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JACKSON'S FLANK MARCH, AUGUST 24-27, 1862|
In the early
morning hours of August 2S, Jackson's men began crossing the
Rappahannock River at Hinson's Mill Ford. Forty-eight hours later after
covering fifty-six miles in the blistering August heat, Jackson lighted
in the rear of Pope's army at Manassas Junction.
On August 23 the Confederates faced the more immediate problem of
extricating Jackson's men from the north bank of the river near Sulphur
Springs. While Sigel slowly descended on the unsupported graycoats,
Jackson completed the construction of a new bridge late in the day and
removed his relieved troops before dawn on the twenty-fourth. But within
twenty-four hours Jackson would have them back across the Rappahannock
this time in much greater strength.
This movement would result from a council of war conducted on August
24 by General Lee at the village of Jeffersonton. The white-bearded
commander explained his intention to send Jackson's entire wing, some
24,000 men, on an ambitious march around Pope's right flank to alight
somewhere in the Union rear. Building upon the concept tested by Stuart
at Catlett Station, Jackson's force would fracture Pope's supply line
and thus persuade the Yankees to retire from their Rappahannock
defenses. From there the Army of Northern Virginia would respond to
whatever strategic opportunities the situation presented, including a
chance to strike Pope with advantage or a possible movement into
No matter what the potential rewards, Lee's scheme involved great
No matter what the potential rewards, Lee's scheme involved great
risk. Longstreet's divisions would occupy Pope's attention along the
Rappahannock during Jackson's flank march, but the wings of the
Confederate army would be dangerously divided. Should Pope discover
Jackson's detachment before Longstreet could close the gap, half of the
Confederate infantry faced mortal peril. Moreover, Lee knew that every
day might bring fresh units of McClellan's men to the equation.
Confederate strategy at Second Manassas thus rivaled the audacity of any
grand plan of the Civil War.
JACKSON'S "FOOT CAVALRY" ON THE MARCH. (BL)|
Lee accepted the gamble because of his confidence in Stonewall
Jackson. "Old Blue Light" relished assignments such as this and used his
experience in the Shenandoah Valley as a model. Early on the morning of
August 25 Jackson assembled his three divisions, issued orders for an
expeditious, disciplined march, and began a journey that would take his
troops twenty-five miles before day's end.
Richard S. Ewell's brigades led the way. Ewell served under Jackson
in the Valley, and the two Virginians had established a relationship of
trust and mutual respect. Jackson's largest division, that of Ambrose
Powell Hill, followed Ewell. Hill possessed substantial military talent
leavened with a fiery temper and an oversensitivity to criticism and had
already run afoul of his infamously unforgiving commander. Jackson's old
division, now under William B. Taliaferro, brought up the rear. Jackson
thought little of Taliaferro and by year's end would rid himself of a
man he considered unreliable. The column waded a branch of the
Rappahannock tramped across fields, and negotiated streams heedless of
any specific highway. Their northward orientation led them to a point
near Salem (present-day Marshall), where the weary Confederates fell to
earth for a short night's rest.
AFTER MARCHING IN THE STIFLING SUMMER HEAT, JACKSON'S EXHAUSTED SOLDIERS
DINED ON WHAT LITTLE THEY COULD FORAGE FROM THE SURROUNDING FIELDS.
A movement of this magnitude could not go unnoticed. Indeed, early in
the morning alert Federal signal stations spotted Jackson's column, and
before noon Pope obtained an accurate idea about its size and direction.
What the Yankee observers could not decipher was Jackson's ultimate
destination, and here Pope stumbled. Instead of retiring from the
Rappahannock to block Jackson's approach, protect his supply base at
Manassas Junction, and prepare to unite with McClellan's units moving
south from Alexandria, Pope concluded that the Confederates were
shifting away from him toward the Shenandoah Valley.
Pope's error allowed Jackson on August 26 to turn east and pass
without interference through Thoroughfare Gap, a narrow defile in the
Bull Run Mountains. This craggy range of hills presented the only
natural obstacle between Jackson and the railroad. Likewise, safe
passage through Thoroughfare Gap provided the key to Longstreet's
eventual rendezvous with Stonewall somewhere on the plains of Manassas.
"Old Pete" had done his job well and left the Rappahannock late that
afternoon, but by then Jackson had covered more than fifty miles in the
thirty-four hours since his departure. "The march had been a rapid one
and the soldiers were weary, faint, and footsore," admitted one
participant, but all the labors of the past two days would mean nothing
unless Stonewall could take advantage of his perilous position in Pope's
rear earned by the exertion of his legendary "foot cavalry."
Pope's supply depot at Manassas Junction, the uninhabited
intersection of the Orange & Alexandria and Manassas Gap railroads,
offered the greatest reward to Jackson's exhausted brigades. But
Stonewall opted to steer his men first toward Bristoe Station, a whistle
stop several miles southwest of the junction. Seizing Bristoe and
wrecking the nearby bridge over Broad Run would cut Pope's direct rail
connection with his base and place a free-flowing obstacle between
Manassas and its dependent Union army. Moreover, Jackson learned that
only a handful of Federals guarded Bristoe, and he speculated that
Manassas might he better protected.
One after the other, the locomotives careened off the broken and
barricaded rails creating a spectacular scene of destruction. Had the
cars been loaded with soldiers, Jackson's men would have captured or
killed them all.
Early in the evening Stonewall's cavalry escort swooped upon the
startled Pennsylvanians carelessly encamped around Bristoe, dispersing
them with ease. Just then a whistle blast alerted the Confederates to
the approach of an empty Federal supply train returning to Manassas from
the front. Although the gray-clad raiders attempted to block the tracks,
the engineer barreled through occupied Bristoe, eventually spreading the
word that a Confederate force had once again gained Pope's rear. But his
warning did not reach the next two trainmen, who fell victim to
Jackson's vandals. One after the other, the locomotives careened off the
broken and barricaded rails creating a spectacular scene of destruction.
Had the cars been loaded with soldiers, Jackson's men would have
captured or killed them all.
The only Yankees in the neighborhood, however, were four miles up
the tracks at Manassas. The junction's small garrison responded to the
engineer's alarm by deploying infantry and artillery who prepared to
resist what they believed to be another cavalry raid similar to Stuart's
foray against Catlett.
Despite the late hour and the dusty miles already logged that day,
sixty-year-old Isaac R. Trimble volunteered two of his regiments for the
task of capturing Manassas. Supported by some of Stuart's cavalry,
Trimble pounced on the overmatched Unionists about midnight. "Our boys
gave them our best, but they were so close that our artillery only got
in about two or three shots apiece, when, in overwhelming numbers, they
were right among us in the darkness," reported the Federal commander.
Most of the Unionists surrendered. Jackson had thus brilliantly
accomplished the first portion of his assignment, but his ultimate
achievement would depend on the Federals' reaction.
CONFEDERATE SUPPLY WAGONS NEGOTIATE A WATER CROSSING DURING THE FLANK
ORDERED TO MAINTAIN SILENCE, JACKSON'S MEN RAISE THEIR HATS IN MUTE
TRIBUTE TO THEIR BELOVED COMMANDER. (OLD JACK BY DON TROIANI, COURTESY
OF HISTORICAL ART PRINTS LTD., SOUTHBURY, CONNECTICUT)|
To his credit, Pope saw opportunity where others might have panicked.
The Federal commander reasoned that an undetermined fraction of Lee's
army had advanced beyond its immediate supports, offering a rare
opportunity to crush his enemy in detail. Pope directed his 66,000 men
along the Rappahannock to abandon their positions on August 27 and fan
out along an eight-mile arc between the Warrenton-Alexandria Turnpike on
the left and the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on the right.
McDowell, in command of his own and Sigel's corps, would take the
turnpike, Reno and Philip Kearny's division of Heintzelman's corps would
occupy the center, while Heintzelman's other division under "Fighting
Joe" Hooker, followed by Porter's corps, would tramp beside the tracks
toward Bristoe and Manassas. Banks, still recovering from Cedar
Mountain, would guard the army's wagons in the rear.
Thirty miles east of Manassas Junction, General Halleck responded to
what on the night of August 26-27 he assumed to be only a cavalry
incursion. With the assistance of the energetic chief of military
railroads, Herman Haupt, Halleck assembled a reinforced brigade under
George W. Taylor to move toward Manassas, expel the pesky raiders, and
reestablish rail communication with Pope. Halleck also instructed
McClellan's newly arrived Sixth Corps under William B. Franklin to march
toward Gainesville on the Warrenton Turnpike and unite with Pope's
expanding army. Pope and Halleck, incommunicado because Jackson had
clipped the telegraph wires between Washington and the Rappahannock, had
thus unknowingly orchestrated a potent envelopment of Jackson's isolated
wing. Some 80,000 Federals were converging on Manassas from opposite
directions, and if all went well, Stonewall and his three divisions
might be eliminated.
As the sun rose on August 27, however, Jackson's first concern was to
reinforce Trimble at Manassas Junction. Stonewall left Ewell at Bristoe
to protect the Confederate rear and marched with Hill and Taliaferro to
the Union supply base. The sight that greeted the ragged Confederate
scarecrows boggled their minds. "At the Junction was a large depot of
stores [and] two trains containing probably two hundred large cars
loaded down with many millions of quartermaster and commissary stores,"
gushed one Rebel. "Beside these, there were very large sutlers' depots,
full of everything. In short, there was collected there, in the space of
a square mile, an amount and variety of property such as I had never
CONFEDERATE TROOPS PILLAGING MANASSAS JUNCTION LIKENED IT TO A
"WAREHOUSE FILLED WITH ALL THE DELICACIES." (BL)|
JACKSON'S MEN BURNED WHAT THEY COULD NOT CARRY, LEAVING THE FEDERAL
SUPPLY DEPOT A SMOLDERING RUIN. (LC)|
Before the awestruck Southerners had a fair chance to sample this
inspiring cornnucopia, Jackson's pickets announced the appearance of
Before the awestruck Southerners had a fair chance to sample this
inspiring cornucopia, Jackson's pickets announced the appearance of
enemy troops. Hill's brigades first repulsed a heavy artillery regiment
en route to Manassas, but George Taylor's New Jerseyians offered a
larger target. The Garden Staters confidently approached to within a few
hundred yards of Jackson's concealed defenders before the landscape
exploded in a fury of lead and iron. The brave Yankees stood their
ground for ten minutes, ignoring Stonewall's personal appeals to
surrender. But numbers soon determined the outcome of this lopsided
contest, and Taylor retreated precipitately toward Bull Run, losing a
third of his men and suffering a mortal wound.
News of Taylor's disaster soon reached Washington, where George
McClellan had at last arrived to take command of the Peninsula veterans
intended to succor Pope. Instead of hastening Franklin's 10,000 fresh
rifles to the front as Halleck intended, McClellan canceled Franklin's
advance. "I have no means of knowing the enemy's force between Pope and
ourselves," McClellan told the general in chief. "I do not see that we
have force enough in hand to form a connection with Pope, whose exact
position we do not know." Herman Haupt tried frantically to persuade
McClellan of the need and practicality of releasing Franklin, but Little
Mac would hear none of it. McClellan had written his wife a few days
before that "I don't see how I can remain in the service if placed under
Pope," and now his excess caution would ensure that the despised
Illinoisan would control no more of the Army of the Potomac until
Meanwhile, Taylor's defeat allowed Jackson's victorious regiments to
indulge in what would possibly be the happiest day of their military
lives. "I saw the whole army become what appeared to me an ungovernable
mob, drunk, some few with liquor but the others with excitement,"
remembered a Louisiana chaplain. Actually the pious and prudent Jackson
had taken steps to discard the tempting intoxicants stashed among the
delicacies stockpiled at Manassas Junction. But the rest of the booty
presented fair game for the butternut desperados. The hungry men ate
their fill and then stuffed their pockets and haversacks with a variety
of edibles, drinkables, and tradables.
Ewell's brigades did not share in the initial revelry because they
found less pleasant employment in combat with the vanguard of Pope's
army at Bristoe Station. During the afternoon Hooker's division
approached the depot from the west and clashed with Ewell for an hour
before the Confederates executed a textbook withdrawal. The Rebels
crossed Broad Run, firing the bridge in their wake, while the bloodied
and exhausted Federals licked their wounds at Bristoe. Ewell's men did
reach Manassas at dusk and helped themselves to what remained of the
Union supplies, but one of Ewell's officers complained that other troops
had "appropriated the provisions of a more enticing character."