[Various locations in New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, and Pennsylvania, as described below. ca. 1857-1887]. 195 autograph letters (108 unfolded, 87 folded). Old folds, a few letters with small tears and separations at folds, some with mild wear and soiling. Overall very good. Item #WRCAM56198
A truly engaging collection of letters by and to Josiah Johnson Brown, a seminarian who paused his studies to fight in the Civil War. Brown served with the Army of the Potomac for the entirety of the war, seeing action at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Battle of Cold Harbor, among other engagements. Brown writes well and is dryly laconic, describing one defeat: "We have not met with the success that we expected." His descriptions of combat are cold and understandably despairing. As a confirmed Christian, he is regularly dismayed at the "sinfulness" he witnesses among his fellow soldiers, and works to reconcile his future life as a minister with the violence he feels he cannot avoid. He notes a few times that he will never be promoted because he does not join the other men in drinking and gambling. In the spring of 1863, Brown was shot in the hip, and while he downplays the severity of his wound in letters home, he spent over three months in the hospital. He reenlists in the spring of 1864, but in a letter to his sister Cornelia reflects, "I may have made a mistake." Mistake it may have been, as a few months later he is captured by Rebel forces; three letters here are from P.O.W. prisons in Lynchburg and Danville.
Of the 195 letters in this collection, thirty-three are war dated, and all but one of those are written by Brown. Most of the remaining 162 letters are addressed to Brown, usually from his mother Elizabeth, wife Emma, siblings - Theodore, Daniel, Cornelia, and Anna, or his Aunt Matilda. Some are between siblings, or between Elizabeth and other siblings. Most deal with family matters, but several of the letters not long after the end of the war feature Theodore and Daniel complaining about difficulties in business. Other letters are related to Brown's ministry in Kansas. There are also several letters regarding Brown's Civil War pension. One is on State of New Jersey Executive Office letterhead, dated January 5, 1886, and signed by Leon Abbett, Governor of New Jersey. The letter tells him that his pension claim has been allowed.
According to his obituary in the NEW YORK TIMES (January 22, 1936) Josiah Johnson Brown (1839-1936) was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was descended from John Brown, one of the colonists from Milford, Connecticut, who founded Newark in 1666. After a dramatic life, he died there of pneumonia on January 20, 1936, at the age of 96, then the oldest living alumnus of Rutgers and the last survivor of the Garfield Post G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in Newark.
Josiah Brown received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers College in 1860 and was studying theology there when the war broke out. He enlisted early in the war, in the summer of 1861, and mustered into Company G of the 2nd New Jersey Volunteers, and then served in Company H, 15th New Jersey Volunteers after his reenlistment. After the war, he returned to seminary, first at New Brunswick Theological Seminary and then Union Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1868. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in October, 1868, and founded the first Presbyterian church in Independence, Kansas. About the time of his graduation, he married Mary Emma Wilcox. In 1872, he relocated to Toledo, Ohio, in part because his mother had moved there during the war. He returned to Newark in 1888 to practice law.
Brown's first few letters to his mother, sisters, and brothers are relatively uneventful and most relate camp life in New Jersey as he and his company prepare to deploy to Virginia. Once at Camp Seminary in Virginia, Brown spends most of his time on guard duty and drilling. His unit marches back and forth to Washington, and Brown and his fellow soldiers sense that combat is looming. But even though his unit hasn't seen action yet themselves, Brown writes about familiar faces from nearby units "that I miss who are killed or taken prisoner" in the Northern Virginia Campaign. Not long after this though, he relates substantial losses from his regiment: "We have lost our Colonel (Col. Tucker), Major Ryerson was wounded....One of our Captains was killed....Our company only lost one Sergeant & a corporal was wounded." At this point Brown's unit is encamped at Harrison's Landing, feverishly "throwing up entrenchments, felling trees, &c..." as they wait for General Pope's soldiers to reach Richmond.
In a letter to his brother Theodore on December 23, 1862, Brown writes from a camp "some place or other in a pine wood north of the Rappahannock," not long after the Battle of Fredericksburg. He is predictably demoralized: "Our loss in killed & wounded was 9000 or 10000. That a great mistake was committed is evident. Where to lay it, it is hard to tell. Things look dark ahead. Can we conquer the Rebels? Are they not in earnest & sincere & won't they fight till the last man is dead?"
The following spring (May, 1863), Brown writes his mother from the "Division Hospital, Potomac Crick," following a battle near Fredericksburg in the Chancellorsville campaign: "We have been in some hard fighting. We have not met with the success that we expected." Brown continues, "I am wounded, but not badly. It is near the hip, only a flesh wound." He no doubt understates the extent of his injury, as he was in the process of being transferred to a larger hospital in Washington.
A few weeks later, Brown is still in the hospital, writing to his sister Cornelia:
"You ask for a particular account of the battle and what part I took in it. You have probably seen in the papers the doings of our Corps (the 6th Sedgwick's) on driving the rebels from their position and in the fight of Salem Heights afterwards. The fighting was done on Sunday which is a sad thing....About noon the rebels fell back from the hills and we thought they were in full retreat. So we advanced over the hills until we came to a strip of woods on each side of the road. Here the left wing of our regt...advanced in line on the left of the road up towards the woods where the rebels lay. We hadn't gone far before a perfect shower of bullets came pouring into us. At this time our Capt. (Bergen) was wounded. He died next day & was buried at Fredericksburg...in the confusion I got a little behind and our batteries commenced firing with grape and cannister. I could do nothing but fall right down flat. I laid there for some minutes. At this time cannading was going on right over me so I lay there, and rifle balls were flying both ways from our own men and from the rebels....Well I lay there until I felt something strike me. I got up and limped off over the other side of the road in front of our batteries which were firing all the while. That night I lay under a tree by a house where a lot of our wounded had gathered together, with another wounded man under his blanket....I rode in an ambulance down to Fredericksburg next morning, but hadn't been at the Division Hospital long before the rebels appeared a division in the hills. The wounded were hurried across the river of course....My wound is nearly well, but the warm weather I think keeps it from closing over as soon as I hoped it would."
Nearly three weeks after this, Brown is still in the hospital, and has started thinking more about the practice of medicine. Writing to his brother Theodore about their younger brother Henry, he holds forth:
"Now let me give you my ideas about doctoring. I have learnt a little about it since I have been wounded & in this Hospital. You are trying Homeopathy now are you? Well I'm getting to believe in common sense-pathy and cold water. They don't use anything but cold water here for the worst wounds. Lint wet with cold water and kept wet is all they use until the wound gets nearly well....This is for wounds but I don't know so much about sickness. But then I had quite a sore throat the other day - I put a wet towel around my neck two nights, and it was better and gradually went away. I believe a person is often his own best doctor & I think that people suffer from too much doctoring. Now in Henry's case Cod Liver Oil may be a good thing. But I think that frequent bathing & washing & rubbing in cold water, drinking water instead of coffee & other drinks, a proper diet, moderate exercise, these I think are better things than Cod Liver Oil."
Finally, by mid-August, he is back with his unit, camped near Warrenton, Virginia. Brown mentions a few brief encounters with Confederate troops, but no battles. In December they shift to a camp near Brandy Station and start preparing winter quarters. There are no other letters until the following spring (March, 1864), when in a letter to his sister Cornelia, he recounts a reconnaissance mission he participates in, looking for Rebels in Madison and Culpepper. Unsuccessful, they return to camp at Brandy Station. He then subtly segues to the topic of reenlistment: "I wrote ma didn't I that I had reenlisted. Well we were sworn in yesterday, and we are waiting for our furloughs now....I have already received $350.00 local (county and city) bounty...." And then, as though anticipating his capture in a few months, he continues, "I may have made a mistake. I may be sorry for the course I have taken but I acted to the best of my judgment."
By June, Brown is back from his furlough and back in the (literal) trenches for the Battle of Cold Harbor. His first letter is to his mother and includes a bleak narrative of the death of Edwin, a friend of his from home with whom he served: "Edwin is dead shot day before yesterday....I know not what is before me, life or death but shall try & do my duty....Edwin was shot behind the rifle pit. He died in a few minutes, never spoke a word....Good bye my dear mother - oh may we meet in a better world if not in this." A second letter to his brother a few days later is less heavy; Brown is back to his understated accounts of battles as he notes, "Well Theodore, we haven't taken Richmond yet." And he closes by wishing he was back in Toledo, which he enjoyed more than he imagined he would.
Not long after this last letter, Brown was captured by Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley. He was held for six months, first in Lynchburg and then was transferred to Confederate Prison No. 4 in Danville, one of six former tobacco warehouses converted into P.O.W. facilities. This collection includes three letters from his time as a P.O.W. The first, to his mother, is dated September 20 and is brief. Brown is clearly distressed, but relieved that he can keep is Bible, meet for prayer meetings, and that he can receive letters from friends and family: "I enclose a Confederate Stamp which you had better put on the letter you send...." A few months later, in a letter to Cornelia, he claims that he is being treated well, and that he is "looking very anxiously forward to an [prisoner] exchange." Nevertheless, "we have few religious privileges here, there is a great deal of swearing & considerable fighting around me...." A month later things are worse, due in part to the fact that it takes letters from his family nearly two months to reach him. He remains stoic though: "I am in the same prison yet. Getting kinda used to it." There are no other letters from wartime; Brown mustered out in July 1865 at Halls Hill, Virginia, and returned to New Jersey.
As noted, the post-war letters to Brown from family and friends deal chiefly with family business as Brown marries and starts a family, makes a go of life as a minister, and then eventually returns to New Jersey and goes into law. Apparently Brown's gunshot wound left him significantly disabled. He rarely addresses this directly, but it is revealed in passing through letters to Brown. Nevertheless, it takes Brown twenty years to finally get his "Invalid Pension" approved. Included are several letters from fellow soldiers promising to testify on Brown's behalf, as well as letters from his brother Theodore advising him on his repeated applications, and who even travels to Washington, D.C. on Brown's behalf to visit the Bureau of Pensions office in person. Theodore sees the "bundle of papers" the Bureau has received regarding Brown's application, but still does not approve it. Finally, in 1886, a letter from the governor of New Jersey confirms Brown's pension.
Other curious family business concerns Brown's younger brother, Daniel. In the few letters from Daniel, he writes with initial optimism about a bookshop he just opened in Attica, Indiana. These are likely to Theodore, as Theodore was a partner at Brown, Eager & Hull - "Jobbers of Paper Hangings, Books, and Stationery," in Toledo, Ohio. There are no further letters from Daniel, but he is discussed in a number of letters dated 1873-74 between the other siblings and their mother, as his bookstore fails, and Daniel's psychological state declines. Eventually he is committed to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane in Philadelphia, on account of despair and self-neglect; a letter to Elizabeth from his doctor is included. They eventually move Daniel home, but he does not improve significantly, remaining in his room, speaking little, and sometimes refusing to eat. There is not information about what ultimately happened to Daniel, though he is not mentioned in later letters.
Josiah Johnson Brown's Civil War letters are interesting, well-written, informative, and wry, and provide a unique perspective into the views and experiences of a man of faith who was studying for the ministry when the war erupted and he decided to serve his country with a rifle while also keeping his profound belief in a higher being. Brown's descriptions of important battles and his time as a prisoner of war provide significant information on the war; the large archive of post-war letters of the Brown family offer insight into how they all attempted to rebuild and carry on in the wake of the great national struggle.