THE FOLLOWING COMPILATION OF LETTERS TELLS A STORY ABOUT OUR GRAND FATHER AND HIS FAMILY DURING THE TRYING TIMES OF THE CIVIL WAR. HE ENLISTED IN THE UNION ARMY AT THE TENDER AGE OF 16 ON AUGUST 15, 1861. HE ENTERED AT THE GRADE OF PRIVATE AS A MUSICIAN IN COMPANY "K", 37TH ILLINOIS INFANTRY VOLUNTEERS.
Tom Brown served four years and nine months in Company "K" of the 37th Illinois Infantry (Fremont's Rifles) and was in every battle, every skirmish and every hard march in which this noted regiment engaged. Some of these encounters were Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Chalk's Bluff, Vicksburg and taking of Mobile. He received a lieutenant's commission, but was never mustered in on it.
The interesting and unusual aspects of the Tom Brown collection of letters is that every letter he wrote home or received were saved by the family, providing not only a soldiers view of the accounts of the war but also the conditions and reflections of the home front. After the war was over and he had tried a number of occupations in Texas, he left that depressed and unwelcoming State to head for Oregon and better luck. With him went the saddlebag stuffed with his war correspondence.
One somewhat disappointing aspect of Tom's letters is their lack of actual battle details, contrasted with the elaborate details in his brother's letter written just after the capture of Fort Donelson. My own explanation for his restraint is based on the close family ties between the Browns and the Blacks, along with a few insights gleaned from some of the letters. I am sure that John Black advised Tom to refrain from including battle details so as not to upset his mother and father. Tom was very sensitive to the family fears, especially after the early loss of his brother.
Some of the letters from Tom are funny and imaginative, some are serious and a bit sad. They all reflect a young man's view of the times. His love for his family, devotion to his country and fellowship with his friends are the essence of these letters.
Like many country lads he appraised the land he marched through its beauty, its live stock and crops. He seemed to have learned to enjoy the hardships and for the most part relished his duty in time of war. Company "K" was made up of predominantly boys from Danville, Illinois and so friendships were maintained and strengthened from this common bond.
Included are two letters written by his brother William Haywood Brown, who was 2 years older. Willie was killed at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862.
The parent's letters show their concern for their sons, their religiosity and what life was like on the home front.
This book may never have come to fruition without the enthusiasm of Kurt Loesch. His assistance to Betty in transcribing the original letters was a true showing of dedication and a special skill in interpreting old handwriting and phraseology. A great deal of thanks is also extended to Gwen Kuhn for her long hours of work transforming the text onto the computer. It was helpful to receive enthusiastic response and suggestions by various people encountered on a recent visit to the Civil War battlefields and encampment sites related in the letters, also at Danville and Springfield.
Advice from the late Michael A. Mullins, Author of "The Fremont Rifles" was especially appreciated. His long hours of relentless research in providing such a great book on the history of the 37th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry has helped in our endeavor.
Although this book was originally intended to cover only the War Years which is now Part I, suggestions from historians resulted in the addition of Part II, Post War Period taking Tom Brown westward in his quest for a successful life.
REFERRED TO FREQUENTLY
JOHN CHARLES BLACK "CHARLEY
Assisted Col. Julius White in the 37th Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers by recruiting men from Vermillion County. He was commissioned as a Major and with this regiment he took part in 13 battles and was severely wounded, losing, permanently, the full use of his right arm at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Ark., Dec. 7, 1862. His brave action earned him the Medal of Honor. Shortly thereafter he was promoted to a Colonel and later in consideration of his gallantry in action at the storming of Fort Blakely, Alabama, April 9, 1865), he was made Brev. Brigadier-General.
WILLIAM P. BLACK 'WILL' (Brother of John Charles Black)
Captain of Co. "K", 37th Illinois Infantry.Volunteers. He was awarded the Medal of Honor March 7, 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark.
John & William Black were childhood friends of Thos. R. Brown.
Dr. WILLIAM FITHIAN (stepfather of John & William Black).
Doctor Fithian was a Brown Family friend and often visited company "K" in the field bringing mail items from home for the boys.
Note: Editing of these letters was done to correct spelling of names of locations and proper names, otherwise grammar & spelling has been copied as originally written.
AT THE EARLY AGE OF 16, ON MAY 12, 1861, LIKE SO MANY OTHER RESTLESS YOUTHS, TOM LEFT HOME TO SEARCH FOR HIS OWN FORTUNES AND TO SEE THE WORLD. IT GAVE HIS MOTHER AND FATHER A GREAT DEAL OF WORRY AND PAIN. ON JUNE 2nd, HE WROTE HIS MOTHER FROM MOUNT AUBURN, CHRISTIAN CO., INDICATING THAT HE MIGHT COME HOME WITH HIS AUNT EMMA AND STAY TO WORK IN THE GARDEN. HIS UNSETTLED MIND WAS EVIDENCED WHEN THE SAME DAY OF WRITING THIS LETTER, HE TRAVELED TO PEORIA TO VISIT HIS AUNT MARTHA.
Mount Auburn, Christian Co.
June 2nd, 1861
My Dear Mother,
I received the carpet sack yesterday and was very glad to get it for my pants and shoes were very near worn out. As regards the money, four dollars of it is worth eight cents to the dollar and one dollar is worth ninety cents in goods. And if nothing else I will try and get silver for it if I can, by paying a percent.
I had concluded to come home with Aunt Emma as you have learned by this time provided I can come out again during chicken time which will be some time in July or August.
Last Thursday Robert and I plowed all day for Ben and on Friday we went a fishing until some time in the afternoon and then we picked a basket full of strawberries.
Tell Johnnie that John Owens (Ben's hired hand) went to hunt the horses Friday morning and as he was going along driving the horses he fell dead as he was subject to fits and it is supposed that he took one of his fits and died out there with nobody to help him.
Mother, if I do stay I wish that Willie would write. I don't see why he has not written before now. But if you think it best, I will come with Aunt Emma and stay and work the garden and study my books at home.
Give my love to all and don't forget your affectionate son,
Thos. R. Brown.
P.S. Mother, please answer this by return mail and let me know what to do.?
June 3rd, 1861
I arrived here yesterday evening and Oh! if Aunt Martha didn't make over me. She kissed me and hugged me and then she hugged me and kissed me. And cousins Eliza and Mary were very near as well pleased to see me. Cousin Eliza has not one of the most pleasing and good humored boys that I most ever saw. He is just about Willie's age, maybe a little younger. He has taken me all over the City already. We have been to see the Pottery, the Steamboats and all of the public buildings in the city. Tomorrow we will have big times as there is to be a grand military display and other interesting things.
Cousin May proposed to Aunt Martha that this would be a good time for her to make a visit to our house and go down with me. I had to confess and I felt bad about it for in fact I had not a single cent in my pocket. Well, to the subject, if Aunt Martha concludes to go I think that I will go with her provided I can get some money to go with her and if I get home I will devote myself to some useful business until Fall and then I will try and get a school some place. I like the folks here very well. They all want to see Father so much.
Cousin Eliza lives on Monroe Street, No. 207, Cousin Mary lives on the same street but I do not know the number. On the cars on Logansport, Peoria, & Burlington R.R. I met with Carter Chenoweth (Father Vredenburg's grandson). He is train boy on this road. At Bloomington I met Rev. C. Holtkamp the German minister stationed at that place.
Well, Mother, I cannot think of anything else to write that would interest you and so I will stop by sending my deepest and most sincere love to my soldier brother and all the rest of the beloved ones.
T. R. Brown.
LeRoy, McLewan Co., Ill.
June 28th, 1861
I received a letter from both you & Aunt Emma yesterday and read them with a great deal of pleasure, I can assure you.
Well, I have not got into any kind of business yet so I have concluded to pay a visit to Cousin Eliza Vance. I will start the morning that you receive this letter. Therefore in answer to Aunt Emma I will tell you that I will spend "The Glorious Fourth" in the city of Peoria.
Willie, I suppose has joined Colers Regiment from Tolono. If so, when he starts or before, I wish that either you or himself would send me the name of the company and the captain's name so that I can write to him. Give him a brother's love for me and bid him farewell. Tell him that if it was possible I would be along by his side, but circumstances will not admit of it.
Give may love to all and receive a large share for yourself from your affectionate son.
Thos. R. Brown
P.S. Mother, please don't write until you receive another letter from me which will be as soon as possible. T.R. B.
P.S. Aunt Emma, Cousin Abbie says that you must answer her letter pretty soon or there will be a disappointed girl about her age.
Thomas Reeves Brown
P.S. Mother give my love to Father.
P.S. Aunt Emma, give my love to Charlie. Tell him that I would like to see him.
T. R. Brown
P.S. Mother, give my love to Sallie. Tell her to think of me.
P.S. Aunt Emma, give my love to Willie. Tell him that I would like to be with him on the battle field.