Biographical Profile of Pvt. George Brown, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry

Pvt. George Brown, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry
Pvt. George Brown, 108th U.S. Colored Infantry*
George Brown, Muster and Descriptive Roll
George Brown, Muster and Descriptive Roll

At first glance, people might have wondered if George Brown had the physical stamina to be a soldier. The diminutive infantryman stood less than five feet tall and barely filled his uniform. An officer in his company observed that he had, “feet & hands like a child’s figure.”370

Although small in stature, Brown was a giant in Company F of the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry. His fighting spirit outweighed any physical limitations he might have had. He “does his duty—shaming larger men,” wrote the same company officer.371

Brown lived in Louisville, Kentucky, before the war. He was one of about eight people enslaved by Sam Richardson. In 1863, Richardson’s daughter Maria married Harry Grant, a New York–born captain in the Union Twenty-seventh Kentucky Infantry. Richardson gave or sold Brown to his new son-in-law in May 1864. Brown joined the army one month later, presumably with the consent of his new master.372

He wound up in the 108th, a new regiment composed mostly of formerly enslaved men. During his twenty-one months in uniform, he earned a reputation as a competent soldier on various guard and garrison duties in his home state, at the prison camp at Rock Island, Illinois, and in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he mustered out of the army with his comrades in March 1866. He left Vicksburg, carrying his knapsack, haversack, and canteen, and returned to Louisville. The government awarded him a pension in 1890 because of gum disease and loss of teeth attributed to a case of scurvy he claimed to have contracted while in uniform. He received a modest regular payment until his death twelve years later at about age sixty-nine. He did not marry and had no known children.373

Excerpted from African American Faces of the Civil War by Ronald S. Coddington.
Copyright 2012 by Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission of the author and Johns Hopkins University Press.

See Footnotes
370 Theodore Francis Wright, who served as first lieutenant of Company F, wrote the quoted words on the back of his carte de visite of Brown.
371 Ibid.
372 A distant relative of Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Bannister Grant (1837–1912) married Maria Louise Richardson (1840–1933) in 1863. Her father, and George Brown’s previous owner, was Samuel Kirby Richardson, a wealthy Louisville builder. George Brown military service record, NARS; 1860 Slave Schedules; 1880 U.S. Census; Johnson, A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians, vol. 3, pp. 1638–1639.
373 George Brown military service record, NARS; George Brown pension record, NARS.

*Photo courtesy of the Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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