George Washington Brown: The Ancestor Who Did Not Want To Be Found (Bill)

My journey to discover my Civil War ancestor began with my aunt, Mildred Brown Whatley, who truly had a love for history. Her passion for history led her to start compiling information on our family, who lived along the county line of both Yadkin and Wilkes County. Hoping to inspire others to follow in her footsteps, she always gave history books as Christmas presents to those who expressed an interest in history. Fortunately, I became the only member of the family who also fell in love with history and soon became the beneficiary of many wonderful Civil War books, and eventually her research on our family, which went back to the 1850’s in both Yadkin and Wilkes Counties.

In the case of my family, there were many problems to overcome. Initially, our common last name presented many difficulties in researching both federal and state records. The family also had an interesting habit of using George, John, or William for names for boys born in the small farms scattered along the Yadkin/Wilkes County line. The next problem was my family’s wonderful sense of skirting the long hand of government by not identifying their true location. Possible reasons for this can be found in family stories dealing with the production of certain illegal alcoholic products. At times, family members identified their residence as being in Wilkes County, and then at other times, they chose Yadkin County. This point was made abundantly clear to me by my father, while attending a family reunion on the Yadkin County side of the line; the farmhouse that he was born in resided in Wilkes County and yet when you walked out of the front door you stepped into Yadkin County.

Faced with these issues, I was truly concerned whether a true Civil War ancestor for my family can be found with the limited information available. I did have relations to my direct line who served in Confederate regiments such as the Twenty-first North Carolina Troops, and in Union regiments such as the Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry, U.S.A, but these were cousins to my direct line. To start my quest, I began to re-examine my aunt’s genealogical research to see if her findings were still valid. I soon discovered her research was solid, especially in matching her information to U.S. Census for Wilkes County in 1870 and 1880. As my aunt had done before me, I identified George Washington Brown as a possible candidate for my Civil War ancestor. He served initially in Company B, Twenty-first North Carolina Troops, but only from May 1861 until his discharge in February 1862. What happened? Other relatives remained with the unit, when it was re-designated as the First Battalion of N.C. Sharpshooters, but not George Washington Brown. I knew that the First Confederate Conscription Act became law in the summer of 1862, and it required those soldiers currently serving to either volunteer to re-enlist for the war and designated others to be conscripted, unless they had an exemption. Did George Washington Brown have an exemption? In 1870, he was listed as a “tobacconist,” which I knew that occupation would not be exempted under the First Confederate Conscription Act. Faced with the current lack of information, I could only assumed that he enlisted for nine months of service, and chose to be discharged instead of re-enlisting.

Detail from image: Chattanooga, Tenn. Confederate prisoners at railroad depot

Detail from image: "Chattanooga, Tenn. Confederate prisoners at railroad depot." This item is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; click to see the record for the original image.

So what happened next? With the passage of the Second Conscription Act in April 1863 there was a renewed effort to find additional men to serve in the Confederate armies who had skirted being conscripted through the previous year. With heavy losses suffered in Tennessee and Virginia through nearly three years of constant combat, both the Army of Northern Virginia and its sister army in the west, Army of Tennessee, needed men to refill depleted regiments. George Washington Brown, like many small farmers in Western North Carolina, was picked up by the Conscription Bureau in October 1863. Unfortunately, a search of the existing bounty pay rolls in the State Archives did not reveal any additional information on George Washington Brown’s receipt of a bounty payment for being conscripted by the Confederate Government. He was sent to one of the camps of instruction in Raleigh, N.C., and then sent westward to Sixtieth North Carolina Infantry serving in the Army of Tennessee, which was currently camped around the besieged Union army in Chattanooga, Tennessee in November 1863. During the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, George Washington Brown and a large number of the Sixtieth North Carolina Infantry were captured by federal forces assaulting up Missionary Ridge from Chattanooga, Tn. Many of the prisoners, including George Washington Brown, were gathered at the rail station at Chattanooga, and transported north to prisoner of war camps, like ones shown in photographs from the Library of Congress.

George Washington Brown remained in prison at Rock Island, Illinois until October 1864, when he chose to enlist in Company B, Second U.S. Volunteer Infantry to service in keeping the peace in the Western United States. He was eventually discharged, and he returned to Wilkes County.

Would you consider my research as completed? Not by a long shot. My next step would be to obtain copies of George Washington Brown’s federal service record, and to explore further in both Yadkin and Wilkes County records to find out more information on his life as a farmer and “tobacconist,” and to find his father, who my aunt listed as “John Brown.”

One Response to George Washington Brown: The Ancestor Who Did Not Want To Be Found (Bill)

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