Life of Col. Edwin Franklin Brown
By Judge O. B. Brown
From Lewiston, on the Niagara river, to Rochester, stretches a great highway, running along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, and extending through the forests of Western New York.
Edwin Franklin Brown was born in 1823 in a log cabin built by his father near this road, some twenty-five miles east of Lewiston.
His father, Jeremiah Brown, and his mother, Abigail Davis Brown, were pioneers. The paternal and maternal grand-fathers were both officers in the Revolutionary War and were honorably discharged by George Washington.
They were Puritans, and were directly descended from those who came over in the Mayflower. Such a family history is an inspiration to those who come after. As Lowell has said: "A descent from men who sacrificed everything and came hither, not to better their fortunes, but to plant their idea on virgin soil, should be a good pedigree. There never was a colony, save this, that went forth, not to seek gold, but God."
His father served as captain of volunteers in the war of 1812 and both his parents were well educated for that period and were leaders and advisers of that section. The cabin had a fair library and the family of five children were taught at home and in the country school. Later, he attended the academy at Gaines, which at that time was the best institution of learning in Western New York. He graduated there in the same class with such men as Judge Noah Davis and Judge Sanford E. Church, both of whom became judges of the highest court of New York.
He taught school in the winter up to the time of his marriage, working on the farm in the summer time. He was married at the age of twenty-one to Elizabeth Britt, and purchased a farm of his own—a part of the old home place.
He was one of the builders of the great Erie Canal, referred to at that time as "Clinton's Ditch." The construction of this canal was quite as important an event and as great an undertaking in those days as the building of the Panama Canal is today.
After the construction of the canal, he served for a while as collector and subsequently as superintendent of the division between Rochester and Buffalo; and this experience developed early what later in life proved to be his strongest characteristic in his occupation of construction and building, namely, the managing of men.
In 1857 he sold his farm and started on his first venture in the commercial world at Medina, New York, and was quite successful in the buying and shipping of grain and produce for the New York market.
In the winter of 1860 he accepted a partnership in Boston in the manufacture of chemicals, which subsequently led him into the great baking powder business, and the prospects for wealth were very bright. Meanwhile the war broke out, and he felt it his duty to enlist. Thus he sacrificed the building up of a fortune for himself and family by going to the front in defense of his country.
Shortly after his enlistment he was elected lieutenant-colonel. and afterward became colonel of the Twenty-eighth New York State Volunteers. The officers of the regiment were nearly all school teachers and the men were the finest young men of Western New York. Shortly after the regiment was sent to the front at Harper's Ferry, the Union troops were annoyed with frequent raids of Confederate cavalry from across the river. Colonel Brown volunteered to capture these raiders, and with about fifty men selected by himself, he captured and brought into camp the entire company of rebel cavalry with their horses, without the loss of a man and with the loss of but two or three of the enemy. For this he was praised in general orders. The regiment has a glorious record of service. At the battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862, where Colonel Brown lost his left arm, his regiment was ordered to charge the enemy across a wheat field. He asked the aide if the general knew there was a masked battery across the road. The aide replied; "There is no battery there." The colonel said; "Tell the general I know there is," and then immediately ordered the charge. The result showed that Colonel Brown was right. The regiment routed the enemy and captured the battery, but the casualties were over sixty per cent. in less than an hour. This was almost a duplicate of the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava.
After the battle of Cedar Mountain, the colonel was made prisoner while in the hospital at Culpeper, was taken to Libby prison at Richmond, and then exchanged in the fall of 1862. He again took command of his regiment in the field and was in many engagements with the Army of the Potomac during that important period when the capitol at Washington was constantly in danger of being captured. He was mustered out with his regiment in July, 1863, two months after the term of enlistment.
Upon his return to his native home, he was unanimously elected by both political parties as county clerk of Orleans County, but declined a second term because of his selection by President Grant for the position of military mayor of the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. During this reconstruction period, the handling of affairs in the south and especially of a city of the importance of Vicksburg, which only a short time previously had been the center of some of the most important conflicts of the war, required much diplomacy and tact. By his personal magnetism and policies he soon won the hearts of the southern people and thereby made them feel that the north and the south should be reunited. The manner in which this was accomplished became a matter of comment and record at Washington.
Colonel Brown arranged and managed the first reunion of the Blue and the Gray.
The story is full of interest. The color-bearer, being wounded in one of the many engagements, cut a piece out of the flag. This piece subsequently came into Colonel Brown's hands, and by means of it. when in Washington some years ago, he identified his old regimental flag. The flag had been captured by the Fifth Virginia, which formed a portion of Stonewall Jackson's brigade.
The colonel became acquainted with the colonel of the Fifth Virginia, who explained the circumstances and suggested that the flag be returned to the old regiment at its next reunion. He visited the Shenandoah Valley and met the surviving members of the Fifth Virginia and an invitation was extended by the Twenty-eighth New York to them to attend their reunion the following May at Niagara Falls. This invitation was accepted and a large number of officers and men of that regiment, with their wives and children, were the guests of Colonel Brown and the Twenty-eighth for several days. The old flag was given back with patriotic ceremonies at that time. It was used as a drapery for Colonel Brown's casket at the time of his funeral, and was subsequently placed in the archives of the state of New York at Albany.
Subsequent reunions were held between these regiments in the Shenandoah Valley. At the time of the dedication of the monument to the Twenty-eighth New York. erected in the National cemetery at Culpeper by the state of New York in 1903, the survivors of the Fifth Virginia took active part and were the hosts of the Twenty-eighth New York.
His appointment as governor of the Home at Dayton was a case of the office seeking the man and not the man the office. General Benjamin F. Butler, president of the board of managers of the National Homes, learning of the manner in which the affairs at Vicksburg had been handled by Colonel Brown, offered him the appointment of governor at the Home at Dayton. He accepted the appointment in the fall of 1868 when the central branch at Dayton had just been started.
The Home was located on a worn-out clay farm, almost barren, and void of all natural beauties. He soon had order out of chaos; a definite plan of improvements was inaugurated, and with the confidence and co-operation of the board of managers and of the soldiers, his plans and ideas began to develop, and it was not long until this place showed promise of being what it is today—one of the most beautiful parks in the country.
He believed in giving employment to the soldiers and paying them for it. If any work was needed, he made inquiry for soldiers to do it. He established workshops of different kinds, and his early experience in the work of building and construction commenced to show itself in the manner in which this unattractive hill was changed to the beautiful spot which it now is.
A stone quarry, which disfigured the east front of the grounds, and from which stone had been taken to build the roads and avenues, was changed to a picturesque grotto and flower garden. The barren field facing the barracks and head-quarters was changed to a beautiful lawn, and the avenues and roads constructed by him at this time remain today as models in the art of road building.
He organized all kinds of entertainments, building an amusement hall and a beautiful theater building. All holidays were celebrated most enthusiastically by parades and entertainments. There was general contentment and happiness at the Home. Business methods were inaugurated by him and everybody was given a square deal. Contracts were let absolutely to the lowest and best bidders without favoritism, Many of the young business men of that day, who have since built up fortunes in this city, attribute their success to their early experience in furnishing supplies for the Home along methods adopted by Colonel Brown. His farming experience and judgment of horses and cattle made the farm and the stock models for this farming community. He studied Los Angeles County, Cal. forestry and by treatment of the trees thirty-five years ago, saved the beautiful grove at the Soldiers' Home.
After the death of his wife in 1879, he was made inspector-general of all National Homes and subsequently built the Homes at Marion, Indiana; Danville, Illinois; Leavenworth, Kansas; and Santa Monica, California. They, with this beautiful Home at Dayton, Ohio, stand as monuments of this man's ability to construct and govern.
During the time these National Homes were being constructed, he was in constant touch with the general office at Hartford, Connecticut, which afterward was removed to New York City, and, in addition to his other duties, superintended the purchase of all supplies for the National Homes.
He died in the service in his eighty-first year while attending to his duties as Inspector-General in New York City.
"His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated."
Colonel Brown was a big man—mentally and physically; a friend in need always, kind, just, sympathetic, genial and generous: and his life and works are a model of American citizenship, ability, integrity and patriotism.