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Joseph Emerson Brown letters

Identifier: MSS-0219

Scope and Contents

This collection contains twenty-five letters from Brown, most of them to his friend and business associate General Ira R. Foster, Quartermaster General of the State of Georgia during the Civil War. It also contains copies of two letters from Brown to Georgia politician Howell Cobb, and one from Cobb to Brown, regarding appointing Foster as a special railway postal agent for north Georgia and north Alabama. The bulk of the collection predates the Civil War.


  • 1857-1867


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama. The library claims only physical ownership of many manuscript collections. Anyone wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of literary property rights or copyrights. Please contact Special Collections ( with questions regarding specific manuscript collections. For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which the University of Alabama assumes no responsibility.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Emerson Brown was born in Pickens County, South Carolina, on 15 April 1821. He and his family moved to Union County, Georgia, when he was young. He left the farm in 1840 seeking an education. Trading a team of oxen for eight months of room and board, he attended an academy near Anderson, South Carolina. He moved to Canton, Georgia, in 1844, and served as the headmaster of the academy there. He went on to study law, and in 1847, opened a law office in Canton. He was elected to the Georgia state senate in 1849, and soon became a leader in the state Democratic Party. He was elected the state circuit court judge in 1855 and governor in 1857.

As governor, he diverted state railroad profits to Georgia's public schools, supported the expansion of women's rights, and was a strong supporter of secession after Lincoln's election and South Carolina's secession in 1860. However, once the Confederate States of America was established, Brown spoke out against expansion of the powers of the Confederate central government, and denounced Jefferson Davis in particular. He even tried to stop Colonel Francis Bartow from taking Georgia troops of of the state to the First Battle of Bull Run. After the destruction of Atlanta, Brown withdrew the state's militia from the Confederate force to harvest crops for the state and the army. When General U.S. Sherman overran much of Georgia in his "March to the Sea" in 1864, Brown called for an end to the war.

After the war, Brown was held for a short time as a political prisoner in Washington, DC. He was chief justice of Georgia's Supreme Court from 1865 to 1870, when he resigned to become president of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. He supported President Andrew Johnsons Reconstruction policy, to the point of becoming a Republican "scalawag" for a short time. After Reconstruction, he became returned to his Democratic roots again and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1880 by the state legislature, according to the laws of the time. Soon after his election to the Senate, Brown became the first Georgia official to support public education for all children — not a popular position at the time. He was re-elected in 1885, but retired in 1891 due to poor health. He died on 30 November 1894, in Atlanta, Georgia.


0.05 Linear Feet (25 items)

Language of Materials



Letters from Brown, most of them to his friend and business associate General Ira R. Foster, Quartermaster General of the State of Georgia during the Civil War. Also contains copies of letters between Brown and Georgia politician Howell Cobb, regarding appointing Foster as a special railway postal agent for north Georgia and north Alabama.


Gift of Clinton McGee

Processed by

Revised by Donnelly Lancaster Walton, November 2009; updated by Martha Bace, 2012
Guide to the Joseph Emerson Brown letters
Novermber 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266