This was a very popular booklet in 1863 in the Northern United States. It tells the story, “truthful and graphic account,” of how one of W. G. Brownlow’s daughters saved the union flag flying over the Brownlow home from a group of drunken Confederate soldiers who wanted to take it down.
Except, the daughter was Susan Sawyer, not “Martha,” and she was a young, windowed mother who was living with her daughter at her parents’ home at the time. The flag continued to fly over the home in Knoxville until the family was ordered to the leave the Confederacy in April 1862.
The episode happened in 1861. Susan was the daughter that faced the soldiers. And then the story changes depending on who tells it.
- Family lore has it that Susan and the servants were alone in the house when the soldiers came and she grabbed a shotgun.
- Another story is that Susan and her father were in the house. W. G. was not feeling well and when the soldiers came to house, Susan grabbed a nearby pistol and faced the soldiers.
The parson’s daughter answered their summons and, learning their errand, drew a revolver from her dress pocket and, leveling it at them, defiantly replied
“Come on, sirs, and take it down!”
As they backed off before her determined advance they said something about getting more men to do the work, to which she sneeringly answered :
“Yes ; go and get some men; you are not men.”
—The Flying, Gray-Haired Yank
The Book of Anecdotes of the Rebellion by Frazar Kirkland reported the incident:
Afraid of the Girl’s Eye.
The house of the celebrated, bold-hearted and out-spoken Parson Brownlow, was, at one time the only one in Knoxville over which the Stars and Stripes were floating. According to arrangement, two armed secessionists went at six o’clock one morning to summarily haul down said stars and stripes. Miss Brownlow, a brilliant young lady of twenty-three, saw them on the piazza, and stepped out and demanded their business. They replied:
“We have come to take down them Stars and Strips.”
She instantly drew a revolver from her side, and presenting it, said-
“Go on! I’m good for one of you, and I think for both!”
“By the look of that girl’s eye she’ll shoot,” one remarked: “I think we’d better not try it; we’ll go back and get more men,” said the other.
“Go and get more men,” said the noble lady; “get more men and come and take it down if you dare!”
They returned with a company of ninety armed men, and demanded that the flag should be hauled down. But on discovering that the house was filled with gallant men, armed to their teeth, who would rather die as dearly as possible than see their country’s flag dishonored, the secessionists retired, much after the fashion of cur-dogs sideling along with their tails between their hind-legs.
After the family joined Parson Brownlow in the North, Susan and her father went on a speaking tour of the North. The Ladies of Philadelphia presented Susan with a special flag on June 13, 1862, to commemorate the incident. She was also presented with a revolver at the Colt factory in Connecticut.