Brigadier General Egbert Benson Brown, military leader in Missouri during the Civil war, was born in Brownville, New York, October 24, 1816. He later moved with his family to Tecumseh, Michigan. In his youth Brown went to Toledo, Ohio, where he was elected mayor when he was 33 years old. Later he went to the West coast, entered service on a whaling ship, and spent 4 years on the Pacific Ocean.

By the beginning of the Civil war, Brown had become superintendent of a railroad and was living in St. Louis. A Unionist, he raised a regiment of infantry in St. Louis. November 29, 1862, Brown was made a brigadier general of the Missouri volunteers, having earlier received command of the southwest division with headquarters at Springfield. Brown had the responsibility of defending Springfield and the southwestern border of the State. Two of the most threatening raids that he repulsed were those of General John S. Marmaduke, General Joseph O. Shelby and others against Springfield, January 8, 1863, and of Shelby at Marshall and Sedalia during October 10-26, 1863.

The combined Union forces in Springfield numbered between 800 and 2000 in January, the latter number including reinforcements that came during the battle. The Confederates had about 5000 men. In spite of his smaller force Brown successfully defended Springfield, losing only one of the 4 forts built in a square for the town’s defense. By night Marmaduke had had enough.

When Brown began his campaign against Shelby later that year, his forces were scattered over a territory 120 miles square. In 7 days he concentrated a force of around 1820 men, marched more than 300 miles, killed and wounded about 400 of the enemy, captured nearly 100 prisoners and a wagon train of small arms and ammunition. He carried on an almost continuous fight through 100 miles of thickly wooded country.

At the October 23, 1864 Battle of Westport, Missouri, while commanding a brigade of cavalry, he ran afoul with division commander Major General Alfred Pleasonton, who had him arrested and relieved of his duties for allegedly failing to obey General Pleasonton’s attack order. he sat without a command until January 1865, when he was appointed commander of the District of Rolla. He served through the end of the war, and left the Army with one shoulder totally disabled and a bullet in his hip in November 1865.

Brown’s life after the war

After the close of the war Brown was appointed pension agent in St. Louis, and in 1869 he retired and moved to a farm near Hastings, Illinois. From 1881 to 1884 he served on the Illinois State board of equalization.

Brown outlived his wife and children and died February 11, 1902 at the age of 87 at his granddaughters home in West Plains, Missouri and is buried next to his wife Mary in Kinder Cemetery in Cuba, Missouri.

A colorful incident of the early Civil war days in Missouri was Major Charles Zagonyi’s charge against southern troops at Springfield, October 25, 1861. The Federal forces of Major General John C. Fremont were encamped some 50 miles north of Springfield, October 24, when he ordered Zagonyi, the commander of his special bodyguard, to march on Springfield and capture it from a force estimated then at about 300 to 500.

Zagonyi and a detachment of 100 left that evening, and at daybreak, October 25, they were joined near Bolivar by other units totaling about 150. About 8 miles from Springfield they captured a foraging party. One man, however, escaped and warned the force at Springfield. Zagonyi then detoured to the southwest hoping to surprise the enemy. On emerging from some woods near the Mount Vernon road about 4 p.m., the Federal troops were confronted with a strong State guard force, approximately 800 cavalry and 200 in infantry troops. The Federals immediately came under fire which swept them for 250 yards while they dashed to the shelter of a small stream. Here Zagonyi reorganized his command. Then the Federal horsemen in fan-like formation quickly charged the State troop positions. The State troops fired briskly for a few minutes and then broke, the infantrymen taking refuge in dense thickets and the cavalry retreating through Springfield and beyond.

Zagonyi and his men pushed on into Springfield, cleared the city of State troops and liberated Union prisoners. Then Zagonyi’s troops proceeded north to rejoin the main army, leaving 15 killed, 27 wounded, and 10 missing. Zagonyi’s estimate of 106 State troopers killed is probably too large. After sending news of Zagonyi’s successful charge to Washington, October 26, Fremont entered Springfield, October 27.

The Fremont bodyguard, organized and equipped for guarding the general, was composed of 3 companies of approximately 100 men each. Two of the companies were composed of Kentuckians, and the third of St. Louisans. The war department, however, refused to recognize a force formed for such a purpose, and the unit was mustered out.

Hist, of Greene Co. (1883); John McElroy, The Struggle for Mo. (1909); Mo. Hist. Rev., XXV, No. 4; War of Rebell., Ser. I, Vol. Ill (1881); Ency. Hist. Mo., VI (1901); Herbert Bashford and Harr Wagner, A Man Unafraid: Story of John C. Fremont (1927).