"I SHALL NOT SPARE MYSELF"
Chinn Ridge, August 30, 1862, the Twelfth Massachusetts Infantry was
engaged in the heat of their first substantial battle. Their colonel,
brandishing his sword and riding along his line of men, shouted
encouragement in an effort to keep them in formation. Suddenly, a bullet
pierced his wrist and entered his right breast, causing the colonel to
fall from his horse. His adjutant was able to drag the colonel under
some bushes nearby. Remaining hidden, they were able to avoid detection
by lead elements of the Confederate army. Caught in the maelstrom of
battle, their pleas for help went unanswered by Union soldiers engrossed
in the fight.
Finally having been discovered by the Confederates, the adjutant
begged his captors to take the colonel with them. When they refused, he
pleaded to be allowed to remain with the colonel until medical help
could arrive. Being denied, the adjutant was forced by the Confederates
to leave at gun point but was promised that an ambulance would be sent
back for the colonel.
FLETCHER WEBSTER (LC)|
Left on the field, the colonel received assistance from several
different Confederate soldiers. Knowing that he would soon die, the
colonel gave one of these soldiers, Ludwell Hutchison of the Eighth
Virginia Infantry, his wallet and asked that it be returned to his
family. Hutchison did so after the war had ended.
Two days after the battle, a party was sent out under a flag of truce
to retrieve the Union dead and wounded. Among them were two officers of
the Twelfth Massachusetts whose purpose it was to locate and retrieve
the colonel's body. With the guidance of a Confederate soldier, they
found and exhumed the body, discovering that it had been stripped and
robbed of a gold watch and over a hundred dollars. The body was sent to
Alexandria and embalmed. From there it was sent to the colonel's home
and on September 9, 1862, ten days after his death, the colonel was laid
to final rest in Marshfield, Massachusetts.
Thus was the fate of Colonel Fletcher Webster, the only surviving son
of the famous New England orator and statesman Daniel Webster. He
resigned his position as surveyor of the Port of Boston in 1861 to raise
and organize the Twelfth Massachusetts. The regiment titled itself the
"Webster Regiment" and elected Fletcher as colonel despite his limited
During his preparation for the coming of his first real battle,
Fletcher, in a letter written to his wife on the morning of August 30
stated: "This may be my last letter, dear love; for I shall not spare
myselfGod bless and protect you and the dear, darling children."
His zeal in battle that afternoon proved his letter to be correct.
In 1914 the survivors of the "Webster Regiment" wanted to mark the
spot where Colonel Fletcher Webster had died. However, after several
failed attempts to locate the site, they sought aid from other sources.
Finally, Ludwell Hutchison, upon being contacted, was able to pinpoint
the general site of the colonel's demise. Today, a boulder, taken from
the Webster family home in Marshfield occupies the solemn locale.
Lee realized that Longstreet would need help if he expected to wrest
Henry Hill from the stubborn Federals. He therefore dispatched Dick
Anderson's three brigades with a portion of Wilcox's division from the
Brawner farm about 5:00 P.M but Anderson would require time to reach the
rest of Longstreet's wing on Chinn Ridge. With Hood's and Kemper's
commands hors de combat, responsibility for maintaining the pressure
devolved upon Neighbor Jones. Jones shifted Benning's and G. T.
Anderson's Georgians toward Henry Hill and launched them on another
(click on image for a PDF version)
THE CONFEDERATE TIDE CRESTS, 5:00 P.M. AUGUST 30, 1862|
After sweeping the Federal troops off of Chinn Ridge, Longstreet's
men surged toward the Union line along the Manassas-Sudley Road. Saving
the Union army from complete disaster were several Federal brigades
stubbornly holding the slopes of Henry Hill. As dusk fell, the
Confederate attack was blunted, and Pope's army was able to reach safety
across Bull Run.
These 3,000 Confederates represented the largest single assault force
of Longstreet's whole offensive. Unfortunately, the Georgians' advance
lacked cohesion and discipline. The entire four-brigade Union line
punished Jones with a destructive fire that halted the Confederates in
their tracks. But just as the Southerners' propulsion seemed spent,
William Mahone's and Ambrose R. Wright's brigades of Anderson's division
materialized on the Confederate right. The portion of the Union defense
line opposite them enjoyed few natural advantages, and the outnumbered
Regulars posted there fought tenaciously to hold their ground. McDowell
committed his only reserves to the bitter battle on the Union left, but
Mahone and Wright outflanked these reinforcements and sent them reeling
toward the Henry house. As a result, a Rebel assault from the south
could now jeopardize the entire Federal position on Henry Hill and
potentially achieve Lee's ultimate goal.
UNION SOLDIERS SURVEYING THE RUINS OF THE HENRY HOUSE. (NA)|
THE RETREATING ARMY OF VIRGINIA. (LC)|
But Anderson declined to exploit the opening. For reasons that
remain unclear, the Confederates held fast on the southern end of Henry
Hill. Perhaps the growing darkness intimidated Anderson or the lack of
direct guidance from Longstreet and Lee left him hesitant to act.
Whatever the cause, Anderson's timidity squandered the opportunity
earned by three hours of the most intense fighting of the battle.
North of the turnpike, Stonewall Jackson also failed to apply timely
pressure against Pope's reeling legions, but his inactivity is easier to
explain. Greatly worn by their three days of incessant fighting and
facing, at least initially, the bulk of the Federal army, Jackson's
divisions did not begin their portion of the counterattack until 6:00
P.M. But when they did assault, "they came on like demons emerging from
the earth." Jackson overran a substantial number of Union artillery and
infantry units, but his advance coincided with Pope's orchestrated
withdrawal, contributing to the ease with which Jackson achieved his
captures. Despite mounting losses, by 7:00 P.M. Pope managed to
establish an unbroken line north of the turnpike aligning with the
Federal position on Henry Hill. Thus Jackson, like Longstreet, had no
choice but to remain content with a substantial tactical victory and
the attendant spoils of war while a defeated but intact Union army
prepared to leave the field.
Pope issued orders to retreat at 8:00 P.M. as the sounds of battle
ebbed away in the darkness. Thanks to its successful defense of Henry
Hill, most of the army could use the turnpike and its stone bridge
across Bull Run to effect its withdrawal. The gloom of the night and his
men's sheer exhaustion extinguished any notion Lee may have nurtured to
pursue or harass the Federal flight. By 11:00 P.M. Pope's troops had
left the field "with perfect coolness and in good order" and begun to
enter the relative safety of the Centreville defenses. Here Franklin's
pristine brigades cruelly taunted Pope's veterans as they trudged
toward waiting bivoaucs and a well-deserved night's rest.
Robert E. Lee spent the evening contemplating the outcome of the
battle. Although he informed President Jefferson Davis in Richmond that
"this army achieved today on the Plains of Manassas a signal victory
over the combined forces of Genls. McClellan and Pope," Lee knew that
his Federal opponents had escaped to fight another day. Should Lee's new
strategy succeed, that day would arrive soon.
THE STONE HOUSE NOW STANDS AS A SILENT REMINDER OF THE FIGHTING AT
MANASSAS. (PHOTO BY RAY HELLER)|
The gray chieftain resurrected the morning's contingency plan to send
Jackson on another flank march around the Union right. Stonewall would
depart on August 31, gain the Little River Turnpike, and use that
highway to reach the Warrenton Turnpike at Germantown, seven miles east
of Centreville and between Pope and Washington. Longstreet would
skirmish with the Federals as he had done a week earlier along the
Rappahannock, pin them in place, then follow Jackson's route of march.
With luck Lee might achieve the knockout blow he failed to land at
Manassas. Should the stratagem founder, Lee could safely retreat in
Pope and Halleck unwittingly played right into Lee's hands. Although
on the morning of August 31 Pope's officers voted to retire into the
Washington fortifications, a message from Halleck suggested that they
stay at Centreville. Pope concurred, thus setting the stage for another
one of Stonewall's immortal flanking maneuvers. But Jackson's troops
had reached their physical limits. They covered barely ten miles on
August 31, encamping at Pleasant Valley Church on the Little River
On September 1 Stonewall resumed his march but quickly encountered
Union patrols, erasing the vital element of secrecy from his operation.
Jackson decided to halt at mid-morning near an old mansion known as
Chantilly and await Longstreet's arrival. Pope had indeed learned of
Jackson's approach and dispatched Reno's Corps under Isaac Stevens along
with Kearny's division to delay the Confederates while the rest of the
Federal army moved back from Centreville to protect the crossroads at
UNDER THE COVER OF DARKNESS, POPE'S DEFEATED ARMY WITHDREW ACROSS BULL
RUN TOWARD CENTREVILLE. (LC)|
At noon Jackson resumed his cautious advance, halting two hours later
at Ox Hill, where the West Ox Road crossed the Little River Turnpike.
Here he deployed to wait for Longstreet and to learn from Lee about the
army's next move. But before the Confederates could be reunited,
Stevens and Kearny crashed into Jackson's lines about 5:00 P.M. amid a
violent thunderstorm. During the next two hours a battle ensued that one
Confederate characterized as "a beastly, comfortless conflict." Both
Stevens and Kearny were killed (no generals died at Second Manassas),
but the wild fighting ended indecisively about dark. That night as
Pope's army safely drew back toward the capital's elaborate earthworks,
Lee recognized that Pope had slipped his noose and that the Second
Manassas Campaign had finally concluded.
THE STONE BRIDGE, OVER WHICH POPE'S ARMY RETREATED ON THE NIGHT OF
AUGUST 30. (LC)|
The Second Battle of Manassas had been one of the most costly
engagements of the Civil War. Lee lost 1,300 killed and more than 7,000
wounded during the three days of major fighting, while Pope suffered
nearly 10,000 casualties, not counting those captured or missing. In the
woods and fields from the Brawner farm to Henry Hill, along the
unfinished railroad and on Chinn Ridge, in unnamed hollows and behind
shattered trees, the bodies of the fallen littered the landscape.
Unburied corpses "who had been dashing and gallant soldiers only a short
week before . . . were swollen, blistered, discolored . . . and emitting
odors so thick and powerful that it seemed they might have been felt by
the naked hand."
Those who survived the battle faced an uncertain future, particularly
Union commander John Pope. On September 2 Halleck informed Pope that
Lincoln had named McClellan to assume control of the combined armies and
ordered Pope to conduct the troops to the Washington defenses. Little
Mac cantered out that afternoon and encountered Pope and his staff near
the head of the column. When word of McClellan's ascension filtered
through the army, cheers echoed up and down the ranks, One can only
imagine Pope's thoughts as he rode almost alone toward the Potomac and
the practical termination of his Civil War career.
ISAAC STEVENS (USAMHI)|
ENCOUNTER AT LEWIS FORD
The evening of August 30, 1862, saw a struggling Union army preparing
to retreat over Bull Run. Reeling from Longstreet's crushing
counterattack, the Federals clung tenaciously to the slopes of Henry
Hill. Lee saw the chance to strike Pope's route of retreat and
administer the final blow to an already battered army. Lee called on the
masterful J.E.B. Stuart to administer this maneuver. Promptly, Brigadier
General Beverly H. Robertson with Colonel Thomas Rossers's regiment of
cavalry were ordered forward. In the hands of these Confederate
commanders lay the chance to envelop and destroy the entire Union
Having received his orders, Robertson headed for Lewis Ford, south of
the Union army's line of retreat. Approaching the ford, Robertson
observed a "small squadron" of Union cavalry and ordered the Second
Virginia to charge them. Colonel Munford led his command in a race for
the enemy and scattered them. However, lurking behind the squadron was
General John Buford with his brigade of cavalry. Recognizing each other,
the forces charged one another. Numerically superior, the Union cavalry
soon had the advantage. Abruptly, the Confederates were reinforced and
the tide of battle changed. Federal forces fled toward the retreating
army. Having pursued, the Confederates soon found themselves behind the
Union army with darkness coming on and so withdrew to a safer position,
ending the skirmish.
Although lasting only a few moments, Lewis Ford was a vicious fight.
Confederates and Federals went toe-to-toe armed with only sabers and
pistols. Horses and riders were thrown together. One participant stated
that "the shooting and running, cursing and cutting that followed
cannot be understood except by an eyewitness." Caught in this melee,
Confederate Colonel Munford was dismounted and severely slashed across
his back. Union Colonel Brodhead was shot point-blank after refusing to
surrender. Even General Buford, who led the Union cavalry, was wounded
in the knee. In a violent, costly, and desperate battle, the Union
achieved much from the sacrifices made at Lewis Ford.
Lewis Ford, besides being one of the largest cavalry conflicts up to
that time, had two other important repercussions. First, General Buford
managed to withstand and delay the enemy long enough to save the Union
army. Had Buford not been there and stood up to the Rebels, Pope and his
entire army would have been lost. As Buford charged, a new and valuable
player entered the war. Union cavalry had never initiated a stand-up
fight until this time. From this point on, the cavalry of the Union was
going to make its presence on the battlefield known. The encounter at
Lewis Ford saved an army and demonstrated how Federal cavalry in the
Civil War was beginning to develop.
Two other Federal officers saw their reputations ruined at Second
Manassas. Although a court of inquiry cleared Irvin McDowell of any
wrongdoing, the perception of McDowell's incompetence, disloyalty, and
even treason resulted in his banishment to an inconsequential post in
California. Fitz John Porter fared even worse. Porter had been the most
outspoken of McClellan's officers in his denunciations of Pope, and he
cared little about who knew his feelings. Those sentiments added a
veneer of credibility to Pope's unfair accusation that Porter caused his
defeat at Second Manassas. A court-martial convicted Porter of willfully
disobeying Pope's attack orders on August 29, and Porter devoted the
next twenty years to restoring his good name.
The Northern populace cringed at the news from Manassas. Not only
did the casualty lists bring grief into thousands of homes, but the
likelihood of ultimate Union victory seemed dimmer than ever.
The Northern populace cringed at the news from Manassas. Not only did
the casualty lists bring grief into thousands of homes, but the
likelihood of ultimate Union victory seemed dimmer than ever. "To think
that we should be conquered by the bare feet and rags of the South,"
lamented a New York woman. Some Federal soldiers also lost faith in the
outlook for the war. "We had plenty of troops to whip them," protested
Robert Milroy, "but McDowell is a traitor and Pope is an incompetent
egotist. . . . Lincoln is blinded and under bad advisors and things will
go from bad to worse. I see no hope. Our govt. is lost and we must
bequeath war misery and anarchy to our children."
Events certainly appeared brighter for the Army of Northern Virginia
and the cause it championed. During a two-month period, Lee had moved
the war in the East from the doorstep of Richmond to the outskirts of
Washington. But he had paid a terrible human price for this
achievement. His weakened army lacked the firepower to fight on anything
like equal terms with his Union opponents. Moreover, northern Virginia
lay ravaged by military occupation and its prostrate farms could not
sustain even Lee's depleted numbers. The Confederate commander could
either withdraw south closer to reliable sources of supply or risk a
raid across the Potomac into Maryland and Pennsylvania, subsisting his
army off the bounty of Northern agriculture. The incomparable Virginian
chose the bolder of these two options and on September 4 began the march
that would result two weeks later in the Battle of Antietam.
A PERIOD LITHOGRAPH TITLED LEE AND HIS GENERALS. THE CONFEDERATE
VICTORY AT SECOND MANASSAS ENABLED LEE TO MOVE HIS ARMY NORTHWARD INTO
Understood in this context, the Second Manassas Campaign marked the
midpoint of Lee's grand summer offensive in 1862a period that in
retrospect would mark the true high tide of Confederate fortunes.
Observers in foreign capitals took note of the apparent viability of
this new government whose armies could win victories within the shadow
of Washington. Voters in the North embraced Democratic candidates for
Congress who challenged the management and even advisability of the
conflict. And Abraham Lincoln deferred announcing the plan, his
preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, that would in the end add
transcendent meaning to the carnage of the Civil War.
(click on image for a PDF version)
Manassas National Battlefield Park|
Back cover: The Diehards, by Don Troiani. Photograph courtesy
of Historical Art Prints, Ltd., Southbury, Connecticut.|