A tale of two brothers from Monroe, Michigan in the Civil War: Thomas W. Goodenough and George W. Brown

As a boy, I grew up hearing stories from my grandmother about her uncle, Thomas W. Goodenough, who had served and died during the Civil War. My grandmother told me that he had been “killed and buried at Antietam,” and she gave me a photograph of Tom, along with a diary and another small book that he had carried with him during the war. I was vaguely aware that there had been another uncle, George W. Brown, who also had served in the war, but he did not figure prominently in my grandmother’s tales. The story that follows is what I have been able to glean from various sources, including compiled service records from the National Archives, the original regimental records in the Michigan Archives, census records, and bits and pieces of family lore.

Thomas Watkins Goodenough was the son of Thomas Goodenough and Kitty W. Taylor Goodenough. They may have been part of the Nelson Goodenough family recorded in Ida Township, Monroe County, Michigan in the 1840 census, but this is based only on circumstantial evidence. Tom’s father died when he was young, and Kitty Taylor subsequently married George Brown and lived in Monroe, Michigan. Tom grew up in Monroe with his half-brother, George W. Brown, and two half sisters, Rachael and Harriet Brown.

Tom enlisted in Company E of the 1st Michigan infantry in Ann Arbor, Michigan on April 24, 1861 at age 22. He enlisted as a private, was promoted to corporal on May 22, 1862, was engaged with the 1st Michigan at the battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, and was mustered out with his regiment in Detroit on August 7, 1861. He then enlisted in the 7th Michigan Infantry (Company D) on September 2, 1861 as a corporal in Monroe, Michigan. The 7th Michigan Infantry Regiment served during the Peninsular Campaign, and took part in the Battle of Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862. During the seven days battles, Tom was wounded on June 30, 1862, probably during the battle of Glendale, and taken prisoner on July 1, 1862, probably during the retreat from Glendale to Malvern Hill. After being paroled on August 6, 1862, he returned to his regiment and subsequently was wounded in the arm while the 7th Michigan was heavily engaged at the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. He subsequently died on October 4, 1862 from “exhaustion following secondary hemorrhage and amputation of arm” at Casparis House military hospital in Washington, D.C., as reported by W.E. Waters, Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army.

Tom’s younger half-brother, George W. Brown, also served in the 7th Michigan Infantry in Company D, enlisting at Monroe, Michigan on September 3, 1861 as a private. He is described as being 5 feet 3½ inches tall, with blue eyes and brown hair. While his age at enlistment was listed as 18, he was only 14 in the 1860 census, so he actually would only have been 15 or 16 2

years old when he enlisted. George certainly would have known what he was signing up for, since his older brother Tom would have had no illusions about the realities of war after having been in the thick of battle at Bull Run with the 1st Michigan. George served during the peninsular campaign, and was wounded in the shoulder at the battle of Fair Oaks. George also fought in the battle of Antietam, after which his service record becomes a bit confused. According to his compiled service record, he was listed as absent without leave in the monthly returns from September, 1862 through February, 1863, and finally noted as having deserted on 9/22/62 at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in the March, 1863 monthly returns. On the regimental muster-out roll compiled in 1865, however, he is listed under missing in action with the notation “missing since September 17, 1862,” but was NOT in the list of deserters for Company D. Clearly his comrades gave him the benefit of the doubt, because they must have been aware that he had survived the war and went AWOL shortly after Antietam. When these records were compiled and published by the state of Michigan in the late 1800s, the entry for George W. Brown was concluded with the statement “No further record” after his wounding at Fair Oaks, even though the regimental records clearly record him as having deserted. A cryptic notation in his compiled service record, dated June 18, 1868, indicates “a discharge on file.” Whatever the actual story may have been, George did survive the war, worked on a government dredge in Ludington and South Haven, Michigan, and had several children and numerous grandchildren. George Brown died in 1922, and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in South Haven, Michigan. My grandmother never provided any details about George Brown, and when I questioned her directly about him she only said “Oh, the one who came back; no, I don’t know anything more.” My feeling is the shock of his older brother’s wounding and death combined with George’s youth were implicated in his decision to leave his regiment shortly after the battle of Antietam, and also may have been mitigating factors in the eyes of his comrades. George may have been the source of the family tradition that his brother Tom was “killed and buried at Antietam,” which made our search for Tom Goodenough’s actual grave somewhat complicated. Before accessing his service records, we had searched in vain for his grave at Antietam, only to find out later on that he was actually buried in Washington, D.C.

Tom Goodenough’s Diary and Memorandum from 1862 has been passed down in the family, and records his thoughts while on picket duty along the Potomac River in February, 1862. This provides a view of the time the 7th Michigan spent in winter camp near Poolesville and Edwards Ferry, Maryland. The following passage is transcribed from his diary, with a few explanatory comments in italics.

Monday, February 24, 1862

Well, here we are on picket about four miles from camp and as I always do I must improve some of the time in writing to my pet sister, for no matter where I am or what I am doing I never forget my own darling sister. I mailed a letter to you this morning. I am on post ten in a nice little hut with five men besides myself; my brother George, Bill (Waters), Thomas Arnold, Denious Smith, and Wm. Brown. Bill W. has gone across the canal after some milk and I am a going to have some for my dinner. Don’t you wish you had some pet? Well, I will eat enough for you and me both.

Half past eleven o’clock at night while I am sitting on the bench which is in front of the fireplace and the tramp of the sentinel is heard just outside of our snug little cabin. I will add a few more lines to my eight day letter. The wind is a blowing a perfect gale and it is a very cold and tedious night for anyone who has to stay on post for two long hours, and as I sat looking in to the fire my mind wandered back to old Monroe for when I get to thinking of anything Monroe is the first that enters my mind: the home of my childhood, the home of the one who is the nearest and dearest to my heart. How can I help it when there is so much there for me to care for and live for? I cannot help it, can I my dear little pet. I know you will decide in my favor like a dear good sister.

Who can tell the thoughts of the sentinel as he walks his lonely beat? None but those who have had experience, none but the soldier himself. He is on the bank of the River Potomac; the enemy is just across the river. He has three ways for Sunday to look for all at once, as the old saying is. He has to watch up and down the towpath of the canal to see that no one approaches his post or crosses the canal and he has to watch the river to see that the rebels do not come across and surprise him on his post. What are his thoughts? He is thinking of the dear ones at home at this late hour. They are in their comfortable beds; no enemy have they to look after, no fear have they that they will be called perhaps before morning to go forth to meet the deadly foe. Do they allow one single thought to wander away down here for him? Are they dreaming of him as he walks to and fro on his lonely beat? If so, then it is worth worlds to have the assurance of that one thing, but it is time I was relieving Bill Brown so I must stop. So goodnight pet sister, but I suppose you have gone to bed long before this.

Tuesday morn, February 25th, ten o’clock. Good morning, my dear pet sister, how do you do this cold windy morn? Pretty well, I hope. Last night passed off without anything of any account happening or anyone getting shot. Got up this morn about eight o’clock, washed myself and had some coffee and cold meat and bread and molasses for breakfast. Our shanty caught afire, but we put it out before it got to going very bad. Two of the boys have gone across the canal after some milk and the rest are asleep so that there is no one to bother me nor disturb my peaceful thoughts and I have nothing else to do but to sit and think of my darling sister and all the rest of the dear ones at home. Seven o’clock in the evening; well dear sister I received your very kind and much beloved letter of the 16th this morn about ten o’clock.

Twelve o’clock, Tuesday March 11, 1862. Fell in about eleven o’clock and started for the ferry keeping time to a beautiful tune played by our band. Arrived at the ferry about twelve o’clock. Met where our troops embarked on board three canal boats and started. Two o’clock; here we are on the Cayling canal about two miles from Ball’s Bluff where Colonel Baker was killed. We are just opposite the rebel fort which the rebels built for the protection of Leesburgh. Our troops have position of it now. The scenery along the canal is grand, especially on the Virginia side. High bluffs arise all along the river side and on the Maryland side is more level and once in awhile we come to a large plantation. How I wish you was here to enjoy this ride with me, but you are not and so I will have to be content to enjoy it all alone and allow my thoughts to wander away back to Monroe where my beloved pet sister lives.

Thomas Goodenough had three younger half sisters: Rachael Elizabeth Brown (born in 1847), Harriet Amanda Brown (born ca. 1854), and Ida Lucinda Fuller (born in 1858). The family tradition is that this letter was written to his sister Rachael.

Miscellaneous Notations from Tom Goodenough’s Diary and Memorandum:

Wednesday, May 7, 1862

Battle of West Point

Saturday, May 31, 1862

Battle of Fair Oaks

Sunday, June 1, 1862

Second Battle of Fair Oaks

Sunday, June 29, 1862

Battle and retreat at Savage Station

Battle of tower station (possibly Allen’s Farm, near Orchard Station)

Monday, June 30, 1862

Battle three miles from the James River (probably the battle of Glendale)

Tuesday, July 1, 1862

Tacon prisenor

All of these notations relate to the Peninsular Campaign of 1862, during which the 7th Michigan took part in the advance toward and retreat from Richmond. The 7th was heavily engaged at Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862 and took part in a charge that drove the confederate forces back and closed the fighting on that day. The 7th Michigan also was heavily engaged at Glendale on June 30th during the retreat from Richmond. During this engagement, the regiment had moved forward in support of the 20th Massachusetts when it came under a heavy flanking fire and retreated in disorder. This is evidently when Tom was wounded, and he was taken prisoner sometime during the union retreat to Malvern Hill.

Compiled by Neil W. MacDonald, Sparta, Michigan June 17, 2012. 5

Thomas Watkins Goodenough, age 16.


 Tom’s grave in the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.


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2 Responses to A tale of two brothers from Monroe, Michigan in the Civil War: Thomas W. Goodenough and George W. Brown

  1. Pingback: Civil War Stories | 150th anniversary of the Civil War

  2. Darren H says:

    Great account… It really took me back to another time/era. One in which I hope this nation never has to relive. Thanks for sharing.

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