Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run): Confederates Defeat Pope's Union Army

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Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run): Confederates Defeat Pope's Union Army

"The second Battle of Bull Run, fought Augt. 29th, 1862"
Hand-colored lithograph, by Currier and Ives (1862?)
(Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: August 29-30, 1862

It has been a while since I wrote on an American Civil War topic. Therefore, with the 150th anniversary of this particular battle looming, it is a good time to address this confrontation. This is another example of the audacity of the Confederacy's best-known commander, a risk-taker of the first order.


It has been a month-and-a-half since the last of the Seven Days battles ended. Union Major General George B. McClellan's offensive to take the Rebel capital at Richmond ended in failure. He was ordered back to Washington, but took his time. During the end of June, Lincoln ordered the formation of a new army, the Army of Virginia. It was formed from various Union commands from western Virginia, as well as some of the forces then assigned to the defenses of Washington. As its commander, Lincoln appointed Maj. Gen. General John Pope.

Pope was an 1842 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, serving during the Mexican-American War, and much surveying work in Florida, the northeast U.S. and Minnesota. Just prior to the Civil War, he was surveying a possible route for the proposed transcontinental railroad. Pope became personally acquainted with the new president Abraham Lincoln. He then was assigned to Union forces in Missouri. He achieved some quick victories in Missouri, and in a campaign in early 1862 to secure control of the upper Mississippi River. Shortly after, Pope was promoted to major general and given command of the newly-formed Army of Virginia.

Maj. Gen. John Pope, USA (1822-1892), commander Army of Virginia; Photograph by Mathew Brady, ca. 1862-1865
Maj. Gen. John Pope, USA (1822-1892), commander Army of Virginia
Photograph by Mathew Brady, ca. 1862-1865

Pope took command of his new army, but was quickly regarded as something of a braggart, saying in an open letter to his new command, "Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies…I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving." By late July, the Army of Virginia had swelled to about 55,000 men, representing a considerable threat to the Confederate capital.

As McClellan's threat to Richmond decreased, Lee became increasingly concerned about this new army to his north. On July 13, Lee sent Lt. Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson with his two divisions north to Gordonsville to be in a position to oppose Pope should he decide to move south. Lee kept the rest of the army where they were, in case McClellan turned and decided to advance on Richmond again. Jackson arrived in Gordonsville on the 19th.

Lt. Gen. Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, CSA (1824-1863) Photographed at Winchester, VA, 1862 (author unknown)
Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, CSA (1824-1863)
Photographed at Winchester, VA, 1862 (author unknown)

As the threat to Richmond receded, Lee became bolder. On the 27th he decided to reinforce Jackson with A. P. Hill's division and a brigade of Louisianans. This would give Jackson a force of about 24,000 men, a force large enough to permit him to strike the Union forces if the opportunity presented itself. True to form, Jackson did not wait long before striking. This resulted in the battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9. Despite the fact that Jackson had a force over twice the size of Banks's, he came close to losing the battle.

When Lee got word from Union deserters that McClellan's army was boarding transports and moving out from near Richmond, he knew what he had to do. On August 13, Lee ordered the remainder of the Rebel army to Gordonsville to join with Jackson. There was an urgency in Lee's movement because he knew he had to engage and beat the new Army of Virginia before it could be reinforced by McClellan. If those two armies combined they would present a very formidable force. Lee himself took a train and arrived in Gordonsville on August 15 where he was met by Jackson and Maj. Gen. James Longstreet. From this point on, Longstreet would be second in command in Lee's army and would command the right wing, with Jackson in command of the left wing. [This structure would remain in place until after the battle of Antietam when they would be re-designated as corps. It would remain a two-corps army until Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville in May, 1863.]

Lt. General James Longstreet, CSA (1821-1904) Date of photograph and author unknown
Lt. General James Longstreet, CSA (1821-1904)
Date of photograph and author unknown

There were several plans discussed as to how they would proceed against Pope. Lee knew that Pope's army was in a very precarious position and wanted to attack him where he was. Pope had his army in the "V" formed by the converging Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers. Lee had originally planned to attack on the 17th but had to delay it until the 18th. In the meantime, Pope captured a Confederate courier with Lee's plan and he immediately pulled the Army of Virginia back across the Rappahannock to get it out of harm's way. Lee could no longer consider an immediate attack and for the next week both sides were probing for the other's weakness. One Civil War historian referred to these actions as the "Waltzing of the Armies." This would last until August 24, when Lee came up with a new plan.

On that date, Lee was beginning to lose confidence in his campaign to engage Pope at the earliest possible time. For a week he had been locked in a stalemate with a foe that apparently had good defensive skills. Something had to be done and done fairly quickly. McClellan was bound to reinforce Pope sooner or later and when that happened Lee would be too outnumbered to take the offense and would have to resort to strictly defense and this he did not want to do.

Lee's Plan, and Jackson Marches Out

Then Lee came up with a plan and called Jackson to him to explain it. The plan probably surprised even Jackson. Lee would break one of the major rules of war and split his army in the face of the enemy. He would send Jackson and his 24,000 men in a long arcing run around Pope's far right to place him in the rear of the Army of Virginia, cutting his supply lines. In the meantime, Longstreet would hold the line along the Rappahannock river then march hard to join him. This plan held great risks. The two wings of Lee's army would be separated, at least for a time, by a distance of over fifty miles with an enemy army of nearly twice the size of either of them in between. If Pope realized what was happening and engaged Jackson quickly with great force, half of Lee's army would be destroyed. Plus there was the unknown factor of McClellan's army and Lee not knowing when and where it would arrive.

The plan was fraught with peril, but if it succeeded, Lee would have a chance to defeat an army, who had invaded Virginia, greater in size than his own, and drive them back to Washington. Lee's brilliance as a battlefield commander and his willingness to take chances was beginning to emerge; Jackson loved it. By dawn August 25, 1862 Jackson's "foot cavalry" was on the move and true to form, only Jackson knew where they were going.

Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, CSA (1817-1872) Glass negative photograph, ca. 1860-1870
Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, CSA (1817-1872)
Glass negative photograph, ca. 1860-1870

As Jackson's wing, 24,000 strong, pulled out that morning, it was led by Richard "Old Baldy" Ewell's division. Following him was A. P. Hill's "Light" division. Bringing up the rear was Jackson's old division commanded by William B. Taliaferro (Pronounced TAH-li-ver). Jackson was not a big supporter of Taliaferro, thinking him was too much of an aristocrat, but tolerated him. In addition to the infantry, Jackson had twenty-batteries of artillery (three battalions) amounting to about eighty guns. The lead elements of the column arrived at Salem, a little town on the Manassas Gap Railroad, at about dusk. This was a distance of about 25 miles, a tough march, even by Jackson's standards. By midnight all of Jackson's command was sprawled out around Salem. They were only about 12 miles from Pope's right flank.

Second Bull Run Campaign, August 7-28, 1862
Second Bull Run Campaign, August 7-28, 1862

In the meantime, on August 25, Pope, still holding the Rappahannock line, was busy sending messages to Washington asking where McClellan's army was. At about 8:45 am, a colonel on Pope's right flank was watching the Confederate column as it moved. At 9:30 he reported the column was moving north or northwest. Pope received this information at 11:25, five hours after Jackson had started his march. He notified Washington that the enemy column numbered 20,000 and he would send McDowell's corps to engage their rear as soon as he was sure they were moving to the Shenandoah. Pope did nothing else and by nightfall he knew little more than he did at midday.

Jackson's column arose early on the morning of August 26, still not knowing where they were going. Most had surmised that because of the direction of the march so far they were returning to the valley. As they marched through the town of Salem, instead of turning left toward the valley, the column turned right, to the surprise of all save Jackson. Now they knew where they were going: toward Thoroughfare Gap, to Gainesville, then Manassas Junction – in Pope's rear!

At about 4 pm that afternoon, the lead of Jackson's column reached Gainesville, a little hamlet where the Warrenton Turnpike crossed the Manassas Gap Railroad. Stonewall was pleased. It had been a mere thirty-two hours since they first broke camp on the other side of the Rappahannock. They had traveled nearly fifty miles in that short time and were now within five miles of their goal, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Even better, Pope was totally unaware of Jackson's presence. Lee's plan just might work.

In the meantime, while Jackson was grinding out the miles, Lee and Longstreet set about to institute their part of the plan. First Lee sent Stuart's cavalry to assist Jackson. Longstreet's job was to "demonstrate" in front of Pope so he would think all the army was still there. Longstreet's artillery was in action most of the day. This succeeded in diverting Pope's attention from his flank and rear.

Between August 22 and 25, the two armies fought a series of probing actions along the Rappahannock River. Heavy rains had swollen the river, and Lee was forced to re-evaluate his plan. As Jackson's force was arriving at Gainesville, Lee started considering the second part of his plan, that of reuniting his army. Should he force a crossing at the weakest point or take Jackson's route around the army? Jackson's route was safer but it was longer. Lee decided to take the route used by Jackson's force. The only opposition would probably be at Thoroughfare Gap and that would not be too great if Pope did not know they were coming. Longstreet put his wing into motion. Pope was about to face the worst seven days of his life.

Tomorrow: Part II – Second Battle of Bull Run

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