The 14th Brooklyn was a militia company organized in 1847 and headquartered out of the old armory at Henry and Cranberry Streets in the Brooklyn Heights District. Composed of affluent members of the city, the company's primary functions consisted of ceremonial parades and celebrations. Formally mustered as the 84 New York Infantry with a strength of 855 men, the regiment maintained its more popular designation as the 14th Brooklyn, by special permission of Brigadier General Irwin McDowell.
The 14th was outfitted by the city of Brooklyn in a distinctive uniform of its own design based on that of the French Chasseurs. The uniform consisted of pleated red trousers and a skirted blue chasseur jacket. A double row of fourteen or fifteen brass buttons adorned the front of the jacket. Under the jacket, a fifteen-button red waistcoat, or vest, was worn. Red chevrons were worn on the forearms of both sleeves. The men wore white leggings or gaiters; the outfit topped off with a red kepi with a blue band and crown upon which the number 14 shone in brass numerals. White gloves and paper collars were worn for dress parade. Despite the derision their uniforms inspired from other regiments, the men of the 14th took great pride in their appearance and maintained their uniform for the duration of their service, until May 1864.
In battle, the 14th Brooklyn earned a reputation for fierceness and recklessness in combat. At First Manassas, the 14th made three charges up Henry Hill and took heavy casualties as it supported the Union batteries there. The men fought so severely that they earned the sobriquet of the "Fighting 14th and "the Red-legged Devils." The regiment fought in every major battle of the Army of the Potomac, and by 1 July 1863 could muster only 356 men in its ranks.
At Gettysburg, the 14th Brooklyn, led by Colonel Edward B. Fowler, marched in the early morning to reach the battlefield. As the 14th was moving toward the town, "the men pushed forward along the Emmitsburg Turnpike. Upon reaching a point about two miles from Gettysburg ... they suddenly beheld a panorama of the hills and valleys ... spread out before them. At the same instant the sound of artillery fire was borne to them on the morning wind. ... It looked like serious work ahead ..." - C.V. Tevis, regimental historian
The 14th fell back, re-aligned with the 95th New York near and parallel to the Chambersburg Pike, and lay down for several minutes. Then, as recalled in the regiment's history, "[a]t the Colonel's command they rushed forward with a cheer. There was an ascent of about three feet at the pike. As the troops ... reached this little eminence, they were met with a murderous hail of musket bullets. The balls came so thick and fast that the whirring noise they made sounded like the steady rhythm of machinery. For just an instant ... the line wavered ... and then, with another cheer ... the men rushed on."
Fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued as the Red-legged Devils engaged Davis' Confederates at the railroad cut. The Brooklynites, together with the 6th Wisconsin and the 95th New York, trapped the Rebels in the railroad cut; more than 200 Confederates were captured there, along with the battle flag of the 2nd Mississippi. Later, as other Union regiments retreated from McPherson's Ridge in the face of unrelenting pressure, the 14th Brooklyn once again found itself under heavy fire as it covered the withdrawal.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, the 14th Brooklyn lost 13 killed, 105 wounded, and 99 missing out of 318 men engaged. This sixty-eight percent loss rate places the 14th among the top twenty Union regiments to suffer fifty percent or greater casualties at the battle. The regiment incurred most of its losses during the fighting along the Emmitsburg Turnpike and at the railroad cut. Their sacrifice at this critical time in the opening of the battle bought time for Union reinforcements to arrive and secure the ground.