AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
SECOND BATTLE OF MANASSAS OR BULL RUN
The Second Battle of Manassas took place some 13 months after the first, on 28/29/30 August 1862.
By this date, the battlegrounds had changed. The Union Army of the Potomac now under McClellan following their defeat at Manassas the previous year had invaded the south by water in an attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Confederates had thus withdrawn the army of Northern Virginia from Manassas and sent it to Richmond in order to confront the Union forces, at places such as Gaines Mill, in what became known as the Peninsula Campaign. This meant that such union forces remaining in the area of Northern Virginia had been able to occupy the city.
There was still a substantial Confederate Army in the Shenandoah Valley however that had been threatening Manassas, and the North resolved to push it out. Consequently, a large Union force of nearly 75,000 soldiers assembled in Northern Virginia under General Pope, and the greater part of McClellan's army on the Peninsula near Richmond was being withdrawn to join up with it.
LEE ENGAGES THE UNION ARMY
Lee, aware of the fact that he was in danger of being swamped, decided to take the initiative and attack before the situation became any worse even though he could only muster 55,000 men. If he went on the defensive, he would almost certainly be heavily defeated once McClellan and Pope joined forces.
As soon as he was sure that the Peninsula campaign had died down, he sent "Stonewall" Jackson and his troops to harass the Union forces in the Manassas area, and he followed up with Longstreet and his army a short while later
Lee had confidence, not just in his own ability and that of his subordinates, but also confidence in the ineffective Union leadership. So much so, in fact, that he split his small force into two (a tactic he was to employ again at Chancellorsville with even more success), full of the certain knowledge that if he could get one of his armies in between the Union forces and Washington DC, the Union forces would panic to such an extent that anything might be possible. This illogical movement completely confused Pope, and laid the foundation for almost everything that happened after.
Meanwhile, while Longstreet and one part of the Confederate Army made an appearance over in the Bull Run mountains 20 miles away, Jackson began to dig in his force along an unfinished railway line to the north of Manassas. This was with the aim of making a strong defensive line, necessary if he was likely to receive an attack from overwhelming force such as that which Pope had at his disposal. Once he was sure of his position, he sent some of his forces into the city to sack the Union supply depot there in an effort to provoke Pope. True to form, Pope responded.
For some reason, Pope allowed himself to be convinced that Jackson's force was retreating to the Shenandoah Valley, so on the evening of 28th August sent a division under King down the Warrenton Turnpike in pursuit.
In the photograph on the left, the road on the horizontal plane is the Warrenton Turnpike. This was taken from Matthews Hill, the point at which the opening shots in the First Battle of Manassas had been fired.
JACKSON OPENS FIRE
It was maybe a only a mile or so away from Matthews Hill to the left (or westward direction) that King's division had reached, before he and his soldiers were taken completely by surprise by Jackson's forces. This photograph is taken from the north side of the road from approximately where Jackson's forces opened fire.
Jackson was well aware that if his attack backfired, his 20,000 men risked being totally overwhelmed by the full force of the Union Army before Longstreet could come up from the Bull Run Mountains.
However, Jackson had little option but to order the battle to begin. He knew that if he let King's army pass by and take up a a position behind him, he would be trapped between King's and Pope's forces. Jackson would be cut off from Longstreet and his defeat would be assured. So relying on Pope's confusion and incompetence, Jackson ordered his right flank to emerge from the trees shown in the photograph on the left and engage the enemy.
In a fight that lasted a little over 90 minutes, over 2500 casualties were inflicted, and Jackson had King's army in some difficulty.
The Union forces eventually managed to position some cannon on a low ridge just to the north of the turnpike, roughly in the position shown in the photograph here on the left, and lay down an artillery barrage. This held up the Confederate attacks and gave the Union forces enough time to extricate themselves from this difficult position. Even so, it wasn't until about midnight that they finally managed to make good their escape and retreat back down the turnpike to General Pope.
Pope was convinced that this was the main force of Jackson's army that had been engaged. He therefore decided to head north from Matthews Hill crossroads as far as Sudley Church and try to outflank the Confederate forces. But this was going to have to wait until next morning.
THE UNFINISHED RAILROAD
Next morning, The Union Army started to attack the Confederate forces who were well dug in along the unfinished railway line. The photograph here on the left shows the railway line where it cuts the Manassas - Sudley road right by Sudley Church, looking south-west back to where the previous evening's fighting had taken place a couple of miles away.
The extreme left of Jackson's flank was positioned just to the right and slightly forward of this photo. A great deal of the fighting on the 29th of August took place around here, as the Union forces pounded away at the Confederate lines throughout the day. They had several localised successes but could not make the breakthrough, and eventually all of the attacks were beaten back.
Meanwhile, during the course of the day's events, Longstreet arrived with his 30,000 men. Lee urged him to commit to the attack, but Longstreet felt that it was not yet time. The Confederate lines were still holding out against Pope, and the Union General Fitzjohn Porter was still at Manassas with his army. If Longstreet committed himself to the battle, he risked being attacked in the rear and destroyed. He positioned himself between Manassas and the battle, and waited for Porter to make his move.
The following two photographs show the centre of the Confederate lines, where the unfinished railway is cut by the Grovetown-Sudley road.
The photograph on the left is looking north-east towards Sudley Church and the left flank of the Confederate forces, to where the photograph above was taken.
It was close by this spot that Colonel Cuvier Grover broke through the Confederate lines with a bayonet charge, and pushed the defenders back 200 yards to the road, to the left rear of the photograph. The attack lost 500 men in a little over 20 minutes and the lack of any forces following up to exploit Grover's success obliged him to retreat.
This is yet another mystery that calls Pope's leadership into question. The attack was clearly suicidal and had only a slender possibility of success. The only hope of gaining anything at all was to make sure that the attack was properly supported in case it was fortunate enough to make a breakthrough, otherwise it would serve no purpose. If there were no forces available to follow up the attack, then the attack should never have been ordered.
The photograph is from the same point on the Grovetown - Sudley road as the one above, but looking in the opposite direction south-west towards Deep Cut.
This area was the focal point of the Confederate defences near to where Jackson and Lee had established their battle headquarters. During the battles of the 29th August, the Union forces were unable to dislodge the Confederate defenders no matter how hard they tried, and the fighting slowly petered out for the day.
But not before McDowell, together with King's division temporarily under the command of Hatch, heading to join up with Pope, collided head-on with a party of Hood's army on its way to join up with Longstreet. Following a vicious engagement that lasted some 40 minutes, the Union forces were obliged to retreat, losing a gun.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
Next morning, things began to go badly wrong for Pope. For some reason, perhaps due to the relative quietness of the morning, he had it firmly implanted in his mind that Jackson and Lee had retreated. Accordingly, he ordered his army out of their defences and to advance to the Confederate lines to pursue them. The heavy fire that greeted the attackers as they stormed across no-man's land should have made it quite clear to everyone that the Confederates had not moved an inch, and were well prepared to repel any attack that the Union forces might launch.
From the mauling that Pope's forces were receiving, it was quite clear to most people that the Union attack was going to go precisely nowhere. Most generals would have realised this in the first five minutes, called off the attack, and thought of another plan. But no-one knows what was going through Pope's mind at that moment. Maybe it was the idea that his troops were already heavily committed, and so "in for a penny, in for a pound". He called up Porter's troops to reinforce his attack.
A determined, resolute commander such as Grant might have made his personality make the difference, but Grant's time was not to come for another couple of years. The Union generals of the early part of the war were for the most part inefficient and ineffective. It was precisely this that Lee had borne in mind when he joined battle - that the Union generals would do half of his work for him. He was right.
Porter arrived at the battle in the position shown in the photograph on the left, a few hundred yards south of the railway crossing shown above. The attack he had to make, across the field and up the steep slope to the Confederate defences did not promise much at all in the way of success.
Nevertheless, Porter sent over 5,000 men into the attack to help push on Pope's forces, and the fighting was ferocious. This monument in the photograph on the left dates from 1866 and commemorates the Union soldiers who died in the fighting. It is erected just in front of the Confederate defences, at the point where the leading Union troops would have reached.
One thing has to be said is that here, just as throughout most of the Civil War battlefields, there are very very few, if any, memorials to the Confederate soldiers who died in any of the battles. There is virtually no sign of any Confederate presence, such as Confederate artillery or weapons, and all of the contemporary records are written from the Union point of view. It is certainly true that here in the USA, just as in all wars, "history is written by the victors"
The Union soldiers who penetrated as far as Deep Cut found themselves engaged in a desperate struggle. The terrain in this photograph, taken from the Confederate defences along the railway line in between the point of Porter's attack and the railway crossing shown in the photograph higher up, gives some indication of the difficulties they encountered.
Several regiments of Virginia infantry were well entrenched here, in an excellent position to defend themselves against the Union soldiers struggling up to the attack. In many places, the combat degenerated into a hand-to-hand brawl and on one occasion, when the Confederates had run out of ammunition, they resorted to heaving rocks down onto the Union soldiers below.
The result was a foregone conclusion. The Union attack was smashed to pieces. And worse was to come.
LONGSTREET FINALLY JOINS BATTLE
As soon as he saw that Porter had committed his forces to the attack at Deep Cut, Longstreet knew that his moment had at last arrived, and he prepared to move his 30,000 men off the heights to take the Union forces in the left flank and win a famous victory.
As Longstreet and his men swept down the hill northwards towards Pope's left, they burst into this clearing just south of the Warrenton Turnpike where there were two regiments of New York Infantry, the 5th and the 10th, quietly waiting in reserve. In less than 5 minutes, these two regiments had been completely annihilated. The 5th regiment lost 123 men killed in this encounter, the highest single loss of life in one infantry regiment in any one battle of the whole Civil War.
Nevertheless, that few minutes was crucial. The intensity of the firing indicated to Pope that Longstreet was about to arrive on the battlefield, and he ordered his troops to begin the retreat.
Full of thoughts of what happened the first time the Union Army retreated from the battlefield at Manassas, everyone was fearful that another disaster might be on the cards. And this time, the Confederate Army was ready, willing and able to make the most of the devastation they could inflict upon a panic-stricken flight by the Union troops.
But this time, it was not to be. A whole series of spirited rearguard actions by a variety of different regiments slowed up Longstreet's attack, and gave valuable time for Pope's army to slip away over Bull Run Creek.
The photograph here on the left shows the site near the Warrenton turnpike where the 71st New York Infantry made a desperate stand against Longstreet's army as it rushed towards Pope's exposed left flank. This slowed up his advance and bought more vital minutes for Pope's army to make good its escape.
Not too far away from this spot is a military cemetery containing the graves of over 250 Confederate soldiers. Of these, probably no more than a handful carry a name.
Meanwhile, the remnants of the 5th and 10th New York infantry that had managed to escape from Longstreet's clutches had straggled back from their clearing, which is to the right of shot in the photograph on the left, and retreated up to Chinn Ridge, from where the photograph was taken.
Here, units of the Pennsyvania Infantry and the 12th Massachussetts Infantry were guarding Pope's exposed left flank. With the weight of Longstreet's army bearing down upon them, no-one would have blamed them for taking flight and heading for Bull Run bridge.
This would have had disastrous consequences for Pope's army, which would have been cut off in the valley below, and even for the continuation of the war. If the Confederates had made the bridge, the road to Washington would have been open. However, they made a brave stand along the ridge, and that bought more vital time for Pope to organise his retreat. It can truly be said that the events, such as they were on Chinn Ridge that late afternoon, made for one of the most decisive moments in the entire war.
Pope was eventually able to create a defensive line on Henry Hill which had featured so prominently in the first battle over 12 months earlier and where the battlefield visitor centre is today. The photograph here on the left is taken from more-or-less the same spot as the one above at Chinn Ridge, but in the opposite direction with the ridge to the rear. Henry Hill is to the left of the tall street lights that can be seen in the photograph here on the left
Once the defensive line had formed up, a brief Union counter-attack from this position held up Longstreet's advance long enough for Pope to cross the Bull Run bridge with the greater part of his army, and retreat on Chantilly and Centreville.
The Union Army rearguard on Henry Hill held on until eight o'clock in the evening when, under cover of darkness, they too were able to disengage and slip away across the bridge. By this time, Longstreet's troops were to exhaused to continue the pursuit.
Nevertheless, the loss in equipment by the North during the retreat was an embarrassment, and the ease with which the Confederate forces had disposed of an army much greater than their own was a total humiliation for the North. The only consolation the North could draw from the battle was that things could have been so much worse.
The next battlefield, in chronological order, is Chancellorsville. Alternatively, if you are following my journey around the Carolinas and Virginia, you need to pick up the story again at the Bull Run Visitor Centre.