The following long post is an excerpt from my book research project on the life of Abner Doubleday. This post, along with others surrounding the Bull Run Battle and aftermath, is from the perspective and writings of Doubleday and those close to him. “Noyes” was a staff officer for Doubleday who wrote very colorfully… he was a lawyer from Maine. “Smith” is the historian of the 76th New York.
2nd Bull Run Day One – August 29, 1862
Doubleday’s Brigade, along with King’s Division rested throughout the morning hours. General Pope now knew the relative position where Jackson was to be found, and in reality possessed superior knowledge of the enemy location than he did the disposition of his own forces. Pope, believing Longstreet to be too far removed for connection with Jackson, strategized under a presumption of having units positioned to surround Jackson, when in fact, all his disparate Union troops had moved to the south and east of Stonewall’s location. Pope also errantly believed Jackson to be retreating. Rather, the great Confederate general, who had earned his sobriquet of “Stonewall” just across the Warrenton Pike the summer before, was anchoring his wing of the army to repulse a hoped-for Union attack. Positioning his men largely behind the natural fortification of the unfinished railroad cut, they were well-prepared for the impetuous attacks of Pope.
Throughout the morning, Union attacks probed and developed the position of Jackson’s command. Hard fighting achieved several breakthroughs, but Federal forces were unable to support any of these advances. Pope ordered Porter’s Fifth Corps, located south of Jackson’s position near King’s Division, to advance north and make a grand attack upon Stonewall’s presumed exposed right flank. It was not exposed. The wings of the Confederate Army were closing as Longstreet arrived. Soon, the Southern forces would be positioned in an open “V” formation, with Jackson’s wing facing to the southeast, and Longstreet’s directly east. The arrival of Longstreet had blunted the forward progress of Porter’s Corps, and thereby the primary offensive plan of Pope.
George F. Noyes had written enthusiastically of seeing the veterans of Porter’s Corps passing by them that morning: “As we sat on the ground sipping our coffee and talking over last night’s experiences, cheer upon cheer from one of the brigades of our division arrested our attention. Starting up, I saw a long column of troops moving by, and heard it was composed of some of McClellan’s old army. I did not wonder at the cheers, for now we were assured that McClellan had succeeded in extricating himself from his perilous position on the Peninsula, and that our connection was fully established. For one, I had now not a particle of doubt that every man of that army, to aid in whose rescue we had been undergoing the fatigue and danger of the past three weeks, was flying to re-enforce us.”
Before Doubleday’s Brigade could cook the butchered beef for a long-postponed meal, they were ordered forward with the rest of King’s (Hatch’s) Brigade. Following the same generally northern direction as Porter, they veered to right and around Porter’s stalled Corps, arriving behind the engaged left flank of Union forces. [Doubleday wrote] At 4:30 p.m., Pope ordered Porter to attack the right flank and rear of Jackson’s force. Porter had moved forward from Manassas in the direction Gainesville, but had halted on an eminence about a mile and a half south of the turnpike where there was open ground. His left and front were covered by Buford’s cavalry. Here he remained passive until about 5:00 p.m. when he received orders to attack which he declined to obey, preferring to retreat with his whole force.
Doubleday’s remarks are harsh, though Porter had done much to cook his own goose (not only by sluggardly leadership, but also by previously writing too openly and indiscriminately about his disdain for Pope … all of which would work toward his eventual dismissal from the army.) Earlier orders from Pope had been confusing and misunderstood, and were altogether impractical in light of Longstreet’s arrival and position.
Marching away from Porter’s Corp late in the afternoon, the men of Hatch’s Division and Doubleday’s Brigade found themselves on the Warrenton Pike, less than a mile east of the location of the previous evening’s battle. Actually, only Doubleday’s and Hatch’s former brigade were assembled. Gibbon’s had been detached, and Patrick’s was somewhat behind, due to more confusing orders. Pope, continuing under the false impression that Longstreet was not present and that Jackson’s flank was exposed, sought to exploit Union successes on his own right flank with a grand attack by the left.
For the purpose of cooperating with General Porter’s grand attack, which was to come off on the right and rear of Jackson’s wing of the Rebel army, General Pope now ordered his whole line to advance, and spirited attacks to be made upon every point of the enemy’s position. The troops had already had a good deal of hard fighting but they went forward with gallantry and enthusiasm, expecting every moment to hear the thunder of Porter’s guns in the distance.
Pope envisioned himself to be upon the cusp of a long-awaited victory. The reports of advances on his right, and the sight of wagons moving away to the west on the Warrenton Pike, combined in Pope’s mind to conclude the enemy was in retreat. Others around him rightly presumed the wagons to simply be ambulances moving the wounded to the rear. Doubleday wrote also of this event:
An incident now occurred which induced both Pope and McDowell to believe that Jackson had given up the contest and was retiring in haste from the field. Just before dark, Anderson’s Division of Longstreet’s corps was moving down the pike on their way to Sudley Springs. Some of Jackson’s pickets told Anderson that the road in front of him was occupied by a large Union force. This induced him to defer this march until daylight and he counter-marched his troops to take post for the night behind the main body of Longstreet’s troops. Pope unfortunately construed this retrograde movement into flight. (Doubleday is mistaken in this account, the events of which actually occurred at dawn the next morning.)
In actuality, the Confederates were planning a probing movement to the east. Lee had been frustrated throughout the day with an inability to attack on this front, due to the large menacing presence of Porter’s Corps. The dust from the march of Hatch’s Division away from Porter toward the center of the battle was rightly interpreted by the Confederate command to believe no Union attack would be forthcoming on this, their right front. Therefore, a twilight probing movement under General Hood was hastily arranged. The result for Doubleday’s Brigade was to be that, instead of pursuing a retreating foe, they would rather be running headlong into another of the Confederate’s finest fighting units.
As the men of Doubleday and Hatch’s Brigades (Hatch’s now being led by Colonel Sullivan of the 24th N.Y.) assembled for their “pursuit,” they were met by McDowell in person. Doubleday complained of this circuitous marching, simply so that McDowell could say a few words: We had marched twenty-six miles with but short intervals of rest, and were now required to run several miles around to the junction of the Pike and Sudley Springs Road, apparently for the purpose of giving General McDowell an opportunity of saying a few words to the 14th Brooklyn Regiment, which was associated with him in the first Battle of Bull Run. McDowell affirmed that they would be pursuing a beaten and fleeing enemy, and to take as many prisoners as possible. “Well boys, you are following a retreating foe. Push ‘em like hell!” <<Smith, p. 130> Noyes described the same scene: “Hardly have we fairly started before the order comes to move at double-quick. McDowell himself is at the roadside, and as we move quickly by, the news flashes through our lines that the enemy is retreating, and that we are sent forward to pursue and pick up the stragglers. Cheer after cheer swells up from the ranks; officers wave their swords; the fatigue of last night’s fighting and marching is forgotten …” Some of McDowell’s staff officers said to the men, “All you have to do is go ahead and shoot!” Doubleday wrote that: In many a sharp contest afterwards when we were ordered forward, the men would call out to each other as a bitter joke, “all you have to do is go ahead and shoot.”
Doubleday’s Brigade led the advance, with the 95th N.Y. (who were only engaged the prior evening in support of Gibbon’s battery) given the opportunity to spearhead the movement. All was quiet for quite some distance, as they had advanced a mile beyond the main army. But coming over a rise in the road, they were rudely greeted by a large force of infantry. Smith recalled: “Doubleday’s Brigade was in the advance, and this unexpected attack by the ‘retreating foe,’ produced considerable confusion for a moment. The Brigade finally swung into line and commenced firing. Hatch’s Brigade came up on the left, and Patrick’s on the left of Hatch’s.”
It was nearly dark and the flickering line of fire from 14,000 muskets showed that we had a very strong force to contend with. Hatch’s Division was heavily outgunned and faced fire from the front and a concealed enemy on both flanks. After a fight of about one hour, with darkness setting in quickly, the press was too much and the division began to break. Smith succinctly described it: “It was soon ascertained that instead of pursuing a retreating foe, the alternative was presented to the Union troops to retreat or be annihilated.” Describing the scene of regiments and brigades falling back upon one another and intermingling in unmanageable masses, Smith wrote of Doubleday: “General Doubleday, always averse to a retreat, was about to order a charge; but just at this point, Patrick’s brigade broke and fell back upon Hatch’s, which, in turn, broke upon Doubleday’s …”
The darkness, and the pursuit of the Confederates, produced several incidents of officers giving orders to soldiers of the enemy. Colonel Livingston of the 76th N.Y. gave an order to a mass of troops, only to find out it was the 2nd Mississippi, who claimed him as a prize. When interrogated, he carried out a successful ruse as a surgeon, and was allowed to cross back to his own lines before the Confederates discovered their error. Doubleday and his staff officers were nearly captured, as the contest became increasingly uneven. He credited the gallantry of Captain Bloodgood of the 95th N.Y. for interposing and preventing this catastrophe. Also receiving special commendation was his brother Ulysses, who, in attempting to save some of our men from capture received the fire of a Rebel regiment, and had his horse shot from under him but escaped unhurt. An additional remark of Doubleday was an observation that the Confederates on their right must have had poor powder, as balls struck like stones without penetrating. One of their bullets actually stuck in the forehead of an officer of the 76th N.Y., who exhibited himself in that condition to the men around him and then pulled out the bullet and threw it away. It had merely penetrated the skin.