Battle of Manassas Summary
The Battle of Manassas Gap — also known as the Battle of Wapping Heights — was fought on July 23, 1863, in Warren County, Virginia, during the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg.
As Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army moved out of Maryland and into Virginia, they passed into the Shenandoah Valley, moving south toward Front Royal, Virginia. Union General George G. Meade decided to try to flank Lee and cut him at Front Royal.
Meade sent General William H. French and his 3rd Corps to engage the Confederates who were guarding Manassas Gap from positions on Wapping Heights, overlooking the gap. The Confederates, under the command of General Richard H. Anderson, were eventually forced to withdraw. However, the battle allowed the Confederate Army to continue its march southward to safety, essentially ending the Gettysburg Campaign.
Battle of Manassas Gap Facts
- Also Known As: The Battle of Manassas Gap is also known as the Battle of Wapping Heights.
- Date Started: The Battle of Manassas Gap started on July 23, 1863.
- Date Ended: The battle ended on July 23, 1863.
- Location: The Battle of Manassas Gap took place in Warren County, Virginia.
- Campaign: The battle was part of the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863.
- Who Won: The outcome of the battle is considered inconclusive.
Battle of Manassas Gap History and Overview
Robert E. Lee Withdraws from the Battle of Gettysburg
Following the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–4, 1863), Confederate General Robert E. Lee ended his second invasion of the North. At roughly 5:00 p.m. on July 4, Brigadier General John D. Imboden led a long train of Confederate wounded and supplies toward the Potomac River crossings at Williamsport and Falling Waters, about 50 miles to the southwest. Lee ordered the rest of the army to follow using a different route the next day.
The withdrawal soon came to a halt when heavy rains swelled the Potomac River, preventing the Confederate army from crossing back into Virginia. Forced to wait until the river receded, Lee established a long, semi-circular defensive line anchored on his left by the Conococheague Creek and on his right by the Potomac River at Falling Waters.
On July 5, Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Union Army of the Potomac, learned that Lee had left Gettysburg. Despite prodding from his superiors in Washington to aggressively pursue Lee and destroy his army, Meade settled for dispatching his cavalry to harass the retreating Confederates.
Meade had reason to be cautious. The previous three days of battle had fatigued and battered his army. Unsure of the extent of the damages inflicted upon the Confederates, Meade also needed time to gather information to determine if Lee intended to withdraw to Virginia or to make another stand north of the Potomac. Finally, overriding orders to guard against a possible Confederate assault on Washington and Baltimore limited Meade’s flexibility.
Meade Pursues Lee
After reconnaissance missions determined that Lee was retreating, Meade divided his army into three columns and began a more vigorous but still cautious pursuit. Throughout the pursuit, Meade was careful to keep his main force between Lee and the nation’s capital.
Over the course of the next week, the two armies sparred in several cavalry clashes around the Williamsport area. By July 12, Meade had his army (now numbering as many as 95,000 soldiers) in position to assault the Confederate defenses. By that time, however, the river had receded nearly enough to accommodate the Confederate retreat. During the night of July 13, most of Lee’s army forded the Potomac.
On June 14, Meade ordered a general advance by four divisions, only to find that most of the Confederates had returned to Virginia soil. Meade managed to capture several hundred Confederates during rearguard engagements on July 14 and July 16, but his opportunity to finish off the Army of Northern Virginia had been lost.
What Happened at the Battle of Manassas Gap?
After returning to Virginia, Lee’s army traveled south, up the Shenandoah Valley, toward Front Royal. Still hoping to trap the Confederates, Meade ordered Major General William French’s 3rd Corps to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains and cut off the Confederates at Front Royal. On July 23, French assaulted a portion of Major General Richard H. Anderson’s Division entrenched at Wapping Heights overlooking a pass through the mountains known as Manassas Gap.
Spirited fighting by the Federals throughout the day forced the Confederate defenders to concede ground until soldiers from Major General Robert E. Rodes’ Division reinforced them. When the fighting ended at dusk, the Federals had taken possession of the pass. French called a halt to the assault and during the night the Confederates withdrew. The next day, French continued to Front Royal, only to discover that he was too late to cut off Lee’s army as it marched south up the valley to safety.
Battle of Manassas Gap Outcome
The results of the Battle of Manassas Gap were inconclusive. Combined losses for both sides totaled roughly 400 killed, wounded, or captured. Although French forced the Confederate defenders off of Wapping Heights and took possession of Manassas Gap, he failed to cut off Lee’s retreating army. Following Lee’s escape, Meade abandoned any further pursuit of the Confederate army, thus ending the Gettysburg Campaign.
Battle of Manassas Gap Significance
- Although Union troops forced the Confederate defenders off of Wapping Heights and prevented them from taking possession of Manassas Gap at the Battle of Manassas Gap, they failed in their attempt to cut off Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s retreating Army of Northern Virginia.
- Following the Army of Northern Virginia’s escape after the Battle of Manassas Gap, Union General George G. Meade abandoned any further pursuit of the retreating Confederate army, thus ending the Gettysburg Campaign.
Battle of Manassas Gap Casualties, Generals, and Participants
Principal Union Commanders
- Major General William French
Principal Confederate Commanders
- Major General Richard H. Anderson
- Major General Robert E. Rodes
Union Forces Engaged
- Army of the Potomac (3rd Corps)
Confederate Forces Engaged
- Army of Northern Virginia (Anderson’s Division, Rodes’s Division)
Number of Union Soldiers Engaged
Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged
Estimated Combined Casualties
- 440 (killed, wounded, or captured)
Battle of Manassas Gap Dates and Timeline
These are the main battles and events of the Gettysburg Campaign in order.
- June 5—6 — Battle of Franklin’s Crossing
- June 9, 1863 — Battle of Brandy Station
- June 13–15, 1863 — Second Battle of Winchester
- June 17, 1863 — Battle of Aldie
- June 17– 19, 1863 — Battle of Middleburg
- June 21, 1863 — Battle of Upperville
- June 27, 1863 — Battle of Fairfax Court House
- June 29, 1863 — Corbitt’s Charge
- June 30, 1863 — Battle of Hanover
- June 30, 1863 — Skirmish of Sporting Hill
- July 1, 1863 — Battle of Carlisle
- July 1–3, 1863 — Battle of Gettysburg
- July 3, 1863 — Pickett’s Charge
- July 3, 1863 — Battle of Fairfield
- July 4–5, 1863 — Fight at Monterey Pass
- July 6–16, 1863 — Battle of Williamsport
- July 8, 1863 — Battle of Boonsboro
- July 10, 1863 — Battle of Funkstown
- July 23, 1863 — Battle of Manassas Gap
Battle of Manassas Gap Suggested Reading
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Mingus and Wittenberg, the authors of more than 40 Civil War books, present a history of the opening moves of the Gettysburg Campaign in the 2-volume study. This compelling study is one of the first to integrate the military, media, political, social, economic, and civilian perspectives with rank-and-file accounts from the soldiers of both armies as they inexorably march toward their destiny at Gettysburg. This first volume covers June 3–21, 1863, while the second, covers June 22–30, completes the march, and carries the armies to the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Meade and Lee After Gettysburg, the first of three volumes on the campaigns waged between the two adversaries from July 14 through the end of July, 1863, relies on the official records, regimental histories, letters, newspapers, and other sources to provide a day-by-day account of this fascinating high-stakes affair. The vivid prose, coupled with original maps and outstanding photographs, offers a significant contribution to Civil War literature.