Brown was a prominent attorney in Pulaski, Tennessee, prior to the war. He opposed secession and was an elector for the Constitutional Union Party during the election of 1860; the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell for president and tried to steer a middle road between North and South. When Tennessee seceded in April 1861, Brown enlisted as a private in the Confederate army. His time as an enlisted man was brief, however, as he was made a colonel in the 3rd Tennessee within a month.
Brown’s unit was stationed at Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River when it was captured by General Ulysses S. Grant in February 1862. Brown was a prisoner for six months. After being exchanged, he was promoted to brigadier general and was wounded at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky,in October 1862. He recovered in time to fight at the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee,two months later, but was wounded again at Chickamauga in September 1863. He was back at his post for the siege of Chattanooga in October and November 1863. Brown served the next year with the army through the Atlanta campaign, and was part of the General John Bell Hood force that invaded Tennessee that fall. Brown was wounded for a third time at the Battle of Franklin on November 30. This battle was a disaster for the Confederates, as five other Rebel generals were wounded and six more killed during the engagement. Brown recovered in time to join General Joseph Johnston’s surviving force as it surrendered to General William T. Sherman in North Carolina at the end of the war.
After the war, Brown served two terms as governor of Tennessee and was a railroad president. He died in 1889 at Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee.