Second Battle of Bull Run

The Second Union Defeat at Manassas, Virginia

Stonewall Jackson, Confederate General
Stonewall Jackson, Confederate General. Stock Montage / Getty Images

The Second Battle of Bull Run (also called the Second Manassas, Groveton, Gainesville, and Brawner's Farm) took place during the second year of the American Civil War. It was a major disaster for the Union forces and a turning point in both strategy and leadership for the North in the attempt to bring the war to its conclusion.

Fought in late August of 1862 near Manassas, Virginia, the two-day brutal battle was one of the bloodiest of the conflict. Overall, casualties totaled 22,180, with 13,830 of those Union soldiers.

Background

The first Battle of the Bull Run occurred 13 months earlier when both sides had gone gloriously to war for their separate notions of what the ideal United States should be. Most people believed that it would take only one big decisive battle to resolve their differences. But the North lost the first Bull Run battle, and by August of 1862, the war had become an unrelentingly brutal affair.

In the spring of 1862, Maj. Gen. George McClellan ran the Peninsula Campaign to recapture the Confederate capital at Richmond, in a grueling series of battles that culminated in the Battle of Seven Pines. It was a partial Union victory, but the emergence of the Confederate Robert E. Lee as a military leader in that battle would cost the North dearly.

Leadership Change

Maj. Gen. John Pope was appointed by Lincoln in June of 1862 to command the Army of Virginia as a replacement for McClellan. Pope was far more aggressive than McClellan but was generally despised by his chief commanders, all of whom technically outranked him. At the time of the second Manassas, Pope's new army had three corps of 51,000 men, led by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks, and Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell. Eventually, another 24,000 men would join from parts of three corps from McClellan's Army of the Potomac, led by Maj. Gen. Jesse Reno.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was also new to the leadership: His military star rose at Richmond. But unlike Pope, Lee was an able tactician and admired and respected by his men. In the run-up to the Second Bull Run battle, Lee saw that the Union forces were yet divided, and sensed an opportunity existed to destroy Pope before heading south to finish McClellan. The Army of Northern Virginia was organized into two wings of 55,000 men, commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet and Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

A New Strategy for the North

One of the elements that surely led to the fierceness of the battle was the change in strategy from the North. President Abraham Lincoln's original policy allowed southern noncombatants who had been captured to go back to their farms and escape the cost of war. But the policy failed miserably. Noncombatants continued to support the South in ever-increasing ways, as suppliers for food and shelter, as spies on the Union forces, and as participants in guerrilla warfare.

Lincoln instructed Pope and other generals to begin pressuring the civilian population by bringing some of the hardships of war to them. In particular, Pope ordered harsh penalties for guerilla attacks, and some in Pope's army interpreted this to mean "pillage and steal." That enraged Robert E. Lee.

In July of 1862, Pope had his men concentrate at Culpeper courthouse on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad about 30 miles north of Gordonsville between the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers. Lee sent Jackson and the left wing to move north to Gordonsville to meet Pope. On Aug. 9, Jackson defeated Banks' corps at Cedar Mountain, and by Aug. 13, Lee moved Longstreet north as well. 

Timeline of Key Events

Aug. 22–25: Several indecisive skirmishes took place across and along the Rappahannock River. McClellan's forces began to join Pope, and in response Lee sent Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry division around to the Union right flank.

Aug. 26: Marching northward, Jackson seized Pope's supply depot in the woods at Groveton, and then struck at the Orange & Alexandria Railroad Bristoe Station.

Aug. 27: Jackson captured and destroyed the massive Union supply depot at Manassas Junction, forcing Pope into retreat from the Rappahannock. Jackson routed the New Jersey Brigade near Bull Run Bridge, and another battle was fought at Kettle Run, resulting in 600 casualties. During the night, Jackson moved his men north to the first Bull Run battlefield.

Aug. 28: At 6:30 p.m., Jackson ordered his troops to attack a Union column as it marched along the Warrenton Turnpike. The battle was engaged on Brawner Farm, where it lasted until dark. Both sustained heavy losses. Pope misinterpreted the battle as a retreat and ordered his men to trap Jackson's men.

Aug. 29: At 7:00 in the morning, Pope sent a group of men against a Confederate position north of the turnpike in a series of uncoordinated and largely unsuccessful attacks. He sent conflicting instructions to do this to his commanders, including Maj. Gen. John Fitz Porter, who chose not to follow them. By afternoon, Longstreet's Confederate troops reached the battlefield and deployed on Jackson's right, overlapping the Union left. Pope continued to misinterpret the activities and did not receive news of Longstreet's arrival until after dark.

Aug. 30: The morning was quiet—both sides took the time to confer with their lieutenants. By afternoon, Pope continued to assume incorrectly that the Confederates were leaving, and began planning a massive attack to "pursue" them. But Lee had gone nowhere, and Pope's commanders knew that. Only one of his wings ran with him. Lee and Longstreet moved forward with 25,000 men against the Union's left flank. The North was repelled, and Pope faced disaster. What prevented Pope's death or capture was a heroic stand on Chinn Ridge and Henry House Hill, which distracted the South and bought enough time for Pope to withdraw across Bull Run towards Washington around 8:00 p.m.

Aftermath

The humiliating defeat of the North at the second Bull Run included 1,716 killed, 8,215 wounded and 3,893 missing from the North, a total of 13,824 alone from Pope's army. Lee suffered 1,305 killed and 7,048 wounded. Pope blamed his defeat on a conspiracy of his officers for not joining in the attack on Longstreet, and court-martialed Porter for disobedience. Porter was convicted in 1863 but exonerated in 1878.

The Second Battle of Bull Run was a sharp contrast to the first. Lasting two days of brutal, bloody battle, it was the worst the war had yet seen. To the Confederacy, the win was the crest of their northward-rushing movement, beginning their first invasion when Lee reached the Potomac River in Maryland on Sept. 3. To the Union, it was a devastating defeat, sending the North into a depression that was only remedied by the quick mobilization needed to repel the invasion of Maryland.

The Second Manassas is a study of the ills that pervaded the Union high command in Virginia before U.S. Grant was chosen to head up the army. Pope's incendiary personality and policies bared a deep schism among his officers, Congress and the North. He was relieved of his command on Sept. 12, 1862, and Lincoln moved him out to Minnesota to participate in the Dakota Wars with the Sioux.

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