John Thompson Brown was born in Virginia in 1835.
The Richmond Howitzers were organized in 1861 from volunteers not added to the First Regiment of Virginia Artillery. Maj George W. Randolph took charge of the Battalion. J. Thompson Brown, although not a trained soldier, was named captain of the second company. On May 14, the battery fired its first shot from Gloucester Point in Virginia, when one of its guns was discharged against the federal gunboat Yankee. His battery fought at the Battle of Big Bethel. Brown became a major in September 1861 and a lieutenant colonel in the spring of 1862.
Brown led the First Virginia Artillery as a battalion in the artillery reserve of the Army of Northern Virginia in the Seven Days Battles. Brown was promoted to the rank of colonel on June 2, 1862. He led the battalion at the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg., In October 1862, Thompson was assigned to work with BG William N. Pendleton and Col Stephen D. Lee to makes recommendations for the reorganization of the army’s artillery. Pendleton recommended that Brown retain his battalion.
In 1863, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Brown’s battalion served in the artillery brigade of Stonewall Jackson’s corps. Brown distinguished himself by protecting the Confederates involved in Jackson’s flanking movement from a probe by the federal III Corps. After the wounding of Col Stapleton Crutchfield, Brown became acting chief of artillery of Jackson’s corps.
During the reorganization of the army after the death of Jackson, Ltg Richard S. Ewell took charge of II Corps. Col Brown became the commander of the artillery reserve of the corps. The battalions of Capt Willis J. Dance, formerly Brown’s own, and Ltc William Nelson served under him. Dance's battalion played a part in the Second Battle of Winchester. Their guns reached the field at the Battle of Gettysburg but too late for the fighting on July 1. Dance’s guns were employed on Seminary Rudge and Nelson’s near Benner’s Hill on July 2 and 3. Brown is among those criticized for the failure to get ammunition trains to the front, reducing the number of guns available for the grand bombardment on July 3. Brown’s gunners helped cover the retreat of the army to the Potomac River, reaching Hagerstown, Maryland on July 7. They were assigned on the left of Gen Robert E. Lee’s defensive position near Williamsport, Maryland as the army waited to cross the river. Brown reported on the role of the corps' artillery in the campaign.
Shortly after Gettysburg, Lee named his military secretary, BG Armistead L. Long chief of artillery of II Corps. Despite being the senior artillerist of the corps, Brown is not found on record complaining about Long’s promotion. Others, however, thought Long was promoted because of his West Point education. Brown returned to command of his battalion for the Bristoe Campaign and the Mine Run Campaign.
Before the Overland Campaign began, Long divided his corps artillery into two divisions. Brown took command of one. It contained the battalions of Nelson, Ltc Robert A. Hardaway and Ltc Carter M. Braxton. On May 6, 1864, while seeking a position for the guns in his division, Col Brown was killed by a sharpshooter. Gens Pendleton and Long praised their fallen lieutenant for his character and skill.
- Sibley, F. Ray , Junior, The Confederate Order of Battle, volume 1, The Army of Northern Virginia, Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1996.
- Sifakis, Stewart, Who Was Who in the Civil War, New York: Facts on File, 1988.
- Wise, Jennings C., The Long Arm of Lee: the History of the Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
- Wise, p. 114.
- Wise, p. 118.
- Sibley, p. 19.
- Sibley, pp. 33, 39.
- Wise, pp. 338, 417.
- Wise, pp. 469-470.
- Wise, p. 494.
- Wise, pp. 665-666.
- Wise, pp. 696-697.
- Wise, p. 701.
- Wise, pp. 713, 851.
- Sibley, pp. 57, 62.
- Wise, pp. 769-770; Sibley, pp. 70, 289 n. 182.