45th Georgia at Gettysburg Day 3: Bliss Barn, a well in an apple orchard, & Tom Brown's last run

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lelliott19

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"His wrath was up and, undaunted by fear, he bravely announced his intention of making another run for the boys. This time taking but six canteens, he went across the intervening space in a run and disappeared from the Forty-fifth Georgia regiment forever. That was Tom Brown's last run. He gave himself a willing sacrifice to his comrades good."

In paying tribute to a young soldier of his regiment, mortally wounded July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg, Lieutenant Joel Arthur Walker (Co K/45th GA) provides some interesting information about the Bliss Barn; activities of the 45th Georgia on day three; and the regiment's quartermaster, John T Brown.

"Believing, as I do, that I alone can tell the tale of his death, and that his memory abideth pleasantly with his people and friends, I may not trench upon your space if I tell you how Tom Brown died." ~ J. A. Walker

....In the spring time of 1863, when Thomas' Georgia brigade was encamped a few miles out of and below Fredericksburg, Va., I had only that month received my appointment from the Secretary of War as junior lieutenant in the Forty-fifth Georgia regiment, and had been put on duty the first time as officer of the day.​
In going my rounds of inspection my attention was called to a young, active, manly boy who was standing guard at a point directly in my path. At my approach he wheeled himself correctly and promptly into a position of "present arms" with a vim and precision not very fashionable in the Forty-fifth. We had gotten over the red tape foolishness of our earlier military enthusiasm, and if a soldier did as much as stand up or put on his coat, we let it go as up to the standard. But here was a soldier doing the thing like a West Pointer, and when he clapped his left hand to his good bright barrel to salute me it popped like a strap, and he stood like a post. I gave this young subaltern a good return for his politeness and inquired who he was.​
My informant told me he was Tom Brown of Macon [Ga], lately transferred from the [2nd Georgia] battalion to our regiment. Here was an explanation, both as to his conduct and his name. That he should have belonged to the battalion was enough to explain that snap and vim of salute, and having a father in our regiment further explained his coming. His father, our beloved old quartermaster [John T. Brown], had asked for his transfer and obtained it, to the great gain of the Forty-fifth and the loss of his old command. He was assigned to duty in the company hailing from Taylor county [Taylor Volunteers, Co. E].​
So much for an introduction to my friend, the young soldier, destined so soon to be again transferred to the grand army of immortal dead. His career before and after this bright spring morning is better known to his comrades of the tent and drill than to me. We will call your attention to him now as we are all huddled together behind a pile of rails in the Valley of Gettysburg on the 3rd of July, 1863.​
Some who will read this will call to mind the terrible hours we spent on that hot summer day, trying to shield our bodies from an enfilading fire coming from the windows of Bliss' barn a hundred and fifty yards to our right. They will call to mind how savagely and fatally those bullets came among us and how helpless we were to strike back at an enemy in our rear flank hid in a brick barn. What was to be done? Every shot fired killed a man and not a bullet of ours touched an enemy. It was a full half mile back to the crest of the hill where our batteries were stationed. Who would undertake the perilous feat of taking a message back to to have the barn destroyed? Death was almost a certainty to us all who lay still - to go back across that open space was deadlier still. The officer in command called for a volunteer to go and request Capt. Pegram to fire that barn.​
Tom Brown responded and divesting himself of every weight that might hinder him he leaped out on his run. Oh, it was a glorious run that. We watched him yearningly and breathlessly as he sailed over space like a deer, watched him leap safely over the stone wall and disappear in the woods. One minute later a curl of smoke told receipt of his message, and two minutes later, Bliss' Barn was in flames.​
A visit to Gettysburg seventeen years after led me again to this spot. The barn is burnt still, but our rail breastwork was gone, and I had a Yankee soldier by the arm as we walked over the field. In telling him of the burning he astonished me by saying Mr. Bliss had collected the amount of his loss from the government, and proved to the satisfaction of Congress that the retreating soldiers who ran out of the building had set fire to it themselves to prevent us occupying. Too late now to argue. Our story goes on to a more pathetic ending.​
It will be remembered by many of us who hid behind that fence how fearfully hot that July day was and how a burning thirst consumed us. All day long we lay there, having gone out to that advanced position between the lines one night and remained there until the next night. Late in the afternoon the torture became intolerable and our hero comes again to the fore. The commanding officer called for volunteers to take one dozen canteens and run the gauntlet to a well about half a mile to our rear, that was concealed in an apple orchard. It was bad enough to burn up with thirst, but infinitely worse to be shot down making that run. No one responded for several minutes. We call to mind those fearful moments, for we heard the call. Tom Brown stood upon his feet like a martyr and said he would try it. Stripped for the race, he took his canteens and lit out in a swinging trot across the valley. The bullets from the enemy rained around him like the warning drops from a coming rain, but he not only made the well in safety, but brought back his canteens in the face of a pelting shower of balls. What was a dozen canteens of water to 300 famished men?​
His wrath was up and, undaunted by fear, he bravely announced his intention of making another run for the boys. This time taking but six canteens, he went across the intervening space in a run and disappeared from the Forty-fifth Georgia regiment forever. That was Tom Brown's last run. He gave himself a willing sacrifice to his comrades good. He reached the well in safety, and while kneeling at the curb to fill his canteens, a bullet from a gun nearly a mile away went through his body. In a kneeling position he was found by a friend and carried back to his heart-broken old father whose wagons were parked a few miles to the rear.​
I heard late that night of his wound, and obtained leave to go and see him. All day long, the 4th day of July, I watched over this dying boy. His old father was my friend and I kept the vigils as of my own brother. The wound was fatal, and we could only wait and watch. The end would surely come in a few hours. His reason was gone, but his martial spirit was as game in its flight as in its stay. More than once he opened his eyes and asked: "Is it burning boys? Look how it goes!" and then he would mumble mother, father, captain, in the order of his dying love. Once he raised himself up by an effort, and, with bulging eyes and quivering muscles, he would cry out, "I will bring them, Captain, if I live."​
Oh, the sorrow, the anguish of those hours! It was while sitting in the wagon with Tom's head in my lap, word came that we were on a retreat, and all must go quickly across the mountain. To move that wagon was to kill the poor boy at once. Only a few hours at most could he claim; could his country give him those? Too old to shed a tear, the wretched old father could only embrace and pity! Words would not come. We waited for death to settle the dilemma. Military law made it necessary to be brutal and rough. The faithful old quartermaster got his horses ready for the flight. He made Tom as easy as was possible with the bedding we had. He fastened the traces, and, taking the lines in his hands, he was about to move away in retreat. I was still holding the dying boys head in my arms. With an anguish cruel and horrible to behold, the poor old man called out, "I can't kill my boy to save a wagon." "I will wait."​
Teams were racing by, horses, wagons, footmen, all were in a wild rush to the rear. Steadily the grizzled old quartermaster held his reins -- but God was merciful to father and son. With one supreme effort Tom raised his head and in his dying breath he said: "I will make it" -- "I will make it." Thus he died. We wrapped him about with all the material at hand, and within the same quarter of an hour we were bowling toward the Potomac. Tom had made his last run. The angels of the Lord could have taken him without reproach. Can any old friend of Tom Brown say no? I left them that night on the retreat. Tom Brown was carried all that night and the next day until night in that wagon to Williamsport. His escort was his father, the teamster Joe or Henry Raily and our honored treasurer, Bob Hardeman [Robert Uller Hardeman, Adjutant] Halting by the roadside near Williamsport, they tore the planks from a fence to make his coffin.​
It was a warm, beautiful moonlit night. They got permission to bury him in the village graveyard and securing the services of a Unitarian minister, these three faithful friends assisted the broken father in giving him a decent burial. The stars and moon gave them the only light they had. There the body of Tom Brown lay until brought home after the war. Now, father, mother and son are united and we hope they are affectionately remembered by those who are left.​

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Although there are no carded records in the files of the 45th Georgia for "Tom Brown," his records in the 2nd Battalion Georgia Infantry clearly indicate he was transferred to the 45th Georgia.

@Tom Elmore do you know where the well that he describes might be located?
Sources
Painting: Undated watercolor painting of the Bliss farm, facing west from Cemetery Ridge, circa 1863. The Bliss House is in the right background and the Bliss Barn (bank barn) is in the left background. The small white house in the foreground is the Brian Tenant House along the Emmitsburg Road. The Emmitsburg Road is not clearly shown. The stone wall in the foreground is on Cemetery Ridge. The painting was once in the possession of the David Harris family, descendants of Daniel B Harris, William Bliss' son-in-law. The https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/struggle-for-the-bliss-farm-part-4-with-licensed-battlefield-guide-woody-christ/
Newspaper Article: "Tom Brown,"The Weekly Telegraph. (Macon, Ga.), February 21, 1888, Page 11.
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Tom Elmore

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A marvelous story, one that I had not seen before, although I have seen an account by J. A. Walker in the Philadelphia Times from March 17, (1882?). Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg does list Thomas Brown with the 45th Georgia and mortally wounded. The 45th was the far right regiment of Thomas' brigade, and I think it was posted at the southern end of Long Lane, no less than 250 yards north of the Bliss house. Although some Confederates believe their artillery burned the house and barn, it was in fact deliberately done by the 14th Connecticut as ordered, as alluded to by Walker in his conversation about Mr. Bliss.

As to the well in the orchard, my first thought is that it was connected with the David McMillan place. It was a target for Federal artillery because sections from Grandy's and Moore's batteries occupied the grounds. Thomas' men would have been familiar with that spot since they had been posted in the adjacent woods for most of July 2.

Here's an excerpt from Varina Brown's, A Colonel at Gettysburg and Spotsylvania, referring to Lt. Col. Brown of the 14th South Carolina: Our line passed by a farm house surrounded by a fine orchard and owned by a gentleman named McMillan, who canned his fruit, and abandoned all on the morning of the 1st. Our weary soldiers enjoyed these fruits. A well of water quenched their thirst. ... On 15 June 1882, McMillan, the old gentleman, and his wife were still alive. He still lamented the loss of his store. The well was still in use.

See also: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/david-mcmillan-residence.125632/#post-1355743
 
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lelliott19

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A marvelous story, one that I had not seen before, although I have seen an account by J. A. Walker in the Philadelphia Times from March 17, (1882?).
Thanks for taking a look.

I'm always happy when I can locate an interesting account you have not seen before. :D Did you already have John T Brown as QM for the 45th GA? I noticed in Lilian Henderson that Robert Hardeman was listed as QM. But it seems he was promoted to Adjutant and Tom's father, John T Brown, became the QM and was serving as such at Gettysburg?

Thank you for the info on the well. Ill take a look at the McMillan thread. Thanks again for weighing in.
 
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Tom Elmore

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Thanks for taking a look.

I'm always happy when I can locate an interesting account you have not seen before. :D Did you already have John T Brown as QM for the 45th GA? I noticed in Lilian Henderson that Robert Hardeman was listed as QM. But it seems he was promoted to Adjutant and Tom's father, John T Brown, became the QM and was serving as such at Gettysburg?

Thank you for the info on the well. Ill take a look at the McMillan thread. Thanks again for weighing in.
Laura, I had Captain John T. Brown listed as quartermaster of the regiment, but was not certain of his presence in the battle/campaign until your post. Also, it appears that Privates Henry L. Railey and Joseph Railey were brothers and teamsters of the regiment's wagons. Nice work; such detailed Confederate accounts are hard to find.

The other interesting aspect is the father/son connection. I have been compiling a list of next of kin who served at Gettysburg and this one brings the father/son tally to 16 (12 CSA and 4 USA), plus one father/son-in-law (CSA). But this is the only case I have seen where a father helped bury his son. Such instances of father/son(s) serving together were not uncommon at the outset of the war.
 

Scott Brown

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I've got a semi-related question.....if you go out there today and look at the cornerstones depicting the location of the barn, it is oriented length-wise in an east-west direction, yet the painting seems to portray the barn running north-south. Which one is right?
 
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byron ed

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Put aside that the cause the lad was fighting was so poor, such a waste; his dedication to serve his fellow men rises well above that consideration. Inspiring. Chokes me up.
 

dahenry

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I've got a semi-related question.....if you go out there today and look at the cornerstones depicting the location of the barn, it is oriented length-wise in an east-west direction, yet the painting seems to portray the barn running north-south. Which one is right?
According to Elwood Christ's book "Over a Wide, Hot,...Crimson Plain, the Struggle for the Bliss Farm at Gettysburg" (map, page 7) the farm buildings, or at least the barn and house, were oriented north-south.
Also, this article, by the same author, has a note indicating the origin of the above painting: "34 . Photographic of a water color painting of the William Bliss Farm at Gettysburg. (Photo on file, Gettysburg National Military Park Library.) In a conversation with the park historian, Kathy Georg Harrison in March 1989, the author learned that the photograph was donated by a Mr. David Harris, 50 Duane Road, Doylestown, Pa. 18901, who claimed he was a descendant of Bliss. Allegedly, a photograph of the original painting was found in his aunt's attic ca. 1979." https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgireferer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1008&context=ach
 

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