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The Battle of Second Manassas


 

Between August 25 and 29, 1862, General Lee and John Pope maneuvered for position across the Manassas Plain, Lee taking the initiative and Pope reacting. The challenge for Pope in this dynamic process was to recognize the viable options available to Lee as the maneuvering progressed and to counter with effective distribution of his forces, to either induce Lee to retreat or engage him in a way that preserved the status quo long enough for the remainder of McClellan’s army―Franklin’s and Sumner’s Corps, plus Couch’s division of Keyes’s corps―to come up. But Pope was unable to do this, because his ego would not accept being seen as “saved” by McClellan. He wanted to be seen as driving Lee back with the force he had at hand, and this attitude doomed him to professional disgrace.

 

Second Manassas Overview
Youtube Channel JoeRyanCivilWar

 

The Theater of Operations

 


Maps by Ken Reid

 

 

General McClellan
Union General George B. McClellan

Through the first three weeks of August 1862, General Lee continued to move his army northward, following the left bank of the Rappahannock with Pope’s newly formed Army of Virginia matching the movement by moving north on the right bank. By August 25, Lee had reached the sector between Amissville and Jeffersonton with Pope covering the sector from the Rappahannock Railroad Bridge to Waterloo Bridge on the road to Warrenton. Here, with a rain storm brewing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, guaranteeing a rise in the river, Lee crossed the river at Sulpher Springs with two brigades, the brigades taking position behind Great Run. Pope reacted to this move by vectoring his scattered corps toward Great Run. Lee pulled the brigades back just as Pope was gearing Sigel’s corps for an attack.

 

At this point, reports from Pope’s cavalry scouts (Buford) informed him that Stonewall Jackson, with three divisions―A.P. Hill’s, Richard Ewell’s, and Jackson’s own division, commanded now by Taliaferro―were moving through Orlean toward Salem, a point on the Manassas Gap Railroad west of the Bull Run Mountains. Pope’s initial reaction to this information was undoubtedly the correct one: He ordered Franz Sigel to cross the Rappahannock at Sulpher Springs and Waterloo Bridge and engage Lee’s forces in the Amissville sector. Irvin McDowell’s corps would support him. Instead, Sigel merely sent a brigade across the river and barraged the hills around Jeffersonton with artillery fire.

 

            Sigel’s conduct, encouraged by McDowell’s reluctance to support him, illustrated John Pope’s essential problem throughout the Manassas Campaign: He did not have control of his command structure. This was essentially Lincoln’s fault. In his attempt to dump McClellan, Lincoln had set Pope up as supreme commander over officers who, under Army Regulations, outranked him. Moreover, Lincoln designed Pope’s army to include elements from John Fremont’s command―Sigel’s corps―with Nathaniel Banks’s corps and the corps of the Army of the Potomac. Each of the generals commanding these several corps had personal agendas that were not compatible with Pope’s. As a consequence, none of these officers had any interest in facilitating Pope’s success; indeed most of them were downright hostile to Pope.


The disastrous effect of Pope’s command dysfunction explains, in large measure, Pope’s ultimate defeat by Lee at Manassas. The commanding general of an army must be recognized by his subordinate officers as their master. Lee’s relationship with his officers illustrates this very well. He and Jackson were kindred spirits, Jackson instantly ready to execute any order received from Lee. Longstreet, on the other hand, saw himself as Lee’s equal, as being sort of in co-command. Lee handled this trait in Longstreet by keeping personally close to him, in position immediately to prod him into action. Lee also had the advantage over Pope, having his army divided into wings, of dealing directly with only these two officers, only one of which required a tight rein, while Pope had to deal with not only Sigel but also McDowell, Banks, Heintzelman, Reno, and Porter. Pope had the problem of herding cats while Lee merely had to keep Longstreet close, using Longstreet as his defensive arm while he extended his reach with Jackson.


General John Pope

 

Jackson’s March Around Pope’s Position at Warrenton

 

 

 

At any time during Jackson’s march to Thoroughfare Gap, via the Rappahannock river crossing at Hinson’s Mill, then on through Orlean to Salem, John Pope could have easily moved his front to block Jackson’s progress.

 

The Wagon Road Crossing at Hinson’s Mill

 

 

Jackson’s detachment from Lee’s main body should have triggered in Pope’s mind the thought that the best countermove he could make would be to divide his command into wings: one wing to maintain contact with Lee’s main body while the other wing, under the command of Irvin McDowell, maintained contact with Jackson’s.

 

Had Pope thought the issue of division through, his first task was to decide which forces to keep under his direct command, facing Lee’s, and which forces to place under McDowell’s command. Given the relative positions of his forces on August 25-26, it should have been obvious to him that McDowell and Sigel constitute the detached wing, with Porter, Heintzelman, and Reno comprising the other wing. Banks’s small corps, shattered in its struggle with Jackson at Cedar Mountain, quite properly would be assigned the task of guarding the army trains which were then massed at Warrenton Junction, on the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.

 

Had Pope divided his army in this manner, the strength of his wings would have been equal to or greater than Lee’s: McDowell’s command would have had 17 brigades vs Jackson’s 14; Pope’s wing would have had 12 brigades vs Lee’s 12. Pope could anticipate, under the circumstances, that Lee would eventually receive reinforcements, but so too would Pope, with the prospect being that Pope’s reinforcements would exceed Lee’s. Pope could not know with absolute certainty, of course, the precise number of brigades available to Lee’s wings, but he could make a reasonable guess, based on the intelligence received from Buford and his experience with Lee on the Rappahannock.

 

Pope in fact did divide his command into wings, ordering McDowell, with three divisions, to take Sigel’s corps and move on Gainesville while he moved with Reno, Heintzelman and Porter on Manassas Junction. But this decision was made a day too late. By that time Jackson had already passed Thoroughfare Gap and was in Pope’s rear heading for Manassas Junction, reaching there the morning of August 27. And Pope did not adopt the wing system as his method of operation thereafter.

 

Lee’s Wing at Salem

 

Lee’s Wing at Salem

 

 

The morning of August 27, McDowell, with Sigel, occupied Gainesville while Lee’s wing was decamping from Salem and moving toward White Plains and Thoroughfare Gap. By the evening Pope was at Bristoe Station with Hooker’s division of Heintzelman’s corps. Jackson was at Manassas Junction. Porter’s corps, which the day before had arrived at Rappahannock Station, had been marching toward Bristoe at Pope’s order during the night, and would arrive there in the mid-morning of August 28. Banks’s corps, with the army trains followed.

 

Here, at Bristoe Station, Pope had a second chance to think through the situation: Jackson, with three divisions, was eight miles east of Bristoe, at Manassas. Lee was somewhere behind the Bull Run Mountains, apparently moving north, but perhaps moving east, from the direction of Salem. Leaving McDowell, with Sigel, to deal with Lee if he came east, Pope could have moved on Manassas with Kearny, Hooker, Reno and Porter.

 

Before deciding to do this, however, Pope had to first analyze what Lee’s intentions at this point were. Given Lee’s consistent movement northward since crossing the Rapidan, Pope might have surmised the most likely thing Lee would do now is keep moving north, through Middleburg and Adlie, to Leesburg. Given the fact that Jackson was now between Pope and Pope’s reinforcements coming up from Alexandria, the logical thing for Jackson to do is move north to meet Lee. Based on these facts, the intelligent choice for Pope to have made, was to leave his command divided in wings. While McDowell dealt with Lee, either blocking his progress east or matching his movement north,  Pope’s wing would pursue Jackson, thereby clearing Pope’s communications with Alexandria and coming closer to his reinforcements, and following Jackson toward his probable destination at Leesburg where reunion with McDowell would then occur.

 

But Pope did not decide this: instead, he sent orders to McDowell to march, with Sigel, toward Manassas Junction, McDowell’s left to be on the turnpike between Gainesville and Centreville, his right on the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad. Pope’s idea here is hard to fathom, given the fact that he had no reason then to think he could catch up to Jackson. Yet the orders were issued, and by midmorning on August 28, Pope, with Heintzelman, was at Manassas. Sigel’s corps and Reno’s arrived there around 1:00 p.m. Now, as changing reports were received by cavalry scouts, Pope kept changing his mind what to do next, and the seeds of the disaster ahead were planted.

 

The Morning of August 28

 

 

 

Upon arrival at Manassas, Pope’s cavalry reported that Jackson’s command had passed Bull Run in two columns, one at the Orange & Alexandria Railroad Bridge, and the other at Blackburn’s Ford. Pope assumed logically that Jackson was moving north toward the Little River Turnpike in order to meet Lee at Leesburg. On this basis he sent a courier galloping to McDowell, who he assumed was then marching eastward, to change direction to the north and head for Gum Springs in an effort to cut Jackson off from Lee. At the same time, Pope meant to follow Jackson’s rear, with the idea that his whole command would converge on Jackson at or near Gum Springs. At this time, Pope’s mind had obviously concluded that Lee was moving north, so there was no reason to be concerned that he might be marching east.

 

By this time, however, Irvin McDowell, knew otherwise. His cavalry scouts had reported to him early the morning of the 28th that Lee’s command was approaching the west entrance to Thoroughfare Gap, and he had sent one of his three divisions, Ricketts’s, to the eastern entrance, to block Lee from passing. Reynolds’s and King’s divisions, McDowell had held at Gainesville in support, letting Sigel march off to Manassas in conformance with Pope’s order of the evening before. McDowell had sent a courier to Pope, carrying a message that explained why he was not then following Sigel toward Manassas. As this courier was enroute, the courier carrying Pope’s Gum Springs order arrived at Gainesville and McDowell was pondering it, when yet another dispatch arrived from Pope.

 

This second dispatch countermanded the first. Pope had sent Hooker’s division toward Centreville and the report had come back that Jackson, instead of having marched north, was supposed to be occupying Centreville. This news prompted Pope to put Kearny and Reno in motion after Hooker. Sigel was just then arriving at Manassas. Pope’s new order now called for McDowell to resume his march eastward, this time heading directly for Centreville by using the turnpike. This was Pope’s first major mistake. McDowell could have corrected it, simply by ignoring the order and informing Pope that Lee was moving into Thoroughfare Gap.

 

For Lee’s part this moment was the turning point in his general strategic plan of operations. Based on his actions of the last several weeks, it is obvious that he intended from the time he crossed the Rapidan, to move toward Leesburg, with the intention of crossing the Potomac into Maryland if possible. Somewhere a general battle would result, but only as a consequence of developing circumstances. Clearly he had sent Jackson into Pope’s rear to disrupt his communications with Alexandria, not to engage Pope in a battle. (It must be assumed that Lee and Jackson were in communication via couriers during Jackson’s progress) Lee knew that Pope had the capacity to prevent his movement east from Thoroughfare Gap, so he could not unite with Jackson east of the Bull Run Mountains unless Pope opened the way for him to do so. This Pope was about to do.

 

McDowell decided to execute Pope’s order. Earlier, before Pope’s “Move on Centreville” order was received, McDowell had been marching eastward in conformance with Pope’s original order. Reynolds’s division was in the lead, passing Gainesville, when several shells whistled over his column from the direction of Brawner’s Farm and exploded in the midst of one of Meade’s regiments. McDowell halted the column and investigated the situation. (During this time, in response to the cavalry reports of Lee’s movement, McDowell had sent Ricketts to Haymarket at the gap entrance.) Now, with no enemy to be seen, he ordered Reynolds to march across country, southeast, toward Manassas and he ordered King’s division to march on the turnpike toward Centreville. (Why he diverted Reynolds to Manassas he did not explain.) McDowell also sent orders to Ricketts to abandon his position at Haymarket. Having issued these orders, McDowell went off with several of his staff officers in the direction of Manassas. He was not seen again, until 9:00 a.m. the next day, August 29.

 

With the gap now open, Lee moved through it on the morning of the 29th. Clearly, his thinking had been changed by what he realized Pope was doing. Lee certainly knew (his cavalry was roaming as far east as the suburbs of Alexandria) that Pope’s reinforcements were not yet marching. This meant Pope would have to fight with the force he had at hand and it was still scattered across the countryside. Lee saw an opportunity to do Pope damage and he characteristically jumped on it. By the late afternoon of August 28, Jackson’s three divisions were taking up a defensive position at the base of the Stony Ridge, on the west side of Bull Run, behind an abandoned railroad excavation.

 

The Railroad Cut Then

 

 

The Railroad Cut Now

 

 

 

 

Soon after McDowell disappeared, King’s division was attacked by Taliaferro’s division at Brawner’s Farm and Gibbon’s brigade, along with Doubleday’s, was wrecked. Rufus King suffered a stress attack in the course of this and was replaced with John Hatch. Breaking off the engagement (Dick Ewell lost a leg in this conflict), Hatch turned the division off the turnpike and followed Reynolds’s division toward Manassas. Ricketts’s division, abandoning the Gap, moved off to the south as far as the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Pope, camped at Blackburn’s Ford, heard the noise of the battle at Brawner’s Farm and assumed that McDowell had encountered Jackson retreating toward Lee and was blocking his progress. Immediately Pope issued orders for Kearny’s division, supported by Hooker’s, which then was at Centreville, to march before dawn for Bull Run and attack Jackson’s rear. To Sigel went orders to march north on the Sudley Road and join Kearny in the attack. In Pope’s mind, envisioning a three pronged converging attack on Jackson’s presumed retreating column, Jackson would be “bagged” and then Pope would deal with Lee wherever he was.

 

The Situation the Early Morning of August 29

 

 

 

At sunrise, John Pope was astride his stallion by the north rim of the Henry Hill, watching a wave of Franz Sigel's krauts, on a front six hundred yards wide, surge up a grassy slope in the distance and disappear into a long stretch of trees. Crowded around him was his cavalry escort and an entourage of aides and orderlies; among them was Captain Haven, who had come into his camp at dawn with the news that it was John Gibbon's brigade of Rufus King's division that had engaged the enemy on the slopes of the Brawner farm the night before.

 

        Standing by his camp fire at the time, eating a breakfast of crackers and coffee, Pope had listened with a scowling face as Haven told him that King's division had abandoned its position on the turnpike after the fight, retreating toward Manassas in the night. At the same time, Ricketts's division was reported to being marching toward Manassas Junction from the direction of Bristoe Station, having camped for the night in the vicinity of Greenwich. Asked where Irwin McDowell was when these movements were being made, Haven said he did not know. Cursing McDowell loudly for not being where he was supposed to be, John Pope had his stallion quickly saddled and galloped up the Sudley Road to find that Franz Sigel had brought Stonewall Jackson to a stand.

 

From the crown of the Henry Hill, the emerging battle zone could be seen encompassed within the circumference of a circle, the radius of which was approximately one mile wide. The intersection of the Sudley road and the turnpike coincide with the center point of the circle—the Sudley road bisecting the circle on a north/south plane and the turnpike on an east/west plane. East of the intersection, just beyond the edge of the circle, is the stone bridge which carries the turnpike over the stream of Bull Run and toward Centerville. At the edge of the circle west of the intersection is the hamlet of Groveton, beyond which lies the wooded ridge from which rebel shells struck Reynolds's division the day before. The ridge carries the forest screen in patches around to the south toward a cluster of tracks called Five Forks, located a mile distant from the circle's perimeter.

 

Scanning the battle zone with binoculars, John Pope identified the troop formations moving in the fields by their colors. Due north of the Henry Hill, the six regiments of Carl Schruz's little division were entering the woods on both sides of the Sudley road. On Schurz's left, in the northwest quadrant of the circle, Milroy's brigade was supporting a line of Union field pieces which were in action on the top of a rise where the ruins of the Dogan farm house stand. The cannoneers handling these pieces were firing for effect against the enemy's artillery batteries which were counter-firing from the heights of Brawner's farm and from the shelf of a rocky ridge that extends a half mile to the north of Groveton. Facing the fire of the enemy's batteries, Sigel's three remaining brigades were bunched up on the south side of the pike, between Groveton and the Dogan rise. Behind them, in the southwest quadrant of the circle, the troops of John Reynolds's division were marching in a column, west across Chinn Ridge, toward Lewis Lane, a track that intersects the turnpike at Groveton.

 

John Pope calculated quickly: counting Reynolds's troops, which he was surprised to see, Sigel was maneuvering into action thirty-three regiments organized in nine brigades. With the enemy's force estimated at twenty-five thousand, Pope knew this was not enough to effect their retreat—only constant pressure creating the threat of envelopment could accomplish that.

 

Half-raising himself in the stirrups, he swung his binoculars to gaze to the east across Bull Run. Where was Heintzelman, with the six brigades—thirty regiments strong—of Kearny's and Hooker's divisions? They should have been coming into action on Sigel's right before now. But he saw only empty ground. Settling back in the saddle, he singled out Captain Piatt from his entourage; clapping him on the back, he told him to ride to Reynolds and ask where McDowell was. Then he dashed off the Henry Hill and, followed by the rest of his cavalcade, he struck the turnpike at full gallop and pounded over the stone bridge.

 

Ten minutes later, John Pope came to the crossing of Cub Run, a tributary of Bull Run that flows northeast past Centerville, and found Kearny's column of infantry stopped in front of a demolished bridge. A party of muscled black men were standing on the charred beams of the bridge structure, tacking down new planking. Crossing the shallow stream in one bound, Pope came upon Philip Kearny sitting in an upholstered arm chair in a pasture by the shoulder of the pike, eating scrambled eggs off a plate. Standing beside him was a bugle boy in a brightly colored uniform. Behind them was a prairie schooner that was used to transport his personal baggage; paid for from his inherited wealth, the huge wagon contained a box spring bed, a wardrobe filled with tailored uniforms, handmade riding boots, and a fully stocked kitchen managed by a French chef. Pulling up his stallion, Pope angrily demanded, "Why are you not at Bull Run?"

 

Philip Kearny was a strange man. With McClellan before Richmond, he had fought his division well enough, but the jungle climate of the James made him ill with malaria and the piles of corpses and the wailings of the wounded he encountered after the battles made him severely depressed. Irked by the slaughter made senseless by McClellan's retreat from the peninsula, broken down by his illnesses, Kearny had become bitter that an officer like John Pope had gained rank over him. "Are there only imbeciles to lead us," he had railed on the march from Bristoe Station. Now, he stared sullenly at Pope and shrugged his shoulders insolently.

 

Reflexively John Pope shifted his weight to the near stirrup, as though he were poised to dismount; then, he slowly relaxed in his seat and looked down at Kearny with contempt gleaming in his eyes. Pointing to Cub Run, Pope snapped, "Unless you want to throw your commission to the winds, get your men up to Bull Run at the double quick and go directly in on Sigel's right. The thing we must do is crush in the enemy's flank!" Without waiting for an answer, Pope, turning his mount in a circle, continued curtly. "Where is General Heintzelman?" In reply Kearny jerked his head toward Centreville. Pope put spurs to his stallion and the animal lunged forward, kicking up divots of grass almost in Kearny's face. Waving his hand as Pope's cavalcade started off again at a sharp gallop, Kearny hollered, "I'll see you in Hell Pope!"

 

Riding east on the turnpike for two miles, the cavalcade swept by brigade after brigade of Kearny's soldiers and came to the hamlet of Centreville. Passing the soldiers of Hooker's division at ease in the adjacent fields, the horsemen pulled up in front of a stone church. The church building was two stories and had high narrow plate glass windows, most of the panes of which were missing or broken. Saddled horses were tied to a fence railing in a long line that extended along the road in front.  Across the road from the church there was a tavern and in the fields around it were hundreds of two man mud huts built with logs and tin sheeting for roofs. Stopping at the fence line, Pope dismounted and, leaving his horse to the orderlies, he crossed the road to the tavern where he found Heintzelman and his staff officers. Confronted by Pope, Heintzelman explained that he had personally ordered Kearny to move his division up to Bull Run before dawn but Kearny had refused, insisting that he would move when the last of his stragglers came up and his men were fed and rested. Heintzelman had come to Centreville to requisition what commissary supplies could be found there.

 

Telling Heintzelman to ride to Kearny and accompany him to Bull Run, John Pope sent his officers out to the Union depot and the garrison camp to inventory what ammunition and supplies were available. Then he wrote several dispatches to be delivered to Washington by couriers. To Halleck was sent a long message which summarized the events that had occurred since August 25, the date of Pope's last message; telling Halleck that the army was in contact with the enemy at Bull Run, Pope asked that forage and provisions be sent forward as fast as possible and that a construction train be sent to rebuild the railroad bridges between Bull Run and Kettle Run.

 

Up to this point, John Pope had no particular reason to question his conception of things. As far as he could fathom, Jackson had been retreating the night before, obviously heading toward Thoroughfare Gap to reunite with Lee, but the retreat was blocked by McDowell’s corps which, according to orders, was marching east on the turnpike. Now, in the morning, though Reynolds’s division had appeared near Henry Hill, Pope still was operating under the assumption that he had Jackson boxed in; with Ricketts and King on one side and Pope on the other. Therefore, in such circumstance, clearly the right tactical thing to do was turn Jackson’s left near the Sudley Road, as this would compel him to retreat west as all of Pope’s army were collapsing on him. Of course, Pope knew Lee was west of the Bull Run Mountains and even if he was moving to Jackson’s aid, Pope’s tactics would push Jackson back on him. The news Pope now received should have caused him to reevaluate this thinking quickly.

 

For as the dispatches were being written out, John Gibbon burst into the tavern and reported to Pope what had happened the night before. After being fired upon from the heights of Brawner's Farm, Gibbon had advanced three of his regiments up the hill and into the woods; just east of the farm they had sailed into the front of William Taliaferro's division and the crown of the Brawner farm became a death zone as the infantry on both sides poured volleys of lead into each other. Taliaferro was shot three times and Richard Ewell, bringing some units of his own division up, suffered a severed artery when his femur was shattered by a bullet—the leg amputated at the scene by a surgeon. Gibbon's brigade by this time was being overlapped on both flanks, and because the rest of King's division failed to support it, Gibbon drew back to the pike as darkness closed in. In little more than an hour of fighting, Gibbon's brigade lost twelve field officers wounded, including all its colonels, and suffered thirty percent casualties overall. At a council of war held afterward, Gibbon wrote out a dispatch to Pope, stating that its position being untenable with John Ricketts's division retiring from Thoroughfare Gap, the division would march to Manassas during the night.

 

John Pope listened to Gibbon tell what happened at the Brawner farm with a scowl on his face. "Where is McDowell?" He asked when Gibbon was done. "No idea," Gibbon replied. Telling Gibbon to wait outside, Pope sat at the desk for a long moment, nervously rubbing a thumb back and forth across the knuckles of a hand as Ruggles and several of his staff officers looked on. Among them was Captain Piatt, who had returned from his ride to Reynolds, reporting to Pope that Reynolds had seen McDowell around dawn near the bald hill on the Sudley Road.

 

Reynolds related to Piatt that McDowell had told him to move his division across Chinn Ridge and take position south of Groveton. Conforming to the order, Reynolds deployed his front line along the Lewis Lane, at the edge of which a thick stand of trees stretched to the southwest from the wooded ridge to Five Forks. Near its southern end, a by-road splits from it and, crossing the old Warrenton and Alexandria road bed, connects to Five Forks at the southern fringe of the woods. On its northern end the lane connects to the turnpike at the Groveton hamlet; passing the hamlet the lane becomes a wagon road that ascends the long slope to the Stony Ridge and then turns to the east and the ford of Bull Run near the Sudley Springs.

 

Thinking of what Gibbon and Piatt had said, Pope shook his head in disgust. Just at the moment he had expected his forces to be concentrated in the vicinity of Bull Run, Kearny was not where he was supposed to be, and the three divisions of McDowell's corps—thirty thousand men—were scattered over eight square miles of landscape. Reynolds was in the battle zone, but King was four miles away at Manassas and Ricketts presumably was somewhere near Bristoe Station.

 

John Pope thought next of the movement up the Sudley road and into the north woods he had seen Carl Schurz initiate: Stonewall Jackson's forces were in position behind the woods, but why would Jackson make a stand there? To give his wagons and artillery enough time to escape to the north on the roads toward Leesburg? No, they would have been long gone had Jackson marched straight through Centreville instead of turning west on to the turnpike. Because he had been blocked from getting to Gainesville last night? But the pike west of Groveton had now been clear for hours—if Jackson wanted to move toward Gainesville, Sigel alone couldn't have prevented him. Shifting his thinking to the information McDowell had given in his dispatch of the 27th that General Lee was behind Thoroughfare Gap,  Pope now began to realize Lee had no intention of backing Jackson out today—Lee was moving three, possibly four, rebel divisions east from Thoroughfare Gap. Here came Pope’s fatal blunder―he assumed Lee would move up behind Jackson, to substitute his fresh troops for Jackson’s and attempt to seize the offensive from Pope.

 

Given his training and experience, John Pope could conceive of nothing else. Pope should have been thinking again of dividing his army into wings, taking direct command of his forces occupied with Jackson on the north side of the turnpike, he should have put McDowell in command of the remainder with responsibility to cover the terrain on the south side, moving northwest in the process toward Jackson’s presumed right flank as Pope continued to batter against Jackson’s center and left. Also, too, Pope could have focused on a reasonable alternative: go over to the defensive and wait for the rest of McClellan’s troops to come up. Once he had everything in his hands, he would have a force vastly superior in strength to Lee’s and Lee would have no choice but to retreat or be destroyed.

 

The Situation Materializing Toward Noon

 

Pope’s Right Front

 

General Pope Left Front Second Manassas

Pope’s Left Front


General Pope's Left Front

 

 

 

Two hours later—around 9:00 a.m.—John Gibbon came riding through the smoking ruins of Manassas Junction and encountered a large body of troops marching east on the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Passing along the column for a mile, he found Fitz John Porter down near Bethlehem Church and gave him a dispatch from Pope.

 

Opening it, Porter read: "Push forward your corps and King's division upon Gainesville. I am following the enemy down the pike." While Porter was reading this, Irwin McDowell appeared from a by-road leading to Five Forks and came to his side. As McDowell was senior to Porter in rank and the message concerned him, Porter passed it to him. Reading it, McDowell expressed irritation at the reference to Porter taking King's division and asked Porter to delay the march while he sought to communicate with Pope. Porter agreed to leave King's division halted where it was while his troops began countermarching west on the rock road to Gainesville, but when the rear guard passed King, Porter wanted King to follow. Though Pope’s order took no account of the possibility that, instead of moving up behind Jackson, Lee would move up to the right of him, McDowell had very reason to think the possibility was a probability. He had John Buford’s note in hand, stating that the front of Lee’s column was passing Gainesville, and he could see the dust cloud kicked up by Lee’s tramping soldiers.

 

McDowell rode to Manassas Junction and sent a courier to Centreville with a message for Pope. It read: "I have just seen your last order telling Porter to take King. Of course this is but temporary and I have asked Porter to place King on his right, that I may have him back when you say so." Instead of warning Pope of the peril of Lee extending Jackson’s line instead of supporting it, and asking for command of the left wing, McDowell could think of nothing but getting back King; he already had Reynolds again under his command and Ricketts would arrive at some point. McDowell wanted to keep his corps intact, that was the paramount impulse in his mind at this time.

 

Two hours later his courier returned with Pope's response—a movement order directed to McDowell and Porter jointly.

 

Headquarters Army of Virginia

Centreville, August 29, 1862

       Generals McDowell and Porter:

            Move forward with your joint commands toward Gainesville. Heintzelman, Sigel, and Reno are moving on the turnpike, and must now be not far from Gainesville. As soon as communication exists between you the whole command shall halt. If any considerable advantages are to be gained by departing from this order, it will not be strictly carried out. One thing must be kept in view, that the troops must occupy a position from which they can reach Bull Run tonight or in the morning, on account of our supplies.

           John Pope, Major-General Commanding    

 

Upon the receipt of this, in the company of his chief of staff, Colonel Schriver, and several staff officers he had found, Irwin McDowell was at a loss to understand what Pope expected to happen next. As he was senior in rank to Porter, the reference to “joint command” was meaningless. McDowell, if he saw “any considerable advantages” could “depart from the order” at will. Also, moving forward toward Gainesville meant, in McDowell’s mind, moving into the front of Lee, something he had successfully avoided doing since he failed to support Sigel’s excursion across the Rappahannock on the 25th. Furthermore, the paramount objective, Pope’s order announced, was to keep the troops close to Bull Run, “on account of supplies.”

 

What was Pope thinking here? Nobody knows. Heintzelman, Sigel, and Reno, at the time were not “moving on the turnpike” and were not any closer to Gainesville than they were when they attacked Jackson’s front; they were still attacking it, and though they certainly caved it in at places, the line each time had stiffened and they were repetitatively driven back. Pope’s order should have either ordered a general withdrawal toward Centreville, in anticipation of McClellan’s troops arriving, or it should have detailed McDowell to attempt an operation that might turn Jackson’s right. At the very least, the order should have required McDowell to close the gap between Reynolds’s position at Lewis Lane and Porter’s at Dawkins Creek. Here, Pope demonstrated beyond doubt his incapacity to match wits with Jackson and Lee.

 

Thinking these things, McDowell rode west on the Gainesville road; passing King's division, which now was marching behind Sykes's division of Porter's corps,. Here, he  was stopped by one of John Buford's cavalryman galloping up to him. The cavalryman handed McDowell a message from Buford, timed at 9:30 a.m. It read: "A large force from the gap is making a junction through Gainesville up the Centerville road with the forces in the direction of the cannonading."

 

Folding Buford's dispatch away in a pocket, McDowell rode on to the head of Porter's column which he found stopped at the crest of the little stream valley that Dawkin's Branch runs through.

 

When McDowell arrived at the crest of the stream valley, a brigade from George Morell's division was crossing Dawkins Branch; moving due north along the bank of the nearly dry stream bed, it was heading toward the Manassas Gap Railroad tracks and the old Warrenton & Alexandria road which runs parallel to it some distance beyond. (This was an abandoned wagon road, washed out by rains and engulfed in a stand of second growth trees.) On both sides of the Gainesville pike to the west, companies of a Union regiment in skirmish formation were climbing the opposite slope of the valley and disappearing into a thick strip of woods. To the northwest, cannoneers of a rebel artillery battery could be seen on a rise of ground about a mile beyond Dawkin's Branch, their shots dropping periodically into the open terrain of the valley the Union brigade was traversing. Behind them, a drifting plume of dust hung high in the air in the direction of Gainesville.

 

To no one in particular among his entourage, McDowell shook his head and said, "This is no place to fight a battle;" and, leaving his companions to wait on the Gainesville road, he led his mount to the north. Walking the horse at an angle down the slope, he went into a thicket of pine scrub and came upon Fitz John Porter and George Morell dismounted near the stream bottom.

 

As he dismounted his horse to join them, McDowell said to Porter, "You are too far out here." Pulling his campaign map from his blouse pocket, he showed Porter the position he had assigned John Reynolds to occupy. Three-quarters of a mile north of the old Warrenton & Alexandria road, Reynolds was moving into position at the Lewis farm lane. Then handing Porter the message from John Buford to read, McDowell told him that to connect with Reynolds from where they were, they would have almost two miles of rough terrain to march over—with three, if not four, probable infantry divisions, under the command of General Lee, converging on their flank.

 

Porter, having received from another courier his copy of Pope's ”joint command” order, suggested that McDowell ride with him to the right and reconnoiter the ground.

Leaving Morell behind, the two generals remounted and rode north through the pine scrub until they came to the railroad tracks. The tracks sit on a high ballast bed made of baseball-size chunks of stone and their horses stumbled climbing up it. At the top, they moved west along the tracks for fifty yards, but when rebel shells began exploding close to them, they turned off the tracks and went north again, searching for a way to get troops and artillery across to the old Warrenton & Alexandria road and to Five Forks, an old clearing shown on McDowell’s map.

 

Reaching a point about two hundred yards from the railroad, they came to the edge of a dense forest and stopped. While it was possible to squeeze infantry through it, it was a place where artillery could not go unless dirt tracks wide enough for the carriages could be found, or there was time for pioneers to break a road.

 

Looking at the dust-filled western sky and the open ground between the forest and the Gainesville road a mile behind them, both generals agreed that, with a superior enemy force about to materialize on its flank, a column of three divisions might be trapped in a kill zone if it tried to connect with Reynolds this way. Turning back to the railroad tracks, Porter suggested that, while his two divisions were deploying between the timber and the Gainesville road, McDowell could take King's division around to the village of New Market and, using the Warrenton & Alexandria Road, come into position between Morell's division and Reynolds's.

 

Reaching the railroad tracks, Porter was crossing over when suddenly McDowell turned his stallion and began riding east on the railroad tracks. Startled, Porter called after him—"What shall I do?"—and McDowell, half-turning in the saddle, waved a hand in the direction of the west and shouted, "You go in here. I’ll go around."

 

Porter kicked his horse into a canter and returned to the Gainesville road where he came upon Colonel Elisha Marshall, commanding the skirmishers of the 13th New York regiment. In the woods on the opposite side of the stream valley, the regiment's skirmishers were being forced back to the eastern edge of the timber as several rebel regiments in skirmish formation had appeared in the open grassland beyond the trees and were exerting superior combat pressure. Receiving this information about one o'clock, Porter deployed several batteries of artillery and thought about what to do.

 

John Pope's joint order required him to move in the direction of Gainesville, but not to go too far that the corps could not get back to Bull Run by nightfall. McDowell had said he was already too far out—and yet Pope's order clearly contemplated that he and McDowell use their forces to connect somehow with Pope's forces operating on the north side of the old Warrenton road.

 

Thinking this, it seemed obvious now to Porter that McDowell meant to use the network of wagon tracks that converged on Five Forks to bring King's division up the old Warrenton road  and take position between his position at Dawkins Branch and Reynolds's position at the Lewis Land. If that were to happen, in two or three hours, Pope would have a continuous line extending from Bull Run to the Manassas\Gainesville road. Kneeing his stallion into motion, Fitz John Porter rode back to his corps; he had decided to stand on the defensive and wait for McDowell to come up on the right.

 

The noon hour was ending when John Pope's cavalcade galloped over the stone bridge and pulled up on the pike at the Sudley road intersection. North of the pike, on the east side of the Sudley road, brigade size blocks of troops were moving in different directions across open fields. Directly ahead of the cavalcade, in the northwest quadrant of the intersection, scores of soldiers were hobbling out of a band of thick trees into the grassland. In front of the woods, a quarter mile from the intersection, Union cannoneers were serving a line of field pieces positioned on the narrow ridge where the Dogan family's farm house stood. The guns were throwing shells over the tree line as incoming shells exploded in geysers of earth around them. Fifty yards behind the guns, where the ridge slopes down toward the pike, the soldiers of an infantry brigade were hunkered down. A half mile farther west, near the Groveton crossroads, the sky was streaked plaid with the smoke trails of more batteries in action.

 

Scattering his staff officers, to take reports from the field commanders, John Pope rode with his cavalry escort out on the grassland; passing the droves of wounded soldiers, he came to the edge of the woods. Nudging his mount into the forest fringe, he halted in front of what was for a horse an impenetrable tangle of undergrowth—blocking the way between the bases of the mature trees, dense bushes and saplings crowded together like abatis. Pope backed his horse to the edge of the forest and, turning sideways, he listened. Coming from the deep recess of the forest, he heard faintly the sound of men shouting and the crackling sound of skirmishers' rifle fire. The smell of sulfur was in the air and grey smoke hung in drifts in the interspace between the forest's upper canopy of leaves and the thickets obstructing the forest floor. Here and there, in the gaps between the leaves, narrow shafts of sunlight shone down illuminating the smoke.

 

Striking spurs to his stallion, John Pope galloped along the tree line and over the Sudley road into the northeast quadrant of the intersection. There, at the southern base of Matthews Hill, he came upon Carl Schurz and Philip Kearny surrounded by their staff; shouting to be heard over the screech of the cannonading, the two generals were engaged in angry conversation. Since sunrise, seven hours before, the six regiments of Schurz's little division had been in action, exerting pressure against the left wing of the enemy's infantry line. Schurz's fighting began when two of his New York regiments—the Fifty-Fourth and the Fifty-eighth, went into the woods on the west side of the Sudley road and encountered the skirmish line of the First South Carolina regiment of Gregg's brigade.

 

 

 Overlapped on their right by the Fifty-Eighth, the rebel skirmishers slowly, quite slowly, began stepping backwards through the foliage. Stopping when they caught the flash of blue jackets in the murk of the forest, they pressed their shoulders against the trunks of the trees and went through the rapid motions of tearing the cartridge open, pouring the powder in the barrel, and ramming home the ball; and, then, craning their necks to catch another glimpse of the enemy, their teeth bared in terrible grimaces, they squeezed off their rounds. As the bullets clattered through the underbrush, smacking against tree trunks and branches, scattering leaves, the rebel skirmishers, always facing the enemy, stepped back a little more and stopped at the next tree and fired again. Three hundred yards from where they first came in contact with the New Yorkers in the middle of the forest, their ammunition pouches almost empty now, the South Carolinians backed out of the woods at the site of the abandoned railroad excavation.

 

The excavation consists of a ten foot wide corridor which runs along the lower reaches of a ridge that extends from the Brawner farm site to where the Sudley road, skirting the course of Bull Run, crosses Catharpin Creek. Between the railroad excavation and the plateau of the ridge, a wagon road runs from the Groveton crossroads, through farm fields and patches of woodland, to the Sudley road. Covering a mile long front, from the point the wagon road turns due south toward the Groveton crossroads and the point it intersects the Sudley road, the six brigades of A.P. Hill's division were deployed in the fields between the wagon road and the railroad excavation. At the left end of Hill's lines, on a knob of ground overlooking Bull Run, Branch's North Carolina Brigade was positioned to block the passage of the Sudley road. Gregg's South Carolina Brigade, of which the 1st South Carolina regiment was a part, occupied a quarter mile of ground to Branch's right. On Gregg's right came Thomas's Georgia brigade and then Field's Virginia brigade. Behind Gregg and Branch was Archer's Tennessee brigade and behind Thomas and Field was Pender's North Carolina brigade.

 

When the South Carolinians came out of the woods at the site of the railroad excavation, the main body of their regiment was standing behind the north embankment. In June 1862, the First South Carolina regiment carried five hundred men into action at Richmond. Now, there were only three hundred men in the ranks. Sixty percent of the missing men were either killed or wounded during the serial battles of the Chickahominy, while the rest of the missing, through inertia, had dropped out of the ranks on the march north from Richmond. The men that remained were the hard core who thrived on deprivation and craved the opportunity to battle the invader. And these men, with a kind of wolfish baying, stepped forward in one mass to meet their comrades, and blasted the New Yorkers as they burst hurrahing from the woods. Those of the New Yorkers the withering rifle fire did not scathe, broke from the decimated line back into the foliage. In flight through the forest, the New Yorkers rushed past their officers who fired their pistols in the air and shouted, "Get back! Get back, you women! Right about face." But, the woods being thick and all the companies being mixed up now, the officers had lost all control of their soldiers.

 

Then, abruptly, the New Yorkers' flight was arrested when they encountered the front of the Seventy-fifth Pennsylvania regiment advancing to meet them. With sheepish grins mixed with scowls on their faces, the routed men rallied and reformed their ranks behind the Pennsylvanians; and soon the bolstered lines of Union soldiers were moving toward the edge of the forest again.

 

An hour later, in the midst of the forest, the two sides were fighting each other to a standstill in isolated struggles; the men of the contesting regiments, deployed in depth by companies, receded and advanced in the forest as their numbers gave them local advantages. At some points Schurz's Germans pressed forward and fired point blank into the faces of the enemy, while, at other points in the forest, the South Carolinians made vicious dashes which threw the attackers back in confusion. In still other places, the fight was made body to body; the men, depending on their physical strength to overthrow their foes, clubbed with their rifles, hacked and stabbed with their knives, and plummeted with their fists and feet. In the darkest reaches of the forest, men fought each other like bears; growling, chest pressed against chest, they stood on tip toes, straining to the limit of their strength to strangle each other to death with hands gripped on throats. In the melee, bullets spun and whirled into soldiers from every direction. Mortar rounds crashed through the tree canopy, exploded, and showered the soldiers indiscriminately with metal debris. Dense smoke filled the forest and, in places, the carpet of leaves on the forest floor combusted, sending patches of the underbrush roaring into flames. Everywhere contorted bodies were lying on the ground, some growing rigid and bloated in death, others were crawling about, moaning in pain; and, on both sides, men were steadily trickling to the rear, quivering, shaken and demoralized by fear.

 

Finally the stalemate was broken when a rebel regiment from Thomas's Georgia Brigade appeared on the west rim of the ravine and poured volley after volley into the enemy, crumbling their front like paper. Under the stress of the fire coming from the Fourteenth South Carolina in front and the Georgia regiment on their flank, the battling Union men heard orders that were never given and ran pell mell out of the ravine and crashed into the underbrush of the forest.

 

Standing stationary for a moment, the rebel soldiers gaped expectantly at their officers, as panting setters stand watching their masters for the signal to chase down the kill. Waving a red sword over his head, the colonel of the Fourteenth, Samuel McGowan, appeared on the rim of the ravine and shouted, "Go on, Boys! Catch the devils and give em hell." Somewhere behind McGowan a bugle brayed, and the shaggy rebel men began to howl like wolves. As one gigantic pack they leaped into motion and went loping into the woods in a crouching run. Hurtling along the tunneled tracks the Union men had made in the underbrush, the momentary victors caught up with the rear ranks of the vanquished and used their knives to hack and hew at their prey. After five long minutes of murderous stop and run close struggles, where pleas for quarter were stifled with skull crunching blows, a terror-stricken crowd of fugitives spilled out of the forest.

 

Ahead of them, on Dogan's ridge, Union cannoneers stood on the axles of their gun carriages and, waving their hands over the heads, they shouted in a chorus for the soldiers to clear their line of fire. Swinging to right and left, the rabble of soldiers opened an alley just as their bloodthirsty pursuers bounded from the woods after them. At one gun and then another, cannoneers stepped to the muzzle of their cannon, rammed down the tube powder bag and shot, and stepped aside as matches touched vents and the gunners pulled lanyards, and the guns flamed and bucked clumps of iron balls into the dense mass of howling rebels.

 

It was during this latter phase of the morning action, when the pressure of Schurz's attack had fallen off to a sniper's game, that John Pope found Schurz and Kearny arguing. Schurz was incensed that Kearny had not supported him. While the New Yorkers were attacking the enemy's position on the west side of the Sudley road, Schurz's three remaining regiments—the Sixty-first Ohio, Seventy-Fourth Pennsylvania, and Eight West Virginia—had advanced on the east side. Two of these regiments had crossed over the road, passed the railroad excavation, and reached a corn field in front of the rocky knoll, but, after a sharp fight, they were forced back to the east side by Orr's rifles, the South Carolina Brigade's last reserve regiment, and two regiments of Branch's brigade. At the same time Schurz had called upon Franz Sigel for help on the left of the Sudley road, he sent a messenger to Kearny, whose division by this time had crossed the stone bridge and was concentrating in the northeast quadrant of the intersection. Schurz requested that Kearny advance to support his regiments on the right. For a short time after the message was sent, it appeared to Schurz that Kearny was responding cooperatively with his request. One of Kearny's three brigades—Poe's—was seen moving north on the Sudley road; but, instead of it going into the woods behind Schurz's regiments, it turned to the east and marched to Bull Run where it crossed at a ford.

 

Kearny's second and third brigades—Robinson's, with three regiments, and Birney's, with seven—followed Poe's march as far as the stream. While Schurz's regiments were being hounded out of the trees, Poe's brigade marched north along the left bank of Bull Run until it encountered rebel cavalry with artillery occupying the continuation of the railroad excavation. There, after a brief exchange of gun fire, Poe turned his brigade around and eventually recrossed the stream. Meanwhile, with Robinson's brigade halting near the right bank of Bull Run, Birney, following in Robinson's rear, countermarched his brigade to the vicinity of Matthews Hill and placed his regiments in support of Kearny's artillery, which was engaged with rebel batteries positioned on the middle shelf of the ridge up the Sudley road. Listening to Schurz's rant Kearny sat rigid in the saddle, with an expression of indifference on his gaunt face; he was more concerned with taking care of his own men than bailing Schurz's out.

 

After listening for a time, John Pope broke into the generals' quarrel and curtly ordered Schurz to return to the west side of the Sudley road. Then, giving Kearny a piercing look of distain, he rode a short distance north on the Sudley road to the fringe of the forest. Under the fire of the rebel cannon, he reined in his horse at the headquarters of the Sixty-first Ohio and conversed for a moment with its colonel. Turning westward, he crossed the Sudley road and rode over the grasslands, stopping every now and then when he came across one of Schurz's field officers. From these officers, he learned about the railroad cut, the wagon road, the rocky ridge behind it and the rebels' strength of resistance. Then, he galloped across the fields to Dogan's Ridge.

 

Finding Sam Heintzelman, Franz Sigel, and Robert Milroy waiting for him there, he learned that, while Schurz's infantry had been pawing at the enemy's left wing from the edge of the woods, Milroy's brigade of four regiments had been wrecked attacking the enemy's center. A half mile to the west of Dogan's ridge, the wagon road that connects to the Sudley road bends south to the hamlet of Groveton. Following the bend in the road, in a dogleg, the forest meets an open corridor of grassland, with patches of orchards and flower fields, which sweeps across the road and slopes up to the railroad cut. Passing through the dogleg of the woods, Milroy's first line—the Eighty-second Ohio and the Fifth West Virginia—had crossed the wagon road and went up the wide grassy slope that rises to the rocky ridge. Followed by the Second and Third West Virginia regiments, the men in the first line were climbing a fence that bordered the railroad excavation when they were struck by volleys of converging rifle fire.

 

The front rank of men tumbling to the ground, the companies of the Eighty-second Ohio coming up behind charged to the left, while the men of the Fifth West Virginia flattened themselves on the ground. In their charge the Ohioans stumbled by chance into an undefended ravine that penetrated the railroad excavation and stormed into the right rear of Isaac Trimble's brigade. Trimble was holding the center of the rebel line, with Douglas's brigade on his left connected to Field and Bradley Johnson's brigade on his right connected to Stafford's. Simultaneously with the Ohioans' appearance in Trimble's rear, two Virginia regiments from Bradley Johnson's brigade arrived in a mass on their left flank and scalded them with fire. Their colonel and two of their captains killed in the fusillade, the formation of Ohioans disintegrated into a mob of scattering individuals running like mice for their lives. Scampering back through the ravine, which was now ringed by flaming rifles, the Ohioans collided with the second line of West Virginians, whose ranks disintegrated in the surge and were swept along with the Ohioans to the cover of the woods. In less than twenty minutes, Milroy's brigade suffered the loss of three hundred men killed, wounded, or missing.

 

Absorbing this, Pope spun his horse roughly around and cantered toward the pike. Passing through the throng of infantry, artillery batteries, and wagons clogging the pike, he crossed to the south side and dropped down into the shallow valley the main channel of Young's Branch runs through, and forded the stream. Slackening his stallion's pace on the downhill slope, he kicked him into stride again on the opposite side, and the big stallion, whinnying, ascended to the top of Chinn Ridge in short lunging strides. Following the western rim of the ridge, he came to the edge that overlooks the main fork of Young's Branch and stopped. From a saddle bag he retrieved his field glasses and with its help he brought the distant ground in front close to him. A quarter mile to the west, he caught glimpses of the Lewis lane as he scanned the patchwork of trees that spread south from the Groveton crossroads. Directly in front of the ridge, he spotted Reynolds's artillery batteries parked on both banks of the fork where it intersects the lane. Beyond the guns, through the break in the trees, he saw the files of Reynolds's regiments facing an open field, bordered on the west by more woods. And, at the edge of these woods, he thought he saw the flash of bayonets.

 

Lowering the field glasses to the pommel of his saddle, John Pope reflected: since yesterday, when he learned from McDowell that the force remaining with General Lee had turned toward Thoroughfare Gap, he knew the likelihood was great the rebel army would soon be reunited in his front; and now he was sure that at least General Lee's advance guard must be connecting.

 

 But the knowledge did not frighten him. Like General Lee, John Pope was in the terrible business of tabulating the expenditure of soldiers' lives; keeping tabs on the balance sheet, making debit entries for his wastage and credit entries for his replacements, he was certain that his existing force was still numerically the stronger. According to Irwin McDowell's note of yesterday, the size of General Lee's force was four divisions. With Reynolds and Schenck holding the line of the Lewis lane, McDowell, with King's and Porter's divisions, could confidently strike at Lee's right and rear, he thought..

 

Raising his field glasses again, John Pope scanned to the south. In spots he could see the line of the Old Warrenton & Alexandria road cutting through open patches of forest, but, beyond it, a wide swath of pine forest blocked his view of the Gainesville road. He thought: where is McDowell? His infantry should be engaged with General Lee's by now.

Thinking this, Pope rubbed his chin with the fist of his hand and considered the center and left of the enemy line. Milroy had beat against the center and Schurz the left; probing for soft spots, they had discovered small cracks but before they could exploit their penetrations the enemy sealed them. Pope looked for a time at the center of the rebel line. The approach to it was over the open grassland which came within the range of the long array of rebel guns near the Brawner farm. Then, he shifted his concentration to the enemy's left wing, his view of it blocked by trees. According to Franz Sigel, the left of Jackson's line was very dense. Jackson's troops occupied an elevated space, having before them the railroad excavation, which they were using as a battlement, and the cover provided by the curving band of thick trees, with access to their rear protected by Bull Run. An idea stormed in John Pope's head: if Jackson's left might be forced back from Bull Run and the Sudley road then. . .

 

But here he quivered. Success would depend upon the ability of his field commanders to act in concert; and, regardless of the outcome, thousands of men would be sacrificed in the endeavor. He thought of his experience with Franz Sigel; his personal contact with the morose, nervous little German had always been hostile and demeaning. But, with Sigel's forces, under Milroy and Schurz, already used up, and Schenck's division committed to cooperate with McDowell's left wing, Sigel would be out of the action. That left the combat power in the hands of Heintzelman and his two division commanders, Kearny and Hooker. Reno and Stevens would play secondary roles. Yet, Pope had barely spent an hour of time with any of them. They were strangers, whose loyalties were suspect, and they had been slow to reach the battle zone in the morning. Could he count on them to launch a major attack on Jackson? He didn't know.

 

Quickly, John Pope tabulated the numbers. At the moment, eight fresh brigades were available: Kearny's three, two of Hooker's, one possibly taken from Schenck, two, maybe three, from Reno and Stevens. The rest of the Union force was either allocated to the left wing, to counter an advance by the forces under General Lee, or too worn down by the morning's fighting to be used for offensive action. According to Sigel's estimate, Jackson had close to twelve brigades manning two miles of front. Just four more brigades added to the weight of Heintzelman's attack might make the difference between repulse and rout.

 

Pope thought: where was Rickett's division? Where were Franklin's and Sumner's corps? Now, in a fleeting moment of uncertainty, Pope wavered in his grip on things. He thought of falling back to Centreville. But, then, the image of Lincoln's gnarled face flickered in his mind and he knew that retreat from Bull Run would ruin him. Lincoln had given him the supreme command because he had promised he would attack the enemy where he was found. If he showed the enemy his back in the crunch, Lincoln would abandon him in a heartbeat.

 

Suddenly, a horseman crested the ridge to the east of him and, reflexively, he half-raised in the stirrups, squinting to see the color of the rider's uniform. For a moment he couldn't make the color out, the horse was coming straight on, snorting for breath in the stifling heat of the afternoon. Then, he caught a glimpse of blue and settled in the saddle again. Soon, slackening his pace to a heaving walk, the horseman came up to Pope's side and handed him a piece of paper. Opening it, Pope read a message from Irvin McDowell: I have King's division marching to join you on the Sudley road. King's lead brigade should reach the pike by 4 o'clock. Rickett's division follows.

 

Taking his field glasses from the saddle bag, he turned in the saddle and scanned the tree line in the direction of Manassas. A drifting dust cloud—the tell-tale sign of an infantry column marching—was visible above the trees. Stowing the glasses again, he took a quick look at his pocket watch; the time was half past two o'clock. In a flash, he made up his mind to attack Stonewall Jackson. His plan of action: strike the center of Jackson's line, which will induce him to freeze his reserves; as that is happening, strike his right as a secondary diversion; then, push against the end of his line on the left with two brigade-size strikes from different angles, paving the way for the coup de grace—King's division will go up the Sudley road and pour through the gap created by the push back, forcing Jackson to scramble to safety behind General Lee. Signaling McDowell's messenger to follow him, John Pope slapped the flank of his stallion and bounded down the slope of Chinn Ridge.

Thirty minutes after John Pope returned to his Headquarters post on Dogan's Ridge, Cuvier Grover, whose brigade was at rest, in the woods behind Carr's men, received an order by messenger to move into Schurz's sector and attack the enemy's front. By three o'clock, with Steven's regiments moved behind him in the woods, Grover formed a spearhead of his five regiments and sent them charging through a maelstrom of bullets into Edward Thomas's Georgia brigade. Ascending to the lip of the excavation without firing a shot, Grover's soldiers discharged their rifles in mass and plunged forward to do devils' work with the bayonet. Shocked by the suddenness of the attack, the Georgians tried for a moment to ward off the assailants with the butts of their rifles, but the wings of their brigade gave way. Standing in the center, like a boulder in rushing water, the Forty-fifth Georgia held its position for a time but, eventually, it, too, was rolled back on the rebel second line, where a fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued.

 

As Grover's brigade swept past the railroad excavation on a quarter mile front, the First Massachusetts poured into the marshy ravine that separated the Georgians' left flank from the South Carolina brigade's right. Racing to the north end, the Massachusetts men ran headlong into the Thirteenth South Carolina. Despite the losses they had sustained, during the incessant skirmishing that had gone on in their front since dawn, the South Carolinians formed a living bulwark at the mouth of the ravine; there, in a frenzy of fury, men massacred each other. There was a great roaring clamor as these embittered antagonists collided in a mauling grapple, body to body: looking into each other's eyes, their chests heaving, their feet sliding against the strain in the leaves, they were brutes gone wild with the terror of the moment and, with their knives and bayonets, they slashed, gutted and butchered. All human sense in them, of patriotism and religion, gone in the thrill of the death storm.

 

Then the force in the tide of men began to reverse its direction. As Grover's left wing and center crossed the Groveton wagon road, pushing the Georgians back on the rocky ridge, more regiments of the South Carolina Brigade came running from the left of their sector and shored up the Georgians' caving lines. In the huge rents in the Georgians' line, rebel field pieces were run out from the lower shelves of the rocky ridge and blasted the enemy back with shrapnel. In the center of the fight, the tip of the Union spearhead—the Second New Hampshire—came to a shuttering halt and began to edge backwards as its ranks crumbled under the cross currents of massed rifle volleys striking its front and flanks. Suddenly, then, in the midst of the roaring all around, and the bullets raking the earth and canister splintering the trees, Dorsy Pender's North Carolina Brigade came through the smoke and crashed into Grover's left wing, shattering its organization and driving it back. Now, on Grover's right, with the Georgians and South Carolinians connected in an organized line pressing against its front, the Union men were forced from the ravine, back over the Groveton wagon road, back over the railroad cut. Seeing their comrades veering to the rear, realizing a ring of fire was closing around them, the men of the Second New Hampshire broke and ran for their lives, their eyes blazing with reproof.

 

With the suddenness of a dike rupturing, the battered wreckage of the awful struggle flooded the forest. The faces streaming by showed traits of every class; from the countryside, dull-witted farm boys and ignorant town boys; from the cities, riffraff of the streets and the cream of the avenues. A few months before, most of these people had been leading their different lives, in indifference or antagonism to each other, as alien as enemies across a frontier. Now, battered, shattered and spent, they shared an instinctive community of emotion—they meant to come again and avenge their loss. In thirty minutes of battle, Grover's brigade lost more men than Carr's did in three hours of skirmishing—eight officers killed, eighteen wounded; the men in the ranks, forty seven dead, three hundred and eleven wounded, one hundred and two missing. The men were fast learning the arithmetic of war. No one knew how long the war would last, but they knew by now the sacrifices it would necessitate. And, though it might slay them, they meant to trust in it.

 

John Pope was standing on the Dogan summit when the first wave of Grover's battered men spilled out of the forest onto the grassland. Clustered around him were Samuel Heintzelman, Franz Sigel, Jesse Reno and Joe Hooker. Hooker, furious that Carr's and Grover's brigades were wrecked, was loudly reciting the reasons why Pope should rescind his order that Hooker's reserve brigade, Nelson Taylor's, go in the woods and battle. With his arms folded across his chest, Pope remained mute. Next to Hooker, Reno, too, was silent. During the time Grover was engaged with the enemy, couriers had shuttled back and forth between the fighting front and Dogan's Ridge, bringing Pope reports that the Union line was advancing. Encouraged by these reports, Pope had ordered Hooker and Reno to each advance a brigade and attack on Grover's right, and now, in the flower fields west of the ridge, Nagle's brigade of four regiments, followed at a distance by Nelson's Taylor's, was moving into the southwest corner of the woods. Seeing that he was being ignored, Hooker turned on his heel and stalked to where an orderly was holding the bridle of his giant white stallion, and in one fluid motion he was in the saddle. "They are going to a useless slaughter," he shouted over the din as he whirled his horse away.

 

As Hooker was striding angrily away, Sam Heintzelman stepped close to Pope's ear and tried to explain why Philip Kearny's division had not attacked the enemy's left flank while Grover was attacking its center, as Pope had ordered. To execute the order, Kearny chose to advance his smallest brigade, John Robinson's, leaving his largest, David Birney's and Orlando Poe's, in the rear on both sides of the Sudley road. Advancing his three regiments along the right bank of Bull Run, Robinson swung them across the Sudley road and had found the railroad excavation deserted. The crashing sound of a rifle volley was heard in the direction of Grover's sector, and Robinson, instead of rushing his troops forward, arranged the Sixty-third and One hundred and fifth Pennsylvania regiments in line of battle on the Sudley road, placing the Twentieth Indiana regiment behind. The reason: two hundred yards to the northwest, at the opposite end of a large farm field, he saw rebel infantry massed along a rail fence and decided to assume a defensive position.

 

Hearing this, Pope gave Heintzelman a withering look. "I told you Kearny must send a strong force to relieve the pressure against Grover in the woods," he snapped.

Heintzelman raised his hands and let them flop against his sides in mock exasperation. "General Kearny appears reluctant to engage today," he said.

 

John Pope looked at Heintzelman with an expression of disgust on his face. He had the grizzled grey beard finally sized up as an incompetent. Beckoning to Benjamin Roberts, one of his cronies who was standing near, Pope took him by the arm and walked a few paces. "Go to Kearny," he said, as he tapped the flat of one hand against his fingertips. "Say to him that I direct he use Birney and Poe to attack the end of Jackson's line from two directions. Tell him I expect he will roll it up."

 

As Roberts was mounting his horse, Pope turned back and saw Franz Sigel smirking at him. Catching the mean glare of Pope's eyes, Sigel walked away. For the moment, he was satisfied that Pope had assigned the reserve to his corps. Two of his brigades, McLean's and Stahl's, were in position with Reynolds on the south side of the pike, but the remainder of his brigades were down in the hollow behind Dogan's ridge; some were sprawled asleep on the ground, others, bare-chested, were scrubbing blood from their shirts in the shallow creek by the Sudley road, still others were cooking sparse meals over gypsy fires, while the artillery shells from the incessant cannonading screamed all around.

 

Pope started to call Sigel back but the sudden swell of the cannonading warned him something sinister was happening in front, and he ran toward the rim of the ridge. As he came near, he saw Grover's soldiers scampering across the grassland. Durell's battery of Napoleons was in action on the lower reaches of the ridge and some of the spongers had gone in front of their guns, waving their ram rods over their heads like semaphores, they were signaling for the fleeing Union men to get out of their way. Behind the wild scramble of Union men, the men of Pender's North Carolina brigade were coming out of the forest and assembling in a thick mass on the verge of the grassland; their front advancing yard by yard as more of them emerged from the trees and came up to the rear. Then, the North Carolinians, in one solid mass of brown, leveled their rifles—and there came rolling across the grassland a crashing sound as a thousand rifles discharged as one. In the rear ranks of the Union men scores fell stumbling to the ground.

 

As the rush of bullets found their marks, Grover's front ranks split into wings and veered to the east and west, opening a wide lane in front of Durell's guns. Instantly, the cannoneers had the canister rammed down and the gunners touched the howitzers off. From the muzzles of the guns heaps of shrapnel spewed through expanding rings of smoke and tumbled end over end across the field. whipping viciously through Pender's ranks. Leaning forward, their heads bowed to the side, the rebel soldiers hastened their pace, firing their rifles as they came; but, the cannoneers shoved their recoiled guns forward into battery and sent more shrapnel flying, and now Grover's men, reformed into their regiments again, came forward and began matching the enemy, volley for volley.

John Pope watched with glistening eyes as the rebel infantry turned back and disappeared into the forest. Closing ranks on the grassland, the remnants of Carr's and Grover's brigades came slowly to the edge of the forest and sent skirmishers in. Watching the troops advance, Pope heard the muffled crash of fresh rifle volleys, off to the northwest, and to the east more of the same. Swamped by a momentary feeling of elation he clapped his hands together. The taxing hours of sparring, then the heavy blow to the belly by Grover's brigade, the enemy's counterpunch deflected, and now it would be Pope, not Jackson, who was stepping close and swinging into the ribs heavy blows.

 

Just then, from behind him, he heard someone shout and he spun around. Colonel Elliott had one hand cupped around his mouth and, with the other, was pointing to the south. Pope took several paces toward him, looking to the distance across the pike. He saw it! There, on the Sudley road, the blue front of an infantry column—the spangled flags of King's division streaming overhead—was spilling over the saddle between the Bald and Henry hills. Breaking into a jog, he ran past Elliott to where the pack of orderlies were seated in their saddles waiting for messages to carry. Singling out McDowell's courier from among them, he pulled him down by the arm and shouted in his ear—"There is General McDowell coming; go and tell him I said he is just in time; tell him I say he must hurry straight forward on the Sudley road and support Kearny's attack with his brigades." Pope slapped hard at the glossy flank of the trooper's horse and horse and rider bolted away.

 

Returning to the summit of the ridge, John Pope found George Ruggles and several of his staff officers assembled around a field telescope on a tripod and he stood with them; taking reports and giving orders, he waited anxiously for his blows to fall. On the west side of Dogan's Ridge, Nagle's attack, supported by Taylor, would keep Jackson's reserves on his right wing fixed in place, thereby leaving the rebel left wing to fend for itself—when, after Kearny's brigades pushed it back from the Sudley road, the weight of McDowell's force would just in time pour into its rear.

 

As John Pope was thinking this, George Ruggles exclaimed, "What's this?" And he stirred from Pope's side. Ruggles stepped forward and, swiveling the telescope to face west, put his eye to the piece. Sensing something wrong, Pope stepped forward also and, cupping his hands over the brows of his eyes, he squinted against the glare of the late afternoon sun. From a clump of trees on the west side of the Groveton hamlet, he saw tiny blurred figures, like army ants, spreading into the fields, heading toward Dogan's Ridge. Interspersed at different points among them were red-crossed blazons swelling in the breeze.

 

Reflexively, Pope shoved Ruggles aside and brought the telescope into focus on the Groveton wagon road. The soldiers manning the front line of Milroy's three regiments were lying down in the road, firing their rifles from behind the berm, while, across the road in their rear, Milroy's Ohio light artillery—an ensemble of six brass Napoleons—was discharging canister rounds over their heads. Swinging the telescope up the line of the road, Pope saw that, from where the monumental shaft of brown stone now stands, another enemy horde was filling the flower fields on the north side of the hamlet and, wheeling their front to the east, they were entering the woods where Nagle and Taylor were. Instantly, John Pope knew the danger—his center might be overrun—and he grabbed Ruggles by the arm and shouted orders in his ear.

 

"Tell Sigel he must support Milroy with his corps immediately!" He said. "Tell Reno the same." Then, still gripping Ruggles's arm, he hesitated. He could not believe it. This he had not expected: Jackson's whole right wing seemed to be counterattacking, and brigade-size blocks of troops from General Lee's force were joining in. He looked east over his shoulder at the dust cloud spiraling up from the Sudley road. The thought of how combat oscillates, ebbs and flows, swells and disperses, flashed in his mind. Would Sigel and Reno be enough to keep the enemy back from Dogan's Ridge? If they could, Kearny and McDowell might overwhelm the enemy's left and drive it back on the center; surely the pressure would make the rebels fall back from Dogan's Ridge. A long moment went by as Pope wrestled with his dilemma. Finally, pushing Ruggles into a run, he hissed—"Tell McDowell he must divert his force down the pike."

 

During this time, Nagle's and Taylor's soldiers began streaming out of the forest. An hour earlier, Jim Nagle had brought his three regiments—the Sixth New Hampshire, the Second Maryland, and the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania—in one line through the forest to the point where the Groveton wagon road intersects the railroad excavation. Crossing the road, with the Forty-eighth in the center, these Union regiments collided with the front of Isaac Trimble's brigade. Some time before, during the skirmishing with Carr's men, Trimble had been wounded and taken from the field. Without an effective leader, the organization of the rebel brigade disintegrated upon Nagle's impact and fled toward the rocky ridge. Flushed with the feeling of a kill, the Pennsylvanians continued their charge across the railroad embankment and into the thick of the forest. Following the Pennsylvanians, the Sixth New Hampshire regiment veered to the west and opened out into skirmish order, while the Second Maryland veered to the east. Minutes later, the gaps between the trees in front of them filled with brown clad men and their advance, staggered by massed rifle blasts, abruptly came to a stop. Recoiling, the Union men scrambled rearward as sheet after sheet of rifle fire sliced into them.

 

Coming to Trimble's support, Henry Forno's Louisiana brigade, the soldiers baying like wolves, chased the Pennsylvanians and Marylanders back across the railroad cut and over the wagon road and into the trees. In concert, Bradley Johnson's Virginia brigade, holding a quarter-mile sector of ground on Trimble's right, came across the cultivated ground west of the wagon road and careened into the flank of the retreating New Hampshire men. Joining the Virginians in the advance, Strafford's brigade came forward into the flower fields and swung its left wing into the corner of the forest, reaching to cut off Nagle's retreat, while its right wing diverged toward Milroy's right flank and rear. At the same time, Law's brigade of John Hood's recently arrived division stormed against Milroy's front, and on the south side of the pike the Texas brigade stormed out of the woods. The whole of this division-size force, with curdling yells, overran the wagon road and spilled out of the forest, pressing Milroy and Nagle back toward the face of Dogan's Ridge.

 

Behind Nagle in the woods, the regiments of Nelson Taylor's brigade were dressing their lines, preparatory to moving up to the railroad excavation, when the receding tide of Union men, pressed by the counterattacking rebel force, came stumbling through the woods and shattered Taylor's formation. The whole mass became entangled in a jumble and panic ensued, and the rush to the rear increased its velocity. Now, ten thousand men, the front runners the prey, those in the rear the predators, broke out into the open in front of Dogan's Ridge.

 

To stem the tide of rebel success, John Pope had brought McLean's and Stahl's brigades of Sigel's corps from the south to the north side of the pike and stopped the collapse of Milroy's front at a tributary of Young's Branch, a quarter mile west of Dogan's Ridge. Law's brigade, stalling to a halt in the flower fields, a few hundred yards east of the Groveton wagon road, brought up artillery and cannonaded the ridge while Pope got Dieckman's and Hampton's batteries in action and blasted back. On the south side of the pike, the Texas brigade kept pace with Law's brigade, stopping behind Young's Branch as King's batteries arrived on Chinn Ridge in front of them and came into action. On Milroy's right, Nagle and Taylor reformed their regiments at the base of Dogan's Ridge and, supported by Durell's battery and Ferrero's brigade, brought Stafford's and Johnson's brigade to a standstill at the edge of the wood.

 

Recognizing that the rebel counterattack had been checked, John Pope turned his attention back to Kearny's sector and the Union attack on Jackson's left. Two of King's brigades—Doubleday's and Gibbon's—had turned off the Sudley road and were closing on the rear of Dogan's Ridge, but the remaining two brigades—Sullivan's and Patrick's—were standing on the Sudley road near the Henry Hill. Calling for an orderly, Pope scribbled a message to McDowell—"The enemy has been stopped in the center; get King's reserve brigades moving to Kearny's support on the Sudley road." Standing on the Dogan summit, Pope watched as the courier sped off the ridge and across the intersection and went up the side of the Henry Hill, where he stopped in the midst of a crowd of horsemen. A long moment passed as Pope watched impatiently; then, he saw a rider spilt from the group and come headlong down the hill, with stirrups flapping, heading for Dogan's Ridge.

 

As the rider came at the gallop across the intervening ground, George Ruggles and Colonel Elliott appeared at Pope's side with reports of Kearny's progress on the Union right. John Robinson's brigade of three regiments still held the railroad excavation at the point it passes the Sudley road. The Sixty-third Pennsylvania was on the south side of the cut, in a line of battle facing to the west. The One Hundred and Fifth Pennsylvania was on the north side also facing west. Coming up on the right of the One Hundred and Fifth was the Third Michigan of Poe's brigade, and four of David Birney's seven regiments—the Fourth Maine, First, Fortieth, and One Hundred and First New York regiments—were on the west side of the Sudley road, approaching the railroad cut from the south. Behind them, in an arc, traversing the Sudley road, Kearny had three artillery batteries going into action: McGilvery's, Graham's, and Randolph's. Nodding in satisfaction, Pope told Elliott to ride to Kearny and tell him to commence the attack; then, stepping down from the hillock, he walked forward a few paces on the ridge's tabletop to meet the oncoming rider.

 

The message the rider relayed from Irwin McDowell made Pope's face flush: "Tell General Pope that Sullivan and Patrick cannot move from here as they are the only support John Reynolds has." (Reynolds at this time was standing alone, far down the Lewis Lane.) Turning to George Ruggles, who had followed him down from the summit, Pope angrily exclaimed, "God Damn McDowell;" and he stomped off several paces with his hands balled up in fists, his narrowed eyes focused on the Sudley road where Kearny's brigades were inside the band of forest. A minute passed, then another. Gradually his frame relaxed and, turning to look at Ruggles, he jerked his head in a "come here" gesture.

 

When Ruggles came to his side, Pope said, "Write out this order for Fitz John Porter—"Push forward into action at once against the enemy's right flank, keeping your right in communication with General Reynolds." As Pope was speaking, Ruggles pulled a pad of paper from his pocket and began writing. How Porter was to accomplish this feat Pope obviously had no clue. A mile and a half of timbered scrub land, cut with ravines and streams, were in the space between Reynolds and Porter. Clearly, had he taken the time to be familiar with the terrain, he would have recognized that the necessity of King’s division moving west from the Sudley Road to occupy Five Forks. Nor did he give fair credit to the concept of time.

 

When Ruggles finished, Pope took the paper from him and strode a few paces toward where his staff officers were congregated at the base of the summit; waving his hand, he signaled for his young nephew, Douglas Pope, to come to him. Trailing his horse by the reins Douglas Pope walked quickly to his uncle's side. "You will find General McDowell over there," he said, pointing in the direction of the Henry Hill. "Show him this order and then deliver it to General Porter, who is somewhere on the Gainesville road. Tell General McDowell that he must order General Reynolds to attack the enemy in his front immediately." Then, turning to the east, he pointed toward Buck Hill, a knob of ground that rises in the northeast angle of the intersection, and continued, "Say to General McDowell that he must advance King's brigades on the Sudley road to support Kearny's attack against the rebel left; and, as the brigades move up the road, I want him to bring General King and meet me over there."

 

Soon after Douglas Pope galloped off, John Pope rode toward Buck Hill with the rest of his staff officers. Arriving at the base of the hill, just as the sun was going down behind the Blue Ridge mountains, Pope heard the spattering sounds of skirmish fire, which had been echoing from the forest in front, become a rattling crash of massed volleys, and, abruptly changing direction, he galloped north across the grassland to Philip Kearny's headquarters near Matthews Hill, a lesser hill that rises in the grassland north of Buck Hill. Riding to the top, he found Kearny pacing back and forth in a state of high excitement. Kearny, seeing Pope crest the hill and ride toward him, immediately exclaimed over the noise of the battle fire: "For God's sake, General, if you can quickly get me two fresh brigades I can make the rebels' left wing collapse; Robinson and Birney are pushing it back, but they're running out of ammunition and losing momentum."

 

Hearing Kearny's words, John Pope whirled his stallion around; he sensed that his time was now—just another hour's struggle and victory would shine her light on him. Rising, he stood on his stirrups and looked in the direction of the intersection; expecting to see it congested with King's troops marching, he saw nothing but emptiness.  Reaching back to his saddle bag, he ripped loose his field glasses and scanned the ground. South of Henry Hill, he saw black blocks of troops wheeling off the road at the saddle and taking position on the bald hill.

 

His cry—"Damn McDowell, he is never where he is supposed to be,"—was drowned out in the thunderous battle noise around him. Seething with a frantic fury, he shifted his scan with the glasses toward Dogan's ridge and the grassland between it and the band of forest. Picking out the location of Jesse Reno's brigades from their flags, he looked around him and saw a group of mounted cavalryman casually seated on their horses watching him from a distance. Spurring his horse toward them, he shouted for two of them to carry messages: one, he sent riding to tell Reno to move his brigades up to the woods and join Birney and Robinson in their attack on the rebel left; the other one, he sent to find McDowell and repeat again his previous order.

 

As the two troopers went racing away on their missions, the front line brigades of Stonewall Jackson's left wing were on the verge of crumbling. Fighting side by side since dawn, the brigades of Gregg's South Carolinians and Thomas's Georgians were pulverized, smashed to pieces. The pressure of Schurz's morning skirmishing, the aggressive persistence of Carr's, Grover's deep penetration in the afternoon, the carnage in the ranks made by the incessant explosion of artillery shells, the smoking brush fires that raged along the front—all of this had reduced the two rebel brigades to shadows of themselves, their regiments reduced to companies, companies reduced to squads, most of their officers dead or wounded, the brave remnants of young men clung to little islands of ground as the surging tide of fresh Union regiments converged on them from two sides.

First came Robinson's throng of men, throwing themselves with a headlong fury against the exposed left flank of the South Carolina Brigade, pushing its soldiers back across the Sudley road and the farm fields and scraping them off the ledge of the rocky ridge where they sought refuge. Next, Birney's regiments came out of the forest in front of the Georgia Brigade and drove it back from the railroad excavation. Then, to Birney's left, one of Isaac Steven's brigades dashed out of the trees, a mass of bristling bayonets, and slammed into Archer's brigade coming too slow from the rear to fill the sector vacated by Pender's brigade. Fired upon from front and flank now, from behind the trunks and roots of trees, from logs, from high up in the branches, from every bush and thicket, the whole left side of Jackson's line was buckling under the weight of the Union's heavy scale in this balance of blood

 

But, then, just as the Union rush slowed to a crawl, the soldiers running out of ammunition and out of breath, Branch's North Carolina Brigade came from across the Sudley road and stormed against Robinson's flank, which all of a sudden began to crack, float and fall away. And, to Robinson's left, Birney's and Steven's brigades were abruptly reeled back to the railroad excavation by the crashing fire of Jubal Early's Virginia Brigade. Twenty five hundred young Virginians, a disciplined and terrible array, horrible and sublime, hurled themselves fearlessly against the Union front quavering in the railroad cut and tore it to shreds.

 

At sundown, from the crest of Matthews Hill, John Pope watched Kearny's troops spill out of the darkening forest; their wounded comrades left behind bayoneted, slashed, gutted, butchered, shot and burned, the survivors were a multitude wild with terror streaming across the grassland and filling the Sudley road.

 

The color of Pope's face paled and his lip curled with bitterness at the thought that once more the enemy's fresh reserve had turned the tide of battle against him. Just then, his mind washing black with the sense of waste and ruin, he heard his name called out and, turning his mount around, he found Irwin McDowell, in the company of several officers, riding up to him. Suddenly blood rushed to his temples: his face reddening with excitement and his heart rate pounding faster, he shouted out—"Hurry, you must hurry forward General King on the Sudley road, we are but a step from victory."

 

Irwin McDowell reined in his tired horse a few paces short of Pope and stared at him. Since Pope left him at Warrenton, four days before, he had been thinking of this meeting, where it would be and the circumstances under which it would occur. It was as he expected: one moment in the advance, the next in retreat, the army was exhausted, its regiments and brigades cut up and in disarray; famished, thirsty, craving sleep, the gloomy masses were standing in their ranks, dumb and motionless, waiting like steers in the packing yard for what was coming next. One year before it was his command that had unraveled like this. Now, it was Pope's turn.

 

Slouching over his saddle, McDowell slowly looked to the officers on his right and left. Then, squaring his thick bulk in the saddle, he said to Pope matter-of-factly—"General King is no longer with us; due to illness, he has gone in an ambulance to Centerville." Nodding to an officer at his right side, he continued, "General Hatch is the senior brigadier, he has command of King's division now."

 

John Pope kicked his stallion forward, and, stopping at Hatch's side, he locked eyes with him. Since the days of the army's advance to the Rapidan, Hatch was not a favorite of his. Hatch had been in command of a cavalry brigade then;  failing to execute orders to raid to the suburbs of Richmond, Pope had him transferred to the infantry. "General Hatch," Pope said, pointing up the Sudley road, "you must get your lead brigades at the double quick into the forest there and attack the enemy with as much force as you can muster. The enemy has thrown in their last reserves and will break and run, sir, when you do it."

 

John Hatch looked  Pope straight in the eyes, for a long moment and said nothing. Graduated from West Point three years after Pope, he had served, like Pope, in the war with Mexico; but he had engaged in many more battles—besides Palo Alto, he fought at Cerdo Gordo, Contreras, Churubuscho, Chapultepec and in the capture of the causeways at the gates of Mexico City. After that, in garrison duty on the frontier, he had skirmished with Comanches in Texas and Apaches in New Mexico. Steeled by the experience, his soul was hardened to the fear of death. But, from the scene around him, he could scent catastrophe and thought it imprudent to throw his division into the abyss. "General Pope," he finally said. "Look there, the sun is setting and the Sudley road is clogged with Kearny's men. It is not possible to clear the road and deploy the men for battle before night falls."

 

John Pope's eyes blazed with reproof, and sensing his agitation his mount shied and jostled Hatch's. "General," he exclaimed sharply as he settled the stallion, "we don't have a moment to lose. You must go in now!"

Hatch glanced at McDowell again. Pope saw this and exploded: "Yes, what does General McDowell say?"

 

McDowell shifted his seat in the saddle and opened his mouth to speak. But, before he could utter a word, a cavalcade of horsemen came clamoring up with Jesse Reno at the head. Reining his horse to a stop in front of Pope, Reno pointed to the west and said, "Look there, General! Look there! The enemy is coming against our center again."

 

Looking in the direction Reno was pointing, John Pope saw dark masses emerging from the wooded ridge where the turnpike passes near the Brawner farm. Shooting McDowell an accusatory look, he cried: "God damn it. Why has not Porter and Reynolds attacked the enemy's right as I ordered?"

 

McDowell stiffened in his seat as if he had been slapped. "Pardon me, General," he snapped in an aggravated voice. "I am not responsible for General Porter, he is operating on his own. And, if you look, you will see General Reynolds is engaged with the enemy in the woods on your far left, and falling back. That is why I found it necessary to halt the two brigades still on the Sudley road and place them in position to support our left." Shrewdly McDowell had avoided being at the key spot.

 

Hot words jumped to John Pope's lips, but he suppressed them; turning the head of his horse to the north, he abruptly moved a few strides away from the crowd of officers. Get a grip, this is no time for a quarrel he told himself. For a moment, watching Kearny's men reforming their ranks on the grassland in front of the forest, he felt his moral strength shriveling and his confidence wavering. He grimaced, his face turning pale again, as he absorbed the pain of knowing all the sacrifice of his soldiers during the long day was wasted. Quickly, though, he was able to block these emotions, by forcing himself to think like General Lee: Lee knows that another Union attack might demolish Jackson's right, settling the fate of the battle, so he is moving his forces forward in the center to distract my attention.  Well, then, God damn it, he thought: I won't let McDowell any longer dodge the action.

 

Back to McDowell he turned, and said coldly: "General, you are in command of driving the enemy back from our center. Look to it." Then, without waiting for McDowell to reply, he spurred his horse into a canter and loped toward the heights of Buck Hill.

 

Irwin McDowell watched Pope go with a look of distain on his face. At the outset of the war he was a brigadier general in the Regular Army, Pope a mere captain. For the moment, caught up in the political structure of the volunteer army, Pope topped him—but once the war was over and Lincoln’s protection gone, McDowell knew Pope would never rank him again.

 

Turning to John Hatch, McDowell said, "The day is almost over, but General Pope expects more work to be done. Gibbon's brigade is too much cut up by yesterday's fight to be of use today. Patrick's brigade must remain on the bald hill as Reynolds's reserve. That leaves you with Sullivan's and Doubleday's brigades. Take them down the pike and drive the enemy back."

 

Hatch looked away to the west for a moment, his face showing he was reflecting. Then, looking back at McDowell, he replied: "Doubleday's brigade took almost as many casualties as Gibbon's did yesterday. Should I not take Patrick's instead?"

McDowell's eye brows lifted in a show of mock incredulity. "What! General Hatch hesitates?"

 

An expression of anger flared on Hatch's face. "Where can I find you? He said, as he led his horse into a fast walk and then spurred him into a lunging gallop.

"The stone house, there, by the intersection," McDowell shouted after him.

 

In the waning dusk, the darkness descending layer by layer, the three regiments of Abner Doubleday's brigade, in a line of column, appeared in the swale of grassland between Dogan's Ridge and the Groveton crossroads and began to deploy a skirmish line. Instantly, from behind the wagon road three hundred yards in the distance, a mass of brown shirts rose up and gave Doubleday's unfolding formation a rattling volley; and then they came slowly across the Dogan rose field. It was Law's brigade, lanky men from North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, moving forward toward Dogan's Ridge. As they came, a section of Hampton's battery attempted to unlimber in the space between the ridge and the wagon road, but before the cannoneers could get in action, one of their guns was overrun and they turned the others round and fled. In the midst of the turn-around, Doubleday shifted the Ninety-fifth New York regiment to the south side of the pike; thinking he could stop the rebel advance with enfilading fire on their flank, he only succeeded in entangling his men with Sullivan's, who were arriving from behind. In the milling confusion that ensued, Hood's Texas Brigade, followed by Evan's and Wilcox's brigades, came out of the trees on the south side of the pike, crossed Lewis Lane, advanced to the top of the low ridge in front of Young's Branch, where it passes the base of Chinn Ridge, and began pouring hot volleys of lead into the disorganized ranks of the Union men.

 

By the time thick night enveloped the Manassas plain, Pope's front was everywhere on the defensive. A line of Law's soldiers came within a street's width of Dogan's Ridge. The colors of the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania was captured by the Sixth North Carolina. Two of Garrish's guns, which had followed Hampton's down the pike, were in the hands of the Second Mississippi, and two hundred Union soldiers were going as prisoners to the rebel rear. On the south side of the pike, the Texans had bulled their way up to the crest of Chinn Ridge, as Doubleday and Sullivan, joined by John Reynolds, retreated over it to the sector of the Bald Hill near the Sudley road. But even the fall of night did not arrest this last spasm of the long day's bloody struggle. It went on almost to midnight before finally sputtering to a close: the hollering Texans on Chinn Ridge, the Union men kneeling in the dust of the Sudley road, with the crimson flashes of their rifles illuminating for an instant their wild-eyed determined faces, each side blindly sped waves of bullets at the other, while the cannoneers serving the Napoleons—from the pike's intersection with the Sudley road to the fire-tongued woods behind Lewis Lane—lofted short-fused spheres filled with shrapnel into the intervening sky, their bursts of brilliant white and red flashes lighting its black vault as fireworks do on the Fourth of July.

 

By the time thick night enveloped the Manassas plain, Pope's front was everywhere on the defensive. A line of Law's soldiers came within a street's width of Dogan's Ridge. The colors of the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania were captured by the Sixth North Carolina. Two of Garrish's guns, which had followed Hampton's down the pike, were in the hands of the Second Mississippi, and two hundred Union soldiers were going as prisoners to the rebel rear. On the south side of the pike, the Texans had bulled their way up to the crest of Chinn Ridge, as Doubleday and Sullivan, joined by John Reynolds, retreated over it to the sector of the Bald Hill.

 

Even the fall of night did not arrest this last spasm of the long day's bloody struggle. It went on almost to midnight before finally sputtering to a close: the hollering Texans on Chinn Ridge, the Union men kneeling in the dust of the Sudley Road, with the crimson flashes of their rifles illuminating for an instant their wild-eyed determined faces, each side blindly sped waves of bullets at the other, while the cannoneers serving the Napoleons—from the pike's intersection with the Sudley Road to the fire-tongued woods behind Lewis Lane—lofted short-fused spheres filled with shrapnel into the intervening sky, their bursts of brilliant white and red flashes lighting its black vault as fireworks do on the Fourth of July.

 

That night, unable to sleep, John Pope sat on a stool by his camp fire and pondered what to do in the morning. The insubordination of his general officers, the haphazard attacks made by the brigades, the shortages of sustenance supplies, the appearance of General Lee, the losing of Dogan's Ridge in the evening, these factors made him think of ordering the army to retreat across Bull Run; it was the prudent thing to do—a retreat now would guarantee the safety of the army—but he knew it would ruin him with Lincoln.

 

Pope leaned forward and stared sullenly into the fire. For almost thirty days he had been induced by the enemy's actions to give up ground Lincoln thought it was essential to hold. Falling back further, when it was still within the power of the army to fight, was simply not an acceptable option. This was the fatal thought: To this point, though he had not overpowered the enemy, had not gotten a firm grip on the command of his officers, still he had fought like the devil, he had held his own. Surely the prudent thing to do now was to simply stand on the defensive where he was, get McDowell’s corps into the niche of Five Forks and wait for Franklin’s corps which he knew then was on the march to Centreville, with Sumner’s corps following. Once he had Franklin and Sumner with him, he could go back over to the offensive. Lee would have no reasonable choice but to retreat in some direction.. But then fate intervened again.

 

In the shadowy fire light, Pope's countenance slowly brightened as his thoughts shifted to the positive aspects of his situation: The Union Army still held a two mile front stretching along the Sudley Road, between the rocky ridge to the north and Bald Hill to the south. McDowell's three divisions were finally together again, encamped now behind the Henry Hill. Herman Haupt had the trains running again from Alexandria and supplies were arriving at Sangster's Station, a point only five miles from Bull Run. The advance guard of Nat Banks's corps was now at Manassas Junction, bringing with it the army's wagon trains. He thought: If I do nothing else I can at least stand here long enough for McClellan's troops to come up, at which point Lincoln will recognize me as in command of the whole; and then the battle can be pressed.

 

Then, just as Pope's thinking was settling on standing on the defensive at Bull Run, George Ruggles stepped into the circle of fire light; a paroled Union soldier, captured by the rebels during the day, had just came into Pope's picket line behind Dogan's Ridge. The soldier said the rebels had withdrawn from the meadowland in front of the ridge, and the pickets, by creeping forward almost as far as the Groveton crossroads, had confirmed it.

 

Instantly, Porter's mood wildly swung again. Leaping to the assumption that the enemy's withdrawal from the vicinity of Dogan's Ridge meant that they intended to retreat, he changed his plan of action from defense to attack.

 

And here he made his most flagrant blunder; he told Ruggles to send a courier immediately to Fitz John Porter whose corps was far out to the left, holding a defensive position at Dawkins Branch, to march it to the battle field by dawn. With McDowell's and Porter's corps joining the main body of the army, there would be eight Union divisions packed inside a mile radius of the turnpike intersection with the Sudley Road. They would all be thrown against Jackson's front and somewhere, he said to Ruggles through clenched teeth, there would be a decisive breakthrough. Mindlessly, Pope was opening the door to Lee.

 

As the first streaks of light cracked the blackness of the eastern sky, Pope encountered Irwin McDowell on the crown of the Henry Hill and ordered him to move his three divisions—Reynolds, King, and Ricketts—up the Sudley Road and advance into the sector where Kearny's division had penetrated the left flank of the enemy the evening before.

 

 McDowell protested; he wanted to position his corps on Chinn Ridge, arguing that no one could tell what was happening behind the screen of woods west of Lewis Lane. Pope exploded with angry sarcasm: McDowell had nothing to be afraid about; when his corps reached Sudley Springs it would find the enemy retreating, moving west on the wagon road that runs from Sudley Springs through the woods toward Groveton. So sure of this, Pope announced his new plan: McDowell's corps to pursue Jackson's retreat down the wagon road while Porter's corps moved down the pike toward the Groveton crossroads, pushing the enemy back toward the Bull Run Mountains.

 

McDowell shook his head defiantly; in a blustering voice he vehemently resisted the idea. Heintzelman's corps was encamped on the north side of the pike and thus could reach Sudley Springs quicker that McDowell could. Assign the movement to Heintzelman's corps and McDowell would assume supervision of the forces Pope selected to move along the pike. Anxious that the movement be executed quickly, Pope gave in to McDowell, on condition that Ricketts's division be detached from McDowell and, placed under Heintzelman's command, lead the column moving to Sudley Springs and into the woods.

 

Almost two hours later, the first of Ricketts's brigades came within several hundred yards of the point the Sudley Road intersects the Groveton wagon road. At 7:00 a.m., with Ricketts's other three brigades still in line of column on the Sudley Road, the lead brigade formed a battle line on the west side of the road and, passing through the forest, approached the railroad excavation where it came under fire from rebel infantry and artillery. Ricketts immediately pulled the brigade back to the Sudley Road and send McDowell a message at Buck Hill: the rebels were still holding their position, if Pope insisted he would advance the whole division but he didn't expect to gain any ground.

 

John Pope was in a heated discussion with McDowell about Ricketts's foot-dragging when Fitz John Porter walked up. Pope stopped speaking as Porter joined the group; turning to face him directly, Pope folded his arms across his chest and, taking a slouching stance, fixed his eyes on Porter with a piercing glare. "Well, General, are you ready now to fight?” Porter's cheeks flushed; embarrassed by his failure to attack the enemy at Dawkin's Branch the day before, he began to offer an explanation—Pope's attack order arrived as the sun went down, making its execution impossible; but Pope gave him a cutting look and turned his attention back to McDowell who kept talking, insisting that the advance on the right should stop.

 

Framing his face in a scowl as he listened, Pope felt himself oscillating between fear and bravado: his first reaction to the report of the enemy's retreat in the center had been to assume the initiative, but, now, with Ricketts reporting the enemy still in force in the north woods, he was uncertain what was happening. If the enemy was not retreating, Pope questioned himself, was he taking a reckless chance not waiting for Franklin and Sumner to arrive? Wait for Franklin and Sumner to arrive? It would mean the fame to be won by defeating General Lee would be snatched from his hands by McClellan.

Rejecting the thought Pope slammed a fist into his cupped hand and shot an angry glance at McDowell. "There must be no further delay," he said emphatically. "Heintzelman, using Ricketts's division as the lead, must push the enemy from the north woods. You will command the pursuit along the pike." Pope paused and looked hard at Porter again; then he continued in a precise voice. "The force you will use is Porter's corps and the divisions of King and Reynolds. How you organize their advance is your affair."

 

For a moment, McDowell and Porter stared at him, their faces showing they thought his orders absurd; then, casting wary glances at each other, they swaggered away toward the picket line to find their horses.

 

When they were gone, Pope stooped under his tent fly and retrieved from his camp desk a folded piece of paper that contained a dispatch he had written earlier in the morning. It read, “We fought a terrific battle yesterday. . . The news just reaches me from the front that the enemy is retreating. I go forward to see at once.”

 

Taking up a pencil, he scribbled Henry Halleck's name on the flap and stepped outside again. Across the way he saw one of his aides, Colonel Elliott, and he beckoned him. When Elliott came to his side, his horse trailing by the reins, Pope handed him the dispatch and told him to take it to Sangster's Station and have it telegraphed to Halleck's office at the War Department. Nodding that he understood, Elliott stepped into the saddle and spurred his horse into motion. Slapping the horse's flank as it broke past him, John Pope watched for a moment as horse and rider splashed through the meadow stream and crossed the fields toward Bull Run. Then, calling for George Ruggles to follow him, he mounted his stallion and rode toward Dogan's Ridge.

 

Arriving there, Pope found Irwin McDowell waiting for him with more unwelcome news: the Union pickets were now reporting the forest west of the ridge was filling with rebel soldiers. As Pope was digesting this, McDowell handed him a pair of field glasses. Raising the glasses to his eyes, he focused his sight on the terrain beyond the Groveton crossroads and caught a glimpse through the trees of files of brown clad men moving across the open fields, disappearing in the dog-leg of forest that stretches down toward the crossroads. Pope rose in the stirrups and looked around him; taking in the ridge, the open fields around it, the thick forest in front, he changed his mind again.

 

Settling in the saddle, he passed the glasses back to McDowell and said, matter-of-factly: "They mean to turn our right if they can and we must prepare to meet them." Telling McDowell to get ready to repulse an attack from the rebels' center, he turned his stallion and galloped away from Dogan's Ridge to where Ricketts was deploying his division at the top of the Sudley Road. Reaching there, he told Ricketts to draw his troops back from the edge of the woods and stand on the defensive.

 

During the next several hours Porter and McDowell put ten Union brigades into a formation extending from the meadowland in front of Dogan's Ridge to the Sudley Road where Heintzelman had the divisions of Hooker, Kearny, and Ricketts facing the woods in front of Sudley Springs. While the regiments of these brigades were moving into position, a battery line made up of eighteen field pieces, Napoleon, howitzers, and a few rifled pieces, was assembled on the crest of the ridge; and in the meadowland between the brigades another ten guns were placed. With a range of 2,000 yards, the cannon could easily barrage the tree line with fire. Packed in reserve, in the low ground behind Dogan's Ridge, were Sigel's corps, with Kolts's and Milroy's brigades straddling the intersection. Behind them, McDowell's third division, commanded by John Reynolds, was positioned by the Henry Hill. In front of Buck Hill, to Reynolds's right, McDowell had King's division in place, commanded now by the senior brigadier, John Hatch.

 

Riding back to Dogan's Ridge near noon, John Pope dismounted and climbed to the top knob of the ridge; in the company of his staff officers who had gathered with him there, he waited impatiently for the enemy to attack from the forest. Overhead, the sun, hung in a blazing blue sky, pouring white light down on the meadow and sending the temperature soaring into the nineties. All along the dense Union front, the men in the ranks leaned on their rifles and stared at the forest—not serious or sad, their stare was stoical like that of cattle. Some swiped at their brows with shirt sleeves, some raised canteens to their lips, some suddenly fell in a faint in the grass. All these lads were waiting out the endless minutes, thinking of the shrieking fury to come; and each, in an instinctive community of emotion, foreseeing his death and that of his pals.

 

Toward one o'clock, off to the northwest in Porter's sector, some one shouted—"Here they come!" as a thick mass of yelling rebel soldiers with bristling rifles rushed from the forest into the meadowland. Fifty yards out into the open the men in the front ranks stopped and leveled their rifles in unison, the bright sun flashing on the dropping barrels. A crackling, crashing volley of lead swept over the meadow and bodies toppled and fell in the front ranks of the Union men.

 

Almost simultaneously the Union cannoneers manning the batteries pulled lanyards. The guns bucked and recoiled on their carriages as canisters blasted from their muzzles, hurling whirling clumps of iron balls at the rebels, and a thunderous rumbling sound, mixed with the crackling of the rifles, reverberated across the meadow. A second later, the iron balls whipped through the rebel ranks, tearing gaping holes. Then, one by one, the tier of guns rimming the crest of the ridge came into action, deluging the meadowland in an iron storm of death. With geysers of earth heaving rebel soldiers bodily into the air, those still standing turned on their heels and, holding their rifles behind them like shields, stumbled back into the forest. Seeing this, the Union side of the meadow erupted with a great hurrahing and the men pumped their rifles in the air and the color guards of their regiments stepped forward several paces waving and twirling their flags.

 

Pope Leaves his Left Flank Exposed

General Pope Leaves his Left Flank Exposed

 

Up on Dogan's Ridge John Pope stood frozen in place, expecting the enemy to burst forth from the forest again at any moment. But, instead, no movement disturbed the dark curtain of forest. As the minutes passed, the captains of the batteries posted along the Union front restrained their cannoneers from firing, the occasional popping of rifles stopped, and an acute apprehensiveness overcame Pope's army: everyone—soldiers, artillerymen, field officers, generals—stood still as one huge audience, their mouths agape, squinting to see the glimmering of sunlight on metal among the distant trees and straining to hear the trampling hum of footfalls.

 

The minutes of silence stretched into a half hour, then another and another, and John Pope, standing on his perch, began to swell with the thought that the enemy found his position too formidable and was now stealthily slipping away, leaving him a laughing stock for standing on the defensive like a fool. For a time, his mind wavered between this exhilarating thought and the nagging cautious thought that he should do nothing but wait for reinforcements, but soon his ambition overcame his prudence; thinking the enemy's half-hearted attack in the meadow had been a diversion designed to cover their retreat, he decided to seize the initiative again.

 

Calling Ruggles to his side he took from him his dispatch box and opened the lid; removing a blank piece of paper, he used the box lid as a writing table and wrote Irwin McDowell a message: General Porter is to push his corps rapidly down the pike in pursuit of the enemy and attack as soon as he contacts them; the divisions of King and Reynolds will reinforce the attack. You command the advance.

Irwin McDowell was at the pike intersection with the Sudley Road, lounging on the porch of Henry Matthews' red house, when Pope's message was brought; reading it, he felt a chill of foreboding run through him. Almost to the day, the year before, he had been in supreme command of the army and from near the spot he was now standing on, he had watched the attack of his army collapse as a fresh rebel force suddenly struck its flank. Thinking of the snare, he sent a messenger riding to John Reynolds with the order to move his division to Chinn Ridge. Then, calling for his horse, he rode west to Porter's position at the foot of Dogan's Ridge. Finding Porter standing next to the pike, chatting with several of his staff officers, McDowell directed him to advance his corps directly down the pike toward the Groveton crossroads. He told Porter that he could use King's division to support his advance as he saw fit and that Reynolds's division was moving to Chinn Ridge to guard his left. Then, he turned his stallion with a jerk of the reins and trotted away, leaving Porter staring after him with an incredulous expression on his face.

 

Watching McDowell depart, Porter said to no one in particular: "We should be getting behind Bull Run.” Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he walked to a telescope mounted on a tri-pod by the side of the pike. Taking hold of the tube with both hands, he brought his eye to the glass and slowly panned the ground beyond the scattered cabins of the Groveton hamlet. Down by the Brawner Farm, the belt of woods that covers the ridge the pike runs over made it impossible for him to see whether the enemy were there in force or not. He moved the telescope to bring the Brawner Farm into view; panning past it to the north, he saw a long line of rebel guns wedged together at the end of the rocky ridge. Situated as they were the guns commanded the half mile of open ground between Groveton and the wooded ridge. If Porter were to organize his allotted force in successive battle lines and move them west with their center on the pike, the men in the ranks would be marching directly into the field of fire of these guns. And, if, in doing so, they contacted a force in their front which was heavy enough to resist their attack, the fire of these guns would wreak havoc on their lines. This is suicide, he thought.

 

Stepping back from the telescope, his face showing his intense concentration, Porter stood for a moment looking west at the distant strip of forest. From McDowell's terse statement of Pope's order, he understood that the general commanding expected him to lead a force directly west—the five available brigades of his corps and King's four. His eyes narrowed, signaling his rising discomfort. Thoughts of his experience at Gaines Mill flashed in his mind. There he had been the defender, his force positioned in a concave arc along the crest of a plateau, with a water-filled ditch bordering the base. Here, he was designated as the attacker, with orders to move forward over open ground into what he suspected would be a storm of cannon fire and who knows what strength of infantry force would be encountered. Considering this he stroked his neat beard slowly, remembering the sight at Gaines Mill, of the horde of rebel infantry breaking down his front and swarming over the plateau in the deepening dusk. General Lee had paid a terrible price for the breakthrough—was he ready to pay the same?

 

He put his hands on his hips and, for a second, stared glumly down at his boots. I hope Mac is at work to get us out of this, he thought. Then, jerking his head up, he looked across the meadowland in front of Dogan's Ridge, his gaze falling on the file of Union batteries ranged along its front; and, in a flash, he decided to change the direction of attack specified by Pope's order. Striding to Colonel Locke, who was standing by with several staff officers, Porter told him to ride to McDowell's headquarters at the Matthews house and convey the message that the advance against the enemy would be made to the northwest, with the troops going through the woods in front of the Groveton wagon road; once they were across the road and past the railroad excavation, Porter's force would wheel to the southwest, sweeping the rebel artillery off the rocky ridge and take possession of the pike near the Brawner Farm.

 

An hour later, as the time was closing on three o'clock, Porter brought his front line brigades—Butterfield's and Roberts's—through the dog-leg of forest that bordered the meadow in front of Dogan's Ridge; kicking the enemy's skirmishers out of the forest as they advanced, he stopped the brigades at the Groveton wagon road and had them dress their ranks into battle lines. Here, Porter placed Butterfield in command of the two brigades and ordered them to go forward. Side by side, the two brigades—Roberts leading his and a colonel of one of Butterfield's regiments leading the other—came out of the trees, crossed the wagon road and, entering the open field on the west side, they made for the fringe of woodland that screened the railroad excavation from view.

 

The Hill Crest at the Railroad Cut

The Hill Crest at the Railroad Cut

 

To reinforce Butterfield's men, Porter had directed John Hatch, who was now commanding Rufus King's division, to organize King's four brigades into battle lines one behind the other, and move them through the waist of the boomerang-shaped woods and join with Butterfield's right near the bend in the wagon road. Porter's idea, here, was that the combined forces of Butterfield and Hatch would be strong enough to punch a deep hole in the enemy's defenses, but in this he was mistaken. No sooner had Porter signaled that his troops move out but Hatch was knocked from his horse by a piece of shrapnel and carried unconscious from the field. In the ensuing confusion, Hatch's men were rocked by a deluge of fierce fire from the railroad excavation and they went running back toward the meadow and stumbled into the oncoming ranks of Patrick's brigade, infecting these men with their terror of flight so that in a matter of seconds Patrick's men were running too. Now, the middle of the thick woods was filled with two thousand terrified Union soldiers: the wounded ones hobbling, falling down on their knees and stumbling back to their feet; the rest flaying their way through the brambles, hurtling fallen logs and corpses—all rushing to reach the safety of the meadowland.

 

Approaching the eastern fringe of the forest, the mob careened headlong into the regiments of John Gibbon's brigade which had hardly advanced at all. Gibbon, struggling to control his spooked horse, waved his sword over his head and shouted dire curses, trying by force of personality to stem the onrushing flood of men; but, diverting their faces from him, the men brushed against the flanks of his stallion and thronged on like water whipping past a boulder in a stream. A minute later, with nothing remaining in their path to impede them (Doubleday's brigade having inexplicably vanished from the scene altogether), the unscathed ones burst from the forest, followed by the slightly wounded ones who danced across the meadowland, laughing and calling to their pals that their flesh wounds were furlough tickets to Alexandria; behind them, came more slowly the serious wounded, some clinging to the shoulder of a friend, some staggering along alone—each one, either blinded, or holding a shattered arm, or clutching hands against a blood-soaked blouse.

 

Back near the bend in the Groveton wagon road, at the edge of the forest, Fitz John Porter was trying to hold Butterfield's men from running. At the brim of the long slope in front of him, Butterfield's battle lines were disintegrating into a rabble under the combined effect of converging blasts of rebel rifle fire and artillery explosions. In the wake of the collapse of King's division, support for Butterfield was critically necessary, and Porter had brought up to the wagon road Buchanan's brigade of Sykes's division to provide it. But, just as he was about to release the brigade, off to the west he caught sight of a gleam—in the afternoon light, he saw serried ranks of brown-clad men spilling into the open from the wooded ridge by the Brawner Farm. Immediately, sensing the stirring of a hurricane, he ordered Buchanan to prepare his regiments to receive the rebel attack and sent a staff officer galloping back through the woods to find Chapman's brigade and bring it up.

 

As the deep array of rebel ranks, like surging waves in a sea of bronze, were tramping on toward Groveton, John Reynolds, who had moved his division over Chinn Ridge to Lewis Lane, came galloping back to Bald Hill, reporting to McDowell that the enemy was in force on the south side of the pike, preparing to come on. Hearing this, McDowell sent a message to Ricketts, whose attack against the rebel left had already fizzled out, to detach two of his four brigades—Tower's and Stiles'—and send them south on the Sudley Road to take position on Bald Hill. At the same time, he sent Pope a message, advising him of Reynolds's report and suggesting that he shift some of his force to the south side of the pike. Then he mounted up and rode with Reynolds west into the middle ground of Chinn Ridge, intending to supervise the troop build-up there.

 

No sooner did McDowell arrive out there than he was startled to see Porter's fugitive mob emerging from the forest on the north side of the pike, and, in the distance behind them, the brown tide of rebel soldiers rolling across the fields toward Groveton—and his mind leapt to a decision that would seal the fate of the battle.

 

He shouted at Reynolds: "General Reynolds, look there! The enemy is advancing to attack Dogan's Ridge. Quick! Move your division across the pike and support Porter." At this, Reynolds pulled his mount up and watched Porter's men stream from the woods. Then, turning his mount around, he pointed at the woods behind the Lewis Lane. "But, General, if my division moves from here the enemy will advance on our rear."

 

McDowell's face reddened; gripping the pommel of his saddle with one hand, he lunged his stallion forward, bumping flanks with Reynolds: "Will you obey the order, sir?" His seat in the saddle displaced for a moment as his mount shied from the contact, he righted himself, and pulling the reins against his chest with one hand he pointed with the other toward the rebel masses swarming over the open field north of Groveton. "There is the attack, sir. there!"

 

Forty-five minutes later, John Reynolds had Meade's and Seymour's brigades in front of Dogan's Ridge, settling them into position next to Hooker's division. Reynolds's third brigade, commanded by the colonel of the 12th Pennsylvania, Martin Hardin, was still on the south side of the pike, tramping down the long swale in the north face of Chinn's Ridge. At the same time the battered wreckage of Butterfield's brigades was passing through the breaks in Reynolds's troops. Porter had diverted them down the pike to take position behind Sigel's corps. Marching behind them were Buchanan’s and Chapman's brigades, which Porter had held back from the fighting at the railroad excavation; and Porter's rear guard—two regiments under Warren's command—were waiting for the pike to clear on a rise of ground south of Groveton.

 

A quarter mile behind Dogan's Ridge, John Pope stood apart from his entourage on a ledge of rock atop the knoll of Buck Hill oblivious yet to the impending doom. He had observed the commotion caused by the cross-tides of troop movements on the pike, and he was aware of Porter's retreat from the Groveton crossroads, but his thoughts were locked on the dispatch he had just received from Henry Halleck: Franklin's corps to arrive at Centreville with Sumner's corps close behind, to be followed by Couch's division of Keyes Corps, and, by order of Stanton's war department, George McClellan had been refused permission to accompany them. Overnight, the size of the Army of Virginia would swell from twenty-nine brigades to forty-one—and all the ropes of their command would be in John Pope's hands.

 

With the dropping sun gliding his face bronze, John Pope raised his hat to shade his eyes against the sharp gold light, and his gaze wandered over the landscape outspread before him, past the lush bloom of the meadow grass and the smoldering woods, to the green ridge across the pike fringed in the molten blue of Young's Branch. Remembering his experience of the last days, a sneer parted his lips. At Cedar Mountain the enemy had attacked, but only because they caught Banks alone. At the Rappahannock, they made a show of boldly crossing the river, but as soon as the way forward was blocked by McDowell and Sigel they scurried back over it. Now, for two days here at Bull Run, they had held their ground tenaciously but after each repulse of a Union attack their counterattacks had been brief and localized. Recounting this history in his mind, and despite the obvious disarray he saw around him, John Pope was thinking that the enemy would not make a general attack on him now. He squinted at the sun; just three more hours and blessed night will come, he thought. Closing his eyes an instant, he thought of ordering Franklin to march to Bull Run in the night—with twelve fresh brigades coming under his command, he was anxious to roll the enemy back from Bull Run, back to the Rappahannock, back to the Rapidan and beyond.

 

Just then, as his mind was at the zenith of this revelry, a trooper riding a foaming chestnut stallion came galloping over the crown of the hill and, dismounting on the run, shouted breathlessly at Pope. "General McDowell sees the enemy advancing towards Chinn Ridge. He requests troops be sent at once."

 

John Pope heard the trooper's words with an uncomprehending look on his face. Turning toward George Ruggles, who was standing some yards off with a group of staff officers, he called for field glasses, and, as Ruggles came to his side with a pair, he took the glasses and stepped forward on the ledge; Training them across the pike, he focused on the Chinn Ridge plateau and saw there was now a blue mass of men moving up to the rim through the notch in the north face of the ridge. Lowering the glasses, Pope handed them back to Ruggles. "Ruggles, whose men are those?"

 

Ruggles looked through the glasses. "Must be the last of Reynolds's brigades." He answered. Returning the glasses to Pope, Ruggles pointed toward the confused sprawl of troops on the pike down by Dogan's Ridge. "There's Meade's and Seymour's brigades passing Porter's troops. The troops on Chinn Ridge must belong to Hardin's brigade."

 

John Pope glassed the terrain again; swinging his focus back and forth across the pike from one ridge to the other, his mind was perplexed now. Something was obviously happening west of Chinn Ridge—why else would Hardin have turned his brigade around?—but the ridge and tree dome looming beyond blocked the sight of it.

 

For a moment Pope's gaze passed over the brigades in line at Dogan's Ridge. In case of necessity which ones might he pull? Reynolds was still untangling his troops from Porter's disorganized mob, neither were in condition to suddenly countermarch. Hooker's brigades had proven themselves to be the best of the lot, but it would be impossible for them to get by Reynolds and Porter. The rest of the brigades in the line were too far to the right. That left King's brigades and the brigades of Sigel's corps in reserve, but King's brigades were in no better shape than Porter's and the fighting of yesterday had made a shamble of Sigel's.

 

He shifted his look through the field glasses to the edge of the forest in front of Dogan's Ridge, his mind throbbing with the possibilities. Since reaching the Rappahannock a week ago, General Lee had been moving his army in the direction of the Union right, and, now, with his troops infesting the woods that wrap around the front of Dogan's Ridge, the logical thing Pope expected him to do, was attack the Union right with every brigade available. Yet he sensed there was something definitely amiss.

 

Swinging his view back to Chinn Ridge, Pope saw that Hardin's column was breaking down at its head into a battle line along the western rim— a sign that a brigade of the enemy must be approaching the ridge. But still he heard no sounds of an engagement. Rubbing his beard with his hand, he reflected pensively: the enemy had occupied the ridge yesterday afternoon, but, then, they chose to abandon it during the night; if, now, they meant to use the ridge to launch an attack in force from their right, surely they would have held the ground through the morning.

 

Thinking this, John Pope felt the tension in his mind ebbing, and a look of nonchalance came over his face. The advance the enemy had made to the Groveton crossroads, pushing Porter back from the wagon road, as well as the logic of the situation, suggested the enemy had withdrawn from the ridge the night before in order to concentrate their forces for an attack from their left. Therefore, if, as Hardin's reversal of direction suggested, the enemy were then advancing a brigade or two from the woods in front of the ridge, their purpose must be to divert attention from their build-up on their left.

 

Lowering the field glasses, his mind made up, John Pope turned to the trooper waiting behind him and made an impatient gesture in the direction of the Bald Hill. "Tell General McDowell Hardin's brigade has possession of Chinn Ridge and is no doubt strong enough to hold it. General McDowell is to support Hardin by placing one of Tower's brigades on that hill there. Stiles's brigade he must send back to Ricketts who will need it on the right."

 

Snapping a salute, the trooper grabbed the pommel of his saddle with both hands, and, swinging on to his horse like a Plains Indian; he loped down the slope of the hill to the Sudley Road and spurred his horse southward.

 

Leaving Ruggles with the field glasses, Pope sauntered a few paces along the shoulder of the hill and dropped to the ground next to a wizened pine tree; stretching himself, he tilted his hat against the level sun rays and rested his head against the trunk. In this fashion he passed thirty minutes, his mind floating in a lazy sense of satisfaction as it filled with images of newspaper headlines reporting his rise to theater command and McClellan's demise. Then, as the minutes dragged out their half-hour, his distracted consciousness became aware of a muted noise that came to his ear in intervals—it was like the sound of someone methodically tearing a sheet of paper into strips.

 

Suddenly, he came awake to the possibility of what it was and he scrambled to his feet. Off to his left, Ruggles and his staff officers were standing in a crowd with their backs to him, their attention directed to Chinn Ridge. Making a path for himself through the crowd of officers, he came to the front and saw the western edge of the plateau enveloped in a grayish haze, and he distinctly heard the ripping rattle of rifle fire coming from some distance beyond. Snatching the field glasses from Ruggles's hands, he glassed the ridge and saw, disappearing into the haze, teams of horses pulling artillery carriages and caissons. Scanning south down the length of the ridge, he saw the head of a column of soldiers—Tower's brigade—spreading from the saddle in the Sudley Road onto the crown of the Bald Hill. Then, there came reverberating in the hollows the thudding sounds of cannonading, and the expression of mild surprise on his face changed instantly to the look of a man who sees in a flash all his repressed fears suddenly gathering in a dark throng around him.

 

 His brain tingled with the shock of recognition—he saw now that the enemy meant to use Chinn Ridge as the avenue of attack all along and he set about marshalling brigades from his reserve in an effort to hold it. Taking direct command of Franz Sigel's corps, he sent a staff officer racing to Robert Schenck with orders to get his three brigades—commanded by McLean, Koltes, and Stahel—over to the ridge and support Hardin and Tower. Another staff officer was send to the Sudley Road, to stop Stiles's brigade, which then was marching north to rejoin Ricketts by Pope's previous order, and direct it back toward Chinn Ridge. With less than a mile to march, John Pope assumed that these brigades would establish themselves in a solid defensive position on the ridge before the enemy could possibly organize a superior force to dislodge them. It was a reasonable belief, given his experience of the last two days. But, in that, he was profoundly mistaken; for General Lee, with the experience of Gaines Mill behind him, had finely synchronized the movement of thirteen of his fifteen brigades to capture Chinn Ridge.

 

Pope Reacts Too Late

 

 

The rebel advance against Chinn Ridge began when the Texas Brigade, under the command of John Hood's adjutant, Major William Sellers, burst from the woods that skirt the Lewis Lane and destroyed Warren's tiny brigade of two New York regiments. When Fitz John Porter withdrew his forces from the Groveton wagon road to Dogan's Ridge, Warren's brigade, acting as rear guard, had taken position with a section of Hazelett's battery in the southeast angle of the Groveton crossroads. In a matter of minutes, half of Warren's officers and men were either killed, wounded, or captured; and the rest were running for their lives across Young's Branch and up the slope of Chinn Ridge.

Up on the plateau of Chinn Ridge, Colonel Martin Hardin heard the sounds of the combat between the Texans and the New Yorkers, and he countermarched his brigade, with Kern's battery of Napoleons, to the western rim of the ridge. Forming a battle line with two of his four regiments, he posted a section of Kern's battery on each of his flanks and opened a plunging rifle and canister fire on the Texans as they pursued Warren's men across Young's Branch. Blasted in the face by Hardin's dense fire, the 4th Texas, in the center of the attack, and the 1st Texas on the left, faltered and staggered back a dozen yards, but, on the right, the 5th Texas pressed up to the crest and shot down the cannoneers serving the section of cannon bracing Hardin's left. Waving the 4th Texas out of the way, two regiments from Evans's brigade scrambled up the slope while the rest went to the left behind the 5th Texas; reaching the crest as the Union cannoneers were being overwhelmed by the 4th Texas, they changed their front to face north and began pouring volleys into the rear of Hardin's formation.

 

Realizing the resistance of his regiments was on the verge of collapsing, Hardin attempted to draw back his left; but, as he was giving the orders for the maneuver, he was shot out of the saddle. Precious minutes passed, with the organization of the regiments teetering into confusion, before the next senior colonel arrived on the scene, but he, too, was shot down before the maneuver could be completed. By the time the last standing colonel took command, Hardin's left flank was decimated by the rebel fire and the front line regiments were streaming away from the rim, with their companies standing for a moment to fire at the enemy, then running a distance to stop and fire again.

 

Pope’s Left Overrun

 

As the regiments of Hardin's brigade were fighting their retreating action across the ridge, one of Schenck's brigades, commanded by Colonel John McLean, reached the northern edge of the ridge and advanced toward the bronze tide surging across the waist of the plateau. A graduate of Harvard Law School, and the son of Supreme Court Justice McLean, one of the dissenters in the Dred Scott decision, John McLean lacked the military sense to understand how to command the situation confronting him. He attempted to rally the splintered fragments of men that had been Hardin's brigade, by forming his regiments into a battle line in the middle sector of the ridge. But before he could reestablish the front, the rushing rebels closed upon his flanks like a clamp. Evander Law's brigade had swerved across the pike by this time, and was pressing against McLean's right; Evans's brigade was crashing against the center, and Camus Wilcox's Alabama Brigade was spilling around the left. Realizing his regiments could not stem the tide alone, McLean gave the order to retreat and his men were soon jumbled with Hardin's—the whole mass making for the notch in the north face of the ridge.

 

The Henry Hill

 

Just as these two Union brigades were abandoning their positions on the plateau, from the direction of the Bald Hill, Zealous Tower led two of Ricketts's brigades, his own and John Stiles, onto the southern sector of the ridge. Stiles being unaccountably absent from duty, tactical command of his brigade was in the hands of Daniel Webster's only son, Fletcher Webster, colonel of the 12th Massachusetts. Tower, a 1838 graduate of West Point, slammed his lead brigade into the flank of Wilcox's Alabamians, reeling them back toward the west rim of the ridge. But, after advancing two hundred yards into the middle ground, he encountered a swelling wave of fresh rebel troops curling over the south shoulder of the ridge, flowing past his rear in the direction of the Bald Hill—it was Drayton's, Jenkins' and G.T. Anderson's brigades. Seeing these troops come on, Colonel Webster formed Stiles's brigade in a line of battle to meet them; but, just as the first exchange of rifle volleys between the closing forces occurred, he was struck by shrapnel and killed; and, seeing this, the men in the ranks began to waver.

 

Robert Schenck was sitting his horse at the pike intersection, when he saw in the gaps of the battle smoke the expanding torrent of rebel troops overwhelming the hodgepodge Union defense. Twenty minutes earlier he had ordered Colonel John Koltes to march his brigade onto the plateau, and now he spurred his horse into a gallop and raced along the column to the front. Going forward with Koltes, Schenck reached Tower's position just as Tower, having been shot from his horse in a fusillade of bullets, was being carried unconscious to the rear. This was the time of a perfect death storm all around—where the ranks are thinning fast from the terrible toll of crossfire and the issue turns on who has the numbers. Now in field command, Schenck was steadying Tower's faltering brigades and bringing Koltes's into the battle line, when he, too, went down in a hail of rifle fire. Next, John Koltes took command but he was struck almost immediately by the fragment of a shell and instantly killed.

 

At this point, the command of the Union front fell to Colonel Richard Coulter of the 11th Pennsylvania, Stiles's brigade. A thirty-four year old lawyer from Westmoreland County, and a veteran of the Mexican war, Coulter knew the mean business of war. Feeding Koltes's three regiments into the frayed places in the Union line, he was able for a time to keep his dwindling men standing up to the work. But, then, just after sundown, a dark flood of men crested the ridge—this was the arrival of Armistead's, Corse's and Hunton's brigades. Seeing the fresh rebel mass bearing down on them, undulating like a train of waves over the rises of the smoke-covered battlefield, the men in Coulter's thinning ranks lost heart, and they began to peel away from the main line in groups of twos and threes; ignoring the rallying calls of the officers, the men moved from a crouching walk to a jog and then, as they swelled to a throng, they were running with their rifles swinging back and forth in front of them toward the Sudley Road. Behind them, the vast bronze tide of the enemy, drawing after it the unslackened power of General Lee's reserves, lapped over and around the crumbling Union front and rippled eastward toward the Bald Hill.

 

By this time, two hours into the struggle, John Pope was standing on the crown of the Henry Hill, watching the bronze tide spill from the shrouded ridge, down into the dusk-darkened valley of Chinn’s Branch and swash up against the flanks of the Bald Hill. Mahone's and Wright's brigades now led the crest of the rebel wave. For a moment, an expression of grim admiration flashed on Pope's face. He had tried for two days to coordinate a movement like this and had accomplished nothing but isolated sorties by a brigade or two. He shook his head ruefully—he knew the cause of the failure was not in the courage of his men, but in the character of their general officers. Then, he stiffened, his face going pale, as he realized the enemy's pressure was on the verge of overwhelming his last defenses.

 

On the south side of the Henry Hill, Chapman's and Buchanan's regular army brigades of Fitz John Porter's corps were retiring in fighting style from the vicinity of the Bald Hill; backing a few yards, stopping, discharging a disciplined volley, then backing again, they crossed the Sudley Road and took up a new position in the ditch that runs along the east shoulder of the road. Close behind them, dark masses of rebel troops followed, and, from round the back side of the Bald Hill, a separate block of enemy troops—Benning's brigade—appeared beyond the Union flank, a quarter mile down the Sudley Road, and swung to the northeast. Filing across the road, Benning's column broke down into a battle line along the left bank of Holkum's Branch, a meadow stream that flows into Bull Run a mile to the east; and his men began to advance toward the rear of the Henry Hill. To the right of the Regulars' position, the Union brigades of Milroy, Meade, and Seymour were spread along the Sudley Road, from the pike intersection down past the front of the Henry Hill. As the Regulars moved back across the Sudley Road, the left flank of their force was exposed to the cross-fire of the enemy masses pressing up to the road from the Chinn Branch basin and they shifted their positions to the lower slopes of the hill.

 

As he watched the enemy forces thicken along the front of the Sudley Road, John Pope heard a sudden eruption of artillery fire come from the north side of the Henry Hill. Twisting his mount around, he galloped across the crown toward the sound and he saw, near where the Sudley Road passes the base of the Matthews Hill, rebel troops pouring from the crescent of woods, charging across the meadow against the sector of line held by Reno's and Steven's men. At that instant he felt a shiver of cold fear chill his brain, and he pressed a hand to his temples to suppress it. In the space of time that it lasted, he felt the terror of a running rabbit dodging a raptor's talons. He sucked in a deep breath and glanced anxiously to the west; exhaling the breath in a rush, he calculated by the deepening color of the sky that it would take another hour for night to come. He thought: get a grip; everything will be all right if you can keep the stone bridge out of the enemy's artillery range.

 

Everywhere now, within the circumference of a mile of space encircling the pike's intersection with the Sudley Road, there was a bedlam of noise getting ever louder—wild yelling in the throats of thousands of soldiers mixed with the deep crackling rattle of massed rifle fire, sharp blasts of smoking cannon, and the trampling done by terrorized teams of wild-eyed horses, with cannoneers riding like demons on their backs, as they dragged artillery carriages at the gallop back and forth over the corpse-laden field. All along the Sudley Road, from the Matthews Hill down to the saddle between the Henry Hill and the Bald Hill, brown and blue lines oscillated and swayed in seeming synchronization with the riff of noises. They bulged, spit, became deflated, and bulged again as, over them, the darkening sky flashed red from the effects of the criss-cross of artillery explosions.

 

Spurring his mount into a fast walk, John Pope came quickly to the Henry farm lane and followed it down through a shallow fissure in the face of the hill and arrived at the pike. The roadway was clogged with the slow moving traffic of ammunition and supply wagons, caissons, limbers and artillery carriages. And, in the fields northwest of the pike, scattered crowds of Union soldiers were streaming across the Sudley Road: some were rushing in the direction of the Bull Run fords, some were limping wounded going slowly, still others—the ones farthest back—were stopping every thirty yards or so and turning around to fire in the direction of Dogan's Ridge. The ridge was swarming now with brown clouds of enemy soldiers, and, on its heights, rebel artillery batteries were in action—their shots arching over the Sudley Road and falling on Buck Hill. From the crown of Buck Hill and the ground around it, Union artillery, flanked by Union regiments in battle lines, were engaged in counter battery. Thank God, Heintzelman is holding his own over there, Pope thought.

 

Trotting west along the shoulder of the pike, he saw in the gathering dusk a hundred yards ahead of him, a crowd of horsemen standing in the road and he galloped to them. As he came close to them he saw it was Irwin McDowell and Fitz John Porter with their suites of staff officers. Reining his horse to a jittery stand, he looked keenly first at McDowell and then at Porter. The two general officers stared back, offering no greeting. He thought: these are the worst of the bunch; they have ruined me.

 

Turning to McDowell, Pope said in a cold flat tone: "Well, General, I see that you anticipate our retiring tonight to Centreville."

 

McDowell sat rigid in the saddle and gave Pope an affronted look. "I anticipated that you would not want the army to be here in the morning. Having forced us a mile back to the Sudley Road, the enemy will surely press with all their strength against our flanks tomorrow. If we don't get our artillery and wagons east of Bull Run in the dark, do you think we will be able to do it tomorrow?"

 

John Pope sat silent for a time: gauging the thickening darkness descending layer by layer, his mind toyed with the idea that, during the night, his army might be rallied and Franklin's corps brought up to Bull Run by morning. But he dismissed the idea as soon as it formed. He knew McDowell was right. In the compressed space into which the army had been pushed there was only one way the safety of the army's rolling stock could be guaranteed, and that was to get it over the stone bridge right now.

 

Thinking this, he gestured with a hook of his thumb toward the Henry Hill and said to McDowell, "We must keep the enemy from getting past that hill. I expect you to look to it."

 

McDowell nodded his head and he turned to his chief of staff, Colonel Shirver, who was among the lookers-on, and called out to him—"Reno pulled out of the line with Ferrero's brigade still intact. You can find him behind Buck Hill. Tell him to make a break in the wagon traffic on the pike and cross over double quick to the Henry Hill where he can reinforce our left." In acknowledgement of the order, Schriver raised two fingers to his hat and broke away from the group.

 

After watching Shriver go, McDowell turned back to Pope with a solemn expression on his face. "Well, God bless the Regulars. So far, they have saved us from disaster."

 

John Pope gave McDowell a hard stare at this; then, after a pause, he called out for a courier, and one of the staff officers crowding around him raised his hand and came forward. "You know my chief of staff, Colonel Ruggles?" Pope asked. The officer nodded as his stallion sidled against Pope's. "I left him on Buck Hill. Tell him I want orders issued that the army is retiring to Centreville tonight." Signing with a salute that he understood, the officer began to gather his horse to go, but Pope took hold of his bridle and paced his horse beside his. "After you find Colonel Ruggles, go across Bull Run and ride to Manassas. Tell General Banks that he must destroy the public property and fall back on Centreville at once." Then Pope slapped the flank of the officer's mount and it broke away in a fast trot.

 

By now it was finally night and Pope sat still for a moment, watching as streaks of light from the rifle volleying flashed like lightening back and forth along both sides of the Sudley Road, and patches of reddish light from the explosion of shells flared in the pitch blackness. Thinking of the news of his retreat reaching Washington, he felt the gorge rising: none of this was his fault; on the Rappahannock, he had twice ordered McDowell and Sigel to attack the enemy, but they didn't; it was Halleck's duty to guard Manassas and Bristoe Station, but he didn't; the day before it was Porter's duty to advance from Dawkin's Branch against the enemy's flank, but he didn't. John Pope shook his head in a gesture of chagrin and discouragement, thinking to himself that the fault for the retreat was not his; but, no matter, having the title of supreme command, he knew he would be blamed.

 

Shaking off these thoughts, John Pope wheeled his mount close to the heads of McDowell's and Porter's horses. Looking at Porter, he jerked his head in the direction of the Stone Bridge. "When the enemy's fire dies out, pull back the Regulars from their line and bring them behind the rest of the army to Centreville. I will see you there." Nudging his mount to walk on, he signaled to two orderlies who were lingering on the edge of the crowd of officers that they were to follow him, and he trotted in the direction of Bull Run.

 

The Pontoon Bridge at Bull Run

The Pontoon Bridge at Bull Run

 

 

John Pope’s career as army commander was all but over. The fault was Lincoln’s as much as his. Much of the fault lay with McDowell too. Of all the Union general officers of importance, McDowell is the only one with no biographer. McDowell disappeared from command position in the Union army after Manassas, but, as he planned, he survived the war as the ranking general in the Regular Army. This brought him command of the Department of the Pacific, with his headquarters in San Francisco. A mountain, a fort, and an island were named after him during his long tenure in this position. He is buried in the Presidio’s cemetery, his grave not easy to find.

 

Pope, too, disappeared from the East, being sent to Minnesota where he played out the war chasing Sioux Indians. He remained in the army after the war and gained Regular rank as a major-general, commanding the Department of Missouri, with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth..

 

Fitz John Porter was cashiered from the army by Lincoln, stripped of rank and pension. Twenty years later, a special hearing was granted Porter which resulted in the reinstatement of his rank and pension rights but he was an old man by then. McDowell appeared at the hearing and was severely handled in cross-examination by Porter’s counsel, Joseph Choate. Pope, though served with a subpeona, refused to appear.

 

 

Meade being more sure of himself  than Pope had no qualms of retreating fifty miles behind Bull Run. When he received a message from Halleck saying, “Lee is unquestionably bullying you,” Meade retorted immediately―”If you have any orders to give me, I am prepared to obey them, but spare me opinions I have not asked for. If my judgment does not meet with approval, I ought to be relieved from command.” Meade had much experience dealing with General Lee, beginning with the siege of Richmond. He knew Lee to be instinctively a fighter who leaped forward simultaneously with the ringing of the bell threatening to land a knockout blow. Though outweighing him, a prudent adversary, like Meade and, for that matter, Grant, were smart to keep him in front of them and take their time muscling him into a corner.

 

As for General Lee, after the Battle of Second Manassas was over he continued to maneuver against the enemy at very opportunity: the Sharpsburg and Gettysburg campaigns being his greatest strategic accomplishments, with his tactical ones being Chancellorsville, and his juking Meade back from the Rapidan in 1863 just as he had done with Pope in 1862

 

 

 
 

General Lee After the War

 

General Lee After the War

Author: Joe Ryan
Maps by Ken Reid
 
   

Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan Original Works

@ AmericanCivilWar.com



 

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