A History of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S.
The Boys Who Feared No Noise
By Joseph R. Reinhart
In 1995 I made the exciting discovery that my great-great grandfather, Nicolas Reinhart, and his wife’s brothers, John and Frank Hettinger, served in Kentucky volunteer infantry regiments during the Civil War, and I began researching that part of their lives. Reviewing Nicolas’s, John’s, and Frank’s military records rekindled my interest in the Civil War, and prompted me to look into Louisville’s and Kentucky’s contributions to the Union army. I soon learned that Louisville furnished a substantial number of officers and men to the Federal army. In fact, one local history estimated that the number exceeded 6,000 and listed five infantry regiments, two cavalry regiments, and three batteries of artillery as having strong Louisville connections. Statewide, an estimated 90,000–100,000 Kentucky men served in Federal military organizations (including forty-four infantry regiments, seventeen cavalry regiments, and five artillery batteries their state fielded). Over 10,700 Union soldiers from Kentucky lost their lives to combat, disease, or other causes. Many thousands more were wounded or had their health impaired by their military service.
Despite the significant number of Kentuckians who fought for the Union, I found that relatively little detail has been published about their experiences, fighting abilities, accomplishments, and combat organizations. Comprehensive histories exist for just a few of the state’s infantry and cavalry regiments, and none exist for its artillery batteries. Published personal accounts of Kentucky’s Unionist soldiers are also few in number, leading to the conclusion that an important part of the state’s history has been ignored or overlooked by writers and historians. Desiring to help fill this unfortunate void, I decided to research and chronicle a Kentucky infantry regiment with a Louisville connection. Soon, my rekindled interest in the Civil War flamed into a burning passion to uncover and tell the story of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment— the boys who feared no noise.
I chose to study the 6th Kentucky because it fought in many of the bloodiest battles in the West—including Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, and the four-month Atlanta campaign—and it united a significant number of German-born men from Louisville with an even larger number of native Kentuckians from east and northeast of Jefferson County. My Louisville roots and German ancestry weighed heavily here, as did the fact that the 6th represented a region and not just Louisville or its county. (Frank Hettinger served in Company C of the regiment, but this was not a factor in my selection.)
The 6th Kentucky was one of the first regiments organized in the state after Kentucky entered the conflict on the side of the Union in September 1861 and saw hard duty. Nearly half of the regiment’s 937 members were either killed, wounded, or captured during its three years of service, and almost 20 percent of its men were either killed in action or died from wounds, diseases or illnesses; even more were discharged for disabilities. Many of the experiences of the officers and men of the 6th Kentucky were shared by other Kentuckians who served in the Army of the Ohio and its successor, the Army of the Cumberland. The following narrative reveals a great deal about soldier life in these armies. It also reveals that the 6th Kentucky had its share of shirkers and deserters and contained officers and men with flaws. I have endeavored to present both the bad and good in this history.
The 6th Kentucky belonged to Col. (later Brig. Gen.) William B. Hazen’s hard-fighting brigade, which won an imperishable place in history at the battle of Stones River on December 31, 1862, with its stubborn defense of the "Round Forest"—the most fiercely contested position in the Federal line. Much of the history of Hazen’s intrepid brigade is included in this narrative, but the focus remains on the officers and men of the 6th Kentucky.
The regiment and its brigade served under several different division commanders, including Kentucky natives Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer, Maj. Gen. William Nelson, and Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood. I have endeavored to include the information necessary for a reader to understand the brigade’s position and movements in relation to its division, corps, and army. This presentation gives those unfamiliar with the various campaigns and battles a general idea for the scope, objective, and outcome of each.
The most important words in this work are those written by the officers and men who camped, marched, fought, bled and died as part of this remarkable Kentucky regiment. Their descriptions of places, battles, and events, along with their thoughts and emotions, most effectively convey the reader back to this tragic time in our nation’s history, revealing the soldiers as individual human beings. I was fortunate in locating diaries and letters rich and varied in both scope and content. Among these were John Daeuble’s diaries and journal and Gottfried Rentschler’s and Bernhard Hund’s letters written in German, which I translated for use in this study. Quotations from letters and documents written in English are presented without corrections for grammar, spelling, or punctuation, although an occasional comma or period has been added for clarity. Capt. Isaac N. Johnston’s personal experiences set forth in his book Four Months in Libby and the Campaign against Atlanta also contributed invaluable information.
My quest to learn the story of the 6th Kentucky led me on an interesting and educational journey. I made research trips to libraries and archives in eight different states, drove over most of the routes marched by the regiment during its three years of service, trod on the fields and walked through woods where its officers and men fought and died, and visited national cemeteries where many of its fallen heroes are buried. I was saddened when men I had come to know were killed in this tragic war and put to rest in soldiers’ graves far from home.
Researching and writing the story of this noble band of Kentuckians has been a labor of love and has provided me with a deeper understanding of the role of Kentucky and Kentuckians in the war, the extraordinary hardships and sufferings the soldiers endured, and their awesome courage. I hope I have done the officers and men of the 6th Kentucky justice in recounting their story.
Joseph R. Reinhart