Benjamin Hardin Helm was born June 2nd 1831 in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of John L and Lucinda (Barbour) Hardin. In 1846 he enrolled in the Kentucky Military Institute at the age of 15, just three month later he left for the United State Military Academy at West Point. Helm graduated 9th out of a class of 42 in 1851. He served at the cavalry school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and at Fort Lincoln, Texas before being discharge do to being diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis. Helm went on to study the law at the Universities of Louisville and Harvard; graduating in 1853 he began practicing law with his father in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives and served as Hardin County State’s Attorney. In 1856 Helm married Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister Emilie.
In 1861 with Kentucky remaining neutral President Abraham Lincoln offered Helm the job of Union Army Paymaster. Helm turned the job down and raised the Confederate 1st Kentucky Cavalry. He was commissioned their Colonel October 19th 1861, and they marched south under Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. On March 14th 1862 Helm received the assignment to raise the 3rd Kentucky Brigade and was promoted to Brigadier General. They saw action at the Battle of Shiloh, guarding the flanks. In January 1863 Helm was placed in command of the First Kentucky Brigade, known as the “Orphan Brigade” and was assigned to the Confederate Army of Tennessee. With the Orphan Brigade Helm saw action at the Battles of Chickamauga and Vicksburg.
The Orphan Brigade was a part of Confederate fight against Union Major General William Rosecrans’ offensive during the Battle of Chattanooga on September 20th 1863. Striking near the center of the Union line and moving against heavy fire the men under Helm made it to within 40 yards of the Union line. In less than an hour the Orphan Brigade lost a third of its men. Helm, on horseback was shot in the chest by a member of the Union 15th Kentucky Infantry. Helm fell from his saddle and was carried to the rear, where it was determined his wound was mortal. He died September 21st 1862. Confederate General John Cabell Breckinridge wrote to Helm’s wife, saying "Your husband commanded them [the men of the Orphan brigade] like a thorough soldier. He loved them, they loved him, and he died at their head, a patriot and a hero."