BROWN, WILLIAM abt 1838-1901
28th U. S. Colored Infantry, Company B (1st Sergeant)
Pension Certificate #996,017 (researcher Dan Scherer)
Normally the Civil War researchers find our Lawrence County Civil War soldiers in a U.S. Census from 1860 or earlier. However, William Brown was first found by a newspaper article printed when he died in 1901.
A story was told at Brown’s death that he was the last colored man offered for sale in the county. According to the storyteller, before the close of the Civil War, any person with African blood in their veins was prohibited from coming into Illinois and remaining longer than ten days. This seems to be odd since the County had so many residents of African descent. But the storyteller alleged that William Brown was living in Vincennes, IN, in the late 1850’s, and came to Lawrenceville to work as a plasterer. He was arrested, kept in jail for several weeks, tried and found guilty of violating this ‘law’. Brown was taken to the steps of the Lawrence County Courthouse and put up for sale. When Sheriff John Watts could find no bidders, he reportedly said to Brown, “Bill, no one will buy you; the best thing you can do is to skip over into Indiana.” A much relieved William Brown lost no time in doing just that, according to the storyteller.
Brown was indeed found in the 1860 census living on the farm of John Westfall in Allison Township where he was a day laborer. He was listed as a 22 year old black man. Also living there were laborers Ruben Tann, Wiley Pettiford, and James Tyler, all of whom would later become soldiers in the Civil War.
Along with several other free black men from Lawrence County, William Brown enlisted on December 26, 1863 at Indianapolis, IN in Company B of the 28th U. S. Colored Infantry. He was listed as age 27, standing 5’ 9 ½” tall, with brown eyes, black hair, and a brown complexion when he was mustered in two days later at Indianapolis. On May 1, 1864, he was appointed Sergeant and on June 30, 1864 was promoted to First Sergeant. The 28th U. S. Colored Infantry was sent to Washington, DC for some training and then on to Alexandria, VA for additional training, some of which was burial detail. They experienced their first combat on June 21, 1864 near White House, VA. They later accompanied General Sheridan’s Cavalry through the Chickahominy swamps to Prince George Courthouse, VA. Company Muster Rolls show Brown as sick at City Point, VA in August of 1864, suffering from chronic diarrhea. During the Siege of Petersburg, the 28th Colored Infantry were some of the Black troops sent into the “Crater” where they became easy targets for the Confederates. The 28th lost almost half of their men that day. Brown was one of the fortunate few to survive this battle. They triumphantly marched into Richmond on April 4, 1865. Later, they were sent west to Texas. William Brown was mustered out on November 8, 1865 at Corpus Christi, TX.
The 1880 census found William living with his mother Eliza Brown in Vincennes, IN. and his two sons, Edward and Charles. Researchers believe Charles died at a young age, but Edward lived several years. When is Edward, the son died, his mother was listed as Mancy Howard. By 1900, William was listed as living at 214 S. 4th St. in Vincennes, IN with his wife of three years, Sara E. Brown. There were no children listed for this couple. William Brown died on May 13, 1901 in Vincennes and was buried in the Fairview Cemetery there.