27 March 2012

Private James W. “Diamond R” Brown, An Exceptional Warrior

Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

Private James W. “Diamond R” Brown, An Exceptional Warrior
Part 1

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
March 28, 2012

This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

James W. Brown II was a survivor. Wounded at Fort Donelson in February 1862, wounded two months later at the bloody battle of Shiloh, and wounded a third time at the decisive battle at Vicksburg, James W. Brown survived the war and came west to Montana territory to become a legendary freighting wagon boss on the rugged Montana frontier.

Born at Hillsboro, Ohio, September 5, 1841 Brown’s parents James W. and Elizabeth Cooper Brown, both of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, had earlier moved from Virginia to Ohio. His father died in 1850 and after attending the public schools of Hillsboro, young James left home in 1858 to work as a farm hand in Illinois. At the first call for troops in the Civil war, James Brown enlisted June 13, 1861 at Joliet, Illinois for a term of three years as Private in Company C of the Twentieth Illinois Infantry. He was 21 years of age, 5’ 6” in height with hazel eyes and dark hair. Brown served from June 1861 until July 1864 through extended periods of hard fighting, suffering wounds at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, three major battles in the Western Theater of the Civil War.

Fort Donelson was located on the left bank of the vital Cumberland River in a strategic position in northwestern Tennessee. It was a bastioned earthwork, on a bluff about 100 feet above the water and commanded the river for several miles down stream. During February 13-16, 1862, a 27,000-man army under General Ulysses S. Grant, supported by ironclad gunboats under Commodore Andrew Foote, attacked and captured Fort Donelson, During this battle, Private Brown’s 20th Illinois Infantry was part of Col. W. H. L. Wallace's 2d Brigade in Brig.-Gen. John A. McClernand's First Division. Portions of the battle report give us insight into the experiences of the Private Brown and his 20th Illinois regiment in the chaos and fury of the Battle of Fort Donelson:

[On Feb. 13th] “McClernand's division, preceded by cavalry, had the advance on both roads [leading to Fort Donelson]. About noon the head of the column commenced skirmishing with the enemy's pickets, the rest of the day being passed in feeling the Confederate position and in learning the nature of the ground, which was full of ravines and ridges and thickly wooded . . . All of the 13th was spent in maneuvering for position and making demonstrations to draw the fire of the enemy's batteries, with a view of locating the weak points in the line of defenses.

[Feb. 14th] “Skirmishers exchanged shots at intervals during the day and from time to time the gunners in the batteries fired a few rounds to try the range of the guns. . .
[During the afternoon the naval gunboats attacked, and were repulsed by Confederate shore batteries.] This repulse of the gunboats made it plain that the fort, if it was taken at all, must be taken by the land forces, and preparations were at
once commenced for an attack on the following morning. Other transports had arrived during the day with additional troops, which were assigned to positions in the line . . . as it was feared the enemy might attempt to cut his way out at that point; batteries were brought up and placed in the most advantageous positions, rations and ammunition were issued to the men, and when night came the men bivouacked without fires, resting on their arms so as to begin the assault as soon as the command might be given . . .

[Also on Feb. 14, another Union force had moved into position near Fort Donelson] “With this command were Birge's sharpshooters, armed with long range Henry rifles, and every man a skilled marksman. All day on the 14th this band of intrepid Missourians kept up from behind rocks and trees a continual fire, making it unsafe for a Confederate to show his head above the works.

[During the 14th the Confederate command, realizing that Fort Donelson was indefensible and that they would be starved into submission, began planning to cut their way out.]

[Feb. 15th] “[Confederate Gen.] Pillow was to begin the attack on McClernand's right, and this was to be followed by [Gen.] Buckner in an assault on the center of the division, driving it back . . . and opening the way to the road, after which Buckner was to cover the retreat. Accordingly at 6 a.m. [the Confederate attack began and a] brigade next moved forward through a depression in the ground and succeeded in turning McClernand's right. McClernand sent . . . for assistance and [a] brigade was ordered to the right, where it managed to check the enemy and for a time held its position . . . Deeming that the time had come for him to act, [Confederate Gen.] Buckner advanced a part of his division [forward. This was] countered by McClernand . . . [with artillery] batteries . . . and Buckner failed to break the line, his troops retiring before the destructive fire of the artillery. Fresh regiments were now hurled against [a part of the Union line], whose ammunition was exhausted, and [they] began to fall back. The enemy swept around [the] flank and appeared in the rear, isolating [a Union] brigade, which also retired. One regiment . . . held on after the others retreated and continued the fight until every cartridge box was empty . . .

“Up to this point the sortie had been successful. Pillow had opened the way for the Confederates to escape, but the escape was not made. This was due to Pillow's erroneous notion of the victory he had won. When he saw the broken ranks of the Union right wing falling back in confusion before him he believed Grant's entire army was in full retreat [but Gen. Pillow was wrong. The Union forces regrouped and] behind this line McClernand's brigades rallied and refilled their cartridge
boxes. Wood's battery was brought up and placed where it could sweep the road. These preparations were barely completed when the Confederates came swarming up the road and through the woods on both sides of it.

[The Union lines held on the 15th] The road . . . was closed and the opportunity to escape had passed. That night the Confederate generals held another council
of war. The session was somewhat stormy, the criminations and recriminations between Buckner and Pillow growing at times especially bitter. Scouts were sent out to ascertain the position of the Federals and came back with the information
that the Union lines occupied the same position as before the sortie. Some of the generals doubted the correctness of this statement and other scouts were sent out who came back with the report that every foot of ground from which the Federals
had been driven in the morning had been reoccupied. Pillow still clung to the notion that they could cut their way out. After canvassing the situation in all of its aspects the command was turned over to Buckner, who immediately announced
his determination to surrender the fort.

[16 Feb. Gen. Pillow and Cavalry Col. Nathan B. Forrest refused to surrender, and about 3,000 Confederates escaped Fort Donelson in the early morning hours.]
“Shortly after daybreak [on the 16th] the notes of a bugle were heard in the direction of the fort, announcing the approach of an officer with a communication from [Gen.] Buckner, asking for an armistice until noon and the appointment of commissioners to agree on the terms of capitulation. Then it was that [Gen. Ulysses S.] Grant sent his famous message, viz: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works."
[Thus was born the name, “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”]

“Having no alternative Buckner was forced to comply, and the Union forces marched in and took possession. The Union loss at Fort Donelson was 500 killed, 2,108 wounded and 224 missing. [Confederate losses were estimated at about 1,500 while some 13,300 surrendered.] The most important result of the fall of Fort Donelson was the opening of the Cumberland river to the passage of the Union gunboats and transports and the breaking of the line of defense to Nashville.”

As a result of the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander in the area, was forced to fall back, giving up Kentucky and much of West and Middle Tennessee. Private James Brown had been wounded during the capture of Fort Donelson. His wounds, however, did not keep him out of action seven weeks later when the 20th Illinois Cavalry were again part of McClernand's First Division as Gen. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee arrived at Pittsburgh Landing on the west bank of the Tennessee River a few miles south of Savannah, Tennessee. The army camped and awaited the arrival of Gen. Don Carlos Buell's army (expected late the next day) before moving on. The Union forces did not set up defenses or even send out pickets as no Confederates were believed to be nearby.

Unknown to the Union forces, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston had assembled his Army of Mississippi and was moving north to intercept and destroy Grant's army and capture all his supplies before Buell's army arrived. The battle began early April 6 with the Confederate forces streaming out of the woods and totally surprising the Union troops. Grant's army fell back before the attackers putting up stubborn resistance at a sunken road known later as the "Hornet's Nest." The determined resistance at the Hornet's Nest threw off the timetable of the advancing Confederates and likely saved the rest of Grant's army. During the fighting, Confederate General Johnston was killed while leading his troops and command fell to Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard. By the end of the day, the Confederates had pushed the Union army back into a small pocket next to the river where the Union gunboats could offer some protection.

During the night, Union Gen. Buell's Army of the Ohio arrived and the troops were ferried across the river to the west bank. At the end of that bloody day, Gen. William T. Sherman approached Gen. Grant who was smoking one of his cigars, "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" Gen. Grant looked up. "Yes," he replied, followed by a puff. "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though." Meanwhile, Confederate Gen. Beauregard completely misread the situation, sending a telegram a telegram to President Jefferson Davis announcing "A COMPLETE VICTORY."

At daybreak on April 7, the newly reinforced Union army attacked and over the course of the day completely pushed the Confederates back across the battlefield of the previous day. The Confederates were forced to retreat from the bloodiest battle in United States history up to that time, ending their hopes that they could block the Union advance into northern Mississippi.

The Battle of Shiloh is named for a small church located in the central portion of the battlefield. The battle is also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. The Union loss at Shiloh was 1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 captured or missing. Once more Private Brown was wounded during the battle. On the Confederate side the loss was reported as 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded and 959 missing. In the words of Union Gen. M. F. Force, “The battle sobered both armies.” The battle was the first of many large battles during the war that had in excess of 20,000 casualties and was an omen that the war would last for a much longer time and be far bloodier in casualties than anyone had anticipated.

One year later in 1863, the 20th Illinois Infantry participated in the long Vicksburg Campaign from May 18 to July 4, a series of maneuvers and battles in the Western Theater directed against Vicksburg, Mississippi, a fortress city that dominated the last Confederate-controlled section of the Mississippi River. The Union Army of the Tennessee under Gen. Grant gained control of the river by capturing this stronghold and the Confederate forces stationed there. Although the Confederate killed and wounded in the battle and siege of Vicksburg were a relatively small 2,872, and Union 4,910, Grant captured his second Confederate army in its entirety (the first being at Fort Donelson) and 29,495 surrendered.

This was the second major blow to the Confederacy in the summer of 1863. On July 3, Gen. Robert E. Lee's invasion of the North collapsed at Gettysburg. On July 4, the Stars and Stripes rose over Vicksburg. The most significant result of this campaign was control of the Mississippi River. The Confederacy was now cut in two; one week later, an unarmed steamboat arrived in Union-held New Orleans from St. Louis after an uneventful trip down the river. President Lincoln announced, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

Private James Brown was wounded for the third time at Vicksburg. He was discharged in July 1864 at Nashville, Tenn. Amazingly, he had not had enough of war, and in February 1865 he re-enlisted for a year in the Fourth Veteran Regiment of Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s First Veterans Corps to provide security for the federal capitol. Private Brown was in camp at Alexandria, Virginia across the Potomac River at the time of the assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865. His regiment was immediately placed on provost duty in Washington, and continued that service until after July 7, 1865, the day execution for Mrs. Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt, all convicted of complicity in that awful tragedy. In the fall of 1855 Private James Brown went to Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio and was mustered out of service on February 7, 1866. Wounded, but unbowed, he had survived the Civil War.

To be continued next week.

Private James W. “Diamond R” Brown, An Exceptional Warrior
Part 2

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
April 4, 2012

This continues with the second part of the story of James W. “Diamond R” Brown. Part 1 covered Brown’s early years and his service during the Civil War.

Just months after the end of James W. Brown II’s service in the Civil War in February, 1866 this exceptional man of adventure headed west in summer of that same year. Engaged as a “bull whacker” driving an ox team between Nebraska City and Salt Lake City, he arrived there in August and immediately loaded freight for Helena, Montana Territory. Reaching Helena in September, he sold his ox team to Carroll, Steele & Hubbell, and in exchange was given the position of wagon master. He then went from Helena to St. Peter’s mission, loaded his teams with hay for the new military post Camp Cooke at the mouth of Judith River. The hay sold for $125 a ton!

At Camp Cooke, Brown loaded with government freight to Fort Benton, receiving ten cents a pound for hauling, and making two trips during the fall. After turning the cattle out for the winter, in February 1867 Mr. Brown engaged with I. G. Baker & Co., to take charge of a pack train to carry provisions to Fort Hawley, on the Missouri River 20 miles above the mouth of the Musselshell. The trip down was made without special incident other than heavy snowstorms and severe cold on the return trip at Camp Cooke. There he found the soldiers in a deplorable condition. A sentinel had been killed while on duty the night before. Major Clinton, then commanding officer, had for several days been trying to get the mail through to Benton, but the party returned, with several of them badly frozen.

Major Clinton asked Brown if he would guide a party through to Benton, and he agreed if he would be furnished with three horses for himself and his men. He was given the pick of the stables and started the following morning, making the trip safely to Benton in two days, arriving there on February 22, 1867. The weather was intensely cold, the river being frozen to the depth of four feet. With the thermometer so low, and a terrific ice-cold blizzard raging over the wide sweep of level country, old-timers who had experience understood what this trip from Camp Cooke to Fort Benton must have been like. No amount of clothing kept them warm, yet under Brown’s leadership they arrived at Fort Benton.

In the spring of 1867 James Brown engaged with the overland freighting firm of John J. Roe & Company, known as the Diamond R, for $150 per month, and moved government stores from Fort Benton to Fort Shaw. During the fall he transferred stores from Fort Shaw to Fort Ellis, thence going to Fort Hawley for oats left there by a stranded steamer. The Indians were decidedly hostile at this time and the train in charge of Brown presented a warlike appearance, having two small cannon and an arsenal of small arms. Fort Hawley had been established in 1866 by Louis Rivet of the Northwest Fur Co to trade with the River Crows. It was named for A. F. Hawley a partner in the company.

In the spring of 1868 Mathew Carroll, George Steele, and C. A. Broadwater bought the Diamond R Freighting Company, and from that point on the moniker “Diamond R” Brown was born. In 1868 Brown secured a contract to remove the stores of Fort C. S. Smith to Fort Ellis in southern Montana. The preparations for this work were elaborate, comprising thirty-eight teams in charge of Brown, James C. Adams and Thomas Clary and accompanied by a company of soldiers, all under the supervision of Major George Steele. On their arrival at Fort Smith they discovered that the major portion of the property had been sold. A part of it had been promised to the Indians who, pronouncing that some tobacco had been stolen, declared war. An investigation revealed that a soldier had stolen it, and upon his being properly punished peace was restored.

In 1868 James Brown married Sarah Bull, daughter of Piegan Blackfeet Melting Marrow (Bull) and Bird Sailing This Way, in Fort Benton in the “Indian custom.” Later in 1888-89 a Priest at Holy Family Mission blessed this marriage. Sarah was born at Pierre Chouteau & Co.’s trading post Fort Benton in May 1854. She became mother to seven children: Geneva Adeline, James William III, Joseph W., Gerusia [died age 13], Josephine [died in childhood], Jesse J., and Leo McKinley. Mrs. Sarah Brown died December 3, 1912 at Browning.

In the spring of 1869 Brown located a ranch at Eight Mile Spring near Fort Benton, but ranch life was not for him at that time. In July of 1869 Brown and Joseph Kipp had a thrilling experience while searching for sixty head of cattle that had escaped from their owner. The cattle were recovered 150 miles from Fort Benton and safely returned, but not until Brown and Kipp had experienced many hardships and had formed a friendship.

Mr. Brown remained with the Diamond R Company until 1870, and in the spring of 1871 he arranged with Joe Kipp to do freighting on shares. Going into Canada over the Whoop-Up Trail Kipp and Brown built a trading post on the Belly River. In December of that year, Brown left Benton with a load of goods for the Belly River post. Soon after starting, his train was overtaken by a terrific snowstorm, accompanied by intense cold. The snow got so deep they could hardly move, and some days advanced not more than one mile, while on other days they could not move at all. Finally they reached the “medicine line,” near the Rocky Spring ridge, where the storm compelled them to remain. The cold was almost unendurable. Whiskey froze solid, coal oil became a thick slush and no food could be obtained for the horses, nor could they be protected from the weather. The horses ate the wagon boxes and also a dozen brooms which were packed in one of the wagons. Twenty horses were frozen to death in this camp. The storm abated on the February 18th and with the remaining horses Brown pushed on to the trading post, having been over two months covering a distance of just 230 miles.

Wagon roads, the lifelines of the northern plains, radiated like a spider-web in every direction from Fort Benton during Montana’s territorial days. “Diamond R” Brown left this account of freighting on the Whoop-Up Trail in a short manuscript that today is in the Montana Historical Society:
“When I came to Montana in 1866, the only road on the reservation was called the Red River Half Breed Cart Trail [part of the Old North Trail], which ran from Edmonton to Fort Benton. It ran along at the foot of the mountains on the east side just outside the timber. It passed through [later] Glacier National Park below the railroad station of the Great Northern. It then kept along the foot of the mountains clear to Fort Edmonton. In 1871 quite a trade sprung up here between the Fort Benton people and the northern Indians. Those of us who engaged in it at that time laid out another road leading from Fort Benton through to Canada. It came up the Teton about 25 miles then left the Teton through the Knees and went on to the Marias. It struck the Marias a little below where the Great Northern Railway now crosses the river. Leaving the Marias it came up Medicine Rock Hill, as it is now called, and from this hill crossed the bench to about where Shelby now is, and down onto the Alkali Flat. It followed up the flat for 15 miles in a northerly direction, when it left the flat and continued along what is called the Rocky Spring ridge. From Rocky Spring ridge it ran on north to what is known as Red River or Dry Gulch.
“. . . After leaving Red River, the road kept on to what was called John Joe’s Spring, and from there on to Milk River. Still going north, it crossed Eighteen Mile Coulee, continuing to Middle Coulee, north to Kipp’s Coulee. Leaving Kipp’s Coulee it went on until it struck St. Mary’s between St. Mary’s and the forks of the Belly, which it forded at Old Fort Whoop-up, a branch running to what is called Standoff at the present time. This is the first wagon road . . . When the Mounted Police came in 1874, there was another road laid out from Fort Shaw to Macleod, a mail route.
“Mule teams were used some on the Whoop-Up trail, the ratio was approximately one mule to every four oxen. They were not used as extensively since they were more expensive and couldn’t carry as much freight. A good mule would cost $300. However, these teams were considerably faster and so would be used for hauling lighter goods, sometime the contraband whisky. They could cover twice the distance in a day as the oxen and could make the whole trip in eight to 10 days. Drivers were proud of their mules and would stop and deck them out with bells before coming into a settlement so they would jingle as they arrived.
“Horses were never used extensively for freighting on the Whoop-Up Trail. After the police arrived they were used for mail and passenger stages. They could make the trip in the fastest time of all, four to six days.
“The establishment of the railway ended the freighting days of the Whoop-Up Trail. As the robe trade had diminished the bull-trains had picked up other freight such as coal. The first train loaded of this commodity, thirty-six tons, arrived in Fort Benton in November, 1880. Over the years the cargoes reflected the economic interests of the area, food, supplies and clothing for the Indians (and whisky); pemmican for Southern Alberta settlers, including the police; and robes and coal to Benton, to name the most important. Goods went to the traders, the Indians, back to the merchants in Benton, to the Mounted police in Canada and the army in Montana.”

In 1872 Brown and Kipp erected a post store at Fort Kipp, at the mouth of Old Man’s River and another at High river, where they traded profitably with the Indians, supplying them with goods brought from Fort Benton in exchange for furs. In the summer of 1874 Diamond R Brown began trading on his own account at Old Man’s River, Canada, and from 1875 to 1881 was in the service of merchant Tom. C. Power as manager of Kipp trading store, and spend part of the time in Fort Benton and Fort Macleod.

In 1890 Brown and his family moved to Choteau where he served for three years as assistant farmer at the Blackfeet Old Agency. In 1893, he secured a ranch of 1,000 acres on South Fork of the Milk River on the Blackfeet reservation where he raised cattle and racehorses. After his wife passed away in 1912, Brown moved to Browning and made his home with daughter Geneva.

Historical writer Martha Edgerton Plassmann visited Browning in 1925 and wrote a biographic sketch of Brown:
“I was charged by no means to neglect interviewing James W. Brown who resided there, and who is one of the oldest pioneers of Montana. With this laudable purpose in prospect, I started out one afternoon. I made arrangements for an interview with him the following day. That night he was taken seriously ill, and it was feared the attack might prove fatal. Notwithstanding his condition, the old gentleman did not forget to send me data concerning his life, which has been unusually eventful. From this I gathered what I could, that is necessarily barren of anecdotes which, had he been well, he would have furnished to adorn the tale.
“. . . One who has known James W. Brown for many years, says of him that he was a man of upright character who earned the respect of all who knew him. He neither gambled nor drank, and never chose his associates from the rough element found here in the early days. While not of a quarrelsome disposition, he was perfectly capable of upholding his rights. He attended strictly to his own affairs, not attempting to interfere with other persons’ business.”

Mrs. Plassmann wrote of Brown’s marriage, “He married a Piegan woman, and by her had several children. Unlike some others in the northwest, the influx of the whites did not lead him to put away the mother of his children to take a white wife—on the contrary he remained true to her until her death a few years ago, and by so doing earned the respect of all right-thinking persons.”

James W. “Diamond R” Brown II passed away December 23, 1927 in Browning. He lived a life of adventure and hardship, surviving wounds in three major battles of the Civil War and the many dangers of the harsh life of an overland freighter on the Montana frontier. His memory lives on through many descendants and the striking image of old “Diamond R” Brown guiding his wagon train up the bluffs from Fort Benton in Charles M. Russell’s powerful tribute to the overland freighters, the painting Wagon Boss.

Note: If you have Civil War veterans in your family who settled in this area, we would be pleased to hear from you with copies of stories and photographs that we can share with our readers. Send your Civil War stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com or to the Overholser Historical Research Center, Box 262, Fort Benton, MT 59442.

[Sources: GFLD 27 Apr 1899, p. 2; Montana Newspaper Association The Browning Citizen 21 Dec 1925; FBRPW 24 Nov 1982; U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles; American Civil War Regiments; Progressive Men of Montana p. 1507; Blackfeet Heritage 1907-08.]

Photos for Part 1:
1. James W. “Diamond R” Brown.
2. Map of American Civil War Western Theater of Operations.
3. Map of the Battle of Fort Donelson.
4. Execution of Lincoln’s assassination plotters.

Photos for Part 2:
1. An ox-train freighting on the Whoop-Up Trail
2. James W. Brown Civil War Gravestone, at St. Michael’s Cemetery, Browning, MT [Courtesy of Find-a-Grave].
3. Diamond R Brown leading a wagon train in Charles M. Russell’s Wagon Boss.