August 28, 1862
Confederate Capt. William Blackford described Gen. Stonewall Jackson instructing his officers to attack the Union column marching along the road to Centreville, Va., in the later afternoon of August 28, 1862: “Every officer whirled around and scurried back to the woods at full gallop. The men had been watching their officers with as much interest as they had been watching Jackson and when they wheeled and dashed towards them they knew what it meant, and from the woods arose a hoarse roar like that from the cages of wild beasts at the scent of blood.”
Soon “long columns of glittering brigades, like huge serpents, glided out upon the open field. Then all advanced in as perfect order as if they had been on parade.” More than 6,000 Rebels, six brigades from Gens. Richard S. Ewell’s and William B. Taliaferro’s divisions, launched a surprise attack against Union Gen. John Gibbon’s 2,100 man Black Hat Brigade.
The Union westerners, three regiments from Wisconsin and one from Indiana, had never been in battle before. But Gibbon, a tough regular-army general, led his men forward toward the attackers. The opposing battle lines stopped advancing within 100 yards of each other, stood in the open, and blasted each other for over two hours. There was no maneuvering, no attacks, and no retreats; just a toe-to-toe slugfest. Two regiments, 700 men from Union Gen. Abner Doubleday’s brigade, reinforced Gibbon, but the battle lines remained static until after dark. The Union force then withdrew.
More than 900 men from the Black Hat Brigade were casualties. Total losses for each side were about 1,300 men. Blackford scanned the battlefield the next morning, “The bodies lay in so straight a line that they looked like troops lying down to rest. On each front the edge was sharply defined, while towards the rear of each it was less so, showing how men had staggered backward after receiving their death blow.”
Fascinating Fact: During the battle, Ewell lost a leg. Taliaferro was shot in the neck, foot, and arm but remained on the field until the battle ended.