The Second Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Second Battle of Manassas, was fought on the same ground as the First Battle of Bull Run, near the town of Manassas Junction, Virginia, from August 28–30, 1862. The result of the battle was a decisive Confederate victory that enabled General Robert E. Lee to launch the South's first invasion of the North.
In 1862, Union leaders attempted to bring a quick ending to the American Civil War by capturing the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. On March 17, Major General George B. McClellan began moving the 50,000 men of the Army of the Potomac toward Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign. By June, McClellan reached the outskirts of the Confederate capital, but ultimately retreated after losing a series of encounters with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, collectively known as the Seven Days Battles.
Lee Takes the Offensive Against Lincoln’s New Army
Dissatisfied with McClellan’s performance, President Lincoln appointed Major General John Pope to command the newly created Army of Virginia. Sensing that McClellan now posed little threat to Richmond, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, took the offensive, before Pope’s army could unite his army with McClellan’s retreating forces.
On July 13, Lee sent 12,000 Rebel troops under the command of Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to secure Confederate railroad links with the Shenandoah Valley near Gordonsville, Virginia. Later that month, he sent 12,000 more men to support Jackson. Although outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, Jackson determined in early August that he now had enough strength to launch isolated attacks on Pope’s army.
Rebel Victory at Cedar Mountain
On August 6, Pope marched south into Culpeper County, intent on capturing the rail junction at Gordonsville, where the Orange and Alexandria Railroad crossed the Virginia Central Railroad. As Pope approached Culpeper Court House, Lee ordered Jackson to Gordonsville, instructing him that, “I want Pope to be suppressed.” Three days later, Jackson’s Left Wing of the Army of Northern Virginia defeated Major General Nathaniel Banks’ 2nd Corps of the Army of Virginia at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.
Lee Takes Command in the Field
With McClellan’s army in full retreat on the Peninsula, Lee dispatched Major General James Longstreet and 30,000 additional troops to support Jackson on August 13, and Lee took charge of the offensive against Pope. After assuming control, Lee boldly sent Jackson and one half of the Rebel army on a march that outflanked Pope’s right wing.
Jackson Captures Manassas Junction
On August 26, Jackson’s forces completed an extraordinary fifty-five-mile march and captured Pope’s supply depot at Manassas Junction that night. The next day, Jackson pushed his soldiers north to the site of the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run the previous year. With Jackson now positioned between the Army of Virginia and Washington, D.C., Pope had to turn his attention away from Lee. Pope spent the next day ordering a series of futile marches and counter-marches in search of Jackson, who had seemingly vanished.
August 28, 1862—Opening Salvo
Clash at Brawner’s Farm
Unbeknownst to Pope, by the morning of August 28, Jackson’s soldiers had hunkered down behind an unfinished railroad grade along Stony Ridge, which paralleled the Warrenton Turnpike in Prince William County, between Groveton and Gainesville, Virginia. Concealed behind the railroad embankment, Jackson monitored the turnpike while waiting for Lee to arrive with Longstreet’s forces.
While Jackson’s men lay in wait, Union Brigadier General Rufus King’s 1st Division (3rd Corps) came into sight marching east along the Warrenton Turnpike late in the afternoon. As King’s soldiers passed by, Jackson readied his artillery. At roughly 5:45 p.m., Union Brigadier General John Gibbon’s 3rd Brigade of green volunteers neared John Brawner’s farm along the turnpike. Looking across an open field, Gibbon noticed some men on horseback to his north. Wondering if they were Confederate cavalry, Gibbon left the road to investigate. He discovered Jackson’s cannoneers preparing to shell his troops. Within minutes, two Rebel batteries opened fire on the unsuspecting Yankees.
Gibbon quickly ordered his brigade to take cover on the north side of the turnpike. Convinced that the Rebel guns belonged to J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry, Gibbon ordered the 2nd Wisconsin to form a skirmish line and advance across the field to silence the Rebel batteries. As they crested a ridge on the other side of the field, the shocked Badgers discovered an entire Confederate infantry brigade advancing toward them. Unbeknownst to the Federals, they faced perhaps the most formidable unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the famous Stonewall Brigade, now commanded by Colonel William S.H. Baylor.
Although outnumbered roughly 800 to 300, the stubborn Westerners held their ground. When the Confederates threatened to envelope their Union left flank, Gibbon deployed the 19th Indiana to anchor his line. Jackson countered by personally leading 800 to 1,000 fresh Rebels into the fray. Gibbon then brought forth the 6th and 7th Wisconsin to bolster his right flank. As the struggle continued on toward darkness, nearly 1,000 soldiers from Brigadier General Abner Doubleday’s brigade reinforced Gibbon’s line, which by then stretched for nearly one mile parallel to the turnpike.
For over two hours, stubborn Rebs and Yanks poured hot lead into their enemy’s lines no farther than 30 to 100 yards apart. Even the onset of nightfall did not end the carnage. Although unable to see their foes, dogged soldiers on both sides continued to fire at each other’s musket flashes in the dark. Eventually, the plaintive cries of the wounded replaced the roar of musketry, and soldiers from each side eerily crept forward to retrieve their dead and wounded.
Although relatively unheralded, the Battle of Brawner’s Farm was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Civil War. Fully one-third of the soldiers engaged on the evening of August 28 perished or sustained wounds. The Union suffered roughly 1,025 casualties. Gibbon’s brigade (later famously known as the Iron Brigade) suffered nearly 800 casualties. The 2nd Wisconsin took the brunt of it, losing 276 of the 430 soldiers who marched into battle. The Confederacy lost roughly 1,250 soldiers. The renowned Stonewall Brigade sustained a forty percent casualty rate, losing 340 of 800 men. The 21st Georgia lost 184 of 242 men who took the field, a frightful seventy-six percent killed or wounded. The bloody standoff marked the opening salvo of an even larger engagement over the next two days.
August 29, 1862
Pope Chooses to Fight
Following the encounter around Brawner’s Farm, Pope faced two options; continue on with his original plan of marching eastward to unite with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, or stay and engage Jackson the next day. Mistakenly believing that King’s Division had surprised Jackson as the Rebels were trying to escape, Pope chose to stay and fight.
To his dismay, Pope would later learn that Jackson had no intention of retreating. Instead, Jackson deployed his soldiers in a defensive position along an unfinished railroad cut as he awaited Lee and Longstreet. With Stony Ridge to his back, Jackson’s line stretched for nearly one and one-half miles, paralleling the Warrenton Turnpike to his front. Manning the line were Jackson’s Division (commanded by Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro) on the right, Major General Richard S. Ewell’s Division in the center, and Major General A. P. Hill’s Light Division on the left.
Pope Plans to Trap Jackson
During the night of August 28-29, Pope ordered Irvin McDowell’s 3rd Corps (including King’s Division) to remain at Jackson’s front along the Warrenton Turnpike. He also ordered Major General Philip Kearny to march his 1st Division (3rd Corps, Army of the Potomac) west from Centerville and join Major General Franz Sigel’s 1st Corps (Army of Virginia) in a dawn attack on Jackson’s front.
The next morning, a surprised Pope learned that King had withdrawn from the Warrenton Turnpike and that McDowell (who was lost) was not in the area. To prevent Jackson’s escape, Pope ordered Major General Fitz John Porter to march his 5th Corps, along with King’s Division, to the west. Planning to trap Jackson in a pincer movement, Pope expected Porter to strike Jackson’s right flank while Sigel’s troops attacked from the front.
Pope Probes Jackson’s Lines
Early on the morning of August 29, Major General John Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Reserves Division joined Sigel’s corps near Henry Hill, south of the turnpike. At 7 a.m. the combined force advanced in a line nearly two-miles long and began probing Jackson’s defenses. Skirmishing soon turned into a major clash along the eastern end of the line near Sudley Church. Several Union assaults penetrated Jackson’s line, but each time the Rebels recovered to push the Yankees back.
Confederate Reinforcements Arrive
Meanwhile, at about 10 a.m., Lee arrived in the area with Longstreet’s Corps. Longstreet convinced Lee not to throw his corps into the engagement between Jackson and Sigel. Instead, they deployed Longstreet’s Corps on the western end of Jackson’s line to thwart Porter’s flanking movement.
Pope Continues to Probe
When Pope arrived on the battlefield after noon, still unaware of Lee’s presence, he ordered his general officers to continue probing Jackson’s line to his front. For the next few hours, the Federals mounted an unsuccessful series of disjointed and piecemeal attacks that accomplished nothing.
Late in the afternoon, Kearny’s 1st Division mounted a coordinated attack that nearly collapsed Jackson’s left flank on the eastern end of the line near Sudley Church. Bolstered by Kearny’s apparent success, Pope pulled Brigadier General John P. Hatch’s 1st Division (3rd Corps) out of line and ordered him to march west along the turnpike and attack Jackson’s right flank.
At the same time, Longstreet ordered Brigadier General John Bell Hood to march his division east along the same road. At roughly 6 p.m., the two forces collided, touching off an intense engagement that lasted until dark. Hood’s soldiers ultimately prevailed, leaving that part of the battlefield under Confederate control.
Porter Fails to Attack Jackson
While Hatch and Hood were squaring off along the Warrenton Turnpike, Fitz John Porter received a message that Pope had dispatched two hours earlier, at 4:30, again ordering him to attack Jackson’s right flank. Pope, however, was unaware that Longstreet had arrived and positioned his corps between Porter and Jackson. With darkness approaching and Longstreet blocking his path, Porter disregarded Pope’s orders. Later, Pope used Porter as a scapegoat for failing to get the better of Jackson. Pope’s persistent criticism of Porter eventually led to Porter’s dismissal from the army on January 21, 1863.
During the night of August 29, Pope gathered with his subordinates at his headquarters north of the Warrenton Turnpike on Buck Hill. The meeting produced no clear consensus, so Pope elected to delay issuing orders until the next morning after reassessing the situation.
Pope’s False Impressions
Overnight, the last of Lee’s soldiers arrived on the western end of the battlefield. Shortly before dawn, Brigadier General John Bell Hood notified Major General Richard H. Anderson that during the darkness his troops had encamped beyond the Confederate lines. As Anderson withdrew his soldiers to safer grounds, Union lookouts erroneously presumed that the Rebels were retreating. Federal officers passed the news up the chain of command to Pope as he was drafting a message to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at the War Department in Washington, D.C. Pope reported that,
We fought a terrific battle here yesterday with the combined forces of the enemy, which lasted with continuous fire from daylight until dark, by which time the enemy was driven from the field . . .
Upon receiving the false news of Lee’s withdrawal, Pope concluded his message by adding, “The news just reaches me that the enemy is retreating toward the mountains.” Pope’s delusion that Jackson’s forces had been “driven from the field” and that Lee was “retreating toward the mountains” dictated much of what happened throughout the rest of the day.
Pope Continues to Pursue Jackson
At 7:00 a.m., Pope convened a council of war with his commanders to plan their strategy for the day. Because of conflicting intelligence reports, Pope still believed that Jackson was retreating. Remaining fixated on bagging the lionized Confederate leader, Pope decided to continue his assault on Jackson’s line, but issued no direct orders to execute it.
Around 11 a.m., Fitz John Porter sent an escaped prisoner to Pope’s headquarters with the warning that “no faith should be put in what he says.” The prisoner reported that Jackson was retreating, as Pope had concluded. Despite Porter’s admonition, Pope heard what he wanted to hear and ordered a massive “pursuit” of Jackson’s “retreating” force.
Pope directed Fitz John Porter’s corps and John Hatch’s division to attack the western end of Jackson’s line near Deep Cut—the deepest point of the Unfinished Railroad. Simultaneously, Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s 3rd Corps (Army of the Potomac), aided by Brigadier General James B. Ricketts’ 2nd Division (3rd Corps, Army of Virginia), would assault the eastern end of Jackson’s line. Pope placed Major General Irvin McDowell in command of this two-pronged attack.
Rickett’s men were the first to advance against the Southerners. By noon, they determined that Jackson was not retreating and that his line remained established along the Unfinished Railroad. With no hope of pursuing an enemy that was not in retreat, McDowell abandoned the operation against the enemy’s left flank. Forced to admit that his presumption that Jackson was retreating was incorrect, Pope proceeded with the assault on Jackson’s right anyway.
At 3 p.m., the Federals began their attack on Jackson’s force at the Deep Cut. Enfilading fire from Confederate artillery quickly took its toll on the Yankees. Despite several spirited strikes, the Union soldiers did not dislodge the Rebel defenders. The fighting in this engagement was so fiercely contested that when the men of the 1st Louisiana Regiment ran out of ammunition they began pelting the Yankees with rocks and stones from the railroad bed. The timely arrival of Confederate reinforcements eventually forced the Bluecoats to retreat. Porter’s failed attack was the largest Union assault of the three-day battle.
While the Rebels at Deep Cut engaged Porter’s Yankees, General Longstreet was busy preparing a diversionary assault on Pope’s left flank to draw attention away from General Jackson’s forthcoming attempt to turn the other end of Pope’s line. Longstreet planned the advance to begin at 5 p.m., but when he saw Porter’s troops in full retreat, Longstreet later recalled,
A fair opportunity was offered me and the intended diversion was changed into an attack.
Longstreet’s new aim was occupying Henry Hill, the key field of combat at the First Battle of Bull Run. Confederate control of the high ground there would corral the Federals on the north side of the turnpike and block their retreat routes across Bull Run.
At roughly 4 p.m., Longstreet ordered his men to move east in a line nearly two miles long that stretched north and south of the Warrenton Turnpike. Led by Major General John Bell Hood’s Division, the Confederates quickly drove the few Federal troops Pope had deployed south of the turnpike east toward Chinn Ridge. Offering only token resistance, Colonel Gouverneur K. Warren’s brigade was quickly overrun. The initial assault was so staggering that within ten minutes, the New York 5th Regiment absorbed the highest number of casualties by an infantry unit during the entire Civil War (102 killed, 235 wounded, and 75 missing).
Yankees Dash for Chinn Ridge
Earlier in the afternoon, General McDowell had ordered Brigadier General John Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Reserves (3rd Corps, Army of Virginia) to reinforce Pope’s right flank, leaving only 2,200 soldiers south of the Warrenton Turnpike. Upon hearing the sounds of battle, as Warren’s brigade collapsed, McDowell quickly re-deployed Reynold’s rearguard (one infantry brigade and two artillery batteries), commanded by Colonel Martin Hardin, to the ground between Warren’s retreating soldiers and Chinn Ridge. Joined by the remnants of Warren’s brigade, Hardin’s force vainly tried to stem the Confederate onslaught before breaking ranks and dashing for Chinn Ridge.
McLean’s Ohioans Hold Back Hood’s Confederates
Following the Pennsylvanians’ retreat, the only Union force left between Longstreet and Henry Hill was Colonel Nathaniel McLean’s 2nd Brigade (1st Division, 1st Corps, Army of Virginia). Composed of the 25th, 55th, 73rd, and 75th Ohio regiments and the 1st Ohio Light Artillery, Battery K, McLean’s brigade occupied the valley behind Chinn Ridge early in the day. Later, after McDowell ordered Reynolds to abandon Chinn Ridge, McLean seized the initiative. Recognizing the advantage of controlling the high ground, the Ohio commander, without orders from his superiors, re-deployed his 1,200 soldiers to the top of the hill.
As Hood’s Confederates crested the hill in pursuit of the retreating Pennsylvanians, McLean’s Buckeyes staggered them with a blistering barrage of artillery and musket fire. The stunned Rebels fell back and regrouped for a failed assault against McLean’s left flank. A third Rebel attempt finally shattered McLean’s line forcing them off of the hill. McLean lost thirty-three percent of his brigade defending Chinn Ridge, but the Ohioans’ stubborn resistance stalled Longstreet’s onslaught long enough for Pope to establish a defensive perimeter at Henry Hill.
Pope Regroups at Henry Hill
By the time Longstreet’s Confederates reached Henry Hill, Pope had deployed two well-protected brigades along the base in a washed-out road cut. Behind them, the rest of Reynolds’ division and a brigade of U.S. Regulars braced for the Rebel onslaught.
When the Confederates moved forward, Union batteries atop the hill greeted them with an artillery barrage that temporarily halted their advance. The Rebels regrouped and mounted attacks against each end of the Union line, but the Yankees held them off until sunset. By then, the Confederate advance faltered because of the exhaustion.
Pope Orders a Retreat
Overnight, Pope resigned himself to defeat and ordered a general retreat. By midnight, the rearguard of the Army of Virginia crossed Bull Run headed for Centerville.
Despite the retreat from Manassas, the operational units of Pope’s army remained intact. Reinforced by soldiers detached from McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, Pope still commanded a formidable and dangerous fighting force. Under pressure from the War Department, Pope made plans to re-engage Lee’s army rather than retreat behind the defensive fortifications surrounding Washington. Lee, however, beat him to the punch.
On September 1, 1862, Lee attempted to destroy Pope’s retreating army near Germantown, Virginia. In an inconclusive rearguard engagement at the Battle of Chantilly, Jackson’s corps failed to cut off the retreating Federals. As more reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac arrived, Lee discontinued his pursuit of Pope. Instead, with the Union forces in Virginia in disarray, Lee made preparations to invade Maryland.
The Second Battle of Bull Run yielded high casualties for both sides. The Union lost an estimated 14,452 (1,747 killed, 8,452 wounded, and 4,253 missing). The Confederacy suffered roughly 9,474 casualties (1,553, 7,812, and 109 missing).
In the aftermath of the second Federal defeat at Manassas, on September 7, 1862, the U.S. War Department issued General Orders, No. 128, announcing that Pope’s reassignment to command of the Department of the Northwest, as of September 6, 1862. After being exiled to Minnesota, Pope never held another combat command during the Civil War. Five days later, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 129, ending the existence of the Army of Virginia. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac resumed its position as the Union’s primary armed force in the East.
On the Confederate side, after the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lee concentrated his army in the Shenandoah Valley and on September 4, he invaded Maryland. Lee’s three-week-long offensive would culminate with the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862—the bloodiest single day of combat during the Civil War.