BATTLE OF BRAWNER FARM
AUGUST 28, 1862
Tallerferro and Ewell's Divisions of Jackson's corps were resting near the Centerville road about a mile north of the village of Gainesville. The former was Jackson's old Division and with it was the famous Stonewall himself. The Confederates were waiting for the coming of McDowell's corps which was moving North on the Pike. Just before sundown the lead of the 4th brigade of Kings Division, carrying the banners of Indiana and Wisconsin, afterwards known as the "Iron Brigade." Immediately following were two regiments of the 2nd Brigade of King's Division: the 56th Pennsylvania and the 76th New York. In the latter regiment was the writer, weary and dusty, very close to his captain and wearing proudly the stripes of 1st Sergeant.
Our own troops were moving along the broad road, artillery and infantry side by side. They were not aware of the near presence of the enemy. Suddenly opened the Confederate artillery - very close to us were the guns. The shells with horrid shrieks went past us and over us crashing into the woods. One with a demonic yell seemed to pass just over me. Involuntarily I ducked my head low.
The question, "Did it jar you?" So often now heard would have been answered with an emphatic affirmative. Again my head went down.
"Well," thought I, "this won't do. I must get myself together and stand up."
By great effort of the will I did so. A few men fled wildly into the woods. It seemed for a moment as if the regiment would be stampeded. But the coolness and courage of the Col. prevented a panic.
Neither the Corps nor Division commanders were within reach. The two brigade commanders hurriedly consulting decided to fight. Gibbon sent his western men to the left and pushed them forward toward the enemy. The Col. of the 56th Pa. exclaimed, "Shall we push in general? My men are eager for the fray."
The General said "Move in the 56th and 76th at once. Push up through the woods to the support of Gibbon's men."
On the left of the road was a fringe of woods perhaps 50 yards across. Beyond the woods was an open field bounded on the further side by another piece of woods. In these woods and in front of them were the Confederates in great force. Our two regiments double quicked until they cleared the right of Gibbon's men, then, facing to the left, they moved rapidly forward.
There came to our ears the crash of thousands of muskets as Gibbon's men met Jackson's. We heard the "ping, ping" of the Confederate bullets. Wounded men rushed past us to the rear. My Captain was an enthusiastic fighter. I heard him say "Now we are in for it boys, fire low."
Soon we were up to the battle line and formed on the right of the 6th Wisconsin. Now came the crucial test - the two lines face each other at close range, and load and fire as fast as they can. Captain Noyes, a staff officer at Brigade headquarters, from which point he had a good view of the opposing forces, says in his work "The Bivouac and the Battlefield":
"All along the low ridge parallel to our position stood double lines of Rebel infantry. I saw a mile of lightening leaping from their muskets while a deluge of thunderbolts shivered like fiends among us and over us. Our boys fell like the leaves of autumn."
While the fight was raging the hottest, Charley Rounds, a young boy of probably sixteen, said excitedly to me: "Jo Grimes is shot through the shoulder! See there, his blood has run all down my arm!"
Jo Grimes was the oldest man in our company - enrolled as 45, he was perhaps ten years older. His wound was mortal. As I thought of him next day on the march and always as I think of him to this day there comes to me a nursery rhyme so familiar to me when a boy, so literally and tragically true in this case:
"Old Grimes is dead, that good ol' man
Well never see him more
He used to wear an old blue coat
All buttoned down before"
The conflict was too terrible and at too close range to last. The enemy undertook to terminate it by a charge. The charge was delivered against the Wisconsin men just to the left of the 76th. It was now quite dark.
I saw the charging lines go rapidly towards ours, the men bending well forward so that the bullets might go over them. I saw the colors of the nearest regiment and the commanding officer waving his sword. I feared that our single line of battle would be broken. I took a step to the rear of our file closers and looked to see, but the line never wavered. The fire of the Wisconsin men was steady.
The command to the 76th was "To the left oblique, Aim, Fire." The volley took the enemy on the flank. The men fell like grass before a scythe. The man on horseback and the colors went down. The survivors went back. Again and again did the enemy dash against the men of Indiana and Wisconsin only to be repulsed. Then we ceased firing.
Just then I saw a Confederate prisoner marched in. He was in charge of Sergt. Martin Edgcomb of our regiment. The prisoner, upon being questioned, said he belonged to the 18th Alabama but failed to give any information of value regarding the forces in the woods.
Our Colonel had great faith in drill and discipline and feared his volunteer regiment might not be equal to the trial to which it was so suddenly subjected. But immediately after the fight his satisfaction at their conduct found expression. "My men you have done nobly. You have done as well as regulars. You have done better than regulars. Oh if I could only have drilled you two months longer."
Fearing there were cavalry in the woods he ordered that files to be counted that we might form squares in case of a cavalry charge. It then appeared that the 76th had half as many files as at the beginning of the fight. Five Captains had fallen. The men gave three cheers, to which the rebels did not reply, and then about-faced and marched back to a point near the fork.
Now what was the situation? The men in the ranks that night did not know; perhaps the general officers did not fully. McDowell's Corps, which was strong enough to cope with Jackson, was between him and Longstreet's men. Nearby were Seigel and Porter. What Gen. Pope wanted, what he commanded, was that these troops should (his thought was not completed here, believe he meant to say that McDowell was to be between Longstreet and Jackson to keep them separated) while he next morning attached him from the east. After hearing of the fight of King's Division he was sure of being able to do it. Great was his disappointment the next day on learning that McDowell had retreated to Manassas and the way was left for Jackson to unite with Longstreet.
The fight with Jackson's two Divisions was made with six regiments only, one other supported the battery. The loss of life was fearful considering the number engaged. The Rebels confessed to a loss of a thousand men. General Ewell lost a leg. The thorny fight made and the darkness no doubt saved us from annihilation or capture. Part of Kings Division - Hatches Brigade - was ahead of us and past Palmers Brigade. Where the other two Divisions of the Corps were, I don't know. At any rate there seemed to be no help at hand.
And now it became apparent to the two brigade commanders that their small force was in an extremely dangerous position. Two prisoners were brought to brigade headquarters of Gen. Doubleday and questioned.
One, a young officer, whose handsome face and engaging manners won the admiration of his questioners. Standing in the light of the campfire he courteously replied, carefully avoiding giving any information that would injure his cause.
The private, while being questioned apart, confirmed the suspicion that we faced Jackson's Corps. He also said the Confederates believed that they had fallen in with Pope's main body.
It seemed imperative that the six shattered regiments that had done the fighting should get out of the way while night lasted. It was decided to leave the Centerville road and retreat to Manassas. Preparations were immediately made for the march, ammunition was issued. Details were made to bring in the wounded. The task was a sad arduous one. The surgeon had improvised hospitals in the woods. There by the light of small candles and torches they ministrated to the suffering wounded as best they could.
Capt. Watrous of my company commanded the detail to bring in the wounded of the 76th. They went in the darkness close to the Confederate lines. They could hear the conversation of their men and the cries of there wounded. When they came to a prostrate form they put hands on the face to see if it was cold. If not he was picked up or helped up.
For another account of the Battle of Brawner's Farm, see "The Second Wisconsin at the Battle of Brawner's Farm" on another website.
August 29 and 30, 1862
The morning of Aug 29th found our Division at Manassas Junction. The terribly hot fight at Gainsville the evening before and the night's march had greatly reduced our numbers and unnerved our men. We all now promised ourselves a little needed rest.
A nearby brook furnished abundant water. Fresh beef and other rations were issued. When boiling the beef on spits and discussing among ourselves the trying events of the last 24 hours our eyes were gladdened by long columns of men with dusty clothing and battered battle flags marching down the front. They were McClellen's men from the Peninsula. They had come to help us in our unequal contest with Lee. As the many thousands passed us our men gave them many cheering hurrahs, which they returned with enthusiasm.
But we had little time to cheer or to rest. Before our breakfast was finished we had orders to fall in at once and march toward the front. The distant cannonading advised us that the second day's battle had commenced. We were all needed and must get within supporting distance as soon as possible. We suffered much on the march from heat and thirst. When the water in our canteens was exhausted we drank the brackish water from the ditches by the roadside straining it as best we could through our fingers. The men talked together of the probable time before we would get into the fight. One boaster in my company remarking "I don't care how soon". His comrades, remembering that he was not in line the night before, didn't feel that his words were very sincere and so it proved when we faced the enemy that night the boast was not there. He had in the confusion of the attack escaped from the ranks.
About four o'clock our command reached the field and formed in line of battle just behind a low ridge. Many thousands of men in rear of us - to the right of us - to the left of us but behind the low ridge everything was quiet. Water could now be obtained and the men drank it and drank it. Some threw themselves on the ground and slept. But over the ridge came the roar of cannon and the explosive volleys of musketry. Our brothers over there with Hooker and Kearney and Seigel were fighting hard and driving the enemy.
About 6 o'clock we moved forward over the ridge and faced to the left. The battlefield was before us. Yet we could see little. So many lines of blue or gray butternut were upon the imminence. Having orders to charge the enemy just to the right of us near a battery sending its iron missals screaming through the air. We could hear their explosions far in front. General McDowell and his staff were near the artillery. Some soldier in the 76th said, "Where are we going General?"
The answer was quick and evidently gave McDowell's opinion of the situation. "You are pursuing a retreating and difficult enemy. Push him like the Devil. That is all you have to do."
The men were hurried forward at a double quick. The batteries on the eminences on either side ceased firing. The gunners cheered us and the iron demons looked toward the enemy, grim and silent. The orders evidently were to cease firing while King's Division charged.
The men were enthusiastic and rushed forward with a will. But it was no easy task to double quick three quarters of a mile in the heat and dust weighed down with a soldier's outfit. Some fell out and some pushed to the front later. Soon we were beyond the line of batteries. But it occurred to some of us that we saw no stragglers or other evidences of a retreating enemy. Could we have known that Longstreet that afternoon had united with Jackson - Could we have known even then that over that eminence we were fast approaching his men in three lines they stood ready to receive us - Could we have foreseen that in less than a half hour we would go as swiftly and with pride humbled and banners lowered, we no doubt would have gone forward less hopefully.
The sun was just going down. The woods to the left of the eminence looking beautiful and peaceful were full of armed men. As soon as the head of the charging column came to the crest it received a volley from the enemy. The regiments of the brigade as they came forward had to be wheeled into line. This was accomplished by much effort and great confusion in some. By great effort on the part of the officers this was accomplished. The 1st New Hampshire battery galloped in to the right of us and with a rush, as our firemen go to a fire, unlimbered and roared out helpful encouragement.
The withering fire that came over the crest caused the line to fall slowly back. General Doubleday seized the colors of one of the regiments and rode forward with them. The men rally enthusiastically around him. One takes from him the colors and plants them in advance. The men are falling fast. Darkness descends. From out of the treacherous woods on our left comes a sheet of flame. The sheltered enemy evidently have us in a terrible death angle.
The captain of my company (Charles L. Watrous) was an enthusiastic fighter. With words and gestures he tried to keep his men steady in line. I saw him bend gently forward. I thought him wounded. But he was not. A bullet had cut his clothing, but had not touched him. A moment later he fell against me. His arm was broken. We turned about. The line now recoiled and was behind us. I supported him back to a stretcher.
Before we got to the foot of the rise I looked behind me. Our troops were hurriedly retreating. I saw the Confederates like a cloud of shadows coming over the top. Some with hands outstretched were running toward the battery. The gunners limbered up and galloped toward the rear. We hurried up and over a small eminence to the right of the road. The air was full of lead. The enemy bullets flew past us. They struck the ground in rear and beside us and hurried our steps.
We passed over a little rise and found ourselves sheltered from the bullets. Hundreds of men were singly and in squads and companies were wildly hurrying to the rear. Some were wounded, others were helping the wounded. Some were swearing enough to lift the hair.
The Captain ordered "Rally, men! Rally, men!"
But the words might have been as well addressed to a flock of scared sheep. The Confederates did not follow far. General Patrick's brigade was pushed forward and with a few well directed volleys stopped the pursuit. I got the Captain on a stretcher and then looked after some others of our wounded. I found David Carpenter's brother, Frank Carpenter, the celebrated painter. He complained of being cold. I gave him my woolen blanket. Another 76th man made the same complaint. I gave him my rubber poncho.
Some stone houses near the road were filled with our wounded. I ministered to them as I could and then finding our colors and the small remnants of the regiment nearby I stretched myself on the ground. I missed my blankets but I had yet the essential things for the greater battle of the morrow: My haversack, canteen, musket and 40 rounds - less 8 which I had fired at the enemy.
There are many interesting incidents connected with this days experience that I would like to relate. But my narrative is already too long. Perhaps the reader will pardon me for selecting one.
It may be asked why was King's Division rushed madly into the death angle?
Written at Duluth in 190?.
Transcribed by B. Conrad Bush
from original handwritten manuscript
in New York State Archive Record Group:
GN 11837 - Uberto Adelbert Burnham Folder 24 - 2nd & 3rd Day Bull Run
For more information on the Battle of Brawner's Farm, see the following books:
Brave Men's Tears - The Iron Brigade at Brawner Farm; Alan D. Gaff, Morningside House, Inc, 260 Oak Street, Dayton, Ohio, 45410, 1996.
The Iron Brigade - A Military History; Alan T. Nolan, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Ind.; edition 1994, originally pub. 1961.
On Many a Bloody Field - Four Years in the Iron Bridage; Alan D. Gaff, Indiana University Press Bloomington, Ind. 1996.
Papers of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts; Virginia Campaign of 1862 Under General Pope; edited by Theodore F. Dwight; Broadfoot Publishing Co.Wilmington, NC , 1989; original published 1895
Second Manassas Battlefield Map Study; John Hennessy, 1st Ed.; H.E. Howard, Inc., Lynchburg, Va. 1991.
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- Last Updated March 1, 1999