The Iron Brigade had what Captain Edwin A. Brown of the 6th Wisconsin called its “baptism of blood and carnage” at Brawner’s Farm on the evening of August 28, 1862. Except for the 2nd Wsconsin, which had fought at First Bull Run, Brawner’s Farm was the first major battle of the war for Gibbon’s men. Civil War soldiers referred to this as “seeing the elephant.” Private Albert Young of the 6th Wisconsin later remembered the emotions he felt during this frst battle -- feelings that were common to nearly all men on both sides on going into battle for the first time. Young realized
that the prospects for getting killed were growing bright, and the question I first put to myself was, “Are you a coward?” to this I without an instant’s hesitation answered, “Yes.” Should I run? I must have been very pale. It seemed as if my blood had stopped circulating. Waves of intense heat flashed in quick succession through my entire being. I trembled so I could wth difficulty keep from dropping my musket, but I hung on because I realized I should soon have need of it if I were not knocked out very early by a rebel bullet…. My legs quaked so they would scarecely support my weight, slight though it was. Should I run? Although I could hardly move one foot before the other toward the enemy, I felt that were I to head the other way I could beat the record. My mouth had in an instant, as it seemed, become dry and parched. I was suffering a terrible thirst. With trembling fingers I managed to get my canteen to my lips and took a long draught. It did not quench the thirst by which I was consumed. Again the question presented itself to me, “Shall I run?” I answered it in the negative, because I was too much of a coward to run. I was too cowardly to endure being called a coward by my comrades if I survived…. A black mass was moving out from the timber in front, directly toward us. I will not be certain, but I shall always think my hair began rising at this time. At least something lifted my hat from my head, and I had to grab quickly for it or I should have lost it. But I caught it and pulled it down tight so it would not be liable to come off again. Just at this instant, our colonel’s voice was heard giving the commands. There was not a suspicion of a tremor in his voice, while I could not, I felt sure, utter an audible sound.
With the battle lines at times less than 100 yards apart, each side refused to back down. It was the kind of stand-up fight that would become a rarity in the years ahead, and both sides suffered devastating losses. “The enemy never once attempted to advance upon our position, but withstood with great determination the terrible fire which our lines poured upon them,” Major Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wisconsin recalled. “For two hours and a half, without an instant’s cessation of the most deadly discharges of musketry, round shot and shell, both lines stood unmoved, neither advancing and neither broken nor yielding….”