The Civil War brought about changes on the campus. Excerpts from the diary of Henry S. Burrage 1861 recorded the events at Brown occasioned by the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861:
“Monday, April 15. The seniors had a meeting after the Dr.’s recitation, and appointed a committee to obtain permission to raise the stars and stripes over the college building. The Dr. assented and as soon as the flag staff can be erected and the flag secured the national ensign will wave over halls which once served as barracks for the heroes of the Revolution. ... Ward of Mississippi seemed very much excited at the meeting – moved to raise the flag of the C.S.A. & after voting ‘No!’ on the principal motion seceded.”
Wed. Apr. 17. A day long to be remembered in college! The stars and stripes were raised over Univ. Hall this afternoon in the presence of the faculty and undergraduates of the college and also of a large throng of spectators from the city. Hardly had the music died away when the starry folds of our national ensign were seen ascending the flag staff which had been erected over Uni. Hall. It was greeted with cheer on cheer from every part of the college green. The band then played the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ Dr. Sears then stepped forward and made the opening address. He was followed by Bishop Clark, Rev. Dr. Hall, Rev. Dr. Caldwell, and Ex-Governor Dyer, all of whom made stirring patriotic speeches. After Dr. Hall’s speech the students sang America ... Everybody pronounced the affair a thrilling success. Certainly it was the proudest day I have known in college.”
Fifteen undergraduates enlisted for three months in the first Rhode Island Regiment. The first detachment left Providence on April 20, and Professor Gammell dismissed the seniors to see the troops off. When the second detachment left four days later, former President Francis Wayland addressed the troops in Exchange Place. When the second Rhode Island regiment formed in May, only three students joined. Students who stayed behind began drilling in the late afternoon at the armory of the National Cadets. On May 11 a meeting of undergraduates voted to form a military company and “voted that it should be called ‘The Wrath of Achilles,’ but the vote was afterwards reconsidered,” and the company was named merely the University Cadets, who by June 8 were able to “parade in their new uniforms, dark blue shirts, light blue Zouave pants, red cap.” The only active service the Cadets, as Company I, Rhode Island Militia, saw occurred in the early summer of 1863. A rebel privateer, the Taconey, had appeared off the coast and rumors that it would sail up Narragansett Bay to Providence caused the deployment of the Marine Corps of Artillery to the west side of the west passage, called the “Bonnet.” A company of infantry was also needed, and the cadets were eager to go, especially as they would miss their examinations. For fourteen days they built fortifications and did guard duty. When the danger passed, each received his $5.63 private’s pay, and they all presented “resolutions” to the faculty that they be excused from the examinations they had missed. The result was that they were required to take the examinations at the beginning of the next term. They did, however, enjoy a little song, of which one verse was:
We won’t pass examinations,
Oh, no! not we, not we.
We all went down to West Passage
for five and sixty-three.
In Henry Burrage’s book, Brown University in the Civil War, are listed the names of 294 alumni and students who served in the Union ranks, 26 of them before entering the University. Fourteen of these men died, nine from wounds, eleven from illness, and one as a result of an accident. Sullivan Ballou 1852 died in July 1861, of wounds received at the battle of Bull Run; Charles R. Randall 1852 was killed before Atlanta in July 1864; Louis Bell 1855 was killed at Fort Fisher in North Carolina in January 1865; William P. Grier 1855 was killed aboard the steamer Miami in January 1866; Robert H. Ives 1857 died in September 1862 of wounds received at the battle of Antietam; Josiah G. Woodbury 1857 was killed on board the iron-clad Catskill in August 1863; Charles L. Kneass 1858 was killed at the battle of Murfreesboro in December 1862; William L. Brown was killed before Petersburg in March 1865; Hervey F. Jacobs 1863 died in July 1863 of wounds received before Port Hudson, Louisiana. All alumni were not in the Union ranks. By July 1861 nineteen Brown men had joined the Confederate forces. Seven of these died. James Patterson 1843, captain in the 12th, was killed in the battle of McDowell in May 1862; Alexander J. Robert 1849, Lieutenant in the 4th Georgia, and Robert Hall 1850, a corporal in the 55th Virginia, died of wounds received at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Lieutenant Colonel Francis W. Bird 1851 of North Carolina was killed at Reams’ Station, near Petersburg, in August 1864. Captain Edward P. Lawton 1853 was wounded and taken prisoner, and died in December 1862. Monroe Goode 1863 was killed in the battle of Peach Tree Creek in July 1864.
As the war progressed, 24 more Brown men entered the service of the Confederacy, and six of them died. Clarence Bate 1858, who was expelled from Brown for his part in a mock duel in 1855 and finished his education at Union College, was captured and condemned, but was pardoned by Abraham Lincoln, possibly through the good offices of Lincoln’s young secretary and Bate’s classmate and fraternity brother, John Hay 1858.
When news of the war’s end came, the students held a celebration which was described in the Brown Paper of 1865:
“Colored lanterns shone in all the windows and hung in festoons from the elms; rockets and Roman candles shot in every direction, to the great danger of spectators. From the chapel portico, under a canopy of flags, eloquent orators, surrounded by a brilliant halo from a calcium light, addressed an audience such as had never before graced our campus, while in the rear of the college, the effigy of Jefferson D. blazed in the curling flames of several hundred tarred barrels.”
On the day before Commencement in 1866 a tablet in memory of the twenty-one Union Brown men who died in the war was dedicated. At a later date their names were inscribed upon the tablet, which hangs in the entry to Manning Hall.