John Hobbs Brown - A Seed in the Wind


by Terry Hogan


I made one mistake when I decided who to marry.  I didn't know at the time that I would, years later, become interested in genealogy.  Alas, the wisdom of hindsight.  In my youthful ignorance, I married a "Brown".  Browns hang right in there with Smiths and Jones.  Common last names are a bane to genealogists.  Some researchers can't find plausible lines to follow. Others are "blessed" with entirely too many.  Browns lurk in every family tree. Researching the Browns, the Smiths, or the Jones, is only undertaken by the brave, the foolhardy, or the uninitiated. But I was lucky. The Browns of Knox and Warren counties have already been researched to a considerable degree.  I suppose part of the reason deals with some notable Browns such as the Brown of Brown's Corn Planter Works. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for those who have taken on the task before me.


John Hobbs Brown, as the previous paragraph hinted at, is from my wife's family line. Like so many of his generation, he was a Civil War veteran, fighting with Company B of the 102nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry. There is much to be said about that unit.  It saw much of the war and much of the country.  But good stories begin at the beginning.


For those who might be related to John Hobbs Brown, some of his essentials are necessarily provided.  John was born on March 26, 1841.  He married Catharine Ellen Cox in Warren County Illinois on November 8, 1866.  They were married by W.S. Balah, "Minister of the Gospel" (Certificate of Marriage, Pension File at National Archives). He died on January 23, 1902. John is buried in Hope Cemetery, Kelly Township, Warren County, with his wife Catharine who died on January 10, 1923.  There is a nice family marker as well as a military marker and another marker that simply reads "Father".  When it is all said and done, "father" says a lot. John and Catharine had four children:  Frank A. Brown (1867), Gertie Brown (1874), Fred J. Brown (1881) and Archie R. Brown (1884). Fred J. Brown was my wife's grandfather.    


The simple marker is the first step of "putting meat on the bones", that is, beginning to learn more than mere dates and statistics about an ancestor.  Looking at his obituary,  the family was well represented at the funeral.  The obituary indicates he was buried at the "Utah Cemetery" which must have been a local name for the Hope Cemetery at the time. Utah was the post office name for a couple of houses and a store located a little west of Hope Cemetery.


Much of what I know of John Hobbs Brown comes from his Civil War military records that are on file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Among other things, these files can also include pension files that provide family history.  Of course, his unit information is also provided, which I already knew from his cemetery marker, but this was very helpful as it separated him from all the other John Browns who served in the Civil War.  The unit information also allowed me to go to the Adjutant General's report (published in a book and also Internet available) that provides the history of his unit (battles, movements, etc.).


John Hobbs Brown traveled all the way from Warren County to Knoxville to muster in Company B of the 102nd Illinois Infantry.  He mustered in on August 6, 1862 at the age of 22, and mustered out on June 6, 1865 in Washington, D.C., serving nearly 3 years in the army.  While in the service, he was hospitalized in Bowling Green Hospital in Kentucky on November 10, 1862.  It seems likely that he was one of the many soldiers who fell victim to disease rather than to the enemy's bullet.  In a claim for pension filed in February 1889, he reported that he contracted "chronic diarrhea" in November 1862 and this in turn led to "disease of heart".


The National Archives files also contained other affidavits filed in support of a widow's pension for John's wife, Catharine.   One such document was filed by Mary E. "Bonesteal" in 1902 (actually Bonesteel), who was the daughter of Harmon Greathouse Brown and Nancy Hogan Brown. She testified, in part, that she "from the time I was a little girl, lived in the same house with John H. BrownÉ."  She also testified that she helped care for him during his last illness.  She was 40 years old when she filed the affidavit.  


Another affidavit was filed by George Armstrong, who was 58 at the time of the submittal (1902).  He also was a resident of Kelly Township and worked on John's father's farm.  He was a long term friend of John Hobbs Brown.


Finally, a third affidavit was filed by Harmon Brown, who at the age of 76 testified that he knew John from infancy and that John was healthy until returning from the war.  All three testified that chronic diarrhea ruined his health. 


The Certificate of Death for John shows that he died at age 60, 9 months and 26 days, on January 23, 1902.  It also states that he died at 436 Maple Avenue in Galesburg.  The immediate cause of death was listed as "chronic diarrhea" and a contributory cause or complication was "paralysis". (The Certificate of Death was also part of the National Archives file).


So I have learned a little bit about John from his civil war records and the petition for pension.  But there is still more to learn about a critical phase of his life.  The Civil War had a pronounced effect on the soldiers, on the families and on the entire nation. In the end, it changed our government from a collection of united states to a single nation of united states, subject to a much more centralized and powerful federal government. But that was still yet to evolve.  In 1865, troops returning home only knew what they had seen and experienced while in battle, while on march, and while stationed at locations far from home.  Young men saw places that they would have never likely seen otherwise.  Would John Hobbs Brown ever have seen Washington, D.C. if he had not been a soldier?  Not likely.


102nd Illinois Infantry  

The 102nd was organized in Knoxville in 1862. It was organized by Col. William McMurty, who would later become Lt. Governor of Illinois.  The unit mustered in on September 1 and 2, 1862.  On September 22, it moved to Peoria, Illinois. From there, on October 1, it was moved to Louisville, Kentucky.  It was assigned to Ward's Brigade, Dumont's Division and began to move south.  It marched via Shelbyville, Frankfort, Bowling Green and Scottsville, to Gallatin Tennessee, where it arrived on November 26, 1862. As mentioned previously, John Hobbs was hospitalized in Bowling Green on November 10, 1862, thus giving a reasonable estimate of when the unit was in the Bowling Green area.  The unit over-wintered in Gallatin.


The unit was involved in a number of battles and saw parts of Alabama in the earlier stages of the war. On September 16, the unit moved on Atlanta.  In late 1864, the unit commenced its march on Savannah, Georgia..  On November 22 it arrived at Milledgeville, crossed the Ogeechee River on November 29th and developed a line of battle at Savannah, Georgia on December 11.


Much could be said about the overall movement of federal troops through the South; the burning of Atlanta, and the trail of destruction left by the federal army as it moved toward Savannah.  Its goal was to break the back of the South and to destroy its will to continue to fight.  The cost to the South was substantial. 


For those who might have relatives who served in the 102nd Illinois Infantry, they should track down a copy of "Jottings from Dixie" (1999) which is a collection of 55 published newspaper columns written by Stephen Fleharty who served with the 102nd. The book was co-edited by Terry Wilson of Knox College.  It is an excellent view of the life of the 102nd soldiers.  Unfortunately, no mention of John Brown was made.  The chance was small, but one can always hope.


In any event, the book also brings forth the common fact of death during the Civil War, for both sides.  Mortality due to disease was much higher than mortality from battles. This was a time before antibiotics.  It was a time before a clear scientific basis for strict sanitation.  Often relatively healthy men with minor wounds died in hospitals as a result of exposure to serious disease lurking in the hospital halls.  High mortality from disease was also common in prisoner of war camps as well.  As Fleharty commented on the prevalence of death due to disease:


Death rides on every passing breeze,

And lurks in every flower.   (Jottings from Dixie, page 170)


It would seem that John Hobbs Brown was lucky that he survived the war and that he survived the Bowling Green Hospital.  I guess I was pretty lucky too, as John returned home to Illinois, married, and became the great grandfather of my wife.


Life is no more certain than a seed in the wind.



Illinois Adjutant General's Report.  Regimental and Unit Histories (102nd Illinois Infantry)

Certificate of Death. 1902, John H. Brown. City of Galesburg, Knox County, State of Illinois

Marriage Certificate, Clerk of the County Court of Warren County

National Archives. Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Pensions (site visit, 1995)

National Archives. Military Records of John H. Brown, Co. B, 102nd Illinois Infantry (site visit, 1995)

Reyburn, P.J and T. Wilson (eds.) 1999. "Jottings from Dixie", The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, U.S.A.  Louisiana State University Press. 262 pages