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Civil War Series

The Second Battle of Manassas

   


RAIDING POPE'S PANTRY

On the evening of August 26, 1862, Jackson reached the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Bristoe Station, where he and his men derailed two Federal supply trains and destroyed a quarter mile of track. Jackson was soon unformed that Manassas Junction, located four miles north of Bristoe, was lightly guarded. The junction was serving as the supply hub for John Pope's army and was said to contain "stores of great value."

Jackson quickly selected two regiments under the command of Issac Trimble to capture the junction. After moving forward, the two regiments quickly seized the depot and 300 prisoners.

Many of the soldiers reflected on the abundant supplies found at Manassas.

"Jackson's first order was to knock out the heads of hundreds of barrels of whiskey, wine, and brandy. I shall never forget the scene. Streams of spirits ran like water through the sands of Manassas and the soldiers on hands and knees drank it greedily from the ground."

Major W. Roy Mason

The Federal depot was "vast storehouses filled with . . . all the delicacies, potted ham, lobster, tongue, candy, cakes, nuts, oranges, lemons, pickles, catsup, mustard, etc. It makes an old soldier's mouth water now just to think of the good things captured there. . . . Some filled their haversacks with cakes, some with candy, others with oranges, lemons, canned goods etc. I know one that took nothing but French mustard . . . it turned out to be the best thing taken because he traded it for meat and bread. It lasted until we reached Frederick."

Private John H. Worsham
21st Virginia Infantry

"I will not attempt to describe the scene I here witnessed for I am sure it beggars description. Just imagine about 6000 men hungry and almost naked, let loose on some million dollars worth of biscuit, cheese, ham, bacon, messpork, coffee, sugar, tea, fruit, brandy, wine, whiskey, oysters, coats, pants, shirts, caps, boots, shoes, socks, blankets, tents, etc.. Here you would see a crowd enter a car with their old confederate grays and in a few moments come out dressed in Yankee uniforms; some as cavalry; some as artillerists; others dressed in the splendid uniform of Federal officers . . . I have often read of the sacking of cities by a victorious army but never did I hear of a railroad train being sacked. I viewed this scene for almost two hours with the most intense anxiety. I saw the whole army become what appeared to me an ungovernable mob."

Chaplain James B. Sheeran
14th Louisiana Infantry

That night, with Pope's army closing in on Manassas Junction, Jackson's men set fire to the remaining supplies. He then moved his men toward the old battlefield of Manassas to await the arrival of Lee and Longstreet.

—Chris Bryce

John Pope indulged in another kind of feast on the night of August 27—an intellectual Bacchanalia featuring the stimulating brew of glorious prospective victory. Learning of Jackson's strength and whereabouts from Hooker's prisoners at Bristoe, Pope made plans "to bag the whole crowd" of brazen Confederates the next day. He eagerly directed his entire army to converge on Manassas Junction from the southwest, west, and north.

GEORGE MCCLELLAN (USAMHI)

Although Pope's conception possessed admirable initiative and aggressiveness, it ignored two fundamental factors. First, Pope's success depended upon the unlikely eventuality that Jackson would quietly remain at Manassas Junction until Pope's scattered divisions could descend upon him from three directions of the compass. Second, he ignored the existence of half of Lee's army, Longstreet's wing, which Pope now knew to be on the march and in the vicinity of Salem. As one of the campaign's early historians wrote a century ago, "the concentration of the entire army on Manassas, ordered as it was on the evening of the 27th . . . . was the parent of much disaster."

Jackson had no intention of remaining stationary at the plundered Union supply base. His strategic imperative depended upon bringing Pope to battle, but only under circumstances favorable to the Confederates. This meant that Lee's army must be reunited, but Jackson's couriers informed him that Longstreet was at least a day's march away. Stonewall would have to purchase that time by adopting a strong position from which he could connect with Longstreet via Thoroughfare Gap. And if they then hoped to attack Pope with advantage, Jackson had to discourage the Union commander from retreating across Bull Run to assume a defensive posture until McClellan joined him with the rest of the Army of the Potomac.

WHEN POPE'S ARMY ARRIVED AT MANASSAS JUNCTION, JACKSON WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. (LC)

UNION SOLDIERS SURVEY THE DEVASTATED SUPPLY DEPOT AT MANASSAS JUNCTION (USAMHI)

Jackson studied the map and discovered a location that satisfied his criteria perfectly. Stony Ridge, a low rise 1,000 yards north of the Warrenton Turnpike near the old Manassas battlefield, possessed all of Jackson's required virtues. Its heavy woods would conceal the Confederates but allow them a clear view of the highway that might take Pope across Bull Run. Longstreet could link with Jackson there either via the turnpike or a secondary road leading directly from Thoroughfare Gap. Another byway connected Stony Ridge with Aldie Gap in the Bull Run Mountains, offering an escape route for Jackson if Longstreet somehow failed to arrive. Finally, the cuts and fills of an unfinished railroad running along the base of Stony Ridge formed a ready-made entrenchment for Jackson's outnumbered divisions. One thoughtful Confederate considered Jackson's move to Stony Ridge "a masterpiece of strategy, unexcelled during the war."

Taliaferro's division began the march at 9:00 P. M. August 27 along the Manassas-Sudley Road reaching the turnpike near the famous Stone House by midnight. Stonewall intended for Hill and Ewell to follow Taliaferro's lead, but bewildered guides misdirected these troops across Bull Run and in Hill's case all the way to Centreville. It would not be until the next morning that Jackson's entire wing reunited on Stony Ridge. Behind them Manassas Junction lay in charred ruins, a hollow prize for the first Federal troops who appeared there late on the morning of August 28.

In fact, nothing had gone just right for Pope this day. McDowell and Sigel had become ensnarled on the roadways around Gainesville and suffered a five-hour delay in their march toward Manassas. Struggling through tangled terrain, Sigel stumbled cross-country toward Bristoe, each step rendering his corps more irrelevant to the strategic situation. McDowell finally pushed eastward on the turnpike about 10:00 A.M. Reynolds's division of Pennsylvania Reserves led the corps followed by the four brigades of Rufus King. McDowell placed James B. Ricketts's division in the rear with orders to peek over their shoulders toward Thoroughfare Gap, alert to the appearance of Confederates at that critical point. McDowell's precaution proved wise, as events would soon demonstrate.

IRVIN MCDOWELL (NA)

BATTLING THE FEDERAL SOLDIERS OF JAMES PICKETTS'S DIVISION, LONGSTREET'S MEN FORCED THEIR WAY THROUGH THOROUGHFARE GAP. (LC)

The four divisions of Longstreet's wing who began their march in Jackson's footsteps on the afternoon of August 26 covered a commendable fourteen miles before sunset, but tramped only six miles on the twenty-seventh. Lee, who traveled with Longstreet, allowed the pace to be equally languid on August 28, a surprising concession considering Jackson's perilous situation on the plains of Manassas. By late morning Longstreet's leading brigades approached the potential chokepoint at Thoroughfare Gap.

McDowell first learned of Longstreet's proximity from one of his overworked cavalry regiments which had been attempting to block the constricted mountain pass with a jumble of felled trees. On his own initiative, McDowell turned Ricketts around and ordered him to use his 5,000 men to plug the bottleneck at Thoroughfare Gap. Ricketts arrived in mid-afternoon and engaged two brigades of Georgians for several bloody hours. Longstreet finally settled the affair by wisely orchestrating a flanking movement on both sides of the gap, offering Ricketts no choice but to retire his outgunned brigades to the east. Longstreet then moved up and secured Thoroughfare Gap, leaving no natural impediment to his unification with Jackson the next day. Meanwhile, John Pope continued to indulge his fixation with Jackson. The Union commander had snatched a handful of Confederate stragglers at Manassas Junction, who misinformed him that Stonewall had marched just a few hours earlier toward Centreville. Hill and Ewell had, in fact, mistakenly crossed Bull Run the previous night, but by midday August 28 they had rejoined Taliaferro along Stony Ridge. Pope accepted the prisoners' inaccurate intelligence and redirected his army toward Centreville, determined to annihilate Jackson no matter where the wily Confederate might go.

CONFEDERATE ARTILLERY POSTED NEAR THE BRAWNER FARM PINNED DOWN THE FEDERAL SOLDIERS OF RUFUS KING'S DIVISION ALONG THE WARRENTON TURNPIKE. (BL)

Jackson shared Pope's enthusiasm for a fight. His tired but contented men, "packed like herring in a barrel in the woods behind the old railroad," lounged in the August heat awaiting the word to spring on their unwary prey. That word arrived shortly before noon when Reynolds appeared on the turnpike at the head of McDowell's corps just west of Jackson's concealed right flank. Jackson arose "like an electric shock" and ordered Ewell and Taliaferro to move to the attack. But before they could deploy, their quarry had vanished, disappearing down Pageland Lane, a country road that would take the Federals toward Manassas as their current orders demanded. A frustrated Jackson prowled along his lines hoping for another opportunity to strike the Yankees, anxious also to learn about Longstreet's progress.

Toward evening Stonewall received good news on both fronts. A courier reported Longstreet's success at Thoroughfare Gap, suggesting that Old Pete would connect with Jackson's right early the next day. Much relieved, Jackson sought a few moments of rest, indulging in one of his celebrated impromptu naps in the comfort of a fence corner. He had not slumbered long when breathless messengers pounded up and announced the presence of a large column of bluecoats marching eastward on the turnpike across the Confederate front. Jackson mounted in an instant and rode off to see for himself. On the open slope of a pasture belonging to John Brawner's rented farm, northwest of the hamlet of Groveton, Jackson paraded in full view of the passing Federals. The Northerners took little notice of the lone rider whom they assumed to be a mere cavalry scout. Jackson absorbed the scene for a few moments and then returned to his fence-corner headquarters. "Bring out your men, gentlemen," he told his subordinates. The Second Battle of Manassas was about to begin.

Stonewall's Federal targets belonged to Rufus King's division. King, the forty-eight-year-old scion of a distinguished New York family, was McDowell's favorite division commander. Perhaps their warm relationship induced McDowell to overlook his subordinate's failing health. King had suffered an epileptic seizure on August 23 and would experience a recurrence of his malady on the afternoon of the twenty-eighth, leaving him incapable of taking the field during the most critical time in his division's history. Of course, as his four brigades swung east on the turnpike in the waning sunlight, no one could know that the next few hours would prove so consequential.

King's men were responding to orders from Pope received at 5:00 P.M. directing the reconcentration against Centreville. The other divisions of McDowell's corps, Reynolds's and Ricketts's, had proceeded toward Manassas and engaged Longstreet at Thoroughfare Gap respectively, so only King was in position to move immediately toward the new goal. A unique brigade of Westerners led by John Gibbon marched with King's 6,000 men. Gibbon issued his Wisconsin and Indiana soldiers broad-brimmed black hats, lending them a distinctive appearance. Only one of Gibbon's regiments, the Second Wisconsin, had any combat experience under its belt, but the events of August 28 would change all that.

COMPANY I OF THE SEVENTH WISCONSIN VOLUNTEERS. (COURTESY STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF WISCONSIN)

The "black hats" followed John P. Hatch's lead regiments and preceded Abner Doubleday's and Marsena R. Patrick's brigades in King's line of march. "Drowsily we swung along the grassy roadside, taking in the soft beauty of the scene," rhapsodized one of King's soldiers. The terrain around them was mostly open. North of the turnpike, the ground rose gently for 500 yards toward the Brawner house and its adjacent orchard. The unfinished railroad lay 1,000 feet beyond, about one-quarter mile south of the wooded slopes of Stony Ridge. A thirty-acre stand of hickory and oak, Brawner's Woods, straddled the turnpike southeast of the dwelling.

"Our brigade moved along the turnpike on that quiet summer evening as unsuspectingly as if changing camp," remembered an officer in the Sixth Wisconsin. "Suddenly the stillness was broken by six cannon shots fired in rapid succession by a rebel battery, point blank at our regiment." General Gibbon reacted quickly to this unexpected fire by unlimbering his own guns, Battery B, Fourth United States Artillery, which responded to the Confederate shelling coming from the Brawner farm. Additional Southern ordnance entered the fray, the "exchange of metallic compliments [becoming] very profuse indeed."

Jackson's salvos succeeded in halting King's entire division. Hatch had proceeded beyond the focus of the Confederate fire, but Patrick's regiments fled for cover south of the highway while Gibbon's and Doubleday's troops sought shelter in Brawner's woodlot along the road. Those two brigadiers, assuming Jackson to be at Centreville, concluded that this annoyance must be courtesy of Jeb Stuart's horse artillery. Like most infantry commanders, Gibbon had little regard for cavalry in an open fight, so he volunteered to send his veteran Second Wisconsin up the hill to disperse the bothersome cannoneers and their mounted supports.

The Second Wisconsin, known as "the Ragged Ass Second" because of the condition of their trousers, numbered 430 officers and men. Their colonel, Edgar O'Connor, had lost his voice that day and had to whisper to his adjutant to convey the orders to advance. Shortly after 6:30 P.M. O'Connor directed his troops through Brawner's Woods, emerging in the fields southeast of the farmhouse. The Confederate batteries had already limbered up and pulled away, but on the horizon appeared a long and menacing line of butternut infantry.

These men belonged to the most renowned brigade in Lee's army, the Stonewall Brigade from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Earning their blood-stained fame at First Manassas and during the Valley Campaign, Jackson's former command had been reduced to barely 800 bayonets in five regiments. Despite their depleted ranks, a Confederate officer testified that "it made one's blood tingle with pride to see these troops going into action."

O'Connor deployed in line of battle, "the men grasping their pieces with a tighter grip and expressing their impatience in low mutterings in such honest, if not classic phrases, as, 'come on God damn you.'" When the Virginians closed to within 150 yards, the Second Wisconsin let fly a devastating volley. The Confederates shuddered, absorbed the blast, and advanced to an old rail fence 80 yards from their blue-clad opponents, where they at last returned fire. "Everything around us was lighted up by the blaze of the musketry and explosion of balls like a continuous flash of lightning," recalled a Confederate.

Gibbon began to realize that he faced more than a few troublesome troopers. He ordered the "Swamp Hogs" of the Nineteenth Indiana under their six foot-seven inch commander Solomon Meredith to support O'Connor's left. The Hoosiers took position almost in the Brawner front yard, where the Stonewall Brigade greeted them with a punishing sheet of lead.

JOHN GIBBON (LC)

For some reason, neither Ewell nor Taliaferro moved the rest of their nearby divisions into battle with the alacrity the situation required. A frustrated Jackson found three Georgia regiments belonging to Alexander R. Lawton's brigade and personally led them into line extending the left of the Stonewall Brigade. Gibbon countered by summoning the Seventh Wisconsin, which formed opposite Lawton's men on the right of the Second Wisconsin. Jackson continued to ignore the chain of command and directly ordered Trimble's brigade to move forward and protect Lawton's left. Trimble encountered the last of Gibbon's regiments, the Sixth Wisconsin, which anchored the expanding Union battle line now stretching about one-half mile in length.

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