A Baptism at Groveton: The Fight at Brawner’s Farm with the 19th Indiana

     Two days before his regiment’s baptism of fire at Brawner’s Farm, Private Hank Gaylord of the 19th Indiana wrote home while in camp upon the Cedar Mountain battlefield. The camp stunk to high heaven- unburied horses and men lay strewn in the area.

          “When we first came here yesterday, a detail of ten men from each company was taken for the purpose of carrying rails to pile on the dead horses and burn them, and to decently bury many of the soldiers, some of whom were not put into the ground at all, but simply covered with a little straw and earth. We have had some awful hot weather lately, but now it is quite comfortable in the daytime and rather cold during the night,” he wrote.

          The following day, the 19th Indiana would march out of camp to pursue Stonewall Jackson’s troops who had stolen a march on John Pope’s army and taken positions near the old Bull Run battlefield. On the night of August 28th, the 19th Indiana as part of General John Gibbon’s Fourth Brigade of General Rufus King’s division would clash with Jackson’s men near John Brawner’s farm on the Warrenton Pike in an engagement called the Battle of Groveton.

          Today’s post features three accounts from soldiers in the 19th Indiana covering the opening stages of this important meeting engagement of the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Major Isaac M. May of the 19th Indiana would sustain a mortal wound at Brawner's Farm and die a week later on the battlefield in Gainesville, Virginia. The final resting place of the 30-year-old Virginia native's remains are unknown: he was buried by a soldier of Co. A of the 19th Indiana along with a Wisconsin soldier, but both were killed in action before they could explain to May's widow and family where they buried the major. 

At the foot of Cedar Mountain, Culpeper County, Virginia

August 26, 1862

          Having nothing to do just now in the shape of camp duty and no letters to answer owing probably to our not having received any mail since one week last night, I thought I would try my hand at writing a few lines for the paper. At present we are encamped close to the foot of Cedar Mountain on the north side near where their battery which did the worst work among our men was planted. We can see plainly where Jackson’s big gun was stationed.

          Our division is camped as near in a body as it can be. This regiment with the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin are now in General Gibbon’s brigade, formerly King’s brigade. [see "How the Iron Brigade Was Wrought: Gainesville through Antietam with the 2nd Wisconsin"]. He is a regular officer, was captain in the 4th Regular battery of artillery. Our only fault with him is he is a little too strict to suit us, although I suppose none to much so for our own good.

          There are any number of graves of Rebel soldiers right here in our camp; also, the carcasses of horses killed in the fight. When we first came here yesterday, a detail of ten men from each company was taken for the purpose of carrying rails to pile on the dead horses and burn them, and to decently bury many of the soldiers, some of whom were not put into the ground at all, but simply covered with a little straw and earth. We have had some awful hot weather lately, but now it is quite comfortable in the daytime and rather cold during the night.

19th Indiana regimental colors

          On the morning of the 5th, our brigade started out on a reconnoitering expedition from Fredericksburg down through Spotsylvania County. Our regiment, the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin, and the 3rd Indiana Cavalry and a Rhode Island battery went out on the Telegraph Road; the 6th Wisconsin, Harris’ Light Cavalry, and a section of a battery of artillery went further to the right for the purpose of tearing up the track and burning railroad bridges and buildings of the Virginia Central Railroad. I think our force went out the Telegraph Road simply for the purpose of keeping off any force which might happen to be in the neighborhood of the railroad.

          The first day after leaving camp we had a little skirmish; that is the cavalry charged a couple of times and the artillery fired a few rounds. The 3rd Indiana Cavalry lost one man killed and three taken prisoners. The day was extremely hot and many of the boys were so overcome with heat that they had to fall out a couple of miles from the place where we were drawn up in line of battle. When we got to the place where the artillery was stationed, only 16 men were in the ranks in our company and not over 150-200 in the whole regiment; the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin regiments were no better off than us. The night we stood picket about half a mile in advance where we had stopped to fight.

This map from the American Battlefield Trust depicts the fighting at Brawner's Farm on the evening of Thursday August 28, 1862. Gibbon's brigade was marching along the Warrenton Pike approached the burg of Groveton when General Jackson dispatched two brigades to attack the federal column. General John Gibbon faced his four regiments to the left to meet the attack as did General Abner Doubleday. The 19th Indiana was on the left of Gibbon's line and near the Brawner Farm. The regiment lost nearly 260 casualties out of the 423 men engaged in the fight, a 61% casualty rate.

          The next day we were again ordered forward, our cavalry scouring the woods in all directions for the distance of four or five miles. We marched till noon that day when the cavalry thought they saw signs of a considerable force getting in our rear. We were immediately turned about and marched till about 3 o’clock when we heard the artillery booming in front of us. The skirmish that afternoon, as far as our brigade was concerned, was confined to the cavalry and artillery. The cavalry was skirmishing at intervals all night. We camped that night near the scene of the second skirmish. The next day we went to Spotsylvania Courthouse, camped there one night, and the next day we went back into camp again at Fredericksburg.

          I don’t know but we gained considerable by the expedition, but I cannot see it in that light as all those who were not able to go on with us the second day were taken prisoners, together with a train of forage wagons which came out after grain. Our regiment lost 38 men, seven of them out of our company. This is rather a shabbily written and put together letters, but I only say I will try and do better some other time.


Captain William Wade Dudley, Co. B, 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Dudley had turned 20 years of age on August 27th 1862 and led his company into the fight at Brawner's Farm the following day. By early October 1862, the former Richmond, Indiana merchant had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and would lead the 19th Indiana through Gettysburg where he sustained a wound in his right leg that eventually required amputation. Discharged for that wound in June 1864, Dudley would later receive a brevet brigadier general's commission in 1865. This image of Lieutenant Colonel Dudley was taken in Richmond, Indiana in January 1864 while the regiment was home of veterans' furlough. 

Two days later, Hank and the 19th Indiana took part in the Battle of Groveton, followed by the Second Battle of Bull Run. Captain William W. Dudley of Co. B of the 19th Indiana provided the following description of the engagement at Groveton where Hank’s company G and Co. B operated in concert:

On the evening of the 28th of August 1862, the 19th Indiana was ordered to engage the enemy on the western edge of the old Bull Run battlefield. We came up in fine style and this company [B] was on the left of the whole line which was soon pouring in a raking fire into the enemy in front. We had been firing but a few moments when a Rebel battery was posted on our left and Lieutenant Colonel A.O. Bachman ordered me to wheel on it and silence it. I immediately wheeled companies B and G to the left and opened a deadly fired on it, and soon the dire ceased, but it was merely for the sake of changing the position, for directly it opened again in front of my company.

I then threw back my right and directed all of my fire on these two guns and finally silenced them altogether. My whole fire was now directed at the two regiments of infantry directly in front of us and we continued this until ordered to retire further down the hill. The whole company heaved in a most gallant manner throughout the fight and sustained, as brave men, the honor of our noble state.


Reunion ribbon belonging to a 19th Indiana soldier who attended the first annual Iron Brigade reunion held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June 1880. Brigade reunions continued until 1933. 

Private Hank Gaylord sustained a wound at Groveton as did Corporal Thomas J. Wasson of Co. B, who described the battle and his experiences afterwards thus:

I received a flesh wound on my leg last Thursday night August 28th while in battle. Our brigade suffered very heavily, losing about 750 killed, wounded, and missing. The fight took place after dark about eight miles west of Manassas Junction on the Centreville Pike. It opened with artillery and then the infantry followed. We fought in the open field at a distance of 50 yards. The balls fell like hail but I saw no man run. Everyone stood up and fought like men, but it was no use; they had too many men for us. Our forces fell back to the edge of a grove and got our wounded off the field. We started about midnight to Manassas and got there about sunrise.

I left from there to go to the hospital, walking two miles to the hospital at the celebrated Weir House, Beauregard’s old headquarters. There I found all the boys from our company. I stayed there over night and walked the next morning to Bull Run, going to the general hospital and styed there overnight. The next morning, I started for the cars at Fairfax Station which was about ten miles. I walked part of the way and gave out and got into an ambulance and rode the balance of the way. We got to the station at dark, the train was loaded, and hundreds lying on the ground had to wait until morning.

I got up on an old cart and rode into Washington, arriving there the next morning. We then got everything to eat we wanted from the good women of Washington. We stayed there all that day and the next day in the afternoon, we started for the cars to go to Philadelphia. We arrived in Baltimore about midnight where we partook of refreshments and started there about daylight. We came very slow and arrived at Wilmington, Delaware about 10 o’clock where it appeared as if every man, woman, and child was at the depot with baskets filled with something to eat splendid pies, cakes, peaches, apples, and pears. I filled my haversack with these delicacies. We arrived at Philadelphia in the middle of the afternoon and were placed in ambulances and carriages and drawn off to the hospital. We got plenty of accommodations here and every attention given to us that is needed.

Corporal Wasson would be killed in action the following year on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

According to historian Alan Gaff, "After the Iron Brigade had buried their dead at Brawner Farm in 1863, soldiers wrote that the bodies had been decently interred. That was a lie for families back home. According to a post-war account by Rufus Dawes, the unburied bodies had been eaten by wild hogs. There was nothing left to bury beyond a few bones and scraps of uniforms. I have a copy of the Quartermaster report on gathering bodies after the war. Each body recovered was marked on a map with a small dot. There were virtually no dots on the Brawner Farm site since there was nothing to recover. It is a gruesome end to the story, but whatever was left of the dead from Gibbon's brigade is still there. You are actually walking on unmarked graves."

 For further reading on the 19th Indiana, readers are encouraged to check out Lance Herdegen's superb studies of the Iron Brigade including The Men Stood Like Iron: How the Iron Brigade Won its Name or The Iron Brigade in the Civil War and Memory . Also check out Alan D. Gaff's Brave Men's Tears: The Iron Brigade at Brawner Farm. 

For a broader study of the Northern Virginia campaign of the summer of 1862, I highly recommend John J. Hennessy's 1999 book Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. It is a model campaign study, well-written, and meticulously researched. 



Letter from Private Henry D. “Hank” Gaylord, Co. G, 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Steuben Republican (Indiana), September 13, 1862, pg. 1

Letter from Captain William W. Dudley, Co. B, 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Richmond Weekly Palladium (Indiana), September 12, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Corporal Thomas J. Wasson, Co. B, 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Richmond Weekly Palladium (Indiana), September 19, 1862, pg. 2


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