claimed victory, along with severe federal casualties, up to 550, well beyond their official reports.  The casualties, as officially reported by each side, were 10 Confederates killed and 14 wounded; 2 federals killed and 25 wounded.

After pursuing Garfield a short distance, Marshall likewise retreated deeper into Floyd County starting the next day, in search of subsistence, which was scarce in the mountains that winter season.  Also noteworthy, Marshall said that there were no overcoats and few blankets in the command.

Wolf Creek & Princeton VA – Skirmish & Engagement – May 15-17, 1862          

Opposing Forces:  CS: Army of Eastern Kentucky (2255) – Brig.Gen. H. Marshall

                            US: Dist. of Kanawha (500-1200 to 5000+) – Brig.Gen. Jacob D. Cox

Casualties:  CS: 2 k; 2 mw; 10-12 w; Total=14-16

                  US: 22k; 64 w; 21 m; Total=113*

                  * Marshall left 71 federal wounded in town & marched 29 prisoners out.

Confederate Units Present:

            5th KY (Col. A.J. May, 500); 29th VA (Col. A.C. Moore, 400); 54th VA (Col.

            R.C. Trigg, 600); Bttn recruits (Dun, 400); KYMtd Rifles Bttn (Bradley, 275);

            VA Battery (Capt. Wm. C. Jeffress, 6 pieces);

            51st VA (Col. G.C. Wharton, 800 in addition to Marshall’s strength)

Federal Units Present:

28th OH, 34th OH, 37th OH initially; Other units arrived at various times.

Humphrey Marshall advanced in cooperation with a column under Brigadier General Henry Heth.  His force skirmished while approaching Princeton.  Marshall reported that the initial “skirmish was conducted by the Fifth Kentucky,”  of which there were 500 present under Col. Jack May.  The regiment lost 3 men wounded and Captain Leonidas Elliott mortally wounded.  The enemy, numbering over 500, lost 16-20, left on the field.  Later, Col. R.C. Trigg’s 54th VA extended the line on the right, Moore and Bradley on the left.  Trigg skirmished with federals on the right before dark, with a loss of 1 mortally wounded and 6 wounded.  It was discovered around dark that Cox had fled Princeton, leaving tents, uniforms, and stores. 

            On the 17th, Marshall held his position, observing the arrival of Union reinforcements while he waited for Heth’s column.  Col. Wharton reported with the 51st VA from Heth’s brigade, and deployed his regiment.  A Union regiment appeared in rear of Wharton’s position, and was promptly and “furiously” attacked by him.  “The havoc in the enemy’s ranks was terrible, according to Marshall.” 

            Marshall later learned that Heth, having heard that Marshall had been defeated, withdrew some distance, after himself capturing abandoned federal camps.  Cox withdrew his forces far beyond Princeton.  Marshall, with Heth’s column drawn further east, opted to return to his own district in southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

Chickamauga GA         Battle                          Sept. 19-20, 1863                       

Opposing Forces:  CS: Army of Tennessee (71,000*) – General Braxton Bragg

                            US: Army of the Cumberland (57,000) – Maj.Gen.Wm.Rosecrans

Casualties:  CS: 17,804 (25%)

                  US: 16,197 (28%)

* 1 of only 2 major battles where Confederate forces outnumbered the Union army.

Col. Hiram Hawkins commanded the 5th Kentucky Infantry through its finest hour.  The regiment served within Col. John. H. Kelly’s Brigade of Brig.Gen. William Preston’s Division, in Maj.Gen. Simon B. Buckner’s Corps of Lt.Gen. James Longstreet’s Left Wing of the army.

Col. Kelly’s official report of the battle stated that on September 19 the brigade took position left of Stewart’s Division and behind Gracie’s Brigade (also of Preston’s Division).  The 5th was positioned on left, the 65th GA (Col. R.H. Moore) in the center, and the 58th NC (Col. J.B. Palmer) on the right.  The 63rd VA (Maj. J.M. French) was assigned to guard the division train.  At 3 pm the brigade was joined by the 63rd VA, less 2 companies left guarding the train.

On September 20, Kelly’s Brigade served in support of Maj. Austin Leyden’s 9th GA Artillery Battalion.  At 3:30 pm he moved forward with three regiments (the 65th GA supporting Leyden’s artillery and later guarding prisoners).  They advanced on the left of Gracie toward the enemy troops posted on a heavily wooded ridge with successively higher hills leading to it.  In his official report, Hawkins described the advance on the second day of battle covering three miles before the order came to charge.  The brigade held its fire until the right was 20 yards, the center 40 yards, and the left 60 yards from the enemy, and then fired.  Maj. James French, commanding the 63rd VA, described the deadly effect of the fire at close range, causing the enemy to give way.  Kelly took the ridge after half an hour of fighting.  The federals attempted to retake the position three times.

Later, the brigade again moved forward to dislodge enemy before them.  The 58th NC on the right, having suffered about 50% casualties, was moved to the left end of the brigade’s line of battle, shifting the 5th Kentucky to the center.  Ammunition was nearly exhausted.  At one point after taking the ridge, Hawkins ordered his regiment to fall back and “replenish their boxes with ammunition from dead and wounded, as far as practicable.” 

Kelly requested the support of Col. R.C. Trigg’s Brigade to in an effort to capture the enemy.  Trigg formed his brigade to the left of Kelly’s, both of them swinging to the right.  Hawkins described the advance at dusk, the move discovering a line which first announced that they were friends, then that they had surrendered, and then fired on Hawkins’ men, killing and wounding several.  The 5th reformed, fixed bayonets, and advanced, taking part in the capture of a large federal force.  Col Kelly had been called away briefly by the division commander, when the 22nd Michigan, 89th Ohio, and part of the 21st Ohio surrendered to Col. R. C. Trigg.  At nightfall, after the federals surrendered and as the column moved away with the prisoners, a volley was fired.  Many of the prisoners scattered.  Hawkins and the 5th Kentucky at this time recaptured 249 prisoners, including 2 colonels & 1 lieutenant colonel. 

The brigade went into bivouac that evening on the hill it had taken.  Col. Kelly praised the 5th Kentucky’s performance in the battle: “It was the first time that most of them had ever been under fire, yet they acted with the coolness and courage of veterans.”  He made special mention of Capt. Joseph Desha of the regiment, who, although painfully and severely wounded early in the action, remained at the head of his company until the enemy was defeated.

            Aggregate strength of the brigade upon entering the battle was 852.  Casualties in Kelly’s Brigade were 303 killed and wounded (36%), and 26 missing.  The 5th Kentucky Infantry lost 14 killed, 75 wounded, 1 captured, and 1 missing at Chickamauga, the great battle of the west.  Hawkins stated, as Kelly, that it was the “…first time, with few exceptions, that my officers or men were under fire, they behaved with becoming gallantry and courage, never faltering when ordered forward.”  Nine members of the 5th Kentucky were listed on the Adjutant & Inspector General’s Aug. 10, 1864 Roll of Honor for Chickamauga.

Notes on Composition of the Regiment

      While the typical regiment in the war was made up of 10 companies, a total of 23 companies were mustered into the Fifth Kentucky Infantry over the course of the war.  Ten of these were 12 months’ men, and 13 were enlisted for the war.  This is a glimpse of the complicated organization of the unit.

     When the unit originally enlisted for 12 months in October 1861, portions of companies A, C, & D had enlisted for 3 years or the war.  A large part of the unit was mustered out of service at Hazle Green on October 21, 1862, having served their 12 months.  There, 3 companies (325 men) were reported by Gen. Marshall to have remained when the 12 months’ men were mustered out.  Two companies of recruits remained, and the portions of companies A, C, & D which had enlisted for the war were consolidated into one, resulting in the 3 companies Marshall reported remaining.

     Five companies were added October 24.  Two companies were lost during Marshall’s retreat from Kentucky following the Perryville campaign.  One of them was Captain Ratliff’s Company A, which was captured.  Hiram Hawkins was promoted to colonel November 14, 1862, in command of only 6 companies.

     Other companies were added, since the regiment was consolidated into 8 companies on November 18, 1862.  At that time, 5 companies were merged into others.  Hawkins commanded a regiment of just 8 companies until August 1863, when companies I & K were added.  They were Capt. Joseph Desha & Capt. W. D. Acton’s companies, which had been part of Desha’s Battalion, then were temporarily transferred to the Ninth Kentucky, and permanently to the Fifth.

Information compiled from:

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (yankee name), commonly known as the OR.

Hewett, Janet B., et. al., eds., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky: Confedrate Kentucky Volunteers, War 1861-1865.  Utica KY: McDowell Publications, 1979. Sifakis, Stewart, Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Confederate, & Indian Units.   NY:  Facts on File, 1995. Crute, Joseph H., Jr., Units of the Confederate States Army.  Midlothian, VA:  Derwent Books, 1987. 

Davis, William C. and Meredith L. Swentor, eds., Bluegrass Confederate: The Headquarters Diary of Edward O. Guerrant.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

Colonels of the 5th Kentucky Infantry

John S. Williams

Nov. 16, 1861

A. J. May

May 26, 1862

Hiram Hawkins

Nov. 14, 1862

The 5th Kentucky’s Brigade Commanders

Gen. Humphrey Marshall

Gen. William Preston

Col. John H. Kelly

Gen. Joseph H. Lewis

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