Joseph Brown - update 11/29/2016

Joseph A. Brown was born on August 7, 1825, in Colerain, Franklin County, Massachusetts, son of Massachusetts natives Thomas Brown (1802-1885) and Matilda Peck (1804-1847).

Thomas and Matilda were married on February 3, 1823, in Colerain, Franklin County, Massachusetts (they were both natives of Colerain). In 1830 Thomas was living in Colerain, Massachusetts. Sometime around 1831 Joseph’s family moved west to Pennsylvania and after Matilda died in 1847 Thomas returned to Colerain, Massachusetts. In 1853 he remarried to Mary Ann Oaks.

Joseph pushed on to Michigan, settling in Polkton, Ottawa County around April of 1850. (In 1850 there was a 25-year-old farmer named Joseph Brown, born in Massachusetts living in Yolo County, California.)

Joseph married 16-year-old New York native Sarah A. Lawton (1837-1913) in Polkton on December 28, 1852, and they had at least eight children: Arathusa (b. 1854), John C. Fremont (b. 1856), William A. (b. 1858), Edward A. (b. 1860), George (b. 1866-1879), Sarah E. (b. 1872), Joseph P. (1876-1921) and Edith J. (b. 1879).

By 1860 Joseph was working as a millwright and living with his wife in Polkton, Ottawa County. Next door lived the family of Abraham Peck, probably Matilda’s brother. Near by lived Henry Himelberger and his family; Henry too would serve in the 3rd Michigan.

Joseph stood 5’8” with blue eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion and was 35 years old and probably still living in Ottawa County when he enlisted as Eighth Corporal in Company I on May 13, 1861. (Company I was made up largely of men from Ottawa County, particularly from the eastern side of the County.)

Joseph was reported killed in action on August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run, but in fact was only wounded by a gunshot to the left thigh. His wound produced a “fracture of upper third of left femur” and resulted “in permanent shortening of from 3 1/2 to four inches.” According to a statement Joseph gave in 1888, as a result of the wound he eventually “underwent an operation known as an excision of the head of the Femur.” Apparently on “March 21st, 1863, the head, neck and trochanter all being removed, and the shaft of the femur being cut off 6 inches below the head of the trochanter.” (Part of his femur was removed and subsequently placed in the Army Medical Museum at Washington.)  In a Report of Excisions of the Head of the Femur published by the Surgeon General’s Office:

The limb was kept in position by appropriate apparatus; but suppuration was profuse, and, on two occasions, fragments of bone were removed from the wound. Early in march, 1863, there was great swelling of the thigh, and discharge became scanty and fetid ad pus burrowed amidst the muscles. On March 21st, an exploratory incision was made from three inches above to five inches below the prominence of the great trochanter. The neck and upper extremity of the shaft of the femur were found to be extensively diseased, and excision was decided on. Surgeon D. P. Smith, U.S.V., performed the operation. Difficulty was experienced in separating the muscular attachments from the trochanters, on account of foliaceous masses of callus that had been thrown out. When this dissection was accomplished, many necrosed fragments were extracted, and the periosteum and new bone separated by the handle of the scalpel and preserved as far as practicable. The shaft of the femur was then divided by powerful cutting bone forceps, about six inches below the tip of the great trochanter. A screw was driven into the mass of callus, below the trochanters, to be used as a lever in disarticulating the head, but it would not hold, and the bone seized with large forceps and rotated, so as to facilitate the division of the capsular and round ligaments. The head, neck, and trochanters, and the masses of callus adhering to the trochanters, were then removed. The operation was accomplished with but very trifling hemorrhage, yet great prostration followed and the patient rallied slowly. As the anesthesia passed off, he had much nausea and vomiting. As soon as this subsided, he was given a very full allowance of concentrated nourishment, such as strong beef-tea eggs, milk, etc., with half an ounce of brandy every two hours. The wound was partially closed; the limb was supported on pillows until the third day, when it was dressed in a Smith’s anterior splint. About forty-eight hours after the operation an erysipelatous blush pervaded the limb and the constitutional symptoms assumed a typhoid character. A female catheter was passed though the middle of the wound and another at its lower extremity, through which much offensive decomposed serum and grumous blood escaped. The wound was thoroughly washed out through the catheters with warm water impregnated with chlorinated soda. On the fifth day there was a rigor, and hemorrhage to the extent of six ounces. As the anterior splint did not permit convenient access to the limb, it was removed, and the leg and thigh suspended in a canvas hammock, the leg being horizontal and the thigh in san almost vertical position. A piece of soft toweling extending from the perineum to the popliteal space, and, connected by cords with an upright post at the head of the bed, supported by the muscles on the sides and under surface of the thigh. The wound freely discharged synovia, bloody serum, and thin pus, until the seventh day, when healthy suppuration was fairly established. During April, 1863, the patient’s progress was satisfactory. He was supplied with a very nutritious diet, with porter, and cod-liver oil. He took for a time as much as half a pint of oil daily. During May, the case continued to progress favorably. It was necessary to keep a tube in the wound until June 1st. Previously, whenever it was removed pus would accumulate and burrow. A mesh of suture wire was finally substituted for the tube. This was retained until June 20th, when the patient began to get about on crutches. In the latter part of July the wounds closed.



By mid-September he was reported in Fairfax Seminary Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, and was discharged for disability on August 25, 1863, at Fairfax Seminary hospital, Virginia.

After his discharge from the army Joseph returned to Michigan and by 1864 had settled in Coopersville, Ottawa County where he lived for many years working as a miller.

On March 21, 1864, he wrote from his home in Coopersville, Michigan, that his "health was good; that he had some control over the movements of the thigh, being able, when standing on the right foot, to swing the left backward and forward, and to adduct the thigh enough to carry the injured limb across the other. He could bear some weight on the limb, and use but one crutch, with a stirrup for the foot. There had been no fistulous orifices since March, 1864, and there was no soreness about the cicatrices. In November, 1865, in accordance with a request from the Surgeon General’s Office, Mr. Brown had a photograph taken to represent the amount of deformity in his limb. . . . The excised bone is preserved at the museum. . ."

In 1867 he was appointed postmaster of Coopersville. On February 12, 1868, he wrote to the Surgeon General's Office:

“I take pleasure in informing you that my limb is in as good condition as when I last wrote you; but think there is no improvement, except that it is not as tender. There have been no abscesses, nor any pain in the limb, excepting slight pains about the knee, just before storms. About two years ago, I slipped and fell upon the ice, injuring the limb severely about the knee, and was thereby confined to the house for about three weeks. in March last I had a severe attack of ague. The limb swelled quite badly at this time, and was much inflamed for about ten days. I applied cold water and a bandage to reduce the swelling. I had to keep it bandaged about two weeks after the inflammation was removed. Since that time the limb has given me no more trouble than usual. Since I was discharged I cannot see that there is any lengthening of the limb. I have to use a crutch and cane all the time when moving about, and I think I shall always have to do this. The injured limb has wasted away somewhat since I last wrote. The circumference of the well limb at the upper extremity is 22 inches, and the injured limb measures at the same place 19 1/2 inches. The knee of the well limb measures around the centre of the knee-pan 15 1/2 inches; the injured limb measures at the same place 17 inches. The above measurements were made in the evening; I think that in the morning the measurements of the injured limb would be less. The knee still remains quite stiff, and gives me about all the pain there is anywhere int he limb. I have been troubled during the cold weather by coldness of the outer side of the leg, and I have to warm it by the fire before going to bed nearly every night when I have been out.” On November 19, 1868, another letter was received from Mr. Brown, from which the following extract is made: “ I take pleasure in informing you that my limb is in as good as condition as it has been at any time since it was entirely healed, and. if anything, in better condition. It does not pain me about the knee as much as it did one year ago. It does not have any spell of swelling at the knee as it did for the first two years after my discharge, and there is less soreness about the limb than there was even one year ago. I can get around without hurting it as much as formerly. I can bear some weight upon it. I have walked across a room without the aid of crutch or cane, by stepping very quick with the well limb; but it is more like hopping than walking. There have been no abscesses in the limb. I think that it is gradually improving, and hope that I may yet see the day that I can go without a crutch. My general health is good. I have not been sick a day for a year and a half, and then only a few days with ague. My weight is 167 1/2 pounds. Before I entered the army my weight was never quite up to those figures, but within a few pounds of t. I have been postmaster at this office for over a year, and have attended to all the business of the office almost entirely without assistance, and it gives me pretty good exercise.” 

Joseph was working as Postmaster and County Clerk in Coopersville in 1870.

On September 6, 1875, the date of his last examination for pension, the Grand Rapids Examining Board stated: “ There is now a false joint with shortening of the limb.” Since then this pensioner has been exempted from further surgical examinations. He as paid September 4, 1877, remaining in comparatively good health more than fourteen years after the operation.

He was still postmaster in 1879 and in 1880 and living in Coopersville with his wife and children. (In fact he probably lived the remainder of his life in eastern Ottawa County, probably in the Coopersville-Nunica area.)

In 1883 he was still living in Coopersville, where he also served as a Justice of the Peace and a notary public. That same year he was drawing $18.00 per month (pension no. 19,511), drawing $46.00 per month by 1908.

He was also a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. In 1890 and 1895 he was living in Nunica, Ottawa County.

Joseph died of general debility on June 17, 1908, at his home in Nunica. The funeral was held at Nunica on Sunday, June 21, Rev. Ingalls officiating. The text was “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” He was buried in Coopersville cemetery. Note that his government veteran's stone has almost completely disappeared into a nearby tree.

His widow received a pension (no. 667432).