Stephen Flavius Brown was born in Swanton, Vermont, on April 4, 1841. He was educated in Swanton, became a teacher, and planned to begin studies at the University of Vermont in the fall of 1862.
Instead of beginning college, Brown enlisted for the Civil War as a Private in Company K, 13th Vermont Infantry Regiment. He was soon elected the company’s First Lieutenant. The 13th Vermont was part of the 2nd Vermont Brigade, and carried out duties in Maryland and Virginia during 1862 and 1863.
In July 1863, the 2nd Vermont Brigade marched from Maryland to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as part of the VI Corps. While en route, Brown violated a “no straggling” order and disobeyed a security detail guarding a well to refill the canteens of several soldiers in his company who were succumbing to the effects of the summer heat. Brown was placed under arrest and relieved of his sword and pistol, an officer’s symbols of authority. Given the circumstances unfolding at the Battle of Gettysburg, Brown was not detained and was allowed to keep marching with his men.
Once the 2nd Brigade arrived at Gettysburg, Brown determined to reclaim his honor by taking part in the fight. Arming himself with a hand axe from a woodpile near his regiment’s camp, Brown charged into battle to the cheers of his men. During the hand-to-hand combat he compelled the surrender of a Confederate officer, whose sword and pistol Brown seized before making the Confederate a prisoner.
During the battle Brown suffered head trauma from the concussion of an artillery shell which exploded near him as he rendered aid to a member of the regiment who had lost a leg during the fighting. Despite the hearing loss and other effects from the shell’s concussion, Brown refused to leave the field, telling the regimental surgeon that he would continue to fight unless the entire regiment was ordered to retreat.
The 13th Vermont’s role at Gettysburg included taking part in the counterattack on Pickett’s Charge. Units of the 2nd Vermont Brigade, commanded by George J. Stannard, marched out from the Union lines, executed a left flank maneuver, and fired directly into the flank of Pickett’s men as they advanced. Stannard’s timely action effectively ended Pickett’s Charge and the Battle of Gettysburg.
Brown continued to wear the captured sword and pistol until the end of his service. The charges against him for violating the “no straggling” order were not pursued.