Civil War ended quickly, tragically for local man’s great-uncle

For Bud Brown of Port Charlotte, Fla. Wednesday, July 21st is the special day. That’s the day in 1861 when his great-uncle got his head blown off by a Confederate 12-pound cannonball during the first day of the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas) in Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C.

This was the first major battle in the American Civil War, following the bombardment and surrender of Union Forces at Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor on April 12.

Pvt. August J. Brown served with the 14th New York State Militia, 84th New York Volunteer Infantry. His outfit was known as the “Brooklyn Zouaves.”

They left home for Washington, D. C. on May 18, `1861 to protect the capital from a threatened Confederate attack.

Southern forces under the command of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard were threatening to cross the Potomac River and take Washington. To prevent such a catastrophe, Northern forces were rushed to the capital, among them Brown’s Brooklyn company.

In the initial land battle of the War Between the States, Brown’s 14th New York Infantry was attached to Porter’s Brigade, Hunter’s Division, McDowell’s Army.

A story in Brown’s hometown newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle, dated July 24, 1861 gives his unit credit for having saved the day for Union forces during the engagement.

“The 14th made their charges,” the story notes. “They were detailed to support (Gen. William T) Sherman’s battery and by their determined fighting caused great havoc in the ranks of the enemy. The opposing forces came on in such vast numbers–having been reinforced by Gen. Johnson’s–as to make further opposition on the Union side altogether impractical.

“Col. Wood haven fallen and Lt. Col. Fowler haven gone to his aid, Maj. Jourdan took command and again rallied the men. They turned and again advanced and fired a volley into the opposing ranks with most damaging effect. They aided in taking several of the breastworks but they were compelled to relinquish their position by the every fresh and numerically superior opposing forces.

“All hope of success having fled, they retreated, but in good order,” the Brooklyn Eagle story notes.

The history books are not as kind to the Union side when reviewing the result of the first big engagement of the Civil War. The Northern forces were overwhelmed by the superior generalship of their Southern counterpart that day. The Confederates routed the bulk of the northern forces. According to historical accounts, they fled the battlefield in disarray many soldiers discarding their rifles and ammunition as they scheduled.

Brown didn’t have to worry about all that. At the end of the Eagle’ story the paper ran a list of killed and wounded soldiers company by company. It notes: ‘COMPANY C–KILLED August J. Brown, shell cut his head off, W.W. DeWitt, mortally wounded.”

Budd Brown, his great-nephew recalled as a young man Great-Uncle August would sometimes be the topic of conversation around the dining table. It was well known that he had been killed during the First Battle of Bull Run. However, he didn’t learn until last year that Uncle August had been decapitated by a Rebel cannonball.

Budd’s younger brother, Ray Brown, who is a civilian employee at the United States Military Academy at West Point, was researching their great-uncle’s death. Ray discovered the newspaper’s account of Uncle August’s death.

“His grave is in Riverhead, Long Island, N.Y” Bud said. “His gravestone notes: “Killed in First Battle of Bull Run.”

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 19, 2004 and is republished with permission.

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