The Formation of the Venango Grays is Recalled by Local Civil War Vet

Freeland H. Brown, Quietly observing 88th Birthday, Tells Interestingly Many Incidents of Conflict.

Private Freeland H. Brown, served as a member of Company C, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves during the Civil War. Samuel P. Bates’s “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers” lists this soldier as “Freeling Brown” and note that he was discharged for wounds in February of 1863. On the muster rolls of Cooper’s Battery, he does appear correctly listed as “Freeland H. Brown” and noted that his rank as a Corporal.

Freeland H. Brown, who was one of the first to enlist from Franklin in the historic Venango Grays, and served in the Civil War, Saturday quietly observed his 88th birthday anniversary. Mr. Brown, who had been a resident of the Third Ward for more than 80 years, recalls many incidents of the war as though it were but yesterday.

His parents, William and Tirzah Brown, were living on a farm several miles out on the Cherrytree road from Titusville when he was born. When he had reached the age of 14, the oil boom was well under way and his father was driving a stage between Titusville and Franklin. Occasionally young Freeland took his turn at the reins and within a very short while was proving of valuable assistance to his parents. Then the family settled in Franklin in a home on Elk street between 14th and 15th.

Vividly he recalls the formation of the Venango Grays, Captain C. M. Over, who was working in the court house, was the commander and recruiting officer for that organization.

“It took some time to raise 101 men. In fact, it was a very difficult job. Hiram Brown is the only other surviving member of the original organization. John May, who died several years ago, was the third survivor.”

The Grays having been organized, they boarded boats here in the summer of 1861 and floated down the Allegheny river to Pittsburgh. This was at a time when there were nor railroads in this section. There they awaited transport to Washington.

Not Allowed to Wear Gray.

Shortly before their departure, the women of the city had diligently staged a campaign to purchase gray cloth from which to make uniforms and these uniforms were completed only a few days before the actual departure of the troops. The Grays took their highly prized uniforms with them – gray uniforms – and when they reached Pittsburgh the Union officer in charge there immediately directed that the gray uniforms be taken off and the regular army – blue – ones substituted.

“I remember that these uniforms of which we were so proud were immediately put into packing boxes and, if I recall correctly, were sent directly home and stored in the court house. Perhaps in some secluded corner of the court house basement they may be there now, but we never saw those gray uniforms again.”

At Pittsburgh the Venango Grays were in camp on a fair ground which occupied the present site of the Pennsylvania station. After some time there, the contingent was ordered to Washington and immediately went into action. Mr. Brown participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run and was thrice wounded, August 29, 1862. He and Hiram Brown were on the skirmish line, looking for Johnny Rebs, when they saw several of them coming across an open space.

Hiding behind trees, they waited until several of those in advance had reached them and then each seized a prisoner, hustling him back to the main line of defenders. Mr. Brown’s prisoner offered him a Confederate dollar bill in trade for a Federal dollar bill, and the trade was effected. Immediately he returned to the skirmish line, but by that time the Confederates had come up in full force and had opened fire. Mr. Brown was struck in the ankle. He took several steps forward and a bullet hit him on the other shin bone. Then trying to draw himself forward, a third bullet hit him on the leg.

The battle was on in full force by that time and batteries were wheeling into position. Mr. Brown earnestly and vociferously brought two soldiers to his rescue and they hoisted him aboard a passing caisson and he was rushed out of that immediate field of activity just in time to escape capture by the advancing Confederates.

Recalls Wilderness Battle.

After several weeks in hospitals at Washington he was furloughed home for 30 days. Those were critical times. The country was “scarce of men” and when he again reported for duty, thinking that because of his injuries he would be assigned to rather light service, he was placed in Captain Cooper’s battery, the First Pennsylvania battery, and served until the end of the war, participating in nearly all the leading battles.

Sketch of the removal of wounded soldiers from the flames brought on by the Wilderness Battle. Sketch by Alfred Waud. Library of Congress.
Sketch of the removal of wounded soldiers from the flames brought on by the Wilderness Battle.
Sketch by Alfred Waud. Library of Congress.

With great clarity he recalled the battle of the Wilderness and the days spent at Petersburg. His battery took part in all three days of the engagement at Gettysburg and on the first day held a position among a clump of woods close to the present Gettysburg cemetery. That night General Meade ordered the forces to retire on news that the Confederates were coming up in full strength, and the battery took up a new position with instructions to load with canister. There, on a slight knoll, guns almost hub to hub, the batterymen waited for the charge.

On they came, those daring and determined Confederates, a solid line of them, and when they were only 300 or 400 feet away the battery opened a terrific barrage in the faces of the advancing force. Mr. Brown said that the casualties were terrible. The Confederates, cut to pieces by the flying bits of iron, were piled high – dying and wounded. The battery continued to fire, but the full force of the Confederate attack had been spent.

The last days of the war found the Pennsylvania battery, of which he was a member, in action in the district around Petersburg and Richmond, and after the signing of the truce at Appomattox and being mustered out, Mr. Brown returned to Franklin and he has lived here ever since.1

City Letter Carrier at USPS | | Website | + posts

Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.

  1. Venango Spectator: June 8, 1932, excerpted.