Reader unearths family connection to Civil War hero

July 25, 2013
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Uriah H. Brown
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The gravesite of Civil War hero Uriah H. Brown

During a summer when the 150th anniversary of the Civil War looms large, there has been much published about the conflict. An Observer-Reporter story published Memorial Day weekend focused on the Battle of Vicksburg and an Ohioan who took part in a pivotal assault on the Confederate bastion that held the key to control of the Mississippi River, which functioned in those days like a superhighway.

Uriah H. Brown, a Medal of Honor winner who was among a group of 150 volunteers known as “forlorn hope” when storming the Confederate stronghold, is buried in Paris Cemetery, Hanover Township, but what brought him to Washington County remained something of a mystery when the story appeared May 26.

A reader, Becky Carson of West Finley, was able to find a document on the Internet that answered that question.

Brown’s wife, Sarah Elizabeth Greer Brown, was from Washington.

Carson found an online copy of the death certificate of Sarah Brown on the website of the West Virginia State Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics.

Uriah H. Brown died Jan. 24, 1927, at age 87 while living in Holliday’s Cove, W.Va. The widowed Elizabeth Greer Brown died later that same year of nephritis, a kidney dysfunction she had had for three to four of her 83 years.

Uriah Brown’s sketchy biography, preserved for posterity in part because of his Medal of Honor, indicates he was born in Covington, Ohio. He joined the 30th Ohio Infantry, and his headstone shows his rank was that of private.

He and his wife lived in Washington County in 1900 and 1910, according to U.S. Census records.

What brought them to this area may have been Sarah Greer Brown’s family connections.

Her death certificate gives her birthplace on Jan. 13, 1844, as Washington, Pa., listing her father’s name as William Greer and her mother’s maiden name as Elnor Taylor. Their birthplaces are also recorded as Washington, Pa.

How Uriah and Sarah Greer Brown met remains as another piece of their puzzle, but they apparently married after the Civil War.

One blogger, Eric Wittenberg, in “Rantings of a Civil War historian,” noted that when Gen. William T. Sherman called for volunteers to serve as a storming party on Vicksburg, he allowed only unmarried men to join in the effort because the risk of death was so great. The volunteers, Wittenberg wrote, would build a bridge over a ditch and plant their scaling ladders against an embankment. The main body would follow behind and would use those scaling ladders to attack the Confederate fort.

Nearly 85 percent of the “forlorn hope” volunteers were either killed or seriously wounded in the attempt to capture the point above the Mississippi River that some have called “the Gibraltar of the West.”

In 1894, Brown’s Medal of Honor citation stated, “Despite the death of his captain at his side during the assault, he continued carrying his log to the defense ditch.

“While he was laying his log in place he was shot down and thrown into the water. Unmindful of his own wound he, despite the intense fire, dragged five of his comrades from the ditch, wherein they lay wounded, to a place of safety.”

Brown’s final resting place might go unnoticed except for a marker along Steubenville Pike in Paris Cemetery that alerts passersby that a Medal of Honor recipient is buried there.

Joanne Welsh also added a bit of information about Paris Cemetery and the 230-pound granite marker bearing Brown’s name.

In a letter postmarked Orlando, Fla., she wrote, “It was very emotional for my dear friend Ersilio (Bill) Marsella as he set the marker at the Paris Cemetery. Bill lived all of his life in Burgettstown except for years of service to our country as a Marine. He worked at Paris Cemetery from 1970 to 2010, when he moved to Florida. Bill was a heavy equipment operator and was assistant caretaker of Paris Cemetery. He has dug many of the graves and set many stones at Paris Cemetery.”

Attempts to contact Marsella for this update were unsuccessful.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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