In 1927, Benjamin Warfield Brown, the son of agricultural pioneer James N. Brown, published a short memory of then-Col. U.S. Grant’s 1861 visit to the Brown family farm in western Sangamon County. The visit turned out to be, literally, part of Grant’s first steps toward Civil War glory.
Grant had taken command of the obstreperous 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Springfield. After he tamed the regiment, the 21st was ordered to Quincy to begin a campaign against Confederate militia in Missouri.
Here is part of Benjamin Warfield Brown’s story, taken from the July 1927 edition of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
On July 3rd, 1861, Colonel U.S. Grant with his regiment, the 21st Illinois Volunteers, brought his boys in blue to this point to rest, Riddle Hill on the old State road, eight miles west of Springfield, until the morning of July 4th. Governor Richard Yates, War Governor of Illinois, asked the Colonel if he would prefer to be taken by the Wabash Railroad. He said “No, I prefer to march, the soldiers and myself need the exercise and the march will do us all good”; and this is an historic road over which the hero of the war of the Rebellion and his regiment passed. This road was opened up years before there was a railroad in our state. It was a stage route in our part of the State, connecting the east with the west. …
Capt. James N. Brown at his home, eight miles west of where Colonel Grant camped the night of July 3rd, was with the friends of Island Grove celebrating the Fourth of July. My father, Captain Brown, sent his son, William Brown, out to meet Colonel Grant and tell him the people wished him to stop and the troops could rest and enjoy the day with them.
By ten o’clock martial music was heard and soon the boys with their gallant Colonel (by the way, Colonel Grant had along with him his fifteen year old son, Fred) were at the home of Captain Brown. He told the soldiers they could have the freedom of the place. They ate the cherries that were ripe and filled the cattle barns looking at the short horns.
The exercises soon began and Colonel Grant and a great many of the soldiers listened very intently to the exercises. Hon. David A. Brown read the Declaration of Independence and the Rev. Peter Cartwright delivered the main address. After the exercises Captain Brown went to Colonel Grant and invited him to assemble his regiment and bring them up to the tables for dinner. But he said that his boys would clean up all the food and that would not do, but he would form them in line and march on to Jacksonville.
One incident which I must tell in regard to General Grant’s visit to Captain Brown on the Fourth of July 1861: He was the guest of honor at one of the great St. Louis Fairs. My brother, William, was an assistant inside the arena. He was introduced to the General, who asked him what State he was from. My brother told him “Illinois, Island Grove.” General Grant said “I spent part of the Fourth of July, 1861, at Island Grove and heard a wonderful address by Rev. Peter Cartwright and I would not have missed it for anything.”
Benjamin Warfield Brown (1844-1929), like his father one of Illinois’ most prominent breeders of shorthorn cattle, is buried with many other relatives at Woodwreath Cemetery in Island Grove Township.
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