Today marks the 147th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Second Manassas. For three days in August 1862, death revisited the fields north of Manassas Junction, Virginia. Barely a year after US Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was turned away, by CSA Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, at the First Battle of Manassas, an even deadlier affair would be fought on the same rolling hills.
This time the Federal troops were commanded by US Major General John Pope. Designated the Army of Virginia, they were opposed by CSA General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Pope, strong willed and bombastic, was reeling from his bloody repulse at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. With his army widely scattered, he was searching for CSA Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Left Wing. According to intelligence Pope received, Jackson was bivouacked at Centreville, Virginia – approximately five miles east of the plains of the First Manassas Battlefield. Late in the afternoon, on August 28, portions of US Major General Irvin McDowell’s III Corps were attacked as the pushed east on the Warrenton Turnpike, near Groveton, Virginia. Still west of the Manassas battlefield, US Brigadier General John Gibbon’s brigade was surprised by the volley of artillery slamming into their left flank – from the north. Believing the fire was coming from Confederate horse artillery, Gibbon deployed his brigade and advanced north towards Brawner’s Farm, unaware that he was opposed by an entire division of Jackson’s detachment. The fighting quickly escalated with Gibbon being reinforced by US Brigadier General Abner Doubleday’s brigade. The Battle of Brawner’s Farm was extremely brutal, with some of the most desperate fighting of the war occurring while the Federal army was spread out and very vulnerable. Brawner’s Farm, while considered a separate battle, was the prelude to one of the largest battles of the Civil War – Second Manassas.
Get comfortable, and relax. Take a journey with me to August 1862, to the fields north of Manassas Junction where one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War took place. The following essay comes from my other website, BattlefieldPortraits.com. Enjoy.
Battle of Second Manassas
(also known as 2nd Bull Run)
Location: Manassas, VA
Dates: August 28 – 30, 1862
Union Commander: John Pope, Major General
Confederate Commander: Robert E. Lee, General
Robert E. Lee had accomplished the unimaginable. He had pushed US Major General George B. McClellan’s massive Army of the Potomac, from the “Gates of Richmond.” After CSA General Joseph Johnston was wounded, at the battle of Seven Pines, Robert Lee would take over command of the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Seven Days battles, Lee would hammer McClellan’s larger army until it was pushed to Harrison’s Landing, on the James River.
In the west, after earning a victory at Island #10, US Major General John Pope would be brought east, by Abraham Lincoln. Creating the Army of Virginia, Lincoln determined to pressure Robert E. Lee, from northern Virginia. Lee would detach his 2d Corps, commanded by CSA Major General Thomas Jackson, to keep Pope from reinforcing McClellan. This would culminate in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, where US Major General Nathanial Bank’s detachment, from the Army of Virginia, would be badly trounced by Jackson.
Pope would consolidate his army, north of the Rappahannock River, and await Jackson’s next move. In the meantime, with George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac retreating from the peninsula, Robert E. Lee quickly moved to consolidate his army, and deal with John Pope.
For several days, in late August, after the consolidation of the Army of Northern Virginia, John Pope did not know where Lee’s army was. Still camped near Culpeper, Virginia, Pope would learn quickly about the speed Thomas Jackson’s “foot cavalry.” Having “forced marched” his 2d Corps northwest, through Thoroughfare Gap, Jackson attacked Pope’s supply line, at Bristoe Station. Pope would not learn of this until a train, destined for Bristoe Station, would rapidly return to Pope describing the terrible destruction of his supply line.
This news broke John Pope’s lethargy. He quickly put his Army of Virginia into motion, in an effort to defeat Jackson’s lone 2d Corps. Using separate roads, Pope’s army quickly pushed north. US Major General Franz Sigel’s I Corps, and Irvin McDowell’s III Corps, represented the left army wing. Nathanial Bank’s II Corps would push north on the army’s right flank. Additionally, US Major Generals Joseph Hooker and Jesse Reno’s divisions, from the Army of the Potomac, would be in the army’s right wing.
As McDowell’s III Corps pushed north, US Brigadier General James Ricketts would detach his division, from McDowell, and push west. Ricketts’ concern with protecting the Army of Virginia’s left flank, would culminate in a short, but brutal battle, at Thoroughfare Gap, against CS Major General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps division, commanded by CS Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox. Facing the entire 1st Corps, of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Ricketts’ division did not stand a chance. Once he was pushed aside, Robert E. Lee could consolidate his army to fight Pope. Speed was essential as Lee recognized that Pope could defeat his two wings piecemeal.
Certain that he would find Jackson at Centreville, Virginia, John Pope pushed his army towards the familiar fields near the Bull Run Creek. Late on August 28, approaching from the west along the Warrenton Turnpike, Irvin McDowell’s III Corps would find Thomas Jackson’s 2d Corps. Marching east were US Brigadier General John Reynolds’ division of Pennsylvanians, followed by US Brigadier General Rufus King’s division. Just west of the old battlefield, near Pageland Avenue, Union troops spotted what appeared to be Confederate cavalry, north of the turnpike, scouting their movements. Soon thereafter, the Rebels disappeared and King’s division started to receive cannon fire from the same ridge. The battle of Second Manassas had opened. In what would later been known as the Battle of Brawner’s Farm, US Brigadier Generals John Gibbon, and Abner Doubleday, would engage the entire right flank of Jackson’s 2nd Corps. These Federal brigades would hold Jackson to a draw, during a battle that would last long past sunset. Gibbon’s all western brigade, then called the “Black Hat Brigade” (they wore black hats similar to the regular army) would start earning the reputation that would lead to their designation - after the battle of South Mountain – the Iron Brigade. Absent from the field near Brawner’s Farm was division commander Rufus King, who suffered a seizure, corps commander, Irvin McDowell and army commander, John Pope. Gibbon, and Doubleday, would fight this battle without any senior command structure. The Confederacy would temporarily suffer a significant loss when CS Major General Richard Ewell would sustain an injury to his leg, that would require amputation.
When notified of the evening’s fighting, Pope and McDowell were sure that King’s division had fought a detachment of cavalry - and perhaps a small amount of infantry. They were positive that Jackson’s Corps was in Centreville. Overnight they would bivouac east of Sudley Road, near the Stone House, and move on Jackson the next day. What they did not know was that Jackson’s entire Corps was hidden in an abandoned railroad cut, just west of their position. From there, Jackson would fight much of Sigel’s I Corps, on August 29. In what would be piecemeal attacks, Sigel would engage Jackson. After the battle, Jackson would be criticized for not launching a larger attack against Sigel – perhaps collapsing Pope’s right flank, and quickly destroying his scattered Army of Virginia. The day’s fighting would end with the two armies in essentially the same position as they started in – with the exception that Robert E. Lee had arrived with the rest of his army. James Longstreet’s 1st Corps was positioned north to south along Chinn Ridge, south of the Warrenton Turnpike. Late in the afternoon, CSA Brigadier General John Bell Hood would attack John Reynolds’ division, along Chinn Ridge. Pope was still not convinced that he faced the entire Army of Northern Virginia – he would find out otherwise, the next day.
On August 30, John Pope would send a large force, nearly 10,000 men, against what he now believed was just Jackson’s 2d Corps. Attacking north of the Warrenton Turnpike, against the railroad cut, Pope would experience some success. Robert E. Lee, seeing his opportunity to crush John Pope, wheeled James Longstreet’s 1st Corps on its left flank, and like a giant scissors slammed into John Pope’s left flank – a direction Pope was warned to expect attack - but refused to believe a threat existed. Pope’s entire army, including US Major General Fitz John Porter’s recently arrived V Corps, from the Army of the Potomac, were sent reeling. The unexpected attack would rout Pope’s Army of Virginia, resulting in another retreat back to Washington DC along the Warrenton Turnpike – the same route that Irvin McDowell’s army took when defeated at First Manassas.
Campaign: Second Manassas
Outcome: Confederate Victory
Union: 13,826 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 8,353 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
With John Pope’s retreat back to Washington City, the Army of Virginia was badly dispirited and disorganized. This army would be combined with the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln, once again, would turn to George McClellan to straighten out the army tasked with protecting the nation’s capitol.
Robert E. Lee, in an effort to recruit new troops and move the fighting out of Virginia, would invade Maryland. McClellan would chase Lee, fighting him at South Mountain on September 14. On September 17, the two huge armies would again clash, this time near Sharpsburg, Maryland along Antietam Creek. The fighting at Antietam would be brutal, providing the country its single bloodiest day of battle – a record that still survives today. Lee would barely escape Antietam. His primary goal of recruiting soldiers was a failure. While modern historians consider the Battle of Antietam a draw, Lincoln used the quasi-victory as an occasion to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, altering the war’s objective from reunion of the states to reunion with slavery abolished.