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At 9:45 AM on September 20, 1863, ten miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee and across the state line in Georgia near a creek called Chickamauga (Cherokee Indian name meaning “ River of Death”), the bloodiest battle of the Civil War in the Western Theater was about to begin. Confederate General Ben Hardin Helm, Commander of The OrphanBrigade led the 2nd Kentucky Regiment in an attack against General George H. Thomas’ Federal Forces on the far right side of a six mile long main battle line. Outnumbered four to one, General Helm led three separate assaults against Thomas’ position. Each one was repulsed due to the overwhelming number against them. During the last assault, Helm was hit by a rifle ball and mortally wounded.
The Battle of Chickamauga was a great victory for the Confederates, and the most complete defeat suffered by the Federal Army during the Civil War. It was a costly victory for the “Orphan Brigade” General Helm was their second Commanding General to lose his life in two consecutive battles. Furthermore one third of the Orphans that went into battle that morning did not survive.
The 32 year old Helm was the brother-in-law of President Abraham Lincoln and had turned down repeated offers from Lincoln to be commissioned a Major in the Federal Army. Few, if any events of the war, caused President Lincoln greater anguish than the death of Helm. The news appeared almost to overshadow every other detail of the battle. An aide wrote: I never saw Mr. Lincoln more moved than when he heard of the death of his young brother-in-law.” He further wrote that Lincoln said "I feel as David of old when he was told of the death of Absalom" (Second Samuel, Chapter 19).