2nd Bull Run (2nd Manassas) – Day 2
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 Two – August 30, 1862
Lee had gained the ground from which he could launch his attack of this next day. Pope continued in delusional thinking throughout the night, and determined to give battle again the next day in order to defeat Jackson. Greater wisdom would have advised a retreat across Bull Run toward a reunion with the forces of the Army of the Potomac.
In Pope, Lincoln had an aggressive fighter, but not a wise warrior. Doubleday was relatively gracious in his assessments of Pope, perhaps not so much due to his admiration of Pope, but rather in consequence of his disrespect for the entire McClellan contingent of the army. Doubleday wrote: With the expectation of receiving large reinforcements of men and supplies of forage for the cavalry horses from General McClellan at Alexandria, General Pope determined to hold out for another day and try the chances of battle again. His hopes, however, were all disappointed. McClellan virtually declined to send any forage, and the scant reinforcements were purposely sent forward so as not to arrive until the conflict was over—as they only marched for and six miles in a single day, and made frequent halts with the noise of the battle ringing in their ears urging them forward.
In fact, McClellan was not energized, and had written to Lincoln on the 29th that it may be best to allow Pope to “get out of his scrape,” while making the capitol secure. McClellan’s fixation was upon the scant resources to protect Washington from rumored pending advances upon the very doorsteps of the city.
Pope continued in his grand optimism as dawn arrived. Support had not arrived, and in fact, a courier brought a message from Franklin that supplies were available and awaiting Pope to send a cavalry escort to receive them. Obviously, this could not be done in any timely fashion. As discouraging as this news was to Pope, he recovered his hopes quickly. Particularly reversing his mood was a report brought in by General Marsena Patrick, describing a Confederate movement of troops to the west. The last arriving division of the Confederate army—that of Richard Anderson—had completed a 17-mile march and arrived on the scene at 3:00 a.m. As dawn approached, it was understood by Confederate command that Anderson’s Division had halted in a position too far in advance, were therefore dangerously exposed, and needed to move back to the main line of the army. This redirecting of the division was observed by Patrick, who sent a few artillery shells to hasten their movement. Along with a number of reports by captured prisoners that the Confederate command was overheard to be considering a withdrawal, Pope construed combined events and information to confirm such an action. He sent Halleck an early morning message embellishing accomplishments of the previous day as a solid victory, and stating: “news just reaches me from the front that the enemy is retreating toward the mountains. I go forward at once to see.” <<O.R. XII, Pt. 3, p.741
At dawn, the men engaged in the twilight battle of the previous evening had opportunity to sort themselves out from the entangled conglomeration and regain their fighting units. My brigade which had been driven back the previous evening by Longstreet’s advance, was reformed at daybreak, and as many stragglers who joined me, who had fallen out of the ranks from fatigue the day before, my number of fighting men was considerably increased. Noyes was not as encouraged by the numbers he saw in the brigade: “… it was enough to give a man the heartache to see the little brigade drawn up in line, not five hundred strong. More than fifteen hundred rank and file had marched with us out of Fredericksburg; some had undoubtedly skulked behind; some were absolutely worn out by our long marches, sleepless nights, and battle fatigues; some, separated from their commands during last night, had not yet rejoined them; but probably the larger portion of the missing were prisoners to the enemy, lay wounded in the hospitals, or slept the last sleep of the patriotic brave.”
As it became obvious through morning reconnaissance efforts that the Confederates had not retreated, Pope ordered his forces under Generals Butterfield and Porter to again attack Jackson, who occupied the same position as the previous day. The attack produced a severe engagement with a savage defense of the strong Confederate position. Doubleday’s Brigade was in a supporting position on the right flank of this assault. Porter’s advance under Butterfield ascended the hill beyond Groveton, but there they encountered such masses of the enemy both in their front and on their left flank, that it soon became evident the enemy were there in full force… Unfortunately, General Pope not knowing what the enemy were doing behind the thick curtain of woods which screened them from view, came to the conclusion that Longstreet’s force would simply be used to reinforce Jackson who still remained in nearly the same position. Pope there threw the main body of his army to the north of the pike to confront Jackson… The strength of the Confederate position in the front of the Union advance, along with an open enfilading artillery fire from the area of the Brawner Farm, resulted in significant losses for the Northern attackers. Though exhausted from continuous battle, Jackson’s troops were more vulnerable than Union command might have imagined from the punishment they were afflicting. A strong reinforcement from A.P. Hill’s command swayed the balance of the conflict in favor of the Confederate efforts, and the Army of Virginia was obliged to fall back. Doubleday’s Brigade was in a third line of assault and was subjected to a severe canister fire, but the general retreat was in motion before his advance could be made.
A mere 8,000 men had been retained on the Union left flank to the south of the pike. Longstreet had about 30,000 amassing for an attack. About the time of the Union retreat, McDowell made the largest tactical error of the day. In order to reinforce the entire situation on the right, he ordered Reynold’s Division to relocate from the left flank and move to the north of the turnpike. This left only 2,200 troops to face the pending attack of Longstreet’s wing. Old Pete’s wing extended a full 1.5 miles in width, and only had about that distance, or a bit more, to cover in order to seize the Henry House Hill. This hill, the scene of the most intense action of the First Bull Run, was again the key to the battle. Seizing it would give the Rebels the high ground from which they could prevent the escape of the Army of Virginia across the stone bridge over Bull Run toward the relative safety of Centerville and Washington. The terrain in front of Longstreet was convoluted and difficult—with streams, woods, and ridges. But the numbers were vastly in his favor. Doubleday described this entire scenario in his journal: General Reynolds, in order to cooperate with Porter and with a view also to ascertain what was in his own immediate front; sent forward two regiments preceded by skirmishers, and also a third regiment, the 6th PA reserves under Colonel Sinclair, to examine the ground on the left of the division. He accompanied this last reconnaissance himself, passed beyond his line of skirmishers in the woods, and went to the outer edge behind which the enemy were formed. There he saw the whole of Longstreet’s forces massed in readiness to seize the commanding elevations south of the pike, drive us from Bald Ridge and the Henry House Hill, and cut us off from our line of retreat by capturing the stone bridge over Bull Run.
Just as Longstreet was about to advance, Reynolds was ordered to vacate his position and with his division to the right, in order that Porter’s lines might be rallied behind these fresh troops. This movement was wholly unnecessary for there was little or no disorder in Porter’s command. My men fell back in as perfect a line as if they were on parade, and the other corps seemed equally steady. Reynolds therefore was not needed by us and the order was most inopportune for him to leave his important position, just as the enemy were advancing against it.
A savage fight erupted on the Union left as Longstreet unleashed his attack. Extraordinarily gallant efforts were made by the few numbers of troops retained for the defense of this critical juncture. The defenders held out long enough for Reynolds to return and for other forces to be applied to this stand. Doubleday wrote of the fortuitous nature of the shape formed by the forward battle lines of the two armies at this point: It was fortunate for General Pope at this juncture that the convex formation of his army enabled him promptly to reinforce every assailable point, for while our troops moved on the chord of the arc, the enemy moved on the circumference.
Doubleday’s Brigade had withdrawn during this course of events to the area of the Stone House—a beautiful home marking a distinctive feature of the battlefield—just north of the Warrenton Pike at the intersection with the Manassas-Sudley Road. General Hatch had been wounded, and the command of the division had devolved to Doubleday. A solid line of defense was being established along the Manassas-Sudley Road. Though the most savage of the fighting was now occurring slightly to the left and south of Doubleday’s location, his brigade occupied a position in the relative center of the entire line. He wrote: General Hooker who had relieved General Porter rode up to me, pointed to a depression several hundred yards in front of me on the turnpike near Groveton, and said briefly, “General Doubleday, go into that ravine and hold it.” I immediately formed my division across the turnpike facing west and held the position until dark. We were exposed to a heavy fire from the Rebel artillery in our front, losing a number of men. In the meantime, the roar of battle on my immediate left on Bald Ridge was constant and unintermitting. The broken fragments of regiments came out of the strife all cut to pieces and rallied around me with cries and protestations of loyalty to the flag. Among others, I recollect particularly the 12th Mass regiment, which had just lost its Colonel Fletcher Webster and a large number of its best officers. This Colonel Webster was the only surviving son of the great statesman Daniel Webster. The son had raised up this regiment, who had elected him their colonel; and the regiment was also known as the “Webster Regiment.”
Doubleday’s Division was now the western most unit of Pope’s army. Sufficient defense had been rallied to prevent Longstreet from achieving his ultimate objective of the Henry House Hill, and a general retreat was now in operation. It was very late in the day. The division of Doubleday was under fire from the enemy, but also, due to their advanced position, by the friendly fire of Sigel’s artillery. I then had a flag waved to let them know who we were, but, they took this as a defiance and redoubled their firing. Finding they were getting my exact range I sent Major Doubleday to stop their artillery practice, and fell back a short distance to let the balls pass over us. When the firing ceased, I moved forward again and resumed my first position. It was somewhat trying to be commanded in front by the enemy, and in rear by our own troops.
Doubleday’s Division fell back as darkness descended. The bridge was much crowded, and he therefore had his command cross at a ford above it, and bivouac on the east side for the evening. His final written remarks for this date say: With ample time and means to reinforce General Pope, General McClellan had only sent him 21,000 men from the 90,000 veteran troops which came from the Peninsula, and had wholly evaded his request for food and ammunition. Now that the battle was over, Franklin’s and Sumner’s Divisions of that army came up, raising our forces to a number somewhat superior to that of the enemy. Notwithstanding this, as our army was out of supplies, it became necessary to fall back on Washington.
© Randy Buchman, 2012