Joseph Lancaster Brent


Joseph Lancaster Brent was born on November 30, 1826, in Pomonkey, Charles County, Maryland, the son of William Leigh and Maria (Fenwick) Brent. His father, a lawyer and future congressman from Louisiana, was of an old Maryland family; his brother later served as attorney general of that state. Brent was reared in his native state and attended Georgetown University. After briefly practicing law in St. Martinville, Louisiana, in 1849 he moved out to California, settling in Los Angeles County. Brent was admitted to practice law there in 1850 and soon rose to high rank among California's lawyers, specializing in land claims. At one time he owned the land that is now the city of Pasadena.

Brent served two terms in the California House, in 1856 and 1857. "Especially popular with the Mexican element," he became the Democratic leader in southern California. Brent's memoirs (which cover his life from 1850 to 1862) explain the source of his political power—he represented the local Mexican-Americans in court, and they in turn followed his political advice. "I became so decidedly the leader in Los Angeles politics that... no one could be elected whom I did not support, and no one defeated whom I befriended."

When the war started Brent sailed back to the South, but was arrested on the high seas, taken north, and paroled. In February, 1862, Brent reached Richmond, and at once was appointed captain on the staff of Major General John B. Magruder, commanding at Yorktown. On May 9,1862, during the Peninsula campaign, Brent was promoted to major of artillery and served as Magruder's chief of ordnance. One source states that "devoted to work, his energy and administrative ability were felt in every direction." 'After the Seven Days' Battles he transferred to Louisiana, where Major General Richard Taylor (a close personal friend) appointed him chief of artillery in Taylor's District of Western Louisiana. In this post he worked wonders equipping and organizing the artillery of Taylor's orphan command. One exploit of Brent's was commanding two makeshift gunboats that in 1863 attacked and captured the Union ironclad lndianola. On April 17, 1864, General E. Kirby Smith appointed Brent colonel of the newly reorganized artillery battalions of Taylor's army. In October, 1864, the command of a newly formed brigade of Louisiana cavalry in Taylor's army became vacant. The cavalry division's commander asked Brent, whom he knew to be an officer of "energy, gallantry, judgment and ability," to turn cavalryman and take charge of the brigade. On October 15, 1864, General Kirby Smith assigned Brent to command of the brigade, with the rank of brigadier general. The brigade guarded northern Louisiana against Union raids for the remainder of the war.
 Brent was one of three Confederate commissioners who negotiated the May 26, 1865, surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department. On June 5, 1865, he was paroled as brigadier general.

After the war Brent lived in Baltimore until 1870, in Louisiana, and in Baltimore from 1888 on, working as a lawyer and a planter and serving behind the scenes as a power in the Louisiana Democratic party. Brent was elected to represent Ascension Parish in the Louisiana House in 1874 and 1886. General Brent married a daughter of Louisiana Congressman Duncan Kenner and by that marriage became the nephew-in-law of Generals Richard Taylor and Allen Thomas. General Brent died on November 27,1905, in Baltimore, Maryland. He is buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

Brent is listed as a general in SHSP (with a November, 1864, date of commission), CMH, Wood, and Heitman, though not listed as a Kirby Smith appointment by Warner. The OR show him as "acting brigadier general" on December 31, 1864, the same designation as A. P. Bagby and other known Kirby Smith appointments, but the record of that appointment is not in the OR. The best proof of his being a general is the fact that after the war Brent applied for a general's pardon. In his application for pardon (which carried endorsements from, among others, the Union governors of Louisiana, Arizona, and California) he lists himself as a brigadier general at a time when he had every inducement not to do so.

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Reference:  More Generals in Gray.  Bruce S. Allardice.  A companion volume to Generals in Gray.  Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.