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NPS History E-Library

Civil War Series

The Second Battle of Manassas


(click on image for a PDF version)
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 Maryland.

No matter what the potential rewards, Lee's scheme involved great risk.

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.


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.


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.



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 conceived of."



Before the awestruck Southerners had a fair chance to sample this inspiring cornnucopia, Jackson's pickets announced the appearance of enemy troops.

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 McClellan approved.

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."

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