Battle of Bull Run

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Battle of Bull Run, Virginia

Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862): Civil War Virginia

Preliminary Operations to Bull Run

Battle of Bull Run
General Robert E. Lee.jpg
General Robert E. Lee, commanding

McClellan's failure to move against Johnston resulted in a restive public and press. Richmond, rather than Centreville, now became the immediate Federal objective. Learning of an anticipated movement against Richmond via Urbanna, Johnston, on March 9, fell back from Centreville to take up a position south of the Rappahannock, with his right resting at Fredericksburg and his left at Culpeper Court House. This forced a modification of McClellan's original plan. He thereupon decided to make the movement by water to Fortress Monroe and from there advance of the Peninsula upon Richmond.

On March 17, the Federal army embarked from Alexandria. McClellan had anticipated the use of a force of about 155,000 men. The brilliant operations of "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley during the next 3 months, however, so alarmed President Lincoln as to cause him to immobilize nearly 40,000 of McDowell's troops at Fredericksburg to secure the defenses of Washington. This, together with the detention of Banks' expected reinforcements in the Valley, reduced McClellan's force to approximately 100,000, thereby materially minimizing his chances of success. Seldom has so small a force as that of Jackson (approximately 16,000) so largely influenced the final outcome of a major military operation.

Johnston, in the meantime, had reinforced Magruder at Yorktown. On May 4 the town was evacuated, and the next day a successful rear-guard action was fought at Williamsburg, covering the Confederate withdrawal to Richmond. The Federal army followed by land and water to White House on the Pamunkey where, on May 16, McClellan set up his headquarters. The next day the Federal forces resumed their advance on Richmond.

Gathering a force of some 63,000 men, Johnston then determined to attack. On May 31, in the Battle of Seven Pines, followed by the Battle of Fair Oaks the next day, the Confederates were repulsed, and Johnston was severely wounded. The command of the Army of Northern Virginia now devolved upon Robert E. Lee, a command that he was not to relinquish until the end of the war. Within 2 weeks the defenses of Richmond had been strengthened and the morale of the troops greatly improved.

By June 25, Lee had assembled a force of about 90,000 men, including Jackson's victorious command from the Valley. The next day he launched his great counteroffensive. In a series of desperately contested operations, known as the Seven Days' Battles before Richmond, McClellan was forced back upon Harrison's Landing on the James. Though the campaign was costly in Confederate casualties, Lee saved Richmond and cloaked his army with a sense of invincibility.

Pope Concentrates Behind the Rapidan

The failure of Fremont, Banks, and McDowell in the Shenandoah Valley convinced President Lincoln of the desirability of consolidating their armies under a single head. By order of June 26 the "Army of Virginia" was created, and Maj. Gen. John Pope, who had won recent successes in the West, was given the command. Shortly thereafter, Gen. Henry W. Halleck was recalled from the West to be made general in chief of the Federal armies.

To Pope was entrusted the responsibility for covering Washington, protecting the Shenandoah Valley, and so operating against the Con federate communications at Gordonsville and Charlottesville as to draw off heavy detachments from Richmond, thereby relieving the pressure on McClellan. On July 14, Pope ordered an advance on Gordonsville. Lee, anticipating the movement, had ordered Jackson to this point the day before.

On August 7, Jackson, having been reinforced by A. P. Hill, moved toward Culpeper in the hope of capturing the town and using it in a series of operations against Pope. Two days later he fell upon Banks at Cedar Mountain in a sharp but indecisive encounter.

Lee now learned that McClellan had been ordered to evacuate the Peninsula and reinforce Pope. Appreciating the necessity of striking Pope before he could be joined by such heavy reinforcements, Lee moved with Longstreet's corps to reinforce Jackson. Pope's force now numbered about 47,000 effectives, while Lee had approximately 55,000.

Bull Run Battlefield Map
Battle of Bull Run Map.jpg
Battle of Bull Run Map

Lee's Operations Along the Rapidan and Rappahannock

Battle of Bull Run
Gen. John Pope.jpeg
Gen. John Pope

Pope's center was now at Cedar Mountain, his right at Robertson's River, and his left near Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan. Thus stationed, his army was directly opposite Gordonsville where Jackson's force had recently arrived. On Clark's Mountain (a high hill opposite Pope's left) the Confederates had established a signal station. From here, stretching for miles, could be seen the white tents of the Federal encampment dotting the Culpeper tablelands. Spurs from Clark's Mountain paralleled the Rapidan to Somerville Ford, located about 2 miles from Raccoon Ford.

Lee was quick to appreciate the advantage this topography afforded him. Massing his troops behind Clark's Mountain he might move under its protecting screen, fall upon Pope's left at Somerville Ford, and cur off his retreat to Washington. The opportunity held bright possibilities of success, and August 18 was set as the date for the initiation of the movement. Unforeseen delays postponed the movement until the 20th. Worse still for the Confederates, Stuart's adjutant general was captured, bearing a copy of Lee's order.

Thus warned, Pope withdrew his army behind the Rappahannock. Lee followed closely on the 20th, crossing to the north side of the river. Pope took up an advantageous position where he stood fast during 5 days of feints and demonstrations as Lee sought eagerly for an opening on the right. In the meantime, Stuart had captured Pope's headquarters. Thus, Lee learned that 20,000 troops, composing the corps of Heintzelman and Porter and the division of Reynolds, were within 2 days' march of the front. Within 5 days other expected reinforcements would swell Pope's numbers to about 130,000 men.

The situation was so desperate as to demand a bold expedient. Quickly, Lee made his decision. Jackson, with Stuart's cavalry comprising about 24,000 men, was to be sent on a wide flanking movement of Pope's right for the purpose of destroying his communications with Washington. Commenting on this decision, Henderson, the English biographer of Jackson, says "we have record of few enterprises of greater daring."

With Lee and Longstreet covering the line of the Rappahannock, Jackson began his march from Jeffersonton on August 25. He moved through Amissville and Orlean to bivouac that night at Salem. The next day he pushed on past Thoroughfare Gap and Gainesville to Bristoe. Never did the "foot cavalry" better deserve its name for in 2 days it had covered approximately 51 miles. That night Jackson sent Stuart and two regiments to Manassas Junction to capture Pope's great base of supplies. The task was accomplished with little effort.

The next day Jackson left Ewell to cover the rear at Bristoe and moved with the rest of his command to Manassas Junction. There then followed a scene of feasting and plunder the like of which has seldom been witnessed. Knapsacks, haversacks, and canteens were filled with articles of every description. Added to vast quantities of quartermaster and commissary supplies were innumerable luxuries from sutler stores, including expensive liquors and imported wines. An eyewitness writes, "To see a starving man eating lobster salad & drinking rhine wine, barefooted & in tatters was curious; the whole thing is indescribable." What could not be eaten or carried away was finally put to the torch. With the destruction of these supplies one of the chief objectives of the campaign had been accomplished.

Battle of Bull Run, aka Battle of Manassas, Map
Battle of Bull Run map.jpg
2nd Battle of Bull Run, aka 2nd Battle of Manassas

Second Battle of Bull Run

FIRST PHASE—BRISTOE AND MANASSAS, AUGUST 27. Pope, now advised of the presence of Jackson in his rear, immediately ordered a concentration of his forces in order to crush him. McDowell's and Sigel's corps, together with the division of Reynolds, were to move to Gainesville, while Reno's corps, with Kearny's division of Heintzelman's corps, was to concentrate at Greenwich. By these dispositions Pope hoped to intercept any reinforcements coming to Jackson by way of Thoroughfare Gap. With Hooker's division of Heintzelman's corps Pope moved along the railroad to Manassas Junction.

On the afternoon of August 27, Hooker attacked Ewell and drove him back upon Bristoe. During the night, Ewell retired to Manassas where he joined the rest of Jackson's force. Pope now learned for the first time that the whole of Jackson's command was at Manassas. New orders were issued for a concentration at that point. Porter was ordered to march at 1 a. m. of the 28th from Warrenton Junction and be in position at Bristoe by daylight. McDowell, Sigel, and Reno were to move at dawn upon Manassas Junction, while Kearny was to advance at the same hour upon Bristoe.

About 3 a. m., August 28, Jackson began to move out of Manassas toward Groveton. In order to mystify and mislead Pope, he sent Taliaferro along the Manassas-Sudley Road, Ewell along the Centreville Road via Blackburn's Ford and the Stone Bridge to Groveton, and A. P. Hill to Centreville and thence along the Warrenton Pike to a position near Sudley Church.

Moving with Kearny's division, Pope arrived at Manassas Junction at noon, to find the town deserted. Later in the day, word was received that the Confederates had been seen in Centreville. Pope thereupon ordered a concentration at this place in the belief that Jackson's whole force was there. The corps of Heintzelman and Reno moved along the Centreville Road; Sigel and Reynolds along the Manassas-Sudley Road; King's division of McDowell's corps along the Warrenton Pike.

Second Battle of Bull Run

SECOND PHASE—GROVETON, AUGUST 28. Jackson had but a short time before concentrated north of the turnpike when word was received that King's Federal column was approaching from Gainesville. There was now need for a quick decision. To allow King to pass unmolested would defeat the purpose of the campaign by permitting Pope to assume an impregnable position on the heights at Centreville. To attack, without assurance as to when Longstreet would arrive, was to invite the assault of Pope's whole force with possible fatal consequences. Without hesitation he ordered the divisions of Taliaferro and Ewell to advance. A fierce and stubborn fight ensued which resulted in heavy losses on both sides. Finally, about 9 p. m., King withdrew towards Manassas.

In the meantime, Longstreet had reached Thoroughfare Gap at about 3 p. m. of the same day to find his way blocked by Federal troops under Ricketts. Outmaneuvering his opponent by way of Hopewell Gap, he forced him to fall back to Gainesville. That night, without informing Pope of their intentions, King and Ricketts decided to move towards Manassas. This enabled Longstreet to effect an easy junction with Jackson in the afternoon of the following day.

Second Battle of Bull Run

THIRD PHASE—MAIN BATTLE, AUGUST 29-30. When Pope learned of the engagement of Groveton he mistakenly decided that King had met the head of Jackson's column in retreat. Confident of success, he ordered a concentration of his leg weary troops to crush the Confederate force. Sigel and Reynolds were to attack at dawn, reinforced by Heintzelman and Reno. McDowell and Porter were ordered to reverse their course and push toward Gainesville in an effort to cut off Jackson's retreat.

The text of this order known as the "Joint Order," which was received about noon, reads as follows:

Centreville, August 29, 1862.

Generals McDowell and Porter:

You will please move forward with your joint commands toward Gainesville. I sent General Porter written orders to that effect an hour and a half ago. Heintzelman, Sigel, and Reno are moving on the War renton turnpike, and must now be not far from Gainesville. I desire that as soon as communication is established between this force and your own the whole command shall halt. It may be necessary to fall back behind Bull Run at Centreville to-night. I presume it will be so, on account of our supplies. . . .

If any considerable advantages are to be gained by departing from this order it will not be strictly carried out. One thing must be had in view, that the troops must occupy a position from which they can reach Bull Run to-night or by morning. The indications are that the whole force of the enemy is moving in this direction at a pace that will bring them here by to-morrow night or the next day. My own headquarters will be for the present with Heintzelman's corps or at this place.

Jno. Pope,
Major-General, Commanding.

Battle of Bull Run Map
1862 Virginia Civil War Battlefield Map.jpg
1862 Virginia Civil War Battlefield Map

Prior to the receipt of the "Joint Order," Porter had reversed his course to Centreville and had moved as far as Dawkin's Branch, located about 3 miles from Gainesville. Finding the Confederates strongly posted in his front, he deployed a brigade of his leading division and waited. McDowell, who arrived shortly thereafter, showed him a dispatch he had received a few minutes before from Buford, who commanded the Union cavalry on the right. The dispatch stated that 17 regiments, 1 battery, and 500 cavalry had passed through Gainesville about 8:45 a. m. This was the advance of Longstreet's command which had left Thoroughfare Gap early that morning and now, followed by heavy reinforcements, was moving into position on Jackson's right (Porter's front).

This information, the generals felt, had not reached Pope. After a conference, it was decided that in face of this new development they would take advantage of the latitude the order granted: McDowell would move towards Groveton, while Porter would remain in the vicinity of his present position.

The relative quiet in this sector was in sharp contrast to the heavy fighting now taking place along Jackson's front. With about 18,000 infantry and 40 guns, Jackson had taken up a position along an unfinished railroad bed which extended from near Sudley Springs 2 miles south westerly to Groveton. The grades and cuts of this road provided ready-made entrenchments and formed a very strong position. There, shortly after sunrise, Sigel's and Reynolds' columns were seen at a distance deploying for the attack. About 7 a. m., the Federal batteries opened fire. By 10:30 a. m., a number of sharp skirmishes had taken place, but no general assault had been made. About this time Federal reinforcements of Reno and Kearny reached the field. It was not until 2 p. m., however, that the battle reached its height. All afternoon in violent but uncoordinated attacks, blue columns gallantly assaulted Jackson's line. At one point the Confederate left was pushed back dangerously near the breaking point, but the gray line steadied and held. Towards dusk, King's division, of McDowell's corps, arrived in time to take part in the action, engaging a part of Longstreet's command which was then advancing on a reconnaissance.

Pope, still unaware of the arrival of Longstreet on the field, late in the day sent Porter the following order to attack Jackson's right at once:

August 29—4:30 p. m.

Major-General Porter:

Your line of march brings you in on the enemy's right flank. I desire you to push forward into action at once on the enemy's flank, and, if possible, on his rear, keeping your right in communication with General Reynolds. The enemy is massed in the woods in front of us, but can be shelled out as soon as you engage their flank. Keep heavy re serves and use your batteries, keeping well closed to your right all the time. In case you are obliged to fall back, do so to your right and rear, so as to keep you in close communication with the right wing.

John Pope,
Major-General, Commanding.

This order, dated 4:30 p. m., was received by Porter at Bethlehem Church about 6:30 p. m. Upon receipt of the order Porter immediately sent his chief of staff, Locke, to order Morell's division to attack. Shortly thereafter Porter rode to the front to find Morell's preparations for the attack complete. By this time, however, it was so late that Porter decided to rescind the order.*

During the night the Confederates retired from the advanced positions gained during the day to their original battleline. This fact was reported from the field early on the morning of the 30th and later confirmed by a reconnaissance by McDowell and Heintzelman. This led Pope falsely to assume that Lee was in retreat to Thoroughfare Gap. Immediately, plans were initiated to press a vigorous pursuit. At midday the following order was issued:

Special Orders,
No. —
August 30, 1862—12 M.

The following forces will be immediately thrown forward and in pursuit of the enemy, and press him vigorously during the whole day. Major-General McDowell is assigned to the command of the pursuit.

Major-General Porter's corps will push forward on the Warrenton turnpike, followed by the divisions of Brigadier-Generals King and Reynolds. The division of Brigadier-General Ricketts will pursue the Hay Market road, followed by the corps of Major-General Heintzelman. . . .

At 3 a. m. of the 30th, Porter received Pope's dispatch ordering him to march his command immediately to the field of battle of the previous day. In compliance with this order he promptly withdrew from his position facing Longstreet and marched rapidly along the Sudley Road to the center of the battlefield where he reported to Pope for orders. Though this movement strengthened the center, it dangerously weakened the Federal left.

From its contracted left near Groveton, the Federal line now extended approximately 3 miles to Bull Run near Sudley Church. The opposing Confederate line was about 4 miles long. Jackson held the left along the unfinished railroad, while Longstreet held the right, with the main body of his troops "bent to the front" south of the Warrenton Pike. A heavy concentration of artillery was placed on high ground between the two wings. These guns commanded the open fields and the stretch of woods near Jackson's right and center.

Preparations completed about midafternoon, the Federal columns of Porter and Heintzelman advanced three lines deep, preceded by a swarm of skirmishers and supported by great masses of men and guns in the rear. A strange quiet pervaded the fields as the unsuspecting troops pushed forward. Behind their protective cover, the Confederates watched the lines draw closer; then suddenly opened upon them a rapid artillery fire. Instantly, the infantry bugles sounded the alarm alerting Jackson's men to action. The Federal advance line halted and staggered back. Other brigades quickly pushed forward only to be broken by the raking force of the fire.

Soon it was apparent that the main Federal assault was being directed by Porter and Hatch against Jackson's right and center held by the divisions of Starke and Lawton. In gallant style, a third line moved up and impetuously pressed the attack. The force of this forward movement pushed back the famous Stonewall brigade, but later it reestablished its lines in a desperate countercharge. Heavy fighting at close quarters now ensued. At one point in their line near a section of the railroad bed known as the "Deep Cut," Jackson's veterans, with ammunition exhausted, partially repelled an attack with stones from the embankment.

Finally, the pressure became so great that Jackson sent an urgent request for reinforcements. Lee then ordered forward a brigade from Longstreet's command. Anticipating the request, Longstreet had already moved up the batteries of Stephen D. Lee, which now opened a withering fire on the Federal columns on Jackson's right and center. The effect was devastating. Within 15 minutes the whole aspect of the battle had changed.

Shortly after the Federal brigades had engaged Jackson along the unfinished railroad, Pope had ordered Reynolds' division from his left at Bald Hill to move up and support the attack on the right. The weight of his numbers, however, proved insufficient to stem the tide of retreat that had now set in. Quickly, Jackson ordered up two brigades to press a counterattack, moving forward his artillery as the infantry advanced.

The transfer of Reynolds' division had again greatly weakened the Federal left. Lee saw this and realized that here at last was the opportunity for which he had been waiting. The order was sent immediately to Longstreet to deliver the counterstroke. Every regiment, battery, and squadron of both wings of the army were to be employed. By sheer weight of numbers the attack was to be driven home in successive waves of assault, piling one upon the other.

Again, Longstreet had anticipated the order for which he had been preparing since dawn. The long gray lines of infantry, restive for the fray, now swept forward in a furious assault. In advance came Hood's Texans, their colors gleaming red in the evening sun. Above the thunderous roar of artillery and the noise of battle could be heard the shrill cries of the rebel yell echoing through the Groveton valley. So intense was the excitement that only with the greatest difficulty could the officers restrain their men. Rapidly moving up in support came the divisions of Anderson, Kemper, and D. R. Jones. Across the rolling fields the attack pushed to gain the promontory of Chinn Ridge despite a stubborn defense by the Union brigades of McLean, Tower, and Milroy, while Jackson's veterans successfully assailed Buck Hill.

On Henry Hill, poignant with memories of the previous year, were now assembled Reynolds' divisions, Sykes' regulars, and other available troops. With courage and gallantry that matched the crisis of battle, they hurled back repeated Confederate assaults that continued until dark. The successful defense of Henry Hill made possible Pope's retreat over Bull Run, by the Stone Bridge and other fords, to the strong defenses of the Centreville plateau.

Second Battle of Bull Run

FOURTH PHASE—CHANTILLY, SEPTEMBER 1. Considering the Centreville position as unfavorable for attack, Lee sent Jackson by Sudley Ford to the Little River Turnpike in an effort to turn the Federal right and threaten communications with Washington. The movement, however, was anticipated by Pope, and the divisions of Stevens and Kearny were sent to check it. In a sharp contest, fought in a rainstorm at Chantilly on September 1, Stevens and Kearny were killed; but Jackson was repulsed. During the next 2 days Pope retired to the defenses of Washington.

Bull Run Battlefield Map
Bull Run National Battlefield Map.jpg
Manassas National Battlefield Park Map

Second Battle of Bull Run

RESULTS OF SECOND BATTLE OF MANASSAS. Second Manassas offers an interesting contrast to the opening battle which had found two armies of raw, undisciplined volunteers courageously but falteringly battling for supremacy. The raw volunteers had now been replaced by seasoned veterans, hardened by months of strenuous campaigning. The campaign just ended had been one to test to the utmost the endurance and discipline of the men in the ranks of both armies—a test they had met with valor and high honor. In contrast to the rout of First Manassas, the Federal army which now retired upon Washington was a weary but defiant fighting machine. Its defeat had been accomplished by exceptional daring, combined with a skillful coordination of Confederate commands. Gambling with long chances, Lee had succeeded in removing some 150,000 invading troops from deep in Virginia and reversing the threat of impending attack upon the opposing capital.

Commenting upon the battle, Henderson, the English soldier and historian, writes:

. . . If, as Moltke avers, the junction of two armies on the field of battle is the highest achievement of military genius, the campaign against Pope has seldom been surpassed; and the great counter-stroke at Manassas is sufficient in itself to make Lee's reputation as a tactician. . . . It was not due to the skill of Lee that Pope weakened his left at the crisis of battle. But in the rapidity with which the opportunity was seized, in the combination of the three arms, and in the vigour of the blow, Manassas is in no way inferior to Austerlitz or Salamanca.

This brilliant success did much to offset Confederate reverses in the West—the loss of Missouri, the defeats of Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, and the fall of Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis. Contrary to the inactivity that followed First Manassas, Lee pressed his victory by the first invasion of the North. On September 4, he began moving his troops across the Potomac with the hope of winning the support of Maryland and possibly the recognition of the Confederacy by foreign powers. In the desperately fought battle of Antietam, September 17, at Sharpsburg, Md., however, these hopes were dashed by McClellan, now returned to Federal command.

Strength 73,000 (approx.) 55,000
Killed 1,747 1,553
Wounded 8,452 7,812
Captured or missing 4,263
Total 14,462 9,474

The War After Second Bull Run

From Antietam, Lee retired to Virginia. With the coming of winter snows he bloodily repelled Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside in the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. In the spring, Confederate arms achieved brilliant success in the defeat of Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Hooker in the Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1-6, 1863. Capitalizing on his victory, Lee again invaded the North. At Gettysburg, July 1-3, he was defeated by Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade. The next day saw the end of one of the most brilliant and decisive operations of the war with the surrender of  Vicksburg to Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Its fall cut the Confederacy in two and opened the Mississippi to Federal commerce and control. From the telling force of these simultaneous blows the Confederacy never recovered.

On March 9, 1864, Grant was placed in supreme command of all Federal armies. Now as never before, the full strength and resources of the republic were marshalled for a great offensive to be delivered simultaneously on all fronts. Attaching himself to Meade's army, Grant crossed the Rapidan on May 4 to launch his Overland Campaign against Richmond, while Sherman began the famous march that was to carry him to Atlanta and the sea.

In the fiercely contested battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, May 5-6 and 8-21, respectively, Grant largely succeeded in destroying Lee's offensive power, forcing his retirement upon Richmond. Repulsed with heavy losses at Cold Harbor, June 3, Grant moved upon Petersburg again to encounter Lee's army.

Ten months of  the Siege of Petersburg followed as Grant methodically cut the Confederate lifeline. On April 2, Lee evacuated Petersburg with the hope of reaching the Danville railroad and possibly effecting a junction with Johnston's forces in North Carolina. Grant's pursuit, however, was rapid and relentless. The cutting of the escape route by the Danville line and the disastrous defeat of a large segment of his army in the Battle of Sailor's Creek forced Lee to move farther westward to Appomattox Court House. There at dusk, April the 8th, the widening circle of Federal campfires brought realization that the end had been reached. The next day Lee surrendered to the magnanimous terms of Grant. On April 26, Johnston yielded to Sherman and by June all isolated units of the Confederate forces had laid down their arms.

*For his failure to carry our Pope's order of the 29th to attack Jackson, Porter was court-martialed and dismissed from the army on January 21, 1863. In 1879, a board of general officers who reviewed the case held that Porter could not have attacked Jackson successfully, as ordered, because Longstreet's corps had moved up into position on the right of Jackson and opposite Porter, and that this was known to the latter. Thus, Pope's order, which was written without knowledge of this development, could not be carried out. President Arthur, in 1882, remitted that part of the sentence which disqualified Porter from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States. On August 5, 1886, Porter was reappointed colonel of infantry, and 2 days later placed on the retirement list, To this day, despite his final vindication, the controversy over Porter's action on August 29, 1862, at Second Manassas has nor died down among military students.

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Sources: National Park Service; National Archives; Library of Congress; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.


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