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W.H. Brown and His Civil War Service Reminiscences

3/31/2015:

When the Civil War ripped the U.S. in two in 1861, William H. Brown was working in a hardware store in Massachusetts. He immediately enlisted in the 10th Massachusetts Regiment, joining 1,000 other “strong, young business men,” who gave up their usual pay of one-hundred-dollars a month for the paltry $11-per-month of a soldier.

W.H. Brown endured – all the way through the war’s conclusion in 1865. After the war, he went west to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was a hardware man until moving to Grand Forks with his family in 1877. Mr. Brown established a hardware store and served as the city’s first mayor in 1881.

It was on this date, in 1887, when W.H. Brown gave a talk at the Y.M.C.A. about his Civil War experiences. Brown spoke of “marches, charges, bivouacs, retreats, and triumphs,” not with flowery oratory, but with the simple, powerful words of a soldier.

He described the “good times” the 10th regiment had on the way to Washington, D.C., but said they loaded their guns in Baltimore after the 6th Massachusetts had been stoned there, with “orders to burn the town if they were assailed.”

Brown spoke of guard-duty escapades near Washington when he mistook a “farmer’s cow one dark night for a rebel spy.” He also told of the Peninsular Campaign, in Virginia, when “it rained for weeks, nearly every day” so that the “mules almost disappeared in . . . mud” and he helped pull cannons through “mud almost knee deep.”

His fighting commenced at the Chickahominy River, when 60,000 rebels surrounded the 10th. A desperate, bloody battle ensued.

Brown spoke of “his first excitement under fire, loading and firing . . . and how his whole past . . . flashed before him” as bullets fearfully whizzed nearby.

He said that no man could fully “illustrate the horrors of battle . . . . the groans and moans of the wounded and dying, and the crack of the cannon and musketry.”

Sadly, when the regiment’s enlistment expired, “only 286 of the 1,000 [men] marched home.” Brown later enlisted in the 61st Massachusetts and rose in rank to First Lieutenant.

As part of the program in 1887, when Brown spoke, everyone sang a lively song entitled “Sherman’s Dashing Yankee Boys,” and after Brown concluded his talk, the large audience gave him patriotic thanks for his Civil War recollections on an unforgettable night of wartime remembrance.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Col. Brown’s Reminiscences,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, March 31, 1887, p. 1; “Reminiscences,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, April 1, 1887, p. 1.

“Our First Mayor,” Grand Forks Herald, December 19, 1886, p. 2.

“General Brown Answers Call,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, October 21, 1910, p. 8.

W.L. Dudley, Grand Forks and North Dakota Manual for 1885 (Grand Forks: Plaindealer Book and Job rooms, 1885), p. 32, 75.