29 August 1862

With King’s Division Near Manassas Junction 5 A.M.

Where is Jackson?

General Gibbon and his brigade of Westerners received an answer late yesterday afternoon punctuated with Minnie balls and shell. The action commenced along the Warrenton Pike at the Brawner farmstead in the very shadow of ground already hallowed with the dead of Bull Run.

The rebels emerged from the woods north of the road on which the Federal infantry was in line of march and a stand up fight of a full two hours duration ensued. I had been enjoying a very agreeable ride with one of General King’s aides further up the road when the sound of several cannon shots pierced the air, followed by the crack of scattered musketry, placing all our senses on the alert. We turned back immediately and rode to the sound of the guns to find a battery of Union artillery already engaged on the Federal right, and with the regiments of Gibbon’s command smartly swinging into line.

I soon learned that the 19th Indiana occupied the extreme left of our line, followed by the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin in the center and with the 6th regiment of that state anchoring the right flank. As the artillery dueled in the fading light, a rising crescendo of musket fire filled the air. It was immediately apparent that there had been a miscalculation. For the enemy had appeared suddenly, in far superior numbers, upon a rising slope of ground, and held all the advantages to be gained from such a position. With awe and a growing admiration, we watched as the Federal artillery drove off three Confederate batteries in succession and our infantry held firmly to the ground they occupied despite numerous and spirited attempts by the enemy to dislodge them. General Gibbon rode up with a defiant scowl, and promptly sent my riding companion back up the road to secure reinforcements. The Union men responded with alacrity to the shout of each set of orders, the lines changing front numerous times in response to each Confederate maneuver. The firing was continuous and so intense as to be almost beyond description. At length, the two opposing formations of infantry became extended into parallel lines through the entire Brawner property and the fight then assumed the character of a raucous barroom brawl, in which the participants seem oblivious to the severe punishment they are inflicting upon one another. The combatants were never separated by more than a few rods of open, rolling countryside. Consequently, losses on both sides were extreme.

I placed my glass on a group of rebel infantry near one of the Brawner outbuildings, adjacent to a fence line, only to discover that two of them had made me a target. The sound of the balls as they passed over my head was all the motivation I needed to shift my position. A tall, massively built infantryman in the regiment directly in front was decapitated by an artillery ball; a sight too terrible for the sake of decency, to comment upon further. At about dusk, two regiments of Doubleday’s brigade arrived and filled a gap that had remained an open invitation in our lines between the 7th and 6th Wisconsin on our right. Just after dark, the rebels drew back to the woods and the battle ceased. I have since learned that Colonel O’Connor of the 2nd was mortally wounded and carried from the field. Colonel Cutler of the 6th was struck in the leg by a musket ball , his horse carrying him to safety. I saw Major Thomas of the 2nd Wisconsin hit twice by musket balls, only to repeatedly refuse to be taken from the field. The 7th Wisconsin lost its Colonel, and its senior major. It is reliably reported that the 2nd’s losses, where some of the most desperate fighting occurred with Baylor’s brigade of rebels, numbered nearly three hundred killed, wounded, or missing. Captain Julius Randolph, a popular officer of the regiment, was among the dead.

Confederate losses have been equally severe. Incredibly, prisoners taken from what is believed to be Taliferro’s Division of Jackson’s Corps were insistent that they were engaged with far superior numbers of Federal troops, though the reverse is the case. Our forces were outnumbered perhaps as great as three to one at some points during the fighting yet they did not yield. Any lingering doubts about how these Westerners would fight seems to have been removed entirely.

As an unfortunate delay in communicating this dispatch to the Tribune is anticipated, I have been permitted to tell you that General Gibbon’s staff has already identified elements of no fewer than four Confederate brigades numbering nearly 6,000 muskets matched against barely 2,100 obstinate Union defenders. Amidst the confusion that followed the action, I made my way down the road in an effort to find someone with ultimate authority on the field. I soon found a cluster of officers huddled about a dim lantern hung from the back of a supply wagon. It was a wearied and careworn General Rufus King that held an informal council of war with his officers shortly before midnight last evening. There had been rumors to the effect that Longstreet was to the west of our position at Thoroughfare Gap, while Jackson’s Corps had most emphatically declared its presence just northeast of our position along the Warrenton Pike near Groveton. With General King uncertain as to the location of the rest of the army, and with no desire to be caught "between two fires" as it were, it was deemed prudent to move the division closer to Manassas Junction where the corps of General McDowell and perhaps the remainder of General Pope’s army is believed to be concentrating. Gibbon’s men spent much of the remainder of the night sleeping fitfully out in the open or blindly marching and countermarching down darkened roads.

After such a sharp fight yesterday, it can well be imagined that these men can find suitable employment for the rest of the army.

I have heard no end of questions from the ranks to the effect: "where is the rest of the corps? Why aren’t we being reinforced? Where is Pope?" Certainly, a more general action is in the offing.

S. Wilkeson

The foregoing dispatches submitted by Thomas M. Sobottke portraying New York Tribune correspondent Samuel Wilkeson and based upon research, observations at Wade House this past September.