CROSSING THE LINEFebruary 14, 1862
In late January the 2nd Kentucky had been separated from the 1st Brigade and sent to reinforce Forts Henry and Donelson. With the fall of Fort Henry on February 6 it became apparent to Albert S. Johnston that he could no longer hold Bowling Green and that a retreat to Nashville was essential. Kentucky would have to be abandoned. On February 12 the remaining Regiments of the 1st Brigade were drawn up in their camp just north of Bowling Green. "The Kentucky Brigade experienced nothing but gloom and apprehension on that morning," wrote Captain Ed Porter Thompson. Would they march north to defend their state or south and leave Kentucky to the enemy? Thompson wrote, "It was with sinking, sickened hearts that their faces were turned toward Bowling Green." They were to leave Kentucky.
The night of the 13th found them a little north of Franklin, Kentucky where they went into bivouac. Next morning the march resumed. As they approached the Kentucky and Tennessee State line, George B. Hodge remembers, "For the Kentuckians all was lost. Behind their retiring regiments were the graves of their fathers, and the hearthstones about which clustered every happy memory of their childhood . . . Everything which could contribute to crush the spirits and weaken the nerves of men, seemed to have combined." Breckinridge, catching the mood of his men, dismounted with his staff and field officers. "With sad and solemn countenances, but with erect and soldierly bearing," Breckinridge led the brigade across the line, most of his men never to return to their native land.
In this painting I wanted to capture the faces of the men as they reflected on their uncertain future in this moving drama. They were to pay the price of expatriates to the very end. Cut off from assistance and contact with home, as the Federal Army controlled Kentucky, the Brigade would fight on for another two years. Only a scant six hundred were left of the original four thousand to give their parole at Washington, Georgia in May 1865. After the war, it was common to refer to the First Kentucky Brigade as the "Orphan Brigade" but in reality it was on February 14, 1862 when "Crossing the Line" that they became "The Orphan Brigade."
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