Sergeant Kady Brownell

The Heroine of Newbern

           The daughter of a Scots soldier in the British army, she was born in the army camp at Caffraria on the African coast in 1842. She had moved to Providence, Rhode Island and married a mechanic, Robert S. Brownell, and was only 19 when Fort Sumter surrendered to the Rebel forces in May of 1861. The army having been her whole life, she signed up with him the day after into Company 11, Rhode Island Infantry, a three month enlistment.
           While in camp in Maryland, this "Daughter of the Regiment" resolved that she not to be a mere watercarrier or ornamental appendage. This was a company of sharpshooters and she practiced long and hard and became one of the best shoots of the group. She also learned the skills of using her sword, which she carried as a symbol of her position as Sergeant and color bearer. This was a most dangerous job, as one cannot handle a gun and the flag at the same time, and color bearers were favorite targets as if the flag went down, there was nowhere then for the men to reassemble in the chaos, and thus scattered they could recieve no new orders and so were rendered ineffective.
           In the middle of July, the regiment moved south of the Potomac River heading towards Richmond. She marched with the rest, and carried the flag. Her company was deployed along the edge of a pine woods, and at 1:00 they came under fire. Separated from her husband, and without her own gun, she stood in her place on the line, holding the flag, unmoved and dauntless in the withering heat amidst the roar, dust and blood while shells went screaming overhead and the air hummed with the flight of minnie balls.

           About 4:00, what had appeared to be a Union victory somehow became a confused and panic-striken rout. Her company along with the rest made a retreat towards Centreville without rallying to her flag first. She remained in position until the advancing enemy batteries were within a few hundred feet of where she stood, then a Pennsylvania soldier running past took her hand and said "Come, Sis, there's no use to stay here just to be killed, let's go into the woods!" She started down the slope with him toward the woods, but they had gone hardly 20 steps when a cannonball struck him in the head and he was sinking beside her, a shapeless and mutilated corpse. His shattered skull rested a moment on her shoulder and streams of his blood ran over her uniform. She kept on into the woods, where she encountered some of her comrades, and before long came to the ambulance into which she jumped, but the balls were flying thickly through its covers, so she sprang out again. She soon found a loose horse, so she rode into Centreville, and here and at Arlington Heights, for about 30 hours, searched for her husband, tortured by the many conflicting and horrible reports about his fate. Finally, she encountered Col. Burnside, who assured her that Robert was unhurt and helped her to find him.
           This being a three month enlistment, in Aug. the company returned to Providence where she recieved her discharge, only for the two of them to reenlist in the 5th Rhode Island, where, under the command of the now Gen. Burnside, they participated in the taking of Roanoke Island in Jan., 1862, and by early March, they were advancing upon Newbern. She was now their acting nurse and Daughter of the Regiment. On the 13th, she marched the 14 miles through the mud of the Neuse River bottom, and early the next morning, attired herself in her uniform and begged the privilege of carrying the flag.

           Then, through one of those quirks that happen on battlefields, her company advanced and came across other Union troops from an unexpected, to them, direction, and they prepared to bring all their firepower to bear on her company. She ran to the front, colors in hand, gained some high ground and stood there, waving her flag, until the other troops realized that these were friends, thus averting a "friendly fire" incident.
           The battle opened then in earnest, and although she again begged to carry the flag in the charge, she was denied this and went to the rear to be of such help as she could nursing the fallen. In just a few minutes, she recieved word that Robert was fallen, and ran to find that he had been hit in the thigh by a minnie ball, shattering the bone, but fortunately not severing any arteries. She hunted through the bodies lying along the breastworks for blankets no longer needed by the dead men, to use to comfort Rob.
           While there, she helped several wounded men to safety, then came across a Rebel engineer, lying in a pool of cold water and blood with his foot smashed by a cannonball. She gave him the same kind attention she had the Union troops, dragging him to dry ground, arranging a blanket for him to lie on, and another to cover him, and some sort of pillow for his head. When he regained consciousness, however, he rose up, shook his fist at her and exclaimed, with a volley of horrible and obscene oaths, "You Damn Yankee bitch, if I ever get on my feet agin, and I don't blow your head off your shoulders, the God damn me!" She was so enraged by this show of ingratitude that she siezed a stray musket with its bayonet fixed, and plunged it towards his chest. She was prevented from killing him when another wounded Yank grabbed the bayonet and stopped its thrust.

           She returned to sanity and Rob, and spent the next six weeks in Newbern, nursing him back to health. While there, she helped nurse the other Union wounded, and notwithstanding her previous experience with the engineer, everyday she saved a bucket of coffee and a pail of soup which she carried to the Rebel hospital and passed out to those wounded men.
           Thus occupied one day, she came across two of the Newbern Rebel "ladies" dressed in their finest silk dresses, who had come to see the wounded men. Their hoopskirts obstructed the narrow passage betweeen the beds, and when Kady politely requested that she be allowed to pass, one woman asked of the other "That's one of our women, isn't it?" "No, !" was the sneering reply, "she's a Yankee ____!" Overhearing them, the Rebel surgeon promptly threw the "ladies" out of his hospital.
           By late April, Robert could finally be moved and they were sent to New York on a steamship. But it was another 18 months before he could even begin to stand and learn to walk, and he was disqualified from ever fighting again, so their lives took on a civilian tone.
           The colors she so proudly carried, she kept, as well as her discharge, signed by Gen. Burnside, her Sergeant's sword with her name cut on the scabbard, and sundry other trophies of the Newbern days. An excellent rifle which she had captured, she gave to a friend who carried it back to the front where he fought with it until the war was over.

"Women of the War", Frank Moore, pages 54-64

Union General Ambrose Burnsides

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