William M. "Buck" Brown (1822–1865)
William M. “Buck” Brown was the leader of a band of irregular Confederate cavalrymen who bedeviled Union troops in northwestern Arkansas for much of the Civil War.
William M. “Buck” Brown was born on May 26, 1822, in Bedford County, Tennessee. He married Elizabeth Ann Burgess, and they moved to Arkansas; the couple had eight children, one who died as a small child. By 1850, they were living in Washington County’s Marrs Hill Township, where he reported owning $700 in real estate. Ten years later, the growing family was living in Elm Springs (Washington and Benton counties) and reporting $4,000 in real property and $2,000 in personal property, which included an enslaved woman. Brown was listed as a farmer in the 1860 census but also owned a mill located about five miles west of Elm Springs.
After Arkansas seceded from the Union, Brown formed an independent cavalry company that became part of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s personal bodyguard. The general sent Brown’s band out on patrol from the Confederate camps on Wilson’s Creek in Missouri around 1:00 a.m. on August 10, 1861. They rode about one and a half miles before encountering a Federal battery and riding through a regiment of German troops approaching the Confederate position. Brown raced back to McCulloch’s headquarters and gave the alarm of the approaching Union army to the unsuspecting Southerners. McCulloch’s troops won the hard-fought Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Brown apparently never served in a formal Confederate unit, instead leading an irregular band that could grow to hundreds of riders. However, it was not unusual for bands such as Brown’s to be called upon to participate in actions with regular Confederate forces. Brown’s men served in Brigadier General William L. Cabell’s Action at Fayetteville on April 18, 1863, which was repulsed, and succeeded in defeating a Federal force at Fayetteville (Washington County) on August 23, 1863. Serving under Colonel William Brooks in the fall of 1863, Brown and his men defeated a Union detachment at Round Prairie on September 5, paroling their prisoners, and attacked a Federal wagon train on October 15. Brown and many of his men participated in the Camden Expedition in April 1864.
Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison’s First Arkansas Cavalry Regiment was Brown’s frequent adversary, particularly after the regiment occupied Fayetteville in September 1863, and their fighting became increasingly bitter, as evidenced on April 7, 1864, when a party of Brown’s guerrillas, dressed in Federal uniforms, killed nine First Arkansas troopers minding some of the regiment’s horses near Prairie Grove (Washington County); four of the teenaged bushwhackers were executed in July for participating in the affair.
Returning to northwestern Arkansas following the Camden Expedition, Brown’s band continued harassing the First Arkansas, successfully seizing the majority of the regiment’s mule herd in a June 24, 1864, raid. Harrison’s men retaliated in August when they destroyed Brown’s mill, along with two others, leading Harrison to observe that “disabling of mills causes more writhing among bushwhackers than any other mode of attack.” In cooperation with Brooks, Brown helped besiege Fayetteville in October; Brown led an unsuccessful attack on the town’s western defenses on October 28. Brown and Brooks, later joined by a force under Major General James Fagan following Sterling Price’s failed Missouri Raid, kept the Federals bottled up until November 4, 1864.
Brown’s band spent the winter of 1864–1865 in camp on the Red River, heading back to northwestern Arkansas in the spring of 1865. On March 15, 1865, a patrol of the First Arkansas Cavalry attacked Brown and a group of his men near Ann Mills in Benton County. Brown was killed in personal combat with Sergeant John P. Todd. He is buried in Thornberry Cemetery in Tontitown (Washington County).
For additional information:
Childs, Lisa C. “Murder, Honor, and Discipline in Company M, First Arkansas Cavalry (USA).” Arkansas Historical Quarterly,78 (Summer 2019): 140–165.
Christ, Mark K. “‘It was simply a fight to the death’: Civil War Record (1861–1865) of J. Montgomery Wilson.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 80 (Spring 2021): 53–109.
Cutrer, Thomas W. Ben McCulloch and the Frontier Military Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
Fort Smith New Era, March 18, 1865, p. 3.
Hughes, Michael A. “Wartime Gristmill Destruction in Northwest Arkansas and Military Farm Colonies.” In Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders, edited by Anne J. Bailey and Daniel E. Sutherland. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
James M. Wilson Memoir. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
“MAJ William M. ‘Buck’ Brown.” Find-a-Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/41061802/william-m_-brown (accessed May 10, 2022).
Moore, W. H. “Attack on Federal Wagon Train.” Confederate Veteran 16 (August 1908): 396.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1890–1901, Vol. 22, Part 1, 612, 660; Vol. 34, Part 1, 660; Vol. 48, Part 1, Section 2, 1185.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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