June 17, 2024

Avery Brown: Drummer Boy of the Cumberland


     It was the early days of the Civil War and the Union was in turmoil.  The North had expected to easily smash the South and preserve the Union but something had gone terribly wrong.  The Confederates, buoyed by the bravery of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, had routed an unprepared, overconfident army of Union blues at the Battle of Bull Run.  Only the Rebels own inexperience and unpreparedness prevented them from chasing the enemy back into Washington, D.C., seizing the Capitol and ending the war before it had begun. 

     President Lincoln’s worst fears were realized.  This would not be the 90 day war both sides had expected but a long, bloody struggle between two determined foes.  The 75,000 men Lincoln had called for to swell the Union ranks would not be sufficient and he put out a call for 100,000 more.  A patriotic frenzy swept the North and scores of young men, from city and farm alike, crowded into recruiting stations, eager to avenge the humiliating defeat at Bull Run. 

     Samuel R. Mott, a St. Mary’s, Ohio native and already a veteran of the early days of the war, came to Delphos, Ohio to recruit soldiers for a new company in the fall of 1861.  During his recruiting he befriended a young, fatherless boy by the name of Avery Brown.  Avery was a 4’6″ tall, blue eyed, red haired eight year old who was quite proficient with the snare drum and at Samuel Mott’s urging, became the drummer at Mott’s recruiting station.  Young Avery soon became a favorite of the recruits who came to sign up and when they traveled to Camp Chase in Columbus to enlist, he went with them.  When they arrived at Camp Chase, however, Avery was denied permission to enlist with the others.  Captain Stansbury, the recruiting officer, refused to permit him to enlist saying, they did not take babies in the army.  Twice Avery sought permission and twice he was denied which was a great disappointment to him.

     Finally Captain Mott organized a third company and when they arrived in Columbus he confronted Captain Stansbury with an ultimatum, “I have come here with 101 men who are ready to enlist on one condition-that our drummer boy be mustered in with us and be permitted to go to the front.  Otherwise, we disband right here and return home.”  Captain Stansbury, knowing men were badly needed, reluctantly granted his permission and on August 18, 1861 Avery Brown was mustered into Company C of the 31st Ohio Volunteer Infantry forty-one days short of his ninth birthday. 

     Soon after, the 31st OVI left Ohio for Camp Dick Robinson in Kentucky.  They remained there until they marched off in relief of Gen. Thomas at Mill Springs, Kentucky on December 12, 1861.  From Kentucky they marched on to Nashville and Savannah, Tennessee and from March 20-April 30, 1862, advanced on and laid siege to Corinth, Mississippi.  After a summer of minor skirmishes, they began pursuit of Braxton Bragg’s Confederate forces into Kentucky.  On October 8, 1862, they defeated Bragg’s forces at Perryville, Kentucky putting an end to an attempted Southern invasion of the North.

     It should be noted that soon after arriving at the front lines, Avery was presented with a drum captured from the Confederate forces during a skirmish at Burton’s Station, Virginia.  He would carry this drum during his entire 17 month tour of duty.

     The Regiment’s next action took place at Murfreesboro, Tennessee from December 30, 1862 to January 3, 1863.  There they took part in the Battle of Stone’s River wich saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

     On December 30, Union forces under General Rosecrans came upon Braxton Bragg’s tattered Confederate army at Stone’s River.  The two armies spent the night camped only a few hundred yards apart, their bands competing, first a northern tune and then a southern.  Finally one band struck up “Home Sweet Home”, another joined, and another until 78,000 war-weary, homesick young men were singing it together in the icy darkness.

     At dawn the Confederates attacked.  The thunderous roar of the artillery drove men to stop fighting long enough to pluck raw cotton from the fields to stuff in their ears.  The Southerners appeared to be winning until General Rosecrans rallied his troops to push back the Rebel onslaught.  Two days later the Rebels attacked again and were once more turned back.  Bragg’s forces withdrew and the battle ended in a costly stalemate as each army lost nearly one-third of its men.

     Several weeks after Stone’s River, Avery Brown’s military career was over.  On January 26, 1863 he was discharged on a Certificate of Disability for Discharge ordered by General Rosecrans.  The boy-soldier, all of ten years old, was suffering from diarrhea and the piles after contracting measles.  A year and a half of rigorous marching, bloody combat, and sickness and disease had taken its toll and Avery Brown left the war and returned home to Delphos. 

    Avery Brown’s life after his discharge is sketchy at best.  He moved to Elkhart, Indiana with his mother about 1866 and became a stone cutter.  In January, 1875 he was married to Cynthia Van Alstine in nearby Adrian, Michigan.

     His ability as a musician remained with him all of his life.  He began teaching music lessons in Elkhart and in 1873 formed the Brown Cornet Band, one of the leading musical organizations in Elkhart County.  In the 1880’s, C.G. Conn, Ltd., presented Brown with an engraved  “Wonder” trumpet, believed to be awarded annually to an outstanding military musician.  Avery Brown was also a member of Conn’s Veteran Light Artillery, the only militia in the United States comprised solely of Civil War veterans.

     Avery and Cynthia Brown spent the remainder of their lives in Elkhart, save for several years in Texas and the Southwest and two years running a summer resort in Petosky, Michigan.  They had no children.

     On November 2, 1904 Avery Brown died at the age of 52 and was buried at Grace Lawn Cemetery in Elkhart.  His headstone heralds his distinction as being the Civil War’s young enlisted soldier and his designation as “Drummer Boy of the Cumberland”.

     The Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol, Indiana houses an excellent exhibit on Avery Brown.  On display is the drum he carried into battle, his discharge papers and a tintype of young Avery posing with his drum. 

     I have, as yet, found no irrefutable evidence that Avery Brown was indeed the youngest enlisted soldier in the Civil War.  Military and government records which report his age indicate that he was born anytime between 1849 and 1852.  However, inaccuracies on government and other documents in the mid-1800’s was common as many of the men in charge of transcribing the documents were ill-educated.  Age discrepancies might, in fact, be expected in this case as Avery Brown was too young to enlist and may have had to lie, as many boys did, to remain in the Army.  One note in Avery’s favor is that throughout his adult life he consistently claimed his birth date as September 28, 1852 and it is even indicated as such on his death certificate.

     I have also found no reference to his designation as “Drummer Boy of the Cumberland”.  Perhaps research of diaries and other papers of the 31st OVI will yield a clue.

     Whether or not Avery Brown is the youngest enlisted soldier of the Civil War is yet to be proven.

Information used to compose this sketch of Avery Brown was taken from the following sources:

     Pension and military records from the National Archives           

     Roster of Ohio Soldiers in the Civil War

     Bartholomews  “Pioneer History of Elkhart County, Indiana”

     U.S. Census records                                              

     Articles taken from the Delphos, Ohio and Elkhart, Indiana newspapers

     Avery Brown’s death certificate obtained from Elkhart County, Indiana Health Department

     1976 Delphos, Ohio History Book

     Dyer’s Compendium of Regimental Histories   

     The Civil War by Geoffrey C. Ward with Rick Burns and Ken Burns     

  History of Auglaize County, Ohio   

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