On February 25, 1828, Adjutant General Roger Jones issued the following directive from Washington, DC. “The Senior officers of the General Staff of the Army, and the Commanding General of the Militia of the District of Columbia, will convene at the Adjutant’ General’s Office, this morning, at nine o’clock, to make suitable arrangements for the funeral honors of the distinguished and lamented Major General Brown.” The flurry of orders and details which soon followed outlined the funeral for the 12th Commanding General (both George Washington and James Wilkinson each served twice) of the U.S. Army.
Jacob Jennings Brown was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in May 1775. He descended from a long line of devout Quakers making his ultimate career path therefore seem strange. After brief stints as a surveyor, school teacher, and military secretary for Major General Alexander Hamilton, Brown purchased land on Lake Ontario in northern New York. Soon after, he founded the village of Brownville and became a prominent figure in state politics. His political position led to an appointment of colonel in the militia. When the war of 1812 began Brown served as a militia brigadier general.
General Jacob Brown, Commander of the Army
Much of the War of 1812 was fought along the northeast U.S. border with Canada. As a result, New York militia troops entered the conflict early. Brown competently lead troops in the early engagements at Ogdensburg and Sackett’s Harbor. Consequently, he received appointments as brigadier and then major general in the Regular Army. Regular Army soldiers, led by Brown, defeated British regulars at Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane in January 1814. Before the war officially ended, Congress bestowed upon Brown a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his “gallantry and good conduct” at the battles of Chippewa, Niagara, and Erie.
By June 1815, Brown was the senior officer of the U.S. Army. However, he did not receive the title of Commanding General of the Army until 1821. During his tenure as senior army commander, General Brown attempted to retain competent soldiers and improve unit training.
A Grand Funeral Possession
General Jacob Brown died on February 24, 1828 while on duty in Washington, DC. The exact cause of death is unknown. He suffered several wounds at Lundy’s Lane in January 1814. One 19th century biographer stated that “[t]he disease of which he died is said to have been in consequence of another wound contracted by him at Fort Erie, during the war…” The funeral orchestrated by the War Department included nearly all senior military and government leaders then at the nation’s capital. As with all military duty, the funeral was scripted and adhered to strict protocol. The following circular, issued by the Adjutant General, outlined the funeral procession.
Arrangements occurred right up to the burial on February 27th. Early that morning the War Department issued last-minute orders, which included instructions for the line of escort to form precisely at 10:30 a.m. in front of General Brown’s residence with its left resting near the corner of the United States Bank. The procession escorted the general’s body to the Congressional Cemetery where it was interred in Section 1, Range 57, Site 150.
Mourning and General Jacob Brown’s Old Army Legacy
The day after the funeral Secretary of War James Barbour issued an order, distributed to troops throughout the nation, eulogizing General Brown. In it Barbour credited Brown for“[u]niting with the most unaffected simplicity, the highest degree of personal valor, and of intellectual energy, he stands pre-eminent before the world, and for after ages, in that band of heroic spirits, who, upon the ocean and the land, formed and sustained, during the second war with Great Britain, the martial reputation of their country.” Barbour went on to commend the former commanding general for his “intuitive penetration, his knowledge of men, and his capacity to control them…his scrupulous regard for their rights, his constant attention to their wants…”
Following regulations, artillery at each military post were fired every half hour from sunrise to sunset on the day succeeding the arrival of the directive. Further, each army officer wore black crape around their left arm and on the hilt of their sword for six months.
According to the official history of commanding generals and army chiefs of staff, Brown recommended pay incentives to encourage reenlistment and pay increases for noncommissioned officers. He also advocated periodic centralized training for widely scattered units in order to prevent erosion in military instruction.
Unpublished Sources (indexed by Old Army Records)
Orders issued by the Adjutant General’s Office (1828)
General Regulations for the Army (1825)
The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents; and all the Laws of a Public Nature; with a Copious Index, Thirteenth Congress-Third Session. Comprising the Period from Sept. 19, 1814 to March 3, 1815, Inclusive. Compiled from Authentic Materials (1854)
Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff, 1775-1995: Portraits & Biographical Sketches of the United States Army’s Senior Officer (Bell 1999)