In 1853 Hiram L. Brown was a running a successful hotel in Erie, Pennsylvania and was Captain of the Wayne Guards militia. When war broke out, he joined the 90-day Erie Regiment as the Captain of Company B. The regiment mustered out at the end of its service never getting beyond Camp Wilkins and Camp Wright outside of Pittsburgh.
When Colonel John McLane organized the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in August of 1861, Hiram Brown, like many former members of the Erie Regiment joined up. On August 27, 1861 he was commissioned as Captain of Company I. Wounded and taken prisoner, during the Battle of Gaines Mill, he eventually made his way home to Erie to recover.
While home in Erie, he was charged with raising a new regiment, and on September 5, 1862 he was commissioned as Colonel of the 145th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The 145th Pennsylvania was a part of part of the 1st Division of the Union II Corps, and by the time the Battle of Fredericksburg happened in December they were in the 1st Brigade. As part of the second wave on December 13, 1862, the 145th crossed the millrace and advanced through Mercer Square, where Col. Brown was hit twice and fell, one of the 226 casualties out of the 500 men who went into battle with the regiment that day.
Captain John Reynolds, acting as major, later described Col. Brown’s wounding; “General Caldwell came along and ordered us to advance in front of the other regiment which we did and the men commenced firing, just at this time Colonel Brown fell having been shot through the lungs and leg at the same instant.” [i] The 145th eventually fell back into the swale, and Col. Brown was presumed dead on the field.
He survived his wound and managed to make his way back towards town. As he was making his way, he passed his old regiment, the 83rd Pennsylvania. Col. Strong Vincent came forward, took his hand and they said their final goodbyes. As he passed his old company, the blood from his wounds streaming to his feet, the pallor of death upon his face, the men all removed their caps, and silently looked, believing that this would be the final time that they saw their old commander.
Col. Brown made it off the battlefield and eventually Lt. Colonel McCreary, now commanding the regiment, had men carry him across the river, and he eventually arrived at one of the hospitals, where the regimental chaplain, John Stuckenberg, found him that night. Brown, believing that he was mortally wounded, asked Chaplain Stuckenberg to stay with him. Brown called out in his sleep: “Forward! Rally! That’s Right!” and upon awaking stated “Chaplain, I am prepared for the worst – if only we had gained the day.[ii]
Col. Brown survived his wounds at Fredericksburg, and after a period of recovery returned to the regiment in early April 1863. He was wounded again on July 2, 1863, in the wheat field at Gettysburg, in the right arm, just above the elbow. On May 12, 1864, while commanding the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division on the II Corps, he was captured at Spotsylvania during the assault on the Mule Shoe.
Upon being exchanged in the fall of 1864, Hiram Brown was promoted to Brigade General (Brevet) and due to the linger effects of his wounds and captivity was assigned light duty, commanding Hart’s Island in New York Harbor. He resigned from the Army, due to his health on February 1, 1865.
In the little under two years between the Battle of Gaines Mill and his capture at the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania, Col. Brown was absent from the Army of the Potomac almost a third of the time due to his multiple injuries of which he never fully recovered.
Hiram Brown died on November 25, 1880, from his lingering wounds, at the age of 48.
[i] Dr. Verel R. Salmon, Common Men in the War for the Common Man (Bloomington: Xlibris, 2013) 358.
[ii] David T. Hendrick & Gordon Barry Davis Jr., I’m Surrounded by Methodists… Diary of John H.W. Stuckenberg Chaplain of the 145th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (Gettysburg: Thomas, 1995) 44.