The tale of the high private in the rear rank…

I’ve been working on a news feature for the Record Newspapers commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, and its effect on Kendall County. In fact, I’ll use that as an excuse for not blogging for a while (even though it was more due to a combination of laziness, lack of inspiration, and fixation on finishing the Oswegoland Heritage Association newsletter).

When I started looking back at 1865 in Kendall County, I was reminded of stories I’d run across before, but piecemeal, not as a coherent whole. For instance, there was the county’s series of long-standing connections with Abraham Lincoln, albeit somewhat peripheral ones, from Henry Sherrill’s carriage to Lorenzo Rank’s adventure during the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Ottawa. You’ll have to wait until the Record folks publish the article for those stories.

There were hundreds of stories that revolved around the end of the Civil War around these parts, and one of the most interesting is that of Alfred Lincoln Browne. When the war ended, ALB, as he signed his many letters and other articles that appeared in the Kendall County Record back in the day, was serving in the 146th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, one of the regiments recruited near the end of the war to serve inside Illinois, freeing veteran combat troops for other duties.

ALB was a native of Kendall County who joined up at age 19, following his three brothers into the service. His family was fairly remarkable. One of those brothers serving during the Civil War was a doctor, and his sister was the redoubtable Anna Brown Lester.

He volunteered with a group of his young Big Grove Township neighbors and was mustered in at Springfield. ALB’s Company D was assigned to guard and other duties at Quincy, then a hotbed of Copperhead sentiment in Illinois.

From the young man’s standpoint, his military service was a lark, a lot like an extended trip to Boy Scout camp with his neighborhood buddies. Shortly after he arrived at Company D’s camp at Quincy, he sat down and penned a letter back to Henry C. Cutter, a fairly prominent resident of Oswego Township.

We have no idea what the connection between ALB and Cutter was, but from the tone of the letter, they were good friends. Cutter and his brother, James, had a rousing adventure of their own when they left their native Massachusetts in 1849 to head for the California gold fields. One of these days, I’ll get around telling their remarkable story.

Downtown Quincy, Ill., close to the location of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, as it looked the year of the debate. Quincy became a hotbed of Copperhead sentiment during the Civil War.

Downtown Quincy, Ill., close to the location of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, as it looked the year of the debate. Quincy became a hotbed of Copperhead sentiment during the Civil War.

But today, we’ll stick with ALB, and his letter back to his friend Cutter in Kendall County. It’s a great letter, written in two parts, the original of which is in the collections of the Little White School Museum here in Oswego. In it, he reveals his generally high spirits, and a sense of self-deprecating humor that makes a historian wish (for the umpteenth time) for access to a time warp to make a conversation with ALB possible). And so, for your edification and enjoyment, here it is:

Camp Dean, Quincy, Ills
October 11 th AD. 1864

Friend Cutter

You have doubtless heard before this, that I have volunteered for one year, in the 146th Regiment. Ills Infty. which was authorized by the War Department to do duty only within the state

On the 4th of September I bade farewell to home and started for Springfield. About half past seven oclock PM we arrived in Joliet and having taken supper at the Auburn House got aboard the cars, and next morning at 7 o’clock found ourselves in the renouned capitol of the State. I remained in the city all that day (Monday) and next day about noon Sept. 6th I was sworn into the service and sent immediately to Camp Butler about 7 miles northeast of the city.

After being there a few days we had an election of officers. Our capt is an Englishman and he is troubled with a disease which it is impossible to cure— I mean the Big Head. He does not like the idea of associating with us boys, and therefore we have all turned against him.

The first page of Alfred Lincoln Browne's October 1864 letter to Henry C. Cutter. Browne, then just 19, went on to live a full and interesting life. (Little White School Museum collection)

The first page of Alfred Lincoln Browne’s October 1864 letter to Henry C. Cutter. Browne, then just 19, went on to live a full and interesting life. (Little White School Museum collection)

Well, to go on with my story, on Sunday the 18th Sept we received our uniform, and $33.33 1/3 (being a part of out $100 Government bounty.) On the 19th we received our knapsacks haversacks Arms and soforth; and on Wednesday the 21st, Sept about 3 oclock P.M. we received marching orders. Got on board the cars and next morning about 3 oclock we landed in Quincy, and after remaining on the Public Square several hours, we were marched to our present camp about a mile south of the city. We remained here till late in the evening without anything to eat. But now we get plenty rations and there is a good spring of water in camp We have fine times here. Today for dinner we had a good kettle of boiled cabbage, potatoes, beef, beans, bread &c Now dont you think we live pretty well on this kind of fodder? We dont receive from government all the things which I mention such as cabbage potatoes &c. We get them on our own hook. For instance, we very often have a surplus of soap, pork &c on a hand and we go out to some of the neighbors and trade them off for something that we are more in need of. The company consists of 101 men.

Two of our boys were let sick in the hospital at Camp Butler. About six or seven & more have gone to the Quincy Hospital. But I keep well right along. The tents in which we are quartered are about 10 feet square, about large enough for eight men. A pole is suspended overhead on which we hang our equipment. A Box is in one corner in which we keep our provissions, and we use our knapsacks for pillows. This may seem a hard way to live, but when I consider all the hardships which brother John has to endure down in the front near Atlanta, I can not complain.. I think myself at home so long as we remain in Illinois.

We expect to remain here till after the election: we may be then be sent away, we dont know where, probably to Rock Island or Chicago

Well I have filled one sheet of paper but I must write a a few lines more. I presume you have heard about the rebel raids in Missouri. They have caused considerable excitement in this camp. About ten days ago, a train on the Hanibal and St Joseph R.R, was attacked & captured by eight or ten Guerrilla bushwackers. They also robbed the train of $10,000 in greenbacks and then went about their business. We thought at one time that we would be taken across the River to persue them. The city of Quincy is filled with rebel spies, but I tell you they are watched pretty close. A man was arrested a short time ago, attempting to smuggle a large box filled with guns across the River. Two or three other spies have been lodged in jail. Our Regiment is divided up and stationed in different sections of the state. Some in Chicago, some in Jacksonville, others in Alton & two Companies here.

Our camp,, has been named in honor of our little Colonel H. Dean. He is about as high as my shoulder, but every inch a man.

Last night about midnight we were aroused from sleep, and ordered into line. The officers heard the report of three guns a little way outside of the camp and it was supposed that the rebels had crossed over from Mo to attack us,

We were all up and ready for the fight in less than three minutes and after having marched a short distance scouts were thrown out but nothing could be found so we marched back to our tents and slept soundly during the remainder of the night. You see Mr. Cutter that I have been in the army just long enough to become initiated into all the joys and glories of a military life. I enjoy the camp very well—have not yet become homesick.

We load our guns every evening, in fear that we need might have to use them during the night. We always get up in the morning about 6 oclock and after sweeping around our tent and hanging out our blankets we cook our breakfast. Then comes drill, and so forth. We have plenty time to spend in reading & writing I received a letter from Anna today. She tells me all about her visit at Oswego. A few days ago I sent her my likeness in the blue uniform. Today I received a letter from father and Mother. They are all right and intend before long to send me a box of things. I have to go on guard duty this evening at 8 oclock.. The duty of the guard is to keep all soldiers within the limits of the camp and if they see any suspisious person hanging around to shoot him down. When in camp Butler I tried to find Frank, but could get no not find him out. Where is he at present I would be glad to hear from you soon. Let one know all the news from Oswego. Remember me to Mr Fox’s folks. Good night to all

Alf. Browne
High private in the rear rank


Wednesday Oct. 12th 1864

Every Sunday we have preaching here in camp. But many of boys get passes and go to church in the city. Last Sunday our chaplin preached us a good sermon from Romans 14th chapter, 12th verse “So every one of us shall give account of himself to God”

All kinds of persons may be found here in camp. Soldiering always exposes the true character of an individual This is a good place to study Human Nature—to apply the science of Phrenology.

Our wages are now $16 pr month We are to be paid off every two months and expect soon to receive some money Many of the boys glory in spending their money but I send mine home and expect that by the time my term expires I shall have $500.

A short time ago I was in Quincy and had the pleasure of hearing speeches from Gen Oglesby, candidate for Gov., Senator Doolittle of Wis. and other distinguished gentlemen Last Friday a Copperhead meeting was held in the city. The candidate for Gov., Jas. C. Robinson made a speech.

The great Northwestern Sanitary fair commenced yesterday in, the city. It will last all the week. I will try to get a pass today if possible and go to the fair— admittance 25 cts.

It is now Wednesday morning, 12th, Last night I filled two sheets of paper with my interesting harangue and this morning thought I would scribble off a few lines more I never become tired of the pen. But as I have soon to go out on drill. I close. Write soon. Write everything to.

Alfred S. Browne
Co D. 146th Ill Vols
Camp Dean

Alfred Lincoln Brown continued his adventures after his stint as a soldier, earning a degree from Oberlin College, teaching in freedmen’s schools in the South, teaching in Kendall County schools, farming, and teaching himself to read and write Norwegian so he could better communicate with his Scandinavian neighbors. He never married. He died died July 27, 1920, and was buried in the Millington-Newark Cemetery after a full, well-lived life.


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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Military History, People in History

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