Monday, July 11, 2011

Talented Tuesday: How Young James Brittain Died

Harmon Parks Brittain
A few weeks back, a distant relative reached out to me on with some questions regarding the family of Harmon Parks Brittain, who was a first cousin of my great great grandfather, Frederick Harmon Brittain (and, therefore, my first cousin, four times removed). Surprisingly, I remembered that I have quite a bit of information regarding Harmon Parks Brittain from my Grandma Edith's genealogy files. This weekend, I finally dug up his file and found that he was quite an interesting man, and a talented poet, to boot.

Harmon and his younger brother, James, both fought for the Union in the Civil War. Harmon was a Quartermaster Sergeant in Company B, 13th Missouri Cavalry, and James was a Private in the 23rd Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment. While Harmon survived the war without injury, his younger brother did not. James fought in the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) and was taken prisoner. He died a P.O.W. (I'm not yet sure in which prison) on May 23, 1862, at the tender age of 16 years.

James' death obviously weighed hard on Harmon, who wrote this poem about his little brother's bravery:
How Young James Brittain Died
By Harmon Parks Brittain (date unknown)

When Davis and his rebel crew
First armed the fatal blow,
At Anderson the brave and true,
At Sumter as you know.

The north awakened, then well knew,
That war was close at hand.
And then the noble, brave and true,
Soon rallied to a man.

They rallied round the stars and stripes,
The red, the white, and blue.
And through the long and dreary night,
They kept the flag in view.

The 28 men, well I know,
Then answered to the call.
To meet the then invading foe
And face his cannon balls.

At Shilo then, they met that foe,
He'd overwhelming powers.
Contendants swaying to and fro,
For many, many hours.

And there they stood for many hours,
Combatting five to one.
The Rebels using all their powers,
With cannon, sword, and gun.

The battle raged, the cannon roared,
And still the foe pressed on.
And men while weltering in their gore,
All o'er the ground were strewn.

Brave Tindal was an officer,
The regiment did command,
His voice raising loud and clear,
While cheering on his men.

For hours they checked the monstrous foe,
Upon the battlefield.
The regiment swaying to and fro,
And yet they would not yield.

There stood a boy on that ridge,
And a noble boy too.
Was scarcely sixteen years of age,
Whose heart was brave and true.

James Brittain was this young man's name,
He'd by his comrades stood.
The rebel bullets as they came,
Was spilling half their blood.

Undaunted, still young Jimmie stood,
His comrades round him fell.
He lent them all the aid he could,
And used his musket well.

While standin' all this shock of arms,
There came no helping aid,
The rebels round the regiment ran,
And they were prisoners made.

Farewell my country, I must go,
Down in the south to dwell.
In pens of misery and woe,
It's like a living hell.

Farewell Father, you'll ne'er see me,
Your young and cherished son.
Do not let it grieve thee,
Although you know that I am gone.

Farewell brothers, farewell sisters,
Oh do not weep and cry,
How proudly would I now have kissed thee,
Oh e'er I here must die.

My food it is the coarsest bran,
Made up with slop and brine.
The pen is worse that most of men,
would keep around their swine.

Farewell Father, farewell brothers,
A mother I have none.
Farewell sisters, farewell country,
The fever coming on.

And now my brother I would ask thee,
whatever may betide.
You write a verse in memory,
Just heartbreaking!! I love to read about the Civil War, and I watch a lot of Civil War documentaries, but it really hits home to read about my own relatives' experiences in that horror.

I was also quite impressed to find out that this poem was written by a man who did not even learn how to read and write until he was married (to a school teacher, of course!).

I have several poems and letters that were written by Harmon Parks Brittain, as well as a story that was written (by someone else) about his life. While he's not one of my direct ancestors, he's still part of my Brittain heritage, and I look forward to sharing more about this very interesting man with you all in the future.


  1. What a treasure! And how horribly heartbreaking at the same time. It always makes me so sad to think about all of the young men who died during that war - and don't have any living descendants since they didn't live long enough to have families of their own. :(

  2. There is a large group of living descendents .... living in Wasco County, Wamic, Tygh Valley area! Harman Parks Brittains headstone with the calvary impressions is still standing and in beautiful condition in The Tygh Valley Cemetary
    Thank You,
    Sue Brittain,
    wife of Lyle John Brittain,
    Son of Lyle Coleman Brittain,
    Son of Guy Brittain,
    Son of Orange Brittain,
    Son of Harman Parks Brittain,
    Brother of James Bruttaub