Second Battle of Bull Run - Brawner's Farm (Day 1)

Our men on the left loaded and fired with the energy of madmen, and the 6th worked with equal desperation. This stopped the rush of the enemy and they halted and fired upon us their deadly musketry. During a few awful moments, I could see by the lurid light of the powder flashes, the whole of both lines. The two ... were within ... fifty yards of each other pouring musketry into each other as fast as men could load and shoot.”

— Maj. Rufus R. Dawes, 6th Wisconsin

August 28: Brawner's Farm (Gainesville)

Action at Brawner's Farm, August 28.

The Second Battle of Bull Run began on August 28 as a Federal column, under Jackson's observation just outside of Gainesville, near the farm of the John Brawner family, moved along the Warrenton Turnpike. It consisted of units from Brig. Gen. Rufus King's division: the brigades of Brig. Gens. John P. Hatch, John Gibbon, Abner Doubleday, and Marsena R. Patrick, marching eastward to concentrate with the rest of Pope's army at Centreville. King was not with his division because he had suffered a serious epileptic attack earlier that day.

Jackson, who had been relieved to hear earlier that Longstreet's men were on their way to join him, displayed himself prominently to the Union troops, but his presence was disregarded. Concerned that Pope might be withdrawing his army behind Bull Run to link up with McClellan's arriving forces, Jackson determined to attack. Returning to his position behind the tree line, he told his subordinates, "Bring out your men, gentlemen." At about 6:30 p.m., Confederate artillery began shelling the portion of the column to their front, John Gibbon's Black Hat Brigade (later to be named the Iron Brigade). Gibbon, a former artilleryman, responded with fire from Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery. The artillery exchange halted King's column. Hatch's brigade had proceeded past the area and Patrick's men, in the rear of the column, sought cover, leaving Gibbon and Doubleday to respond to Jackson's attack. Gibbon assumed that, since Jackson was supposedly at Centreville (according to Pope), and having just seen the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves of Hatch's Brigade reconnoiter the position, that these were merely horse artillery cannons from Jeb Stuart's cavalry. Gibbon sent aides out to the other brigades with requests for reinforcements, and sent his staff officer Frank A. Haskell to bring the veteran 2nd Wisconsin Infantry up the hill to disperse the harassing cannons. Gibbon met the 2nd in the woods saying, "If we can get you up there quietly, we can capture those guns."

"Our men on the left loaded and fired with the energy of madmen, and the 6th worked with equal desperation. This stopped the rush of the enemy and they halted and fired upon us their deadly musketry. During a few awful moments, I could see by the lurid light of the powder flashes, the whole of both lines. The two ... were within ... fifty yards of each other pouring musketry into each other as fast as men could load and shoot."
—Maj. Rufus R. Dawes, 6th Wisconsin

The 2nd Wisconsin, under the command of Col. Edgar O'Connor, advanced obliquely back through the woods the Federal column was passing through. When the 430 men emerged from the woods on John Brawner's farm they were quietly formed and advanced up the hill. Upon reaching the plateau, they deployed skirmishers who drove back Confederate skirmishers. They soon received a heavy volley into their right flank by 800 men of the fabled Stonewall Brigade, commanded by Col. William S. Baylor. Absorbing the volley from 150 yards (140 m), the 2nd Wisconsin did not waver, but replied with a devastating volley at the Virginians in Brawner's orchard. The Confederates returned fire when the lines were only 80 yards (73 m) apart. As units were added by both sides, the battle lines remained close together, a standup fight with little cover, trading mass volleys for over two hours. Jackson described the action as "fierce and sanguinary." Gibbon added his 19th Indiana. Jackson, personally directing the actions of his regiments instead of passing orders to the division commander, Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, sent in three Georgia regiments belonging to Brig. Gen. Alexander R. Lawton's brigade. Gibbon countered this advance with the 7th Wisconsin. Jackson ordered Brig. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble's brigade to support Lawton, which met the last of Gibbon's regiments, the 6th Wisconsin.

After Trimble's brigade entered the action, Gibbon needed to fill a gap in his line between the 6th Wisconsin and the rest of the Iron Brigade regiments. Doubleday sent in the 56th Pennsylvania and the 76th New York, who advanced through the woods and checked the new Confederate advance. These men arrived at the scene after dark and both Trimble and Lawton launched uncoordinated assaults against them. Horse artillery under Captain John Pelham was ordered forward by Jackson and fired at the 19th Indiana from less than 100 yards (91 m). The engagement ended around 9 p.m., with Gibbon's men slowly retreating backwards still firing, making their line at the edge of the woods. Doubleday's regiments retired to the turnpike in an orderly fashion. The fight was essentially a stalemate, but at a heavy cost, with over 1,150 Union and 1,250 Confederate casualties. The 2nd Wisconsin lost 276 of 430 engaged. The Stonewall brigade lost 340 out of 800. Two Georgia regiments—Trimble's 21st and Lawton's 26th—each lost more than 70%. In all, one of every three men engaged in the fight was shot. Confederate Brig. Gen. William B. Taliaferro wrote, "In this fight there was no maneuvering and very little tactics. It was a question of endurance and both endured." Taliaferro was wounded, as was Ewell, whose right leg had to be amputated.

"In a few moments our entire line was engaged in a fierce and sanguinary struggle with the enemy. As one line was repulsed another took its place and pressed forward as if determined by force of numbers and fury of assault to drive us from our positions."
—Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson

Jackson had not been able to achieve a decisive victory with his superior force (about 6,200 men against Gibbon's 2,100), due to darkness, his piecemeal deployment of forces, the wounding of two of his key generals, and the tenacity of the enemy. But he had achieved his strategic intent, attracting the attention of John Pope. Pope wrongly assumed that the fight at the Brawner Farm occurred as Jackson was retreating from Centreville. Pope believed he had "bagged" Jackson and sought to capture him before he could be reinforced by Longstreet. Pope's dispatch sent that evening to Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny stated, in part, "General McDowell has intercepted the retreat of the enemy and is now in his front ... Unless he can escape by by-paths leading to the north to-night, he must be captured." Gibbon conferred with King, Patrick, and Doubleday as to the next move, because McDowell was "lost in the woods." Per Gibbon's recommendation, the only remaining Federal force still between Lee and Jackson moved out at 1 a.m. heading east on the pike towards Centreville.

Pope issued orders to his subordinates to surround Jackson and attack him in the morning, but he made several erroneous assumptions. He assumed that McDowell and Sigel were blocking Jackson's retreat routes toward the Bull Run Mountains, but the bulk of both units were southeast of Jackson along the Manassas-Sudley Road. Pope's assumption that Jackson was attempting to retreat was completely wrong; Jackson was in a good defensive position, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Longstreet to begin attacking Pope. Despite receiving intelligence of Longstreet's movements, Pope inexplicably discounted his effect on the battle to come.

As the bright red sun slowly set on a warm late summer evening, Union troops marching east along Warrenton Turnpike knew nothing of the danger that awaited them. The Federal soldiers had been scouring the Virginia countryside for days, looking for ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, who seemed to have vanished along with all his men. Yet all the Yankees would have had to do to find him was to look up the hill to their left, where Jackson was watching them from his horse.