Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Brownell (1820-1872) moved at an early age to East Hartford, Connecticut, where he spent the major portion of his life. He attended Trinity College (then Washington College) in Hartford, and was admitted to the bar in 1844.
He quickly turned to literature and produced, in the 1850's, several volumes of general world history. It was, however, as a poet that he gained greatest fame. Some of his verse dates to as early as 1838, and his first volume of poetry was Poems (1847). Ephemeron followed in 1855, and his greatest poems--those concerning the Civil War, in which he served in a minor capacity with the Union Navy--were included in such volumes as Lyrics of a day: or, Newspaper poetry and War-lyrics and other poems (1866). Many of these had originally appeared in various Hartford newspapers, mainly the Courant. A selection of his war verse was published posthumously as Lines of battle (1912), edited by M.A. De Wolfe Howe. His work was praised by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and others.