Just hours before he was about three miles away from this valley receiving his final orders. He knew it was basically a suicide mission. He heard a Major say, "Those poor souls are like raw meat going into a meat grinder." The Major said this in sorrow. They had all seen enough of death. Torn bodies- it was obvious the technology for the weaponry was far superior to modern medical technology.
Captain Brown, or Captain Brownie as his men called him, knew he had to rally the troops for a battle they could not win- but one they would try with all their might and blood to win anyway. Captain Brown asked Parson Finch, a Presbyterian Pastor attached to their division, to lead them in prayer before this battle. Parson Finch was actually a Colonel, but never allowed himself to be addressed as such because he felt his calling from God was a higher calling than that of his beloved State- Virginia. Captain Brown thought it very apropos that Parson Finch prayed about his men "Storming the gates of hell itself." That is what they would be doing. Captain Brown felt that in this instance there was little chance they would prevail against the gates of hell. It seemed fitting that this night was moonless and dark.
The march was a forced march to the front and then a ten minute rest before the troops swarmed the valley. They knew that Yankee troops were going to hit them from all sides and that a strong artillery position awaited them at the end. Captain Brown led about 500 men. Scouts had estimated that the Northern troops were numbered at about 1400. Not the way to win a battle. The only things going for Brown's force was that they would surprise the enemy with this insane strike and they would be able to move under cover of complete darkness. They would have to move about a mile into the valley to face the artillery position. If they could get that far they had a chance to do some damage. But victory was near impossible.
As the force rested their ten minutes, Captain Brown told them that they were to drive forward at half-speed and quietly until they hear the first shot. At that time they would charge ahead with reckless abandon and a hearty "rebel yell." "And remember old Stonewall as you give 'em the bayonet!" A few of these men had fought under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. In fact, this was a rag-tag group of soldiers from splintered divisions or divisions that had been wiped-out. But they were all serious and hardened enough by this war that they knew the importance of this battle- and the expected defeat. But they were encouraged by the thought of David fighting the giant Philistine Goliath. Parson Finch had just preached about that in his morning devotion this morning.
Ten minutes passed like an eternity- a strange mixture of dread and excitement. Wanting to cry and wanting to get in there and do the impossible. Finally it was time. Captain Brown uttered a quick prayer with his men and they began their march into "the gates of hell."
Their pace was a trot to begin, but they gradually began to sprint toward the line. Strangely, there was no opposition as they crossed the half-way mark toward their goal. Finally, someone could not contain themselves and began the storied "rebel yell." When they were about 1000 yards from the artillery, the surprised Yankee troops began to defend their position. The bullets whizzed by and caught several men in mid-step. They went down like a sack of dirt, crashing to the ground. Undaunted, their fellow soldiers continued on. At about 500 yards, they could easily make out the form of the enemy soldiers. Each Confederate soldier had one shot before they would be left only with their bayonets.
As they were closing in, Captain Brown thought to himself, "Maybe, just maybe, we can make it. We are almost there!" The Yankee fire was inflicting more Southern casualties, but still about 430 men were surging forward toward the artillery. Some fell cursing, others fell and called out with a prayer to the God they hoped to see as their breath ceased.
Captain Brown was in the lead, also with a bayonet, leading the charge. Men running on one side- all out, not noticing any fatigue or need to rest despite the long journey to this point- adrenaline was pumping fast and furious. More went down with the volley, but fewer then before as the Yankee soldiers were not as accurate, rushing their shots, as they heard the rebel yell and saw the over 400 men rushing toward them at a lightning-fast pace.
Finally Captain Brown was within 70 yards of the main gun. He saw the Yankee artillery position clearly. The soldier in blue lit the fuse as the captain and his troops were in a full charge right into the teeth of the enemy position. "This will be my last battle," he thought in the split second before the large gun fired directly at him. In less than a second he saw the large black object emerge from the barrel and in an instant it was over for him and about 20 men behind him. All was silent in the life of Captain John Brown, Confederate States of America Army.
He did not live to see his remaining 300 or so troops capture the gun that ended his command and his life as well as the six others, loaded, but not fired by Yankees who were now dead like "Captain Brownie." He did not see his troops turn the guns on a wave of advancing Yankees who were counting on the guns to prepare the way for a counter-attack. He did not see the Confederate forces sweep in from both flanks after they were engaged to further surprise the "Yankee invader." Captain Brown led his troops into a victory that seemed impossible. He never saw the turn of the battle.