Gregg County was in mourning on Feb. 10, 1897. Word was spreading that the man who had created and named the county two decades earlier was dead at the age of 66.
Truth is, Bluford Washington Brown was fortunate to live as many years as he did. As an officer in the 44th Alabama Infantry, Brown had survived such bloody Civil War battles as Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam and the Wilderness.
Perhaps it was Brown’s experiences during that terrible war that caused him to become a Methodist preacher.
Brown was born in January 1831 in Bibb County, Alabama. At age 17 he married Nancy Cox. The couple had four children by the time Brown enlisted in 1862 and marched off to fight the Yankees.
Brown, a lieutenant, and his Alabama unit were sent to Richmond, Virginia. In August 1862, the regiment fought in the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run). Brown received a leg wound and was promoted when the regiment’s captain was killed.
In September the unit took heavy losses at Antietam (Sharpsburg, Maryland). An 1881 biography of Brown notes the unit’s commanding colonel was killed “and his own company terribly cut to pieces, losing many killed, wounded and captured.”
According to the bio, Brown “had 12 bullet holes through his clothes and five through his hat.” While the numbers seem exaggerated, it’s clear Brown was fortunate indeed to survive Antietam.
On July 2, 1863, Brown and his men found themselves at Gettysburg, where they faced the 4th Maine Infantry and captured Union cannons at the bloody Devil’s Den. The commander’s official report said the 44th Alabama “sprang forward, over the rocks, swept the position and took possession of the heights, capturing 40 or 50 prisoners around the battery and among the cliffs.” The Alabama regiment had 90 casualties.
Following Gettysburg, Brown’s unit fought at Chickamauga, Knoxville, the Battle of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Petersburg and Chafin’s Bluff.
The 44th Alabama Infantry mustered 1,094 men during the Civil War. At war’s end in April 1865, the regiment had only 209 soldiers remaining.
Brown and his family relocated to East Texas a year after the war ended, settling at the Summerfield community in what then was Upshur County. Brown was a farmer and soon became a lay preacher for Summerfield Methodist Church.
In 1872 Brown was elected to the Texas Legislature. The following year he introduced a bill to create a new East Texas county carved from Upshur and Rusk counties. Originally to be called “Roanoke” County, Brown decided it should be called “Gregg” County to honor slain Confederate Gen. John Gregg.
Brown twice was reelected to the Legislature and served as a delegate to three state Democratic conventions.
In 1879 Brown built a Victorian home at 104 W. Whaley Street in downtown Longview.
A Texas paper announced Brown’s death in February 1897:
“Longview, Tex., Feb. 9 — Honorable B.W. Brown, about 65 years old, a well known Methodist preacher and the first representative from Gregg County when it was organizer … and a member of the 13th and 14th legislatures, and afterward the chaplain of that body for some time, died at his home in this place at 9:10 this morning.
“Mr. Brown was known all over the state, having moved here in early life and taken a foremost part in the upbuilding of this section.”
The man who named Gregg County is buried in Longview’s historic Greenwood Cemetery.
The 1881 biography described Brown as “happily constituted in temperament … Of large frame, frank and generous. His latchstring always hangs out, and he is deservedly a popular man.”
The Brown home on West Whaley was sold to the Birdsong family in 1901. In recent years ownership fell to Longview’s First Presbyterian Church. In May 2011 the structure, long known as the Brown-Birdsong House, was purchased and moved to Morrison Street in South Longview.