Kady Brownell

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Kady Brownell
Kady Brownell CDV.jpg
Kaffraria, South Africa
Died1915 (aged 72–73)
Oxford, New York
Place of burial
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnion Army
Years of service1861–1865
Unit1st Rhode Island Infantry
5th Rhode Island Infantry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
Kady C. Brownell, vivandière associated with 1st Rhode Island Infantry Regiment and 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment with bayoneted rifle

Kady Brownell (1842 – January 5, 1915)[1] was a vivandière[2] who helped the Union army during the American Civil War. She went with her husband when he joined a Rhode Island regiment. Brownell trained with the soldiers. She fought in battle and helped the injured. At the First Battle of Bull Run, she held the flag high even as Confederate bullets were flying.[3]


Kady Brownell was born in 1842 in a tent on a British army camp in Kaffraria, South Africa of a French mother and Scottish father. Her father, Col. George Southwell, was on maneuvers at the time. She was named after her father's friend, Sir James Kady. Her frail mother died shortly after her birth. She was adopted and raised by a couple until they immigrated to Providence, Rhode Island, where she was then raised by family and friends. In the early 1860s, Kady worked as a weaver in the mills of Providence, where she met and fell in love with Robert Brownell and married him in April 1861.[4]

With the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Robert joined the 1st Rhode Island Infantry. Brownell was determined to serve with him. She approached Governor Sprague who agreed to take her along to Washington and there met up with Robert. Colonel Ambrose Burnside, the regiment's commander, appointed her a Daughter of the Regiment and color bearer. She was an active participant in the First Battle of Bull Run (1861), and after re-enlisting into the 5th Rhode Island Infantry with her husband Robert Brownell, at the Battle of New Bern (1862).

At the Battle of New Bern, Brownell was more than just color bearer. She also saved the lives of a number of soldiers:[5]

Just as a number of Union regiments were getting into their battle positions on the morning of March 14, members of the 5th Rhode Island came out of a clump of woods from an unexpected direction, giving the appearance that they might be a disguised rebel force preparing to attack. Realizing that a misunderstanding might lead the regiments already in line to open fire, and with no fear for her own safety, tradition has it that Brownell—who had moved to the rear as ordered—ran forward into clear view of those already in place, carrying her regiment's flag and waving it wildly until the 5th Rhode Island soldiers' identity became clear to surrounding regiments.[5]

Brownell remained in New Bern, North Carolina, after the battle, aiding her injured husband. Upon his recovery, he was deemed unfit for battle, and not wanting to fight without her husband, both Brownells were discharged.[6]

Following the Civil War, Brownell was the only female to receive discharge papers from the Union Army. In September 1870, she became a member of Elias Howe Jr. Post #3 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She applied for a pension in 1882, and received her $8.00 per month allotment starting in 1884, compared to her husband's pension of $24.00 a month.[7]

After their military service, the Brownells lived in New York City, where Kady worked for the New York City Parks Department for ten years. In 1905, she became custodian at the Jumel mansion in Washington Heights.[5]

Brownell died on January 5th, 1915 at the Women's Relief Corps home in Oxford, New York.[8] A funeral service was held for her in New York City on January 7, then her body was shipped to Providence by steamboat for a second funeral service.[8] She is buried in Providence's North Burial Ground.[9]

However, her husband is buried in an unmarked grave site in East Harrisburg Cemetery in Pennsylvania.[10]


  1. ^ Grefe, p. 38.
  2. ^ Grefe, p. 32.
  3. ^ Canon, Jill (2000). Civil War Heroines. Santa Barbara: Bellerphon Books.
  4. ^ Pennington, Reina (2003). Amazons to Fighter Pilots: A Biographical Dictionary of Military Women. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 71. ISBN 0313327076.
  5. ^ a b c Leonard, Elizabeth D. (2001). All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 114–121. ISBN 0-14-029858-4.
  6. ^ Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: Two Dot. p. 80. ISBN 9780762743841.
  7. ^ Tsui, Bonnie (2006). She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford: Two Dot. p. 80. ISBN 9780762743841.
  8. ^ a b "Funeral of Woman Member of G.A.R." The Boston Daily Globe. 8 Jan 1915. p. 24. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Kady C. McKenzie Brownell". Find-A-Grave. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  10. ^ Bartlett, Sara (2011). "Kady Brownell, a Rhode Island legend". Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military. Archived from the original on 10 July 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
  • Grefe, C. Morgan. "Sourcing a Rhode Island Legend." Rhode Island History 70, no. 1 (Winter/Spring 2012): 31–42.

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