Genealogists can universally relate to the incredible rush that comes with discovering a new pair of ancestor grandparents – AND the dread when it sinks in that their names are going to be nightmares to research. Maybe that despair is palpable in our community because I received so much unsolicited help with Joe and Mary Brown, it still boggles my mind.
Joseph Brown was born in Geauga County, Ohio in 1818, the son of Rev. William and Ruby (Miller) Brown. Joseph married Mary Gifford Richmond, daughter of Allen Richmond and Betsey Dennison Jones (a clatch of New England surnames that gets any expert’s pulse racing!), and they had three children – Libbie, Allen and Joseph. (Libbie’s daughter was Ancestor #1, Lula Ralston.) Going in, I knew Joseph died in 1864 – easy to assume he died in the war, but I didn’t know.
The first bit of help I got was from a man who is into something called Philatelic Genealogy – the tracing of families and groups of families through the letters they wrote and received. He tracked me down when he saw an image reproduced in an article on philgen.org, an image of an 1862 envelope addressed to Joseph Brown with the 6th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Co. D, at Camp Dennison, Ohio, c/o Capt. Barrett. (The article had to do specifically with stationery of the time that featured images of President Lincoln – as this envelope does.)
The pieces all fit – the postmark of Newton Falls, the company organized in and around Trumbull County, the date… this was some great information with which to move forward. I found Mary in the Pensioner’s Census of 1890 – and all the details matched. I found Joseph’s grave in Brooklyn, New York, of all places – Cypress Hills National Cemetery. And again, the company/regiment details matched. And I finally found Mary’s various applications and affidavits for her Widow’s Pension, and the whole story unfolded.
Around this time in the process, I received the second major surprise gift. A retired history teacher from Columbus, Ohio, tracked me down and told me of a letter he’d been using for years of Civil War lessons. He was now retired and wanted to forward the letter to a family member. Addressed to Joseph Brown – same outfit, same camp, same Commanding Officer. Same postmark, dated February 16, 1862, about a month after the first letter. Same handwriting, my 4th Great-Grandmother’s handwriting.
New this time was the letter – Mary’s words, Mary’s voice. And that voice was maaaad! She was not remotely pleased that Joseph had gone and enlisted, and she seemed to think that since his outfit had not yet left camp, perhaps the whole endeavor might be ending and he might be home by the first of March, “if not before.” But her anger abates, and she writes longingly of the day he does actually return.
Of course, the letter is heartbreaking because Joseph never did return. His unit was shipped out and became part of the Army of the Potomac, taking part in several major battles. In the winter of 1863-64 they had encamped before Grant’s push to Richmond, which would take place in the Spring. But Sgt. Brown wasn’t around for that campaign. He fell ill in March and was removed to Lincoln Hospital in Washington – a field hospital on the grounds of what is now Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill.
The final bit of serendipity came from Dwight Goff, another member of Company D. In Mary’s Widow’s Pension application package is Goff’s affidavit which described Joseph’s final days in amazing detail. Goff had also taken sick and was also removed to Lincoln Hospital, where he met up again with Sgt. Brown. To prepare for an expected rush of injured soldiers, the hospital had decided to transfer its less critical patients to a Navy hospital at Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island. Goff and Brown both made that trip – “and we resolved to keep together,” Goff wrote. The men arrived at Portsmouth Grove on May 12, 1864; Sgt. Brown died on the 19th, was buried on the grounds of the hospital, then eventually reinterred at Cypress Hills.
From Rev. Brown’s kid in Montville to the wagonmaker in Newton Falls, from Bull Run to Gettysburg, Generals Sheridan and Grant, Rhode Island and Brooklyn… yep, he’s THAT Joe Brown.
Joe’s father, Rev. Billy Brown, was a wildly eccentric preacher and circuit rider in Western NY to NE Ohio, very famous in his day… but that’s another story. Or two.