Parson Brownlow


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, April 19, 1862

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Albuquerque, Santa Fe

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William Brownlow

Parson Brownlow

Burnside Expedition

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Newbern in the Civil War

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Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter Bombardment Anniversary









APRIL 19, 1862.]





HEREWITH we publish a portrait of the famous PARSON BROWNLOW OF TENNESSEE, whose escape out of the hands of the rebels is the subject of so much comment. The following sketch of the Parson's life has been prepared by one of his friends:

William G. Brownlow was born in Wythe County, Virginia, August 5, 1805. His parents were poor, and died when he was about ten years old. They were both Virginians, and his father was a school-mate of General Houston, in Rockbridge County. After the death of his parents he lived with his mother's relations, and was raised to hard labor until he was some eighteen years old, when he served a regular apprenticeship to the trade of a house-carpenter.

His education was imperfect and irregular, even in those branches taught in the common-schools of the country. He entered the Traveling Ministry, in 1826, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and traveled ten years without intermission, and was a member of the General Conference held in Philadelphia. He was untiring in his energy, and availed himself of the advantages of the Methodist Itinerancy to study and improve his education, which he did in all the English branches.

Mr. Brownlow is about six feet high, and weighs about 175 pounds; has had as fine a constitution as any man ever had. He has no gray hairs in his head, and will pass for a man of thirty-five years. He has had the strongest voice of any man in East Tennessee, where he has resided for the last thirty year,. and raised an interesting family. He has been speaking all that time, taking a part in all the controversies of the day.

He is the author of several books; but the one which has had the largest run is one of over four hundred pages, being a vindication of the Methodist church against the attacks of Rev. J. R. Graves, in Nashville. Brownlow's work was published by the Southern Methodist Publishing House, and something like 100,000 copies have been circulated in the South and West. It is a work of great severity, but of marked ability.

In 1858 he was engaged in a debate upon the Slavery question, in Philadelphia, with the Rev. Mr. Prym, of New York, in which he defended the institution of Slavery with marked ability, exhibiting a familiar acquaintance with the vexed question in all its bearings. The debate, a volume of some four hundred pages, is for sale by J. B. Lippincott & Co.

He is known throughout the length and breadth of this land as the "Fighting Parson;" but no man is more peaceable, or more highly esteemed by his neighbors. Few men are more charitable, and few, of his means—for he is not rich—give away as much in the course of a year.

He is quite a politician, though he has never been an office-seeker or an office-holder. He commenced his political career in Tennessee in 1828, by espousing the cause of John Quincy Adams as against Andrew Jackson. He has been all his life an ardent Whig, and Clay and Webster were his standards of political orthodoxy. His paper, the Knoxville Whig, which he has edited for twenty-two years, had the largest circulation of any political paper in Tennessee, and exerted a controlling influence in the politics of the State.

The correspondent of the Louisville Journal, who met him at Nashville, received from him the following account of his sufferings under the rule of the secessionists:

Shortly after the persecution of his secession enemies compelled the Parson to suspend the publication of the Whig he was prevailed upon by his friends, who, more than himself, feared for his personal security, to act upon an intimation of the readiness of the rebel authorities to grant him a safe-conduct to the North, and set himself in communication with the Secretary of War at Richmond. The result was, that in the last days of November the military commander at Knoxville received instructions to provide an escort, under which Brownlow was to be taken to the nearest Federal lines. Accordingly he commenced to prepare for his involuntary visit to the North, and was about ready to start when, notwithstanding his agreement with Benjamin, he was arrested by the civil authorities upon the charge of treason, based upon certain editorials in the Whig. He was taken to the county jail, thronged at that time with Unionists, imprisoned on suspicion of having participated in the bridge-burning in the early part of November, and confined in a moist, narrow, poorly lighted and ventilated dungeon with twenty-four others. There were neither beds nor chairs provided, nor was there room for all to lie down at one time. The food was of the meanest character—"such," to speak with the Parson, "as no gentleman would think good enough to throw to his dog." To be short, the treatment of all the prisoners was as harsh and inhuman as ever disgraced the Austrian dungeons in

Italy. It told soon severely upon the health of the Parson, and after a month he was stricken down with typhoid fever. Permission being granted by the rebel prosecuting attorney, he was removed to his private residence. Here he was laid up for nearly eight weeks. Notwithstanding his prostration by sickness the rebel surveillance over him did not stop. His house was surrounded day and night by guards. His friends were never allowed to visit him, and the members of his family were not permitted to leave the premises except under guard. Nor was this all. Open insults and threats were offered by the rebel soldiery whenever opportunity afforded. At one time a company of cavalry that had been in the battle of Fishing Creek, and never stopped running until they got to Knoxville, and passing the house when the Parson's wife was looking out of the windows, one of the troopers rode up to her, and insultingly asked, "Are you not ashamed to be the wife of that damned traitor and Lincolnite?" Whereupon the ready-witted woman at once replied: "I am glad that I am not the wife of a miserable coward that ran away from a battle-field."

Feeling strong enough to travel, about three weeks ago the Parson again wrote to Benjamin, complaining of the bad faith with which he had been treated, and reminding the Secretary of War of the promise of a safe-conduct to the Federal lines. A week elapsed, when the post commander at Knoxville received a dispatch directing the Parson to be released from confinement, and to be taken to the nearest Federal outposts over the route most convenient to him, and under an escort of his own choice. In pursuance to this order the Parson left Knoxville some twelve days since, accompanied by his doctor, and escorted by Lieutenant O'Brien, an officer in the army, and relative of his wife. The party proceeded by rail, via Chattanooga, to Shelbyville, in Bedford County, in the southern part of this State. Here they were detained ten days by Morgan's Cavalry, who were engaged in removing a large quantity of bacon and beef stored in the town, and had orders from General Hardee not to allow any one to pass their lines until the whole of the meat had been got away. At last the party were permitted to proceed overland, under a flag of truce, to the pickets of General Wood's Division. General Wood at once sent them, under escort, to the city. Parson Brownlow proceeded immediately to the head-quarters of General Buell, with whom he had a long interview; afterward repaired to the St. Cloud Hotel, where his room has been crowded all the afternoon by friends and strangers, congratulating him upon his arrival and listening to the story of his sufferings.

The Parson states that the Union sentiment in the Eastern District is as ardent, devoted, and uncompromising as ever; that tens of thousands of men will spring to arms as soon as the Federal troops will make their appearance. The day of vengeance is most earnestly prayed for by them, and they will visit powerful retribution upon the heads of all their persecutors.

At Cincinnati the heroic old exile gave an account of his sufferings. The correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial thus reported him:

He gave a touching narrative of his sufferings in prison, of his illness, and the care with which the guards placed over him were doubled when he was so sick he could not turn in bed without assistance. The jail was crowded with Union men. Many sickened and perished miserably in it, and others were taken out and hung. General Carroll, of the Confederate army, who was at one time a great friend of his, being a Union man until a late period, visited him in jail, and said to him : "Brownlow, you ought not to be here." "So I think," the Parson responded; "but here I am." The General said the Confederate Court was sitting within a hundred yards of the jail, and if he would take the oath of allegiance he should be immediately liberated. "Sir," said the Parson, looking him steadily in the eye, "before I will take the oath of allegiance to your bogus Government I will rot in jail, or die here of old age. I don't acknowledge you have a Court. I don't acknowledge you have a Government. It has never been acknowledged by any Power on earth, and never will be. Before I would take the oath I would see the whole Southern Confederacy in the infernal regions, and you on top of it!"

The General indignantly left the jail, remarking, "That is d—d plain talk." "Yes, Sir-ee," said the Parson. "I am a plain man, and them's my sentiments." Frequently men were taken out of the jail and hung, and the secesh rabble would howl at him, and tell him, as he looked out from the jail windows, that he was to be hung next. He told them from those windows that he was ready to go to the gallows, and all he asked was one hour's talk to the people before he was swung off, that he might give them his opinion of the mob called the Southern Confederacy. The Parson said he expected to be hanged. He had made up his mind to it. At one time he was tried by Court-martial, and in the decision of his case he was within one vote of being sentenced to be hung. There was nothing between and the gallows but the will of one man, and him a secessionist. Great God, on what a slender thread

hung everlasting things! The jails in East Tennessee and North Alabama were overfull of Union men. The Union men there had never flinched. They stood firm now. The Government, whatever else it did, should immediately relieve them from the grinding and destroying oppression of secession. He related an instance of a young man named John C. Hurd, an exemplary citizen and church-member, with a wife and two little children, who was convicted of bridge-burning. He was notified but one hour before he was hung that he was to be executed. He asked for a minister of the Gospel to come and sing and pray with him, but was told that praying would not do traitors to the South any good, and he was thus insultingly refused his dying request. But the rebels sent with him to the gallows a miserable, drunken, and demoralized chaplain of one of their regiments, who stood on the gallows and told the crowd assembled to see the hanging that the young man about to he executed had been led into the commission of the crimes for which he was to suffer by designing men, and was sorry for what he had done. The man about to be hung sprang to his feet, and called out that every word the chaplain had uttered was false. He was the identical man who had burned the New Creek bridge. He knew what he was about when he did it, and would do it again if he had a chance. They might go on with their hanging. He was ready for it. And they hung him forthwith. The Parson told of an inoffensive citizen, who was pointed out to a party of straggling soldiers, while at work in a field, as a "d—d Unionist." He was at once fired upon, and so mangled that he died within a few hours.


[Entered according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1862, by Harper & Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.]





Printed from the Manuscript and early Proof–sheets purchased by the Proprietors of "Harper's Weekly."


ON returning to the house Magdalen felt her shoulder suddenly touched from behind as she crossed the hall. She turned and confronted her sister. Before she could ask any questions Norah confusedly addressed her in these words: "I beg your pardon; I beg you to forgive me."

Magdalen looked at her sister in astonishment. All memory, on her side, of the sharp words which had passed between them in the shrubbery, was lost in the new interests that now absorbed her; lost as completely as if the angry interview had never taken place. "Forgive you!" she repeated, amazedly, "What for?"

"I have heard of your new prospects," pursued Norah, speaking with a mechanical submissiveness of manner which seemed almost ungracious; "I wished to set things right between us; I wished to say I was sorry for what happened. Will you forget it? Will you forget and forgive what happened in the shrubbery?" She tried to proceed; but her inveterate reserve —or perhaps her obstinate reliance on her own opinions—silenced her at those last words. Her face clouded over on a sudden. Before her sister could answer her she turned away abruptly and ran up stairs.

The door of the library opened before Magdalen could follow her, and Miss Garth advanced to express the sentiments proper to the occasion.

They were not the mechanically-submissive sentiments which Magdalen had just heard. Norah had struggled against her rooted distrust of Frank, in deference to the unanswerable decision of both her parents in his favor; and had suppressed the open expression of her antipathy, though the feeling itself remained unconquered. Miss Garth had made no such concession to the master and mistress of the house. She had hitherto held the position of a high authority on all domestic questions; and she flatly declined

to get off her pedestal in deference to any change in the family circumstances, no matter how amazing or how unexpected that change might be.

"Pray accept my congratulations," said Miss Garth, bristling all over with implied objections to Frank—"my congratulations, and my apologies. When I caught you kissing Mr. Francis Clare in the summer-house I had no idea you were engaged in carrying out the intentions of your parents. I offer no opinion on the subject. I merely regret my own accidental appearance in the character of an Obstacle to the course of true love—which appears to run smooth in summer-houses, whatever Shakspeare may say to the contrary. Consider me for the future, if you please, as an Obstacle removed. May you be happy!" Miss Garth's lips closed on that last sentence like a trap; and Miss Garth's eyes looked ominously prophetic into the matrimonial future.

If Magdalen's anxieties had not been far too serious to allow her the customary free use of her tongue she would have been ready, on the instant, with an appropriately satirical answer. As it was, Miss Garth simply irritated her. "Pooh!" she said, and ran up stairs to her sister's room.

She knocked at the door, and there was no answer. She tried the door, and it resisted her from the inside. The sullen, unmanageable Norah was locked in.

Under other circumstances Magdalen would not have been satisfied with knocking—she would have called through the door loudly and more loudly till the house was disturbed, and she had carried her point. But the doubts and fears of the morning had unnerved her already. She went down stairs again softly, and took her hat from the stand in the hall. "He told me to put my hat on," she said to herself, with a meek, filial docility which was totally out of her character.


Parson Brownlow




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