The Orphan Brigade was the nickname of the First Kentucky Brigade, a group of military units recruited from the Commonwealth of Kentucky to fight for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. The First Kentucky was the largest Confederate unit to be recruited from Kentucky during the war. Its original commander was Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, former Vice President of the United States and candidate for president, enormously popular with Kentuckians.
The Orphan Brigade was so named because of their status as "orphans" during most of the war. Kentucky never seceded from the Union, but military units intent upon assisting the Confederate cause were formed. Since the Confederate States never were successful in occupying and controlling Kentucky, the soldiers of the First Kentucky Brigade were unable to return home for fear of being captured and imprisoned. Many of them stayed away from their homes for the duration of the war.
Elements of the Orphan Brigade were involved in many military engagements in the American South during the course of the war, including the Battle of Shiloh. In 1862, Breckinridge was promoted to divisional command and was succeeded in the brigade by Brig. Gen. Roger Hanson. At the Battle of Stones River, the brigade suffered heavy casualties in an assault on January 2, 1863, including General Hanson. As Breckinridge rode among the survivors, he cried out repeatedly, "My poor Orphans! My poor Orphans."