Story Of: Kady Brownell

Kady Southwell was born in 1842 in an army camp on the coast of Africa, where her French mother had traveled with her Scottish father.  According to most accounts, her mother died not long after Kady's birth. Apparently, friends of the family, the McKenzies, took Kady into their home and moved to Providence, Rhode Island. 

In her late teens Kady met Robert Brownell - who was married. Several accounts say that they were instantly attracted to each other.  Robert’s wife filed for divorce, charging him with adultery. There stories conflict about the nature of Kady and Robert's relationship - whether they ever married or not but she used the Brownell name from then on.

During the Civil War, when young men were called upon to enlist, Robert joined right away. Kady was determined to go with him, but he wouldn’t allow it. She went to Rhode Island Governor Sprague, who was so impressed by her determination that he took her into his own company. They left for Washington D. C., where she found Robert and convinced him to take her with him.

Kady was determined not to be a water carrier or a laundress and became the official color bearer in Robert’s company of sharpshooters.  With them she worked hard to become an excellent shot and handy with a sword.

  The job of Color Bearer mean that you not only had to carry a very heavy flag while marching in the front lines, but you also couldn't hold a gun or sword to defend yourself. The color bearer was also the favorite target of the enemy. If the flag went down, the soldiers wouldn’t be able to find their comrades in the smoke and chaos of battle. They would scatter and lose their ability to fight as a cohesive unit.

  Kady marched with the troops and carried the flag into the first battle of the Civil War in July 1861. Their company soon came under fire. She became separated from Robert, but she stood on the line of battle, holding the flag high.

When the Confederate Army got too close a fellow soldier grabbed her hand and led her off the field. Kady ran on into the woods, where she found some of her comrades. Kady then caught a horse that was running loose and spent the next thirty hours searching for her husband - she eventually found him safe, and uninjured. 

 Kady and Robert continued to fight with the Union Army until 1862 when Robert was hit and injured.  They spent several weeks in New Bern where Kady cared for Robert and other wounded soldiers. Several months later, the Brownells traveled to New York on a steamship. Stories of Kady’s adventures spread quickly in the hospital where Robert recuperated. They were given discharge papers later that year.

Kady was the only woman to ever receive official discharge papers from the Union Army.

1 comment:

Melinda R. Cordell said...

I'm writing a book called Women Heroes of the Civil War, which is due out in spring 2016 from Chicago Review Press. Are these pics from your collection? I'd like to use them if I may.