Raising The Sultana

Story of Private William Laban Brown

Sylvia Clemons | 05 August 2014 | Comment(s)
William Laban Brown was born 28 May 1834 in the Stock Creek community of Knox County, Tenn.  He was the son of Major John Brown II of Knox Co. and Mary[Polly] Gossett born in Guilford County North Carolina, the daughter of Absolum and Alice White Gossett of North Carolina.  He was born on the Brown family farm near Knoxville which was a land grant to William Brown on December 26, 1791 probably his great-grandfather.  William Laban Brown married Nancy Colvin Brown who was born on March 30, 1834.  Nancy's maiden name was also Brown, though no relation at the time to her future husband. Her parents were Benjamin Brown and her mother was Martha Cusick.  William and Nancy lived in a little log cabin in Knox County, Tennessee.  They had five children, Martha Louisa (1856-1875), Mary Melissa (1858-1871), John Judson (1859-1877), William Henry (1861-1934), and Albert Rosecrans Brown (1863-1937).   Many times in his letters to his wife he referred to himself as Paw when instructing her to tell the children something he gotten them or just to tell them something. 

He mustered in 3rd Tennessee Cavalry Union Army company B in 1863.    He was in his late twenties when he went to war. In one of Brown's letters home he stated that because he was older than many of the other guys in his regiment they referred to him as "the old man" for the fun of it. 

I believe this is the first soldier I have had the privilege to read so many letters he sent home during the years he was off in battle.  There are to many to just post them all here but I will reference the website they can be found on below with in the sources for your pleasure to read.   I couldn't help but shed tears while reading through them.  He stated in a letter dated May 18, 1863, " The children and you I would like to see.  But if you I no more seen on earth I still hope we will meet on Canaan(‘s) peaceful shore where parting will be no more.  Tell the children that Paw said be good children and Maw Nancy I promise you that I would not forget to pray and I often pray God to bless me in all my trials and troubles and get home and I want you to pray also." As I already knew his outcome.  He would never get to see his family here on this earth.  

In several letters home he would end his letters with phrases of a hymnal.  It wasn't until his letter on September 21, 1864 that he stated why he did that.  He stated to his wife that it was his favorite hymn so he told her that whenever she heard it to think of him and ended his letter with this phrase of the song called There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,  "There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.  The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day, and there may I as vile as he, wash all my sins away."  This was the last letter apparently due to being captured by the Rebs near Athens, Alabama on September 24 or the 25th.  Most of his regiment surrendered or was captured on these two separate days.  Under the authority of Major S.W. Pickens there were about 150 men who were at Athens, Alabama.  Several men representing six different regiments signed a statement protesting against the surrender as unjustified to Major General Forrest.  However, 400 men were captured at Blockhouses 7 and 8 and Sulphur Trestle on the Nashville and Decatur Railroad.  Between the two events it almost wiped out the regiment.  The officers were exchanged on December 15, 1864 and was sent to Camp Hicks near Vicksburg awaiting their exchange to go home. 

He was able to send a letter once again on April 11 and 14th while waiting to be exchanged.  He didn't know if he would get to write another letter home, because they didn't have any money at that time.  He had no idea how correct that would be, but one would have to assume that once he boarded the Sultana his hopes of going home was soaring high.  April 27, 1865, William Laban Brown would be one of many thousands of souls taken from this world and their loved ones who was awaiting their return home.  This was truly a man who loved his whole family very much and wrote to them as often as he possibly could as well as send them money every chance he got. 

After the death of their father, Nancy Brown being unable to care for the five young children she placed them in the National Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphan Home in Washington, D.C.  Three of them died of tuberculosis in their late teens and early twenties, except Albert Rosecrans and William Henry.  She believed her children would get a good education.  She also worked there for a time herself.  The children were there about seven years from 1865 to 1873.  Letters indicate Mary Melissa became ill in DC, but died in Knoxville as Nancy had taken her two girls back home sometime in the 1870's while the three boys stayed in D.C.  All three of the oldest contracted either TB or Trichinosis and died in their teens.  Leaving William Henry and Albert Rosecrans the only two surviving children to carry on Brown's lineage. 

William Henry Brown was born on August 1, 1861 on the Brown's family farm.  He married Annie Louise McPherson, Anniston, Alabama, and he died July 25, 1934.  Many people know and call him "Major."  Major William H. Brown was very well known in the city of Knoxville where he resided for many years.  He was well known for his military affairs as he served as Captain of Old Company C, in the Coal Creek riot.  He also served as Major in the 3rd Tennessee Regiment in the Spanish-American War.  He was living in Johnson City at the time of his mother's death in 1913. 

 Albert Rosecrans never knew his father as he was born after his father mustered into the Union Army in 1863.  While his father was in army he served under the command of General William Rosecrans.  Albert's father thought so much of the general he named Albert middle name after him. 
William Laban Brown, had served under the command of Union Army Gen. William Rosecrans during the Civil War. His father thought so much of the general, he chose Rosecrans as his son's middle name.  After Albert was placed in the orphanage in 1865 he went on to become one of East Tennessee's most respected businessmen and political figures. In 1893 Albert married Tuppie Burleson of Plumtree, Avery Co, North Carolina. He moved to Erwin, TN in 1894 and opened up a hardware and mercantile store called A.R. Brown and Company.  Ironically, he and his wife also had five; Jessee Burleson, Olive English, Alberta, Jodie, and Haynes.  Albert organized and was also president of the First National Bank.   He also served as president of Unicoi Band and Trust Company, Erwin Water Company, Erwin Manufacturing Company, Erwin Cemetery Company, Erwin Inn Corporation, and Unaka Academy.  He was secretary-treasurer of the Erwin Development Company; served as vice-president of Unicoi Telephone Company; served as secretay of the Tennessee Textbook Commission; and served as trustee of Carson-Newman College. He was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Erwin.  His mother Nancy lived with him until her death in 1913 of a stroke as she never regained consciousness.  They transported her back to the Brown's family cemetery in Knox County, Tennessee.   Brown was also an alderman and mayor in Erwin as well as a member of the Tennessee General Assembly from 1927-1933. Brown died in a car accident on May 29, 1937. Albert Rosecrans had built one of East Tennessee's most significant homes in Erwin, now known as the A.R. Brown House.  Up until the 1990's was the home of his last daughter, Jodie. Jodie died in 2006 in the same room in which she was born as she literally lived in the same house all of her life. Today the home is still in the Brown's family which is owned by Brown's granddaughter, Martha B. Stromberg of Erwin. 

Both brothers are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Erwin, Tennessee. 

Civil War Letter of William L. Brown
William Laban Brown and A.R. Brown Family Papers
Family Group Records
Knoxville News Sentinel: East Tenn. home, school named to National Register