American Civil War: Second Battle of Manassas

Major General John Pope. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Second Battle of Manassas - Conflict & Dates:

The Second Battle of Manassas was fought August 28-30, 1862, during the American Civil War.

Armies & Commanders



Second Battle of Manassas - Background:

With the collapse of Major General George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in the summer of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln brought Major General John Pope east to take command of the newly created Army of Virginia. Consisting of three corps led by Major Generals Franz Sigel, Nathaniel Banks, and Irvin McDowell, Pope's force was soon augmented by additional units taken from McClellan's Army of the Potomac. Tasked with protecting Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, Pope began moving southwest towards Gordonsville, VA.

Seeing that Union forces were divided and believing that the timid McClellan posed little threat, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sensed an opportunity to destroy Pope before returning south to finish off the Army of the Potomac. Detaching the "left wing" of his army, Lee ordered Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson to move north to Gordonsville to intercept Pope. On August 9, Jackson defeated Banks' corps at Cedar Mountain and four days later Lee began moving the other wing of his army, led by Major General James Longstreet, north to join Jackson.

Second Battle of Manassas - Jackson on the March:

Between August 22 and 25, the two armies squared off across the rain-swollen Rappahannock River, with neither able to force a crossing. During this time, Pope began receiving reinforcements as McClellan's men were withdrawn from the Peninsula. Seeking to defeat Pope before the Union commander's force grew much larger, Lee ordered Jackson to take his men and Major General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry division on a bold flanking march around the Union right.

Moving north, then east through Thoroughfare Gap, Jackson severed the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Bristoe Station before capturing the Union supply base at Manassas Junction on August 27. With Jackson in his rear, Pope was forced to fall back from the Rappahannock and reconcentrate near Centreville. Moving northwest from Manassas, Jackson moved through the old First Bull Run battlefield and assumed a defensive position behind an unfinished railroad grade below Stony Ridge on the night of August 27/28. From this position, Jackson had a clear view of the Warrenton Turnpike which ran east to Centreville.

Second Battle of Manassas - Fighting Begins:

The fighting began at 6:30 PM on August 28 when units belonging to Brigadier General Rufus King's division were seen moving east on the turnpike. Jackson, who learned earlier in the day that Lee and Longstreet were marching to join him, moved to the attack. Engaging on the Brawner Farm, the fight was largely against the Union brigades of Brigadier Generals John Gibbon and Abner Doubleday. Firing for around two and half hours, both sides took heavy losses until darkness ended the fighting. Pope misinterpreted the battle as Jackson retreating from Centreville and ordered his men to trap the Confederates.

Second Battle of Manassas - Assaulting Jackson:

Early the next morning, Jackson dispatched some of Stuart's men to direct Longstreet's approaching troops into pre-selected positions on his right. Pope, in an effort to destroy Jackson, moved his men to the fight and planned attacks on both Confederate flanks. Believing that Jackson's right flank was near Gainesville, he directed Major General Fitz John Porter to take his V Corps west to attack that position. At the other end of the line, Sigel was assault the Confederate left along the railroad grade. While Porter's men marched, Sigel's opened the fighting around 7:00 AM.

Attacking Major General A.P. Hill's men, the Brigadier General Carl Schurz's troops made little progress. While the Union did achieve some local successes, they were often undone by vigorous Confederate counterattacks. Around 1:00 PM, Pope arrived on the field with reinforcements just as Longstreet's lead units were moving into position. To the southwest, Porter's corps was moving up the Manassas-Gainesville Road and engaged a group of Confederate cavalry.

Second Battle of Manassas - Union Confusion:

Shortly thereafter, its advance was halted when Porter received a confusing "Joint Order" from Pope which muddied the situation and did not provide any clear direction. This confusion was worsened by news from McDowell's cavalry commander, Brigadier General John Buford, that large numbers of Confederates (Longstreet's men) had been spotted in Gainesville that morning. For an unknown reason, McDowell failed to forward this to Pope until that evening. Pope, waiting for Porter's attack, continued to launch piecemeal assaults against Jackson and remained unaware that Longstreet's men had arrived on the field.

At 4:30, Pope sent an explicit order for Porter to attack, but it was not received until 6:30 and the corps commander was not in a position to comply. In anticipation of this attack, Pope threw Major General Philip Kearny's division against Hill's lines. In severe fighting, Kearny's men were only repelled after determined Confederate counterattacks. Observing Union movements, Lee decided to attack the Union flank, but was dissuaded by Longstreet who advocated a reconnaissance in force to set up an assault in the morning. Brigadier General John B. Hood's division moved forward along the turnpike and collided with Brigadier General John Hatch's men. Both sides retreated after a sharp fight.

Second Battle of Manassas - Longstreet Strikes

As darkness fell, Pope finally received McDowell's report regarding Longstreet. Falsely believing that Longstreet had arrived to support Jackson's retreat, Pope recalled Porter and began planning a massive assault by V Corps for the next day. Though advised to move cautiously at a council of war the next morning, Pope pushed Porter's men, supported by two additional divisions, west down the turnpike. Around noon, they wheeled right and attacked the right end of Jackson's line. Taken under heavy artillery fire the assault breached the Confederate lines but was thrown back by counterattacks.

With the failure of Porter's attack, Lee and Longstreet moved forward with 25,000 men against the Union left flank. Driving scattered Union troops before them, they only encountered determined resistance at a few points. Realizing the danger, Pope began moving troops to block the attack. With the situation desperate, he succeeded in forming a defensive line along the Manassas-Sudley Road at the foot of Henry House Hill. The battle lost, Pope began a fighting withdraw back towards Centreville around 8:00 PM.

Second Battle of Manassas - Aftermath:

The Second Battle of Manassas cost Pope 1,716 killed, 8,215 wounded and 3,893 missing, while Lee suffered 1,305 killed and 7,048 wounded. Relieved on September 12, Pope's army was incorporated into the Army of the Potomac. Seeking a scapegoat for the defeat, he had Porter court-martialed for his actions on August 29. Found guilty, Porter spent fifteen years working to clear his name. Having won a stunning victory, Lee embarked on his invasion of Maryland a few days later.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Second Battle of Manassas." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). American Civil War: Second Battle of Manassas. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Second Battle of Manassas." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).