Monday, August 20, 2012

Antietam: 'Murderous fire' claims a young captain

Riddled with bullets, Captain Samuel Brown of the 16th Connecticut was killed
at the Battle of Antietam. The 26-year-old soldier was a teacher before the
Civil War. (Photo from George Whitney Collection/Connecticut State Library)
When Samuel Brown led his men of the 16th Connecticut into action in John Otto's cornfield during the Battle of  Antietam, the 26-year-old captain briefly came face to face with another soldier in his company.

Richard Jobes, a 36-year-old corporal in Company D from Suffield, never forgot that day --  or that moment.

"I was the tallest corporal in the Co. and that brought me at the head of the Co. with Capt. Brown," Jobes wrote in a letter to Brown's sister nearly four decades after the Civil War. "A cannon ball passed between him and myself, but very close to him, so close he thought it passed through his long and beautiful whiskers. It was a 6 or 12 lb. ball. He was pale for a moment, rubbed his face and whiskers, then went on coolly giving his commands." (1)

Born in Massachusetts, Samuel Brown graduated 
from Bowdoin College in Maine, the same college
 that produced Gettysburg hero Joshua Lawrence
 Chamberlain.  Brown appears  here in a Bowdoin College 
photograph, circa 1858.
(Photo courtesy Bowdoin College Archives, Brunswick, Maine)
Although Antietam was the first battle of the Civil War for the 16th Connecticut, Brown had already earned the respect and admiration of his men, who were mustered into the regiment in late August 1862. In fact, he didn't hesitate to admonish them, even using a profanity or two.

Like Jobes, Private William Relyea of the 16th Connecticut also never forgot Sept. 17, 1862. In a post-war account, the veteran wrote about forming in Otto's field, the moments just before the rebels opened a "murderous fire" on his regiment and the awful, deadly results of that musketry.

"We moved into the lot by the opening in the right-hand corner," Relyea, from Suffield, wrote in the recollection that included the map below. "We were then formed in lines directly in front of the opening and extending to the right a little beyond the pile of rails. Captain Brown was anxious that his company would give as good an account of themselves as any in this regiment -- he was cool but somewhat angry at us for not forming a line as we had been taught to do on dress parade and scolded at us some a few minutes after we had formed a little more to his satisfaction." (2)

According to one account, the captain urged his men on by saying, "Charge bayonets and come on, boys!," before the rebels rose up and fired through the corn from behind a nearby low, stone wall. But orderly sergeant Peter Grohman and Relyea  instead remembered Brown yelling at the men in language Relyea described as "emphatic." (3)

"I believe I swear too much for a man in battle," the soldiers recalled him saying. (4)

Minutes later, rebel fire shattered Company D, tearing apart Jobes' left arm (later amputated), severely wounding Corporal John Tate of Enfield (also lost his left arm) and killing Private George W. Allen of Suffield. But it was the death of  Brown -- who along with Newton Manross, John Drake and Frederick Barber was the fourth 16th Connecticut captain killed or mortally wounded at Antietam -- that was most keenly felt by the company. After being struck in the neck, hip and arm, he managed to crawl near the opening where the regiment entered Otto's cornfield. About six feet from that opening, Brown died.

Nearly 46 years after Antietam, Private William Relyea drew this map of where
 Samuel Brown's  body was found in relation to the 16th Connecticut monument. 
See my video below.  (George Q. Whitney Collection/Connecticut State Library)  

Two days later, after Robert E. Lee's army abandoned the field and crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, Brown's body was discovered by Relyea and Grohman. "He lay on his back properly strait (sic), feet toward the gap," Relyea noted. (5)  (Watch my video above.)

Stripped by the rebels of all his outer clothing and shoes, Brown was temporarily buried on the field on the north side of a tree on Otto's property along with other men from Company D, including Allen and Private Henry Barnett of Suffield.  Privates Henry Aldrich of Bristol, John Bingham of East Haddam and Theodore DeMarrs of Cromwell and Sergeant Wadsworth Washburn of Berlin of the 16th Connecticut were also buried in the large trench. In late September or early October, Brown's body was disinterred by Hartford undertaker William W. Roberts, and his brother Louis accompanied the remains back to their hometown of South Danvers, Mass.

Like the deaths of so many other young men with great promise during the Civil War, the passing of Brown was especially tragic. "He was a man of great bravery," Jobes wrote to Brown's sister, "and no doubt if he would have been spared the war would have been much higher than a captain of a company."

 Brown's grave in Monumental Cemetery in Peabody, Mass.
(Photo: Jack Parker)
Born in Danvers, Mass. (now Peabody) on Feb. 16, 1836, Samuel was the son of Fanny and Samuel Brown, a stone mason, who helped build the Battle of Lexington monument on Washington Street in South Danvers. Young Samuel had seven other siblings, including a sister named Fanny, who greatly admired her older brother. A diligent student, Brown graduated in 1858 from Maine's Bowdoin College -- the same school that produced Gettysburg hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the lieutenant colonel of the 20th Maine.

Following graduation from college, Brown became a teacher in 1860 at the Edward Hall School for Boys in Ellington, Conn., about 20  miles from Hartford. After a short stay at the Ellington School, Brown taught school in Beverly, Mass., before returning to teach at Ellington in the spring of 1862. Although war talk stirred many in Connecticut at that time, Brown at first was hestitant to join the cause there.

"He found the town in a high fever of patriotism and inbibing deeply of the patriotic spirit, changed his mind and became ambitious to enter the service of the U.S.," according to a Brown obituary. Brown recruited 40 men in nearby Enfield and was commissioned a captain in the 16th Connecticut on Aug. 1, 1862. Originally intending to join the cause in his native state, Brown gave up his spot to another 26-year-old man  from South Danvers.

"You know I intended to enter the army and did get a chance as Lieut in the 19th Massachusetts Regiment in the course of the Fall (of 1861)," Brown wrote in letter to his family dated March 18, 1862, "but gave it to a friend of mine, a teacher in one of our public schools, who, having lost his young wife after a year of married life, felt so desirous of a change of scene and seemed so utterly miserable that I resigned in his favor."

Brown's friend, 2nd Lieutenant Charles S. Warner, was killed at the Battle of Fair Oaks on June 25, 1862. His funeral service was held at Old South Church in South Danvers. Nearly three and a half months later, Brown's funeral was held in the same church. During that well-attended service, Reverend William Barbour lamented the loss of a "professional man," a reference to Brown's profession before the war.

"The import of strife deepens around such an offering as this," said Barbour, pointing to Brown's casket. "And this leads me to hasten on by observing that we pay the highest price for principle when our educated men become the sacrifice for our country." (7)

After the service, Brown's casket was borne a short distance to Monumental Cemetery, where the young soldier was buried in a family plot, not far from the grave of his friend, Charles Warner.

(1) George Q. Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library, Richard Jobes letter to Fanny Brown, Feb. 10, 1909
(2) George Q. Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library, William Relyea letter to Whitney, Feb. 25, 1909.
(3) Ibid
(4) Ibid
(5) Ibid
(6) Hartford Courant, Sept. 30, 1862, Page 2
(7) Salem (Mass.) Evening News, Oct. 1, 1926

In 1912, this elementary school in Peabody, Mass., (formerly South Danvers) was named for
Brown, who grew up in the town near Boston. Right: Painting of Brown that hangs in the school's
 lobby. (Photos courtesy Captain Samuel Brown Elementary School principal Elaine Metropolis)

1 comment:

  1. I can't say that I blame them for running like they did as when it's raining down lead like that, how do you not cut and run? I'm sure it was a pretty tough thing to live down but still ...

    Thank you for the view of the Connecticut 16th monument; when I was there back in May of 2000 I think we were lucky to see it from a distance from the side of the road. Of course, it didn't help that it was raining that day; looks like you had gorgeous weather.