Second Battle of Bull Run - Jackson Defends Stony Ridge (Day 2)
Jackson had initiated the battle at Brawner's farm with the intent of holding Pope until Longstreet arrived with the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Longstreet's 25,000 men began their march from Thoroughfare Gap at 6 a.m. on August 29; Jackson sent Stuart to guide the initial elements of Longstreet's column into positions that Jackson had preselected. While he waited for their arrival, Jackson reorganized his defense in case Pope attacked him that morning, positioning 20,000 men in a 3,000-yard (2,700 m) line to the south of Stony Ridge. Noticing the build up of I Corps (Sigel's) troops along the Manassas-Sudley Road, he ordered A.P. Hill's brigades behind the railroad grade near Sudley Church on his left flank. Aware that his position was geographically weak (because the heavy woods in the area prevented effective deployment of artillery), Hill placed his brigades in two lines, with Brig. Gen. Maxcy Gregg's South Carolina brigade and Brig. Gen. Edward L. Thomas's Georgia brigade in the front. In the center of the line, Jackson placed two brigades from Ewell's division (now under the command of Brig. Gen. Alexander Lawton following Ewell's leg amputation), and on the right, William B. Taliaferro's division, now commanded by Brig. Gen. William E. Starke.
Pope's intention was to move against Jackson on both flanks. He ordered Fitz John Porter to move toward Gainesville and attack what he considered to be the Confederate right flank. He ordered Sigel to attack Jackson's left at daybreak. Sigel, unsure of Jackson's dispositions, chose to advance along a broad front, with Brig. Gen. Robert C. Schenck's division, supported by Brig. Gen. John F. Reynolds's division (Heintzelman's III Corps) on the left, Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy's independent brigade in the center, and Brig. Gen. Carl Schurz's division on the right. Schurz's two brigades, moving north on the Manassas-Sudley Road, were the first to contact Jackson's men, at about 7 a.m.
The actions in Sigel's attack against A.P. Hill's division was typical of all the battles near Stony Ridge that day. Although the unfinished railroad grade provided natural defensive positions in some places, in general the Confederates eschewed a static defense, absorbing the Union blows and following up with vigorous counterattacks. (These were the same tactics that Jackson would employ at the Battle of Antietam a few weeks later.) Schurz's two brigades (under Brig. Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig and Col. Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski) skirmished heavily with Gregg and Thomas, with both sides committing their forces piecemeal. As Milroy heard the sound of battle to his right, he ordered two of his regiments to assist Schurz. They achieved some success, and the 82nd Ohio breached the Confederate lines in a ground depression known as the Dump, but were eventually repulsed. Schenck and Reynolds, subjected to a heavy artillery barrage, answered with counterbattery fire, but did not advance their infantry.
Assuming that Kearny's division of the III Corps was poised to support him, Schurz ordered another assault against Hill around 10 a.m. Kearny did not move forward, however, and the second assault failed. Historians have faulted Kearny for his actions that day, blaming a personal grudge that Kearny held against Sigel.
August 29, 12 noon: Longstreet arrives, Porter stalls.
By 1 p.m., Sigel's sector was reinforced by the division of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (III Corps) and the brigade of Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens (IX Corps). Pope also arrived on the battlefield, expecting to see the culmination of his victory. But by this time, Longstreet's initial units were in position to Jackson's right. Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood's division straddled the turnpike, loosely connected with Jackson's right flank. To Hood's right were the divisions of Brig. Gens. James L. Kemper and David R. "Neighbor" Jones. Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox's division arrived last and was placed into reserve.
Stuart's cavalry encountered Porter, Hatch, and McDowell moving up the Manassas-Gainesville Road and a brief firefight halted the Union column. Then a courier arrived with a message for Porter and McDowell, a controversial document from Pope that has become known as the "Joint Order". Historian John J. Hennessy described the order as a "masterpiece of contradiction and obfuscation that would become the focal point of decades of wrangling." It described the attacks on Jackson's left, which were already underway, but was unclear about what Porter and McDowell were supposed to do. Rather than moving "to" Gainesville and striking Jackson's supposedly unprotected right flank, it described a move "toward" Gainesville and "as soon as communication is established [with the other divisions] the whole command shall halt. It may be necessary to fall back behind Bull Run to Centreville tonight." Nowhere in the order did Pope explicitly direct Porter and McDowell to attack and he concluded the order with "If any considerable advantages are to be gained from departing from this order it will not be strictly carried out," rendering the document virtually useless as a military order.
Meanwhile, Stuart's cavalry under Col. Thomas Rosser deceived the Union generals by dragging tree branches behind a regiment of horses to simulate great clouds of dust from large columns of marching soldiers. At this time, McDowell received a report from his cavalry commander, Brig. Gen. John Buford, who reported that 17 regiments of infantry, one battery, and 500 cavalry were moving through Gainesville at 8:15 a.m. This was Longstreet's wing arriving from Thoroughfare Gap, and it warned the two Union generals that trouble lay to their front. The Union advance was again halted. For some reason, McDowell neglected to forward Buford's report to Pope until about 7 p.m., so the army commander was operating under two severe misconceptions: that Longstreet was not near the battlefield and that Porter and McDowell were marching to attack Jackson's right flank.
As Longstreet's men were placed into their final positions, General Lee ordered offensive against the Union left. (Longstreet later remembered that Lee "was inclined to engage as soon as practicable, but did not order.") Longstreet, however, saw that the divisions of Reynolds and Schenck extended south of the Warrenton Turnpike, overlapping half of his line, and he argued against making the attack at that time. Lee eventually relented when Jeb Stuart reported that the force on the Gainesville-Manassas Road (Porter and McDowell) was formidable.
August 29, 3 p.m.: Grover's attack.
Pope, assuming that the attack on Jackson's right would proceed as he thought he had ordered, authorized four separate attacks against Jackson's front with the intent of diverging the Confederates' attention until Porter delivered the fatal blow. Brig. Gen. Cuvier Grover's brigade attacked at 3 p.m., expecting to be supported by Kearny's division. Grover was fortunate to accidentally strike through a gap in a line that opened between Thomas and Gregg. His spirited bayonet charge was successful temporarily, but Kearny once again did not move forward as ordered and Pope did not intend to support a major attack. Brig. Gen. Dorsey Pender's brigade beat back the attack.
Reynolds was ordered to conduct a spoiling attack south of the turnpike and encountered Longstreet's men, causing him to call off his demonstration. Pope dismissed Reynolds's concern as a case of mistaken identity, insisting that Reynolds had run into Porter's V Corps, preparing to attack Jackson's flank. Jesse Reno ordered a XI Corps brigade under Col. James Nagle to attack the center of Jackson's line again. This time Brig. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble's brigade was driven back from the railroad embankment, but Confederate counterattacks restored the line and pursued Nagle's troops back into the open fields until Union artillery halted their advance.
August 29, 5–7 p.m., Kearny's attack, Hood vs. Hatch.
At 4:30 p.m., Pope finally sent an explicit order to Porter to attack, but his aide (his nephew) lost his way and did not deliver the message until 6:30 p.m. In any event, Porter was in no better position to attack then than he was earlier in the day. But in anticipation of the attack that would not come, Pope ordered Kearny to attack Jackson's far left flank, intending to put strong pressure on both ends of the line. At 5 p.m., for the first time in the battle, Kearny's fierce offensive reputation was realized and he surged forward with ten regiments, striking A.P. Hill's depleted division. During the most severe fighting of the day, counterattacks by the brigades of Brig. Gens. Lawrence O'Bryan Branch and Jubal A. Early repulsed the Union advance.
On the Confederate right, Longstreet observed a movement of McDowell's force away from his front; the I Corps was moving divisions to Henry House Hill to support Reynolds. This report caused Lee to revive his plan for an offensive in that sector. Longstreet once again argued against it, this time due to inadequate time before dusk. He suggested instead that a reconnaissance in force could feel the position of the enemy and set up the Confederates for a morning attack. Lee agreed and Hood's division was sent forward. At the same time, Pope, who maintained his delusion that the Confederates were retreating, sent the division of John P. Hatch west on the turnpike to pursue. Hood and Hatch collided briefly at the Groveton crossroads, but the short, violent confrontation ended at darkness and both sides withdrew. Longstreet and his subordinates again argued to Lee that they should not be attacking a force they considered to be placed in a strong defensive position, and for the third time, Lee canceled the planned assault.
When Pope learned from McDowell about Buford's report, he finally acknowledged that Longstreet was on the field, but he optimistically assumed that Longstreet was there only to reinforce Jackson while the entire Confederate army withdrew; Hood's division had in fact just done that. Pope issued explicit orders for Porter's corps to rejoin the main body of the army and planned for another offensive on August 30. Historian A. Wilson Greene argues that this was Pope's worst decision of the battle. Since he no longer had numerical superiority over the Confederates and did not possess any geographical advantage, the most prudent course would have been to withdraw his army over Bull Run and unite with McClellan's Army of the Potomac, which had 25,000 men nearby.
One of the historical controversies of the battle involves George B. McClellan's cooperation with John Pope. In late August, two full corps of the Army of the Potomac (William B. Franklin's VI Corps and Edwin V. Sumner's II Corps) had arrived in Alexandria, but McClellan would not allow them to advance to Manassas because of what he considered inadequate artillery, cavalry, and transportation support. He was accused by his political opponents of deliberately undermining Pope's position, and he did not help his case in history when he wrote to his wife on August 10, "Pope will be badly thrashed within two days & ... they will be very glad to turn over the redemption of their affairs to me. I won't undertake it unless I have full & entire control." He told Abraham Lincoln on August 29 that it might be wise "to leave Pope to get out of his scrape, and at once use all our means to make the capital perfectly safe.
We study our military past not only to draw inspiration from the exploits of those American soldiers and their commanders who went before us, but also to sharpen our knowledge and understanding of the art of war, thereby equipping us for the military challenges of the future. It is our belief that the careful study of battlefields such as Second Manassas allows today's military students to understand better the complexities and inevitable pressures of warfare. It can also provide them the chance to reflect on and assess military operations, an opportunity rarely attainable in the daily execution of their craft. This is the third in a series of booklets on American battlefields intended to help soldiers use the past to enhance their understanding of the Amy's future.
1 September 1989 MICHAEL D. KRAUSE
Acting Chief of Military History
The contest around Groveton, Virginia, on 29 and 30 August 1862 was characterized by complex maneuvers and fighting over the same areas at several different times. New units were funneled into the battle throughout its course, while others were rushed from one point to another as the action shifted. As a result, it is not possible to cover the ground chronologically, to follow the sequence of events in an orderly manner. This lack of order is a reflection of the high level of confusion experienced at the time. At its simplest, after an engagement the previous night, the first full day of the battle may be said to have consisted of three fierce Federal attacks conducted piecemeal against the positions of Jackson's corps, then a meeting engagement between the divisions of Hood and Hatch in the evening. The second day was a quiet morning followed by a fierce Federal attack in the afternoon, succeeded by an overwhelming Confederate counterattack that soundly defeated Maj. Gen. John Pope's army.
The tour will go to twelve locations important to aspects of the battle. Although it is not possible to arrange in sequence the events because of terrain in relation to the original episodes, the stops have been selected to help the visitor see the battle developing. The courage of the men on both sides was exemplary, but technology has overtaken the tactics they used. Nevertheless, the lessons in leadership, command, the use of intelligence, and the performance of men under stress shown by this battle have a lasting value.
The following "Overview" should be read before taking the tour. Stops are keyed to the action described in the Overview. Numbered stops are those made by car. "CR" indicates County Road; "SR" indicates State Road. Stops with numbers and letters are optional additions to the motor phase of the tour. In the Overview names of Confederate personnel and units appear in italic type, Union personnel and units in regular type. [NOTE: IN THE INTERNET EDITION, PAGE NUMBERS HAVE BEEN OMITTED AND DRIVING INSTRUCTIONS ARE RENDERED IN BOLD-FACED TYPE; BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS ON KEY PERSONALITIES ORIGINALLY CONTAINED AS CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOGRAPHS ARE NOW CONTAINED IN A SEPARATE DOCUMENT]
1 September 1989 JOSEPH W. A. WHITEHORNE
Lieutenant Colonel, Retired
United States Army
National Park Service battle description
This Day in History: Battle of Second Bull Run