GENERAL BEN HARDIN HELM CAMP #1703

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Elizabethtown, Kentucky
 
 
 
 

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BEN HARDIN HELM

On September 20th, 1863 , the Helm family members living in Elizabethtown were still blissfully unaware of the tragedy that had befallen their family. Benjamin Hardin Helm, the firstborn son of Gov. John LaRue Helm and his wife, Lucinda Barbour Hardin, had succumbed to wounds suffered on the bloody field of Chickamauga Georgia, but word of his death would not reach his family here for three more weeks.

Ben Hardin Helm, who although born at his grandfather's home in Bardstown, was raised in Hardin Co. He had been educated at West Point, graduating in 1851 as brevet 2nd Lt. His original intention of following a military career was abandoned after little more than a year and he instead turned to the study and practice of law, attending both Harvard and the University of Louisville. First practicing in Elizabethtown with his father, he then entered into a law partnership with his cousin, Martin Hardin Cofer. From 1855 to 1856, Helm represented the people of Hardin County in the state legislature and while serving in that body he met and married Emilie Todd of Lexington.

At the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and the Confederacy, Ben Hardin Helm weighed his actions carefully. He would do nothing that might harm Kentucky's fragile neutrality as long as there was the slightest chance it might succeed, but once convinced of the futility of such a course, he moved with determination, organizing the First Kentucky Cavalry. Ben Hardin Helm entered Confederate service with the rank of Col., but less than 6 months later was promoted to Brigadier General. After the mortal wounding of General Hanson at Murfreesboro and the unexpected death of Col. Robert Paxton Trabue in Richmond, Kentucky Confederates learned that Gen. Ben Hardin Helm had been ordered to take command of the 1st Kentucky Brigade. He was accepted completely by the men, who had implicit faith in his soldiership and according to Ed Porter Thompson of the 6th Kentucky, "loved him like a brother." They nicknamed him "the gentle general" and loyally thought no other officer his equal.

On the morning of Sept. 20, 1863, General Helm, age 32, approached the day's battle calmly, laughing and joking as he mounted his horse for the attack. Leading his brave Kentuckians forward, the General waved his sword toward the LaFayette Road, shouting "This is the road to Kentucky". A short time later he was shot from his horse by a bullet. The doctors gave him immediate attention but after examining the wound and realizing that the bullet had passed through his liver, they were gravely silent. Gen. Helm asked quietly, "Is there hope?" and reluctantly came the reply, "My dear General, there is no hope." As the battle of Chickamauga raged on and his gallant Kentuckians continued to pour out their blood on Georgia's blood-red soil, General Helm lay suffering and silent, preparing himself for death. That evening, as the firing ceased and shouts were heard in the distance he roused himself to ask the outcome of the fight. Upon being told that the day belonged to the Confederates, his eyes glowed with satisfaction for just a moment and he whispered his last word, "Victory!"

Mrs. Emilie Todd Helm, age 27, who was visiting in Selma, Alabama, barely arrived in Atlanta in time for her husband's funeral. She would never remarry, but wore mourning for "the love of her life' as long as she lived.....another 67 years. General Breckinridge wrote Mrs. Helm after her husband's death and said "He loved them and they loved him", speaking of the soldiers. General Helm's memory was preserved by his men as well as his widow.

  • "I never saw Mr. Lincoln more moved,' said US Senator David Davis, 'than when he heard of the death of his young brother-in-law Ben Hardin Helm. I called to see him about four o'clock on the 22nd of September; I found him in the greatest grief. 'Davis,' said he, 'I feel as David of old did when he was told of the death of Absalom.' I saw how grief stricken he was so I closed the door and left him alone."
  • In 1884, members of the Kentucky Brigade, now known as "the Orphan Brigade" traveled to Atlanta to oversee the disinterment of the General's remains. He was reburied in Elizabethtown Kentucky in his family's cemetery near the father whose heart had broken at this death.
  • This event was said to have been the largest gathering Elizabethtown had saw to-date, estimating over 5,000 spectators stretching from downtown Elizabethtown to the Helm Family Cemetery, incuding former soldiers of both sides of the war, polticians which inculded the present and several former governors of Kentucky. General Helm still remains the highest ranking Hardin County native to serve in any war.
  • Ben Hardin Helm was the brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln was the sister of Emilie Todd Helm. Mrs. Helm and the three children of her and General Helm are buried in the Lexington City Cemetery.
  • At the outbreak of the war, President Lincoln offered Ben Hardin Helm a position of Paymaster in the Union Army, with the rank of Major, which Helm declined.
  • What is believed to be the original headboard that marked General Helm's grave in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery is preserved in the Brown-Pusey House Museum Room. This headboard was later replaced in Atlanta by a marble stone that was brought to Elizabethtown in 1884 to mark is grave in the Helm Family Cemetery. In recent years, the Sons of Confederate Veterans added a flat military marker at the grave. The Brown-Pusey House is located on Main Street in Elizabethtown.
  • The mansion known as "Helm Place" where Ben Hardin Helm was raised is located near the Helm Family Cemetery off of Dixie Hwy. (31W) across from Hardin Memorial Hospital.
  • The Kentucky State Guard, what is known today as the Kentucky National Guard was actually part of the antebellum militia. The Kentucky legislature organized the State Guard during the 1859-60 session with Governor Beriah Magoffin appointing Simon B. Buckner Inspector General and Ben Hardin Helm Assistant Inspector General.

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General Ben Hardin Helm

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Helm monument at Vicksburg National Battlefield, Mississippi

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Helm monument at the Chickamauga National Battlefield, Georgia
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Grave of General Helm at the family cemetery in Elizabethtown, Kentucky

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Plaque on the Helm Monument at Chickamauga National Battlefield,Georgia

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