Second Battle of Bull Run - Longstreet Counterattack & Union Retreat (Day 3)
A splendid army almost demoralized, millions of public property given up or destroyed, thousands of lives of our best men sacrificed for no purpose. I dare not trust myself to speak of this commander [Pope] as I feel and believe. Suffice to say ... that more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man. It can in truth be said of him that he had not a friend in his command from the smallest drummer boy to the highest general officer.”— Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams (II Corps division commander)
The final element of Longstreet's command, the division of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson, marched 17 miles (27 km) and arrived on the battlefield at 3 a.m., August 30. Exhausted and unfamiliar with the area, they halted on a ridge east of Groveton. At dawn, they realized they were in an isolated position too close to the enemy and fell back. Pope's belief that the Confederate army was in retreat was reinforced by this movement, which came after the withdrawal of Hood's troops the night before. At an 8 a.m. council of war at Pope's headquarters, his subordinates attempted to convince their commander to move cautiously. Probes of the Confederate line on Stony Ridge around 10 a.m. indicated that Stonewall Jackson's men were still firmly in their defensive positions. John F. Reynolds indicated that the Confederates were in great strength south of the turnpike. Fitz John Porter arrived later with similar intelligence. However, Heintzelman and McDowell conducted a personal reconnaissance that somehow failed to find Jackson's defensive line, and Pope finally made up his mind to attack the retreating Southerners.
Shortly after noon, Pope issued orders for Porter's corps, supported by Hatch and Reynolds, to advance west along the turnpike. At the same time, Ricketts, Kearny, and Hooker were to advance on the Union right. This dual movement would potentially crush the retreating Confederates. But the Confederates were not retreating, and were in fact hoping to be attacked. Lee was still waiting for an opportunity to counterattack with Longstreet's force. Although he was not certain that Pope would attack that day, Lee positioned 18 artillery pieces under Col. Stephen D. Lee on high ground northeast of the Brawner Farm, ideally situated to bombard the open fields in front of Jackson's position.
Porter's corps was actually not in position to pursue west on the turnpike, but was in the woods north of the turnpike near Groveton. It took about two hours for the 10,000 men to organize themselves for the assault against Jackson's line to their front, which would be focused on Jackson's old division, now led by Brig. Gen. William E. Starke. The lead division in the Union assault was commanded by Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, replacing Maj. Gen. George W. Morell: Col. Henry Weeks's brigade was on the left, Col. Charles W. Roberts's brigade in the center. Hatch's division came in on the right of the corps line. Two brigades of regular army troops under Brig. Gen. George Sykes were in reserve.
The Union men faced a formidable task. Butterfield's division had to cross 600 yards (550 m) of open pasture land owned by widow Lucinda Dogan, the final 150 yards (140 m) of which were steeply uphill, to attack a strong position behind the unfinished railroad; Hatch's division had only 300 yards (270 m) to traverse, but was required to perform a complex right wheel maneuver under fire to hit the Confederate position squarely in its front. They experienced devastating fire from Stephen Lee's batteries and then withering volleys from the infantrymen in the line. Nevertheless, they were able to break the Confederate line, routing the 48th Virginia Infantry. The Stonewall Brigade rushed in to restore the line, taking heavy casualties, including its commander, Col. Baylor. In what was arguably the most famous incident of the battle, Confederates in Col. Bradley T. Johnson's and Col. Leroy A. Stafford's brigades fired so much that they ran out of ammunition and resorted to throwing large rocks at the 24th New York, causing occasional damage, and prompting some of the surprised New Yorkers to throw them back. To support Jackson's exhausted defense, Longstreet's artillery added to the barrage against Union reinforcements attempting to move in, cutting them to pieces.
Having suffered significant casualties, Porter did not engage Sykes's reserve division and halted his assault, essentially leaving his lead brigades to extricate themselves without support. The withdrawal was also a costly operation. Some of the jubilant Confederates in Starke's brigade attempted a pursuit, but were beaten back by the Union reserves posted along the Groveton-Sudley Road. Overall, Jackson's command was too depleted to counterattack, allowing Porter to stabilize the situation north of the turnpike. Concerned about Porter's situation, however, Irvin McDowell ordered Reynolds's division to leave Chinn Ridge and come to Porter's support. This may have been the worst tactical decision of the day because it left only 2,200 Union troops south of the turnpike, where they would soon face ten times their number of Confederates.
Lee and Longstreet agreed that the time was right for the long awaited assault and that the objective would be Henry House Hill, which had been the key terrain in the First Battle of Bull Run, and which, if captured, would dominate the potential Union line of retreat. Longstreet's command of 25,000 men in five divisions stretched nearly a mile and a half from the Brawner Farm in the north to the Manassas Gap Railroad in the south. To reach the hill, they would have to traverse 1.5 to 2 miles (3.2 km) of ground containing ridges, streams, and some heavily wooded areas. Longstreet knew that he would not be able to project a well coordinated battle line across this terrain, so he had to rely on the drive and initiative of his division commanders. The lead division, on the left, closest to the turnpike, was John Bell Hood's Texans, supported by Brig. Gen. Nathan G. "Shanks" Evans's South Carolinians. On Hood's right were Kemper's and Jones's divisions. Anderson's division was held as a ready reserve. Just before the attack, Lee signaled to Jackson: "General Longstreet is advancing; look out for and protect his left flank."
The Union defenders south of the turnpike consisted of only two brigades, commanded by Cols. Nathaniel C. McLean (Schenck's division, Sigel's I Corps) and Gouverneur K. Warren (Sykes's division, Porter's V Corps). McLean held Chinn Ridge, Warren was near Groveton, about 800 yards (730 m) further west. Hood's men began the assault at 4 p.m., immediately overwhelming Warren's two regiments, the 5th New York (Duryée's Zouaves) and 10th New York (the National Zouaves). Within the first 10 minutes of contact, the 500 men of the 5th New York lost almost 300 shot, 120 of them mortally wounded. This was the largest loss of life of any infantry regiment in a single battle during the entire war.
As Pope and McDowell realized the danger of their situation, they ordered units to occupy Henry House Hill, but until that could occur, McLean's brigade was the only obstacle to the Confederate onslaught. His 1,200 Ohioans in four regiments lined up, facing west on Chinn Ridge, with one artillery battery in support, and were able to repulse two assaults, first by Hood and then by Shanks Evans's brigade (Kemper's division). The third assault, by Col. Montgomery D. Corse's brigade (also Kemper's division), was successful. McLean's men mistakenly believed the men approaching the southern tip of the ridge were friendly and withheld their fire. When they realized their mistake, a fierce firefight ensued for over 10 minutes at virtually point-blank range, but added fire from a Louisiana artillery battery caused the Union line to collapse. The Ohio brigade suffered 33% casualties, but they gave Pope an additional 30 minutes to bring up reinforcements.
The first two Union brigades to arrive were from Rickett's division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Zealous B. Tower and Col. Robert Stiles. Tower's brigade was overwhelmed by attacks from three sides. His artillery battery was captured and he was seriously wounded. Stiles's brigade, following Tower, fell victim to two newly arrived brigades from Kemper's division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Micah Jenkins and Col. Eppa Hunton. During this intense fighting, the commander of the 12th Massachusetts, Col. Fletcher Webster (son of the statesman Daniel Webster), was mortally wounded. Two more Union brigades poured into the battle from Sigel's I Corps, commanded by Cols. John Koltes and Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski, but had no more success than their predecessors. The lead elements of Jones's division, the brigades of Cols. George T. Anderson and Henry L. Benning, swept all Union resistance off Chinn Ridge by 6 p.m. However, the successful Confederate assault came at a high cost, both in men (Hood's and Kemper's divisions suffered heavy losses and were at least temporarily incapable of further offensive action) and in time. Henry House Hill was still several hundred yards away and there was only an hour of daylight remaining.
"R.H. Anderson failed to avail himself of the most significant advantage three hours of fighting on Chinn Ridge and Henry Hill had forged. Because he did not, the Confederates' last opportunity to destroy Pope's army dwindled with the day's light."
—John J. Hennessy, Return to Bull Run
August 30, 5 p.m.: Final Confederate attacks, beginning of the Union retreat.
During the first two hours of the Confederate assault, Pope had been able to place four brigades in defense of Henry House Hill: two from Reynolds's division, one from Sykes's, and Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy's independent brigade. Lee realized that additional combat power would be required to complete his assault, so he ordered Richard Anderson's division from its reserve position. While these troops were moving up, D.R. Jones launched an attack on the hill with the brigades of Benning and G.T. Anderson. With 3,000 men, this was the largest concentrated attack of the afternoon, but it was poorly coordinated and the four Union brigades held their ground. Additional pressure was applied with the arrival of two brigades from Anderson's division: Brig. Gens. William Mahone and Ambrose R. Wright. The regulars from Sykes's division had no natural defensive advantage on the end of the line and they were driven back toward the Henry House. Inexplicably, Anderson declined to exploit his opening, perhaps because of the growing darkness. The hill remained in Union hands.
Stonewall Jackson, under relatively ambiguous orders from Lee to support Longstreet, launched an attack north of the turnpike at 6 p.m., probably as soon as his exhausted forces could be mustered. Historian John J. Hennessy called Jackson's delays "one of the battle's great puzzles" and "one of the most significant Confederate failures" of the battle, greatly reducing the value of his advance. The attack coincided with Pope's ordered withdrawal of units north of the turnpike to assist in the Henry House Hill defense and the Confederates were able to overrun a number of artillery and infantry units in their fierce assault. By 7 p.m., however, Pope had established a strong defensive line that aligned with the units on Henry House Hill. At 8 p.m., he ordered a general withdrawal on the turnpike to Centreville. Unlike the calamitous retreat at the First Battle of Bull Run, the Union movement was quiet and orderly. The Confederates, weary from battle and low on ammunition, did not pursue in the darkness. Although Lee had won a great victory, he had not achieved his objective of destroying Pope's army.
Union casualties were about 10,000 killed and wounded out of 62,000 engaged; the Confederates lost about 1,300 killed and 7,000 wounded out of 50,000.As the Union Army concentrated on Centreville, Lee planned his next move. He sent Jackson on another flanking march in an attempt to interpose his army between Pope and Washington. Pope countered the move and the two forces clashed a final time at the Battle of Chantilly (also known as Ox Hill) on September 1. Lee immediately began his next campaign on September 3, when the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River, marching toward a fateful encounter with the Army of the Potomac in the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam.
"A splendid army almost demoralized, millions of public property given up or destroyed, thousands of lives of our best men sacrificed for no purpose. I dare not trust myself to speak of this commander [Pope] as I feel and believe. Suffice to say ... that more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man. It can in truth be said of him that he had not a friend in his command from the smallest drummer boy to the highest general officer."
—Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams (II Corps division commander)
Pope was relieved of command on September 12, 1862, and his army was merged into the Army of the Potomac as it marched into Maryland under McClellan. He spent the remainder of the war in the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota, dealing with the Dakota War of 1862. Pope sought scapegoats to spread the blame for his defeat. On November 25, 1862, Fitz John Porter was arrested and court-martialed for his actions on August 29. Porter was found guilty on January 10, 1863, of disobedience and misconduct, and he was dismissed from the Army on January 21. He spent most of the remainder of his life fighting against the verdict. In 1878, a special commission under General John M. Schofield exonerated Porter by finding that his reluctance to attack Longstreet probably saved Pope's Army of Virginia from an even greater defeat. Eight years later, President Chester A. Arthur reversed Porter's sentence.
James Longstreet was criticized for his performance during the battle and the postbellum advocates of the Lost Cause claimed that his slowness, reluctance to attack, and disobedience to Gen. Lee on August 29 were a harbinger of his controversial performance to come on July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee's biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, wrote: "The seeds of much of the disaster at Gettysburg were sown in that instant – when Lee yielded to Longstreet and Longstreet discovered that he would."
On August 30, 1862, the Second Battle of Manassas ended a long campaign in northern Virginia. The campaign had begun when Union forces attempting to invade the Southern capital at Richmond were defeated just miles from the city. After the defeat near Richmond, the scattered Union forces under Major General John Pope clashed repeatedly with the Southern troops under Major General "Stonewall" Jackson. At the August 9 Battle of Cedar Mountain, Jackson's Confederates outnumbered the Union troops two-to-one. After his easy victory there, Jackson retired from the field as Union reinforcements arrived.
While Pope's Union army was engaged in fighting against General Robert E. Lee's forces along the Rappahannock River, Jackson attempted to maneuver around to Pope's rear in order to cut off his supply lines.
Weary from inconclusive fighting along the Rappahannock, Pope decided to concentrate his forces and march on Jackson, who had succeeded in cutting off Pope's supplies. A race was on for Pope to find and destroy Jackson before Lee could march his men to Jackson's aid.
During the Union occupation of Northern Virginia, many slaves took the opportunity to escape. This 1862 photograph, taken by Timothy O'Sullivan, shows a group of fugitive slaves fording the Rappahannock River on their way North.
The Second Battle of Manassas began on August 28, when Pope marched his men right into Jackson's waiting forces near the town of Manassas. Jackson had set up his defenses at the site of the First Battle of Manassas which had ended in Confederate victory just one year earlier. After some rough skirmishes, darkness fell, and both sides retired for the night.
Throughout the day of August 29, fighting raged up and down the line without a decisive victory. Pope's Northerners broke through the Confederate defenses several times but were always pushed back. Throughout that night, Confederate movement to the west convinced Pope that the Southerners were preparing to retreat.
On the morning of August 30, Pope attacked the Confederates to the west, hoping to destroy the escaping Southern troops. Instead, he found 30,000 newly-arrived reinforcements under General Robert E. Lee. The day was spent in fierce fighting; in the end, the Northerners were forced to retreat to nearby Centreville and, eventually, to the safety of Washington, D.C.
28th started for Manassas, arriving there 29th. 30th and 31st were engaged in the battle—the troops behaving with great coolness, courage and in perfect order—about 11 oclock at night left the battle field, (being the last regiment that left and having the credit of saving the artillery.) and bivouak'd that night at Centreville. Left the latter place Sept. 1st at 5 a.m. arriving at Chantilly at dusk—here occuring a sharp engagement (Battle of Chantilly) lasting till 10 oclock at night. (It rained furiously, and the conflict was in the woods.)
The Library of Congress holds over forty of Walt Whitman's notebooks. Whitman used the notebooks to record his thoughts and observations in prose and in poetry. During the Civil War, Whitman carried small notebooks with him on visits to wounded soldiers in hospitals. He jotted down stories that the soldiers told and took note of treats or supplies which he could bring to the men on return visits.
National Park Service battle description
Manassas National Battlefield Park