Brownlee served in the 134th New York Infantry, which at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg belonged to a brigade commanded by Col. Charles R. Coster. During the afternoon of the first day of the battle, Coster’s Brigade was ordered to support the crumbling federal right on the northern edge of Gettysburg. Soon after the brigade formed, the Confederate juggernaut descended on Coster’s men. The 134th was overwhelmed by advancing rebels on the front, flank and rear. More than half the regiment became casualties, including Brownlee, who suffered wounds from four bullets and three buckshot. His case study appeared in The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion:
CASE.—Private James Brownlee, Co. G, 134th New York Volunteers, aged 21 years, was wounded at Gettysburg, July 1st, 1863, by four balls and three buckshot. One ball, probably conoidal, entered the sternum about an inch below the jugular fossa, and passing downward and outward, underneath the second, third, and fourth ribs, perforated the upper lobe of the right lung superficially, and emerged between the fourth and fifth ribs, about three inches to the right of the nipple of the same side. Three buckshot took effect just above the pubes, some of them passing through the bladder. One ball entered the right thigh and lodged; another (conoidal) entered the left thigh and passed nearly through. It was removed on the fourth day. A nearly spent conoidal ball entered the back of the sacrum, near its middle, and buried itself slightly beneath the skin, whence it was immediately removed by the patient. In addition to the injuries already stated the patient affirms that he was finally struck upon his knapsack, and knocked down by a piece of railroad iron about eighteen inches long, which was fired from one of the enemy’s guns. Being made a prisoner soon after, a Confederate surgeon removed some fragments of the sternum from the wound of exit, and dressed the wound with pledgets of lint, removing them every hour or two. He observed that whenever the dressing was removed he breathed with difficulty, but on being replaced he felt immediate relief. The patient was admitted to Camp Letterman, Pennsylvania on August 6th, and was furloughed on October 30th, 1863. He was admitted to Central Park Hospital, New York, on December 9th, 1863, and came under the observation of Professor Frank H. Hamilton, who stated that “after the lapse of nine months there is a copious purulent discharge from both orifices, and the walls of the thorax upon the injured side have already contracted considerably. The posterior portion of the right lung admits air freely, nearly to its base. In front, no auscultatory sounds are detected. When he stands erect the right shoulder falls considerably. Most of the time he has troublesome diarrhea, yet under a generous diet he is gradually gaining his strength and health.” On June 3d, 1865, Brownlee was admitted to Ira Harris Hospital, Albany. He was discharged the service on August 12th, 1865. Examining Surgeon William H. Craig states, August 22d, 1866, that “a fistulous opening remains in the breast, at which the air escapes in inspiration. About four ounces of pus is discharged from this opening each day. Disability probably permanent.” On January 29th, 1867, Examining Surgeon E.S. Delavan, at Albany, reports: “Three buckshot entered in front near the symphisis pubis, perforating the bladder. Strange to say, he recovered from the wound. Ball entered the breast and sternum and passed out (probably, though he never saw the ball); it may be in the chest below the right nipple. The right lung is almost totally useless. I can detect no respiratory murmur, and he has cough and feeble pulse. In my opinion, the disability is permanent.”
Brownlee lived until age 62, dying after he suffered a stroke in 1904.