Thursday, December 16, 2010

Old Bench-leg

Roger Weightman Hanson

       Roger Weightman Hanson was born in Winchester, Kentucky in 1827. After finishing school, he volunteered for the Mexican War. He was made a 1st lieutenant in John Williams Kentucky company and earned a reputation for his fearlessness in combat. Despite his reckless actions in battle, he came home without a scratch. 
       That would change in Lexington, Kentucky when he and a fellow law student had a disagreement they decided to settle by dueling. In this duel, Hanson would be shot in the leg just above the knee causing him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. It would also earn him the nickname “Bench-leg”. 
       Roger Hanson decided to travel to California during the gold rush. En route, his horse died and he was forced to limp the last 200 miles on foot. The “gold fever” didn’t last a year and he returned to Lexington, Kentucky. There he earned another reputation for his defense in criminal cases as an attorney. 
       When the Civil War began, he agreed with Kentucky about remaining neutral. He changed his mind soon after the war began because he believed a Union victory would greatly reduce the power of the state governments. 
       He was commissioned a colonel in the Confederate army and took command of the 2nd Kentucky Mounted Infantry. Hanson was a strict commander who insisted his regiment have discipline and lots of drill. Most men would despise a commander like Hanson, but he had a great sense of humor and his men loved him. 
       His regiment was soon sent to Fort Donelson where they fought well but became prisoners when the fort fell. Called “the best colonel in our service”, the Confederates worked hard for Hanson’s exchange. He was exchanged too late to join the Bragg’s army in Kentucky. General Breckinridge was soon promoted to command the division and this resulted in Hanson being promoted to brigadier general of the “Orphan Brigade” on October 26, 1862. The brigade earned the nickname because they were all Kentuckians isolated from their home state. 
       Roger Hanson wasn't at all pleased with the condition of his brigade. The Kentuckians were great in soldiers, but were extremely lax around camp. Hanson was extremely active in the short time he was commander of the brigade, but wasn't very satisfied with the results. The men just didn’t care about policing their camp and keeping their area clean. 
       On the final day of the Battle of Murfreesboro, Bragg ordered Breckinridge to take his division and charge the Federal lines on high ground across a field and behind Stones River. Not only would Breckinridge be attacking a Federal division in a strong position, but the Federals had 60 cannons lined up hub to hub. 

Hanson's men would be forced to ford Stones River under fire

       Breckinridge begged Bragg not to send his men into what was certainly going to be a slaughter. Bragg wasn’t listening. He simply replied, “I believe, sir, you have your orders.”
       When Breckinridge told his brigade commanders what they were ordered to do, Hanson became furious. He went so far as to threaten the life of General Bragg and had to be restrained. (He wouldn’t be the last Confederate to threaten Bragg.) 
       As Hanson formed his men for the attack, his anger subsided and he became melancholy. He remarked to one of his staff officers, “I believe this will be my last battle.”

Position of the Federal cannons

       The 4500 man division surged across the field into the fierce artillery and rifle barrage. Shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell struck Hanson near the knee severing his femoral artery. (Some say it struck him in the hip. General Breckinridge rode to Hanson’s side. Despite the shells bursting overhead, he tried to stem the blood gushing from his brigadier’s leg. Breckinridge’s eyes were filled with tears. 
       The Confederate assault soon stalled after having lost 1800 men in less than an hour. As Hanson was being treated by a surgeon, he never complained about the pain, but insisted the man go treat his wounded men. Back in Murfreesboro, Breckinridge’s wife and Hanson’s wife both tried to nurse him back to health. A surgeon said the leg needed to be amputated, but Hanson was too weak to survive the surgery. 

The general's wife, Virginia Peters Hanson

       Two days later, Hanson would die from loss of blood. He admitted that it was glorious to die for ones country and have died in a just cause and done my duty. He would pass away in the company of his wife and friends. Originally buried in Nashville, today he rests beside his wife in Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky.

Grave of Roger and Virginia Hanson


  1. If only we had more men like him to be in charge of anything today. Military command or companies. It would be an honor to serve in any capacity under a man like this.

  2. thats a cool blog about a brave man thanks