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Cabinet Card Photograph of Musician Avery Brown (1852-1904)
America's Youngest Civil War Soldier

Avery Brown, Civil War Musician

Avery Brown poses with his new, highly engraved, gold-plated Wonder model cornet made by the C. G. Conn Company of Elkhart, Indiana, in an autographed 1887 cabinet card acquired by the Museum for its C. G. Conn Archive.

Avery Brown (1852-1904), Musician:
America's Youngest Civil War Soldier

President Abraham Lincoln's 1861 call for an additional 100,000 troops to swell the ranks of the Union Army was met with enthusiastic response and long lines at local recruiting centers. Perhaps it was all the excitement and commotion at the Delphos, Ohio, recruiting station that first attracted the attention of Avery Brown, an eight-year-old, fatherless boy. Or perhaps it was the attention showered on him by the veteran, Samuel Mott, who encouraged the 4'6", blue eyed, red-haired youngster to play his snare drum as a morale booster at the recruitment station.

Twice Avery accompanied new recruits to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. Twice he was denied permission to enlist. On the third trip, Samuel Mott refused to allow the processing of the latest batch of 101 recruits, unless the drummer boy was also allowed to volunteer. Reluctant permission was granted, and on August 18, 1861, Avery Brown was mustered into Company C, 31st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, at the age of 8 years, 11 months, and 13 days. Like many enthusiastic young patriots of his day, he lied about his age, claiming to be 12 on his enlistment papers.

Brown proudly persevered on the front for 1-1/2 years, so inspiring the troops with his martial music played on a captured Confederate drum, that he was dubbed "The Drummer Boy of the Cumberland," until illness forced him to take a disability discharge in 1863. Three years later, Brown followed his friend, Nelson Doty, to Elkhart, Indiana, where he secured employment as a stonecutter and musician.

In the course of the next 25 years, Avery Brown organized bands throughout Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, and became one of Indiana's best known solo cornetists. He befriended the Elkhart musical instrument manufacturer, Charles Gerard Conn, and became an enthusiastic member of Conn's Veteran Light Artillery, the only all-veteran company of it's kind to be formed in the United States following the war. As a result of their close association, Avery was in a unique position to witness and test every new Conn cornet model, as it came out of the factory.

For the November 1891 issue of C. G. Conn's Truth, a photo engraving by the firm of Butler and Knox was made from an 1887 cabinet card photograph of Avery Brown posing with his new gold-plated Conn Wonder cornet, the hand engraving on which alone was said to have cost upwards of $200. A 4" x 5-1/2" print of the 1887 Avery Brown photograph was acquired by the Museum for inclusion in its Conn Company Archive. It bears Avery Brown's autograph on the back of the mounting and was presented by Brown to another Civil War veteran, Louis Germain (born in Clinton County, New York, in 1836), who is known to have worked as a clerk in a wholesale house in Goshen, Indiana, just a few miles from Elkhart.

A close examination of the photograph by a researcher in Illinois, Kathy Zavada, confirmed that Brown is wearing a uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The long badge pinned to his jacket is a G.A.R. membership badge made in the early 1880s by J. K. Dawson, from melted-down Confederate cannons mixed with other alloys.

Avery and his wife, Cynthia, left Elkhart during the 1890s to live in Texas, Wisconsin, and Michigan, but returned before the end of the century. The famous Civil War veteran died at his Elkhart home on November 2, 1904, and was buried in Elkhart's Grace Lawn Cemetery where his tombstone commemorates his distinction as the Civil War's youngest enlisted soldier. Although the whereabouts of his Wonder cornet is unknown, the Confederate drum is preserved at the Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol, Indiana, along with his discharge papers and a tintype of the young "Drummer Boy of the Cumberland."

Source: Margaret Downie Banks, America's Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter, 28, No. 1 (February 2001), pp. 7-8.

Links to Civil War Era Pages on the National Music Museum Website:

Bucktails Regiment Bass Drum
Civil War Instruments on Exhibit at Museum
Civil War Drums and Brass Instruments
Three Civil War Era Drums
Violin Played by Civil War Soldier
Custer's Last Band: Concert and CD Release
Felix Vinatieri Archive
Felix Vinatieri Research Project

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Most recent update:   March 1, 2014

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