Thursday, August 30, 2012

6pm: U.S. Army Regulars finally put breaks on Reb attack, Pope calls it quits

Dogan’s Ridge

Stonewall Jackson was making very little effort to attack the Union men opposite him. He didn’t really have to. Longstreet’s complete obliteration of the defenders on Chinn Ridge had caught them in an untenable trap between the two wings of the Confederate army, and they were withdrawing on their own. All Jackson had to do was keep them moving.

Like during the Seven Days’ the month before, it is difficult to understand why the hyper aggressive Jackson chose not to push home an attack. Lee was riding with Longstreet and caught up in the fight, but Jackson was not usually one to need orders to charge. It’s also possible that he recognized the exhaustion of his men after the grueling two weeks previous and didn’t want to risk their repulse and rout while the Northerners were giving up already.

Powell Hill certainly saw it, and urged his exhausted men who had broken charge after charge the day before forward only sufficiently to keep the pressure on. Some  did so enthusiastically enough to capture several batteries, but they were the exception. The rest came forward steadily, enduring bombardment from Matthews’ Hill, and keeping ranks well enough to remind the attackers-turned-defenders that they could charge, even if they hadn’t yet.

Coordinating the fall back on the other side was Samuel Heintzelman, at last exercising some sort of command commiserate with his rank. He felt fortunate that his two divisions were posted on either wing of Dogan’s Ridge too, for the first time. He had Kearny fall back  along the banks of Bull Run, guarding against any effort by Jackson to ford at Sudley Springs and cut off retreat, and Hooker to manage falling back along the turnpike.

Heintzelman had already sent some of Sigel’s troops including his artillery to Buck Hill, while others were rushed to the southerly end of Dogan’s Ridge to stem Longstreet’s attacks. There had been very little coordinated effort by the Southerners, though, and it had mostly been brigades or mobs that had gotten carried away and charged against whoever they saw.

With the First Corps, Army of Virginia men thrown down as sacrificial lambs to stem the Southern assault, had been Abner Doubleday. Doubleday was now commanding King’s division, but with two of the brigades routed as part of Porter’s assault, and John Gibbon being himself, he was pretty much leading only his own brigade. He had been placed by Hooker on the Turnpike, below the Dogan house, but with the dissipation of an organized Confederate assault, he was now facing an entirely different threat. He was so far out that Sigel’s artillery on Buck Hill thought they were Confederates and took aim on then. Doubleday had his regiments wave their flag, but the artillerists thought it was a sign of defiance and brought more guns to bear. A trained artillerist himself, Doubleday turned his brigade around and marched into the Confederates in order to ruin their aim while his messenger ran at top speed to call them off.

Henry Hill

It was Henry Hill on which the fight was still raging. Irvin McDowell was doing everything he could to solve the problem he had created by moving as many troops as possible to the top. Henry and Buck Hills form twin pillars, through which the Warrenton Turnpike passes on to cross Bull Run at Stone Bridge. Keeping both was essential to using the Turnpike as an avenue of communication to Washington, for reinforcements or retreat.

Opposite the Sudley Road on Chinn Ridge Longstreet’s assault was now in the hands of D.R. “Neighbor” Jones, commanding a nearly entirely Georgian division. Behind him on the ridge were the remains of two Confederate divisions, entirely without order. Some soldiers had plopped down exhausted, some were corralling their prisoners, and others were fighting on with the Georgia men as leaderless masses.

On the far left were a brigade of regulars—some of the few professional soldiers as opposed to volunteers provided by the states. This had been the brigade that Pope had found marching away on the Turnpike and they were making up for it with some of the fiercest fighting of the day. Not only did they have to hold back the Georgians, but a brigade of southside Virginians from Anderson’s division had come up and was wrapping around their flank [where NOVA is today]. The 83rd New York, one of Sigel’s that had become separated on Chinn Ridge, but fell back to Henry Hill and joined the regulars instead of running, held the edge of the line as well as a professional unit.

On the other end of the line, John Reynolds was leading the two surviving brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves. Unlike further to the left where Robert Milroy’s brigade was stationed and the Georgians had to plunge down hill from Chinn Ridge, only to scale the road banks to Henry Hill, most of Reynolds’ men were in the valley of Young’s Branch. Sigel’s artillery—finally letting Doubleday pass—was perfectly positioned to make up for the poor ground. After a charge, the Georgians staggered back and Reynolds was ready.

With a cheer, the Pennsylvanians dashed across Sudley Road, Milroy at their side, and forced the Georgians to flee all the way up Chinn Ridge. Reynolds sent a runner to McDowell to let him know the enemy was falling back and to send reinforcements. But Robert Milroy was already at headquarters ranting, a mad look in his eye. One staffer remembered that it took minutes to even figure out what Milroy was saying, but the gist of it was that he wanted a second brigade assigned to him so he could rout the Confederates. The staffer wrote that McDowell pretended he wasn’t there.

McDowell did, however, respond to Reynolds’ request, and the final brigade of the army, another of regulars, was put in behind the Pennsylvania Reserves. In the confusion of the battlefield and subsequent recriminations, it’s hard to track exactly who ordered what. But when the regular brigade took position in Young’s Branch, Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Reserves fell back and turned over defense to them.

McDowell was just getting things stabilized when an order reached him from John Pope: general retreat. The Union was admitting defeat.

5pm: Yanks try to stem Reb tide on Chinn Ridge, but are washed away


Note: Jackson's wing not depicted
Chinn Ridge

Hood’s Texans had swept away Warren’s Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac brigade, and a brigade from the Pennsylvania Reserves, and now turned on the one brigade remaining south of the Turnpike, a First Corps, Army of Virginia brigade of Ohioans. They were disorganized, but still frenzied with battle, more of a mob with a common purpose than a brigade. The commander of the Ohio brigade remembered:
As soon as our retreating troops got out of the way, I opened upon the enemy with my artillery, and as they came nearer, with a heavy fire from my infantry, with the result that I drove them back more rapidly than they had advanced. During this time my attention was called to a body of troops in the rear of my left flank, and supposing them to be enemies I ordered two pieces of my artillery to be turned upon them, but countermanded this order when assured that they were our own troops coming to my assistance… This proved to be a mistake, as I very soon discovered.
In a strange analog to the first battle near Manassas on a larger scale, James Kemper’s division had gotten lost trying to keep up with Hood’s surging Texans. Instead of coming up in front of the Ohioans as they should have, they ranged down a ravine to the south, and came up the far side of Chinn Ridge, behind the Northern men. They still fought well enough that the Southerners didn’t realize how completely they had surprised them:
On we advanced until we nearly reached a small outbuilding—when suddenly a regiment of the enemy sprang up from behind a wall and let us have a withering volley at point blank pistol range. We were not expecting it, and it came upon us with the suddenness of a thunderbolt. Colonel Marye fell, his leg fractured by a bullet, and many were killed by that volley. All discipline now was at an end, and individual bravery fully made up for the deficiency. We all sprang forward with one ringing yell—the officers waving their swords and the men standing still only long enough to fire off their guns….
The Ohio brigade commander felt his men were holding but “at this time I saw what appeared to be a heavy force advancing on my right flank.” They were another brigade of Confederates, this time with Shanks Evans. “I felt if they reached me as I was then situated it would result in my defeat with great loss. Under these circumstances I gave the order to fall back slowly.” Disgustedly, he blamed Reynolds for leaving, since if the Pennsylvania Reserves had been to his left, he would have been able to hold.

On the other end of the ridge, near the Turnpike, the two brigades of Ricketts’ that had been rushed (as opposed to the two Heintzelman had refused to give up) were trying to get in the fight, but had to deploy while being hammered by Longstreet’s artillery and mobs of Texans, now joined by South Carolinians. The brigade commander fell wounded, early on, but the brigade held under withering fire, until the Ohioans marched right through the middle of their formation. “The battalion rallies as far as possible, continuing to fire,” the colonel of one of Ricketts’ regiments wrote. “Those in retreat were rallied on the flank at the edge of the timber.

Another First Corps brigade had been rushed up Chinn Ridge behind Ricketts’ wavering men:
To our left, where we found the De Kalb regiment [41st New York] isolated from their brigade, a battery… had been abandoned. The last named regiment.. endeavored to save the cannons, but in vain. The enemy by this time had brought up and posted near the border of the woods two sections of artillery, which, from a distance of scarcely 200 yards, covered [the brigade]… with a perfect shower of projectiles.
With the Confederate brigade and division commanders barely able to control their infantry, James Longstreet was personally placing artillery and selecting targets. Most of the time he was methodically picking off any Union guns that were aimed at the oncoming Southern tide. The Union men could scarcely set up or pivot a gun to help their comrades on Chinn Ridge without Longstreet ordering down a hellish hail of ordnance on them. Behind him, Lee rode, looking on approvingly.

Dogan’s Ridge

While the Texans and South Carolinians hammered the mob of men from Ricketts’ division and the First Corps, the third brigade from the division decided to cross the Turnpike and hit the Union stronghold on Dogan’s Ridge.
Unable to distinguish the locality of the Texas Brigade, and seeing the enemy was pushing a heavy force into the ravine and pine thickets in front of me [one brigade from Schenck’s division]… just below Dogan’s house, apparently for the purpose of securing their formidable battery posted there [Hazlett’s, back in action], I carried three regiments to that point.
They charged the house and the depleted brigade faced overwhelming odds.
The regiment [the 45th New York] took position in an orchard on the left… to meet the advancing force of rebel infantry which was coming out of the woods and pushing up the hill. Two regiments of infantry had been brought up by General Hooker and drew up on our left—the only support [we had] on that part of the hill.
The regiments were from John Gibbon’s brigade, and Hooker hadn’t had time to send them. They were the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin, that had been ravaged at Brawner’s Farm the opening evening of the battle.
The 45th New York came running from an orchard; we could not stop them, until Gen. Gibbon orders us to charge bayonets… He order[ed] them back, but the frightened men dare not go. He turns to the shattered Second and says, “Men, will you go?” The men responded with cheers and an officer dashed to the front yelling “Come on Boys, God damn them we can keep them back!”
Law’s brigade fell back to regroup. It was then that a messenger arrived from Hooker, who had local command the troops around the Dogan House, ordering all troops to fall back to Buck Hill. The hyper aggressive Gibbon cursed out the officer who brought him the order, and swore he didn’t report to Hooker and wouldn’t fall back. In a few minutes the officer was back and explained that Hooker had said Buck Hill must be secured. The position at Dogan’s ridge couldn’t hold off Longstreet’s men from the south and the expected forthcoming attack from Jackson from the north and west. Reluctantly, Gibbon gave the order.

Henry Hill

The brutal slaughter on Chinn Ridge was essential, from McDowell’s perspective, in order to buy time to get defenders on Henry Hill. More than anyone on the field except maybe Jackson McDowell knew that the site of the Henry House was the key position for the entire area, even more so than Buck Hill. Whoever held it dictated everything in the surrounding countryside, and if it was Lee then there was no escape for Pope’s army.

 He had left the Ohio brigade and ridden to Henry Hill, where he found John Pope. The commanding general, who had fallen into a stupor shortly after Porter’s failure, had regained his vitality, and was galloping to and fro swearing up a storm to arrange the defenses. He had recognized the hill’s value at least in stemming Longstreet’s relentless wave, but it had been the regular army stalwarts that had truly reanimated him. While riding past Stone House in a daze he had run into a battalion of the 17th Infantry, calmly marching towards the Stone Bridge and safety. When he asked where the hell they were going, the commanding officer calmly told him they were marching over Bull Run to cook their dinners. Pope exploded, and re-routed the entire brigade of regulars to Henry Hill.

By a happy coincidence, John Reynolds was on Henry Hill too, with the remaining two brigades of Pennsylvania Reserves. Pope’s staff officer had found him after Heintzelman’s dismissal, and told him to hurry south of the turnpike. Either through a misunderstanding or through Reynolds’ timely insubordination, the Reserves had been marched not to the maelstrom of Chinn Ridge, but to a strong defensive position on top of Henry Hill.

McDowell joined Pope riding up and down the line and placing infantry and artillery for maximum defense. With one of his divisions being massacred on Chinn Ridge, Franz Sigel, still had the presence of mind to send Milroy’s brigade to Henry Hill. The sun was beginning to set low in the sky, and the smoke of battle gave a hellish appearance to its late summer redness. As McDowell looked across Sudley Road to Chinn Ridge it became apparent that Milroy would be the last reinforcements they would receive before the Confederates hit.

4pm: Longstreet's counterattack obliterates Yanks south of the Turnpike


Brawner’s Farm

Before Lee’s orders even reached him James Longstreet modified his orders from the morning. The diversion was going to become a full-scale attack by all 28,000 men in his wing. Hood’s brigade (followed by the rest of Evans’ Division) was told to “push for the plateau at the Henry House, in order to cut off [Pope’s] retreat at the crossings by Young’s Branch.” Kemper’s division would move on their right, followed by Neighbor Jones. Anderson, as the army’s reserve, was up to Lee to commit. Wilcox’s division was already moving forward north of the Turnpike without orders.

Wilcox had sent two of his brigades forward as soon as he saw Porter start retreating. He had decided on his own initiative to cut off the retreating Union soldiers, but it didn’t go as planned.
We reached the works in front and passed through the skirt of woods over 600 yards wide, when we came to another old field some half a mile or three-quarters in width. Here we found on the opposite side of the field the enemy drawn up in line of battle, with several pieces of artillery turned on our troops, and directing a rapid, heavy, and destructive fire both upon the right and left of our lines.
Dogan’s Ridge

The artillery opposite Wilcox belonged to Franz Sigel, Jesse Reno, and Sam Heintzelman, and they were hammering two of Jackson’s brigades as well that had also tried to chase Porter’s men. The three corps commander’s men were lined up in battle lines, waiting for a counterattack from Jackson, but also trying to do their best to intercept Porter’s fleeing men.

Robert Milroy wrote that he tried to stop “the great tide of cowardly runaways”:
I tried this a while alone with my sword, but soon found I could not stay the tide. I then ordered my brigade to deploy into line and threw them rapidly across the [Warrenton Turnpike] and valley… and ordered my regiments to face the front and fix bayonets and stop every man whether officer or private.
George Morell had arrived on the battlefield in dismay. He had missed his men’s charge thanks to a mistaken detour to Centreville and now saw them streaming down the Turnpike as fast as they could move. Spurring his horse he road up and down the lines, trying to rally them with very limited success.

But aside from the four brigades involved directly in the attack, the rest of the Union position was holding, uneasily, waiting for Stonewall Jackson to counterattack. As the senior corps commander, Sam Heintzelman was steadying the men, trying to make sure the panic of the routed brigades didn’t spread, when a staff officer from Pope arrived. Irvin McDowell had convinced Pope that Porter’s failure meant that the Confederate threat south of the Turnpike was imminent—presumably first having to convince him it existed. But thanks in a large part to McDowell’s all-out strategy, there were only two brigades south of the Turnpike to defend.

McDowell wanted the remaining two brigades from Ricketts’ division sent from the Sudley Springs area to Chinn Ridge. Looking across the field at Jackson’s line, Heintzelman shook his head. He explained that they were protecting his flank, and if they were moved Jackson could reach level ground and collapse the whole Dogan’s Ridge position. But he volunteered the Pennsylvania Reserves, who were useless to him now that Porter’s attack didn’t need following up. The staffer dashed off to find John Reynolds.


Hood’s brigade moved forward with a whoop, all the regiments deployed in a single line of battle, their left anchored on the Turnpike. The brigade moved across the hilly fields of the Virginia Piedmont and approached the 10th New York from Warren’s small brigade, deployed as skirmishers on the west side of Groveton. “As the brigade moved across the first field of timber held by the enemy’s skirmishers,” the commander of the 5th Texas wrote, “a change of front… made it necessary to move my men at a run across the field. At the edge of the timber the enemy’s skirmishers were encountered…”

“Suddenly the rebel pickets arose and rapidly advanced, firing as they came, and the Texas brigade burst into view from the woods opposite,” a member of the 10th New York remembered. “The attack was so sudden that the deployed companies of the 10th had barely time to discharge their pieces once before the rebels were almost upon them.”

Some fell back doggedly and fired, but the speed of the Texans quickly overwhelmed them and the regiment turned into a disordered mob. Gouverneur Warren, in command of their brigade, had only one additional regiment, perched on a hill. As his men ran past him, he sent an aide to Lieutenant Hazlett, letting him know he could not protect his guns at Groveton, and then tried to stop enough New Yorkers to make a stand on the little hill. Hazlett, whose guns were to the northwest of Warren, could do nothing to help him. Having once fought his guns to the last on a hill near Manassas, he decided to limber up and move to safety—just in time as it turned out.

Hood’s men had become separated in the woods, with the 1st Texas continuing down the Turnpike (chasing Hazlett), but the four other regiments were more than sufficient against Warren’s one. The 5th New York remembered later that it had been preternaturally quiet until the 10th New York men came running by screaming that the enemy was upon them. “Attention battalion!” one member recalled the officers shouting distinctly. “There was a moments stillness, and then bang! Bang, bang, bang! Came the sound of shots from the woods directly in our front.” Another said that “the balls began to fly from the woods like hail. It was a continual hiss, snap, whiz, and slug.” The New Yorkers stood stock still.

In the woods, Hood’s men had run up against the 5th New York’s skirmish line. “I ordered the regiment to fire on and charge them,” the 5th Texas colonel wrote. “They broke and were closely pressed to the open field, where we encountered a second line of the enemy in the Fifth New York Zouaves…”

The Texans came into view, but the 5th New York couldn’t fire, because of the swarm of the 10th New York in front of them. The left side of the line was clear an opened fire, but the Texans’ fire was overwhelming. On the left, Warren was able to get the 10th’s reserve into line and the front clear enough to unleash one volley, before the wave of Texans was on them all. Various officers gave contradictory orders, as the whole brigade was swept away. One officer wrote about the run:
While running down the hill towards the small stream at its foot, I saw the men dropping on all sides, canteens struck and flying to pieces, haversacks cut off, rifles knocked to pieces, it was a perfect hail of bullets—I was expecting to get it every second, but on, on, I went, the balls hissing by my head. I felt one strike me on the hip, just grazing me and cutting a hole in my pants. I crossed the run in the wake of Warren, he being about 100 yards ahead of me, with his red cap in his hand, his horse running at the top of his speed. I turned and looked behind once and only once, that was enough to let me know there was no time to stop.
McDowell had found one brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves on his own, and sent them in front of Chinn Ridge and they had marched to the crest just in time to see Warren’s brigade dissolve. He had one battery with him, and the captain instantly volunteered to set his guns on the ridge, while the commander hurried to get his men out of column and into lines. The Texans briefly hesitated, then surged on, felling the brigade commander and collapsing wrapping around the Pennsylvanians to catch them in a cross-fire.

A member of the 4th Texas wrote:
The battery… held its ground, and as we neared it, began to hurl… canister that tore great gaps in our ranks. Behind it lay, in a thicket of cedars, a regiment whose special duty it was to support it, but when [it] saw the two lines in front break into flight, it also broke and fled, leaving the battery entirely without support. Then, feeling themselves deserted, the men belonging to the battery abandoned it and made for the rear, leaving only their captain to stand by it. And that he did, with a courage and a heroism that, although wasted on the impossible, deservedly won the admiration and even the sympathy of the foes he was doing his best to destroy. Even when we had come within forty yards of the guns, he stood at the only loaded one, and was in the act of discharging it when he was shot down.

Chinn Ridge

McDowell was horrified at the rout of Warren and one brigade of the reserves, standing with a brigade of his fellow Buckeye Staters on Chinn Ridge from Sigel’s corps. The men wanted to open up on Hood’s brigade right away, and McDowell had to personally ride in front of their artillery to stop them from opening up into their own men who were mixed in. There was also an Ohio regiment from the brigade that had been detached rapidly falling back and right between the brigade and the Texans.  But it was not the Texans that were about to become the Ohioans biggest problem.

3pm: Yanks charge unfinished railroad, Rebs throw rocks


Unfinished Railroad and Groveton-Sudley Road

Fitz John Porter ordered forward his lead division and King’s division (under John Hatch). They had been lined up in Groveton Woods parallel to Groveton-Sudley Road (Featherbed Lane) with a three brigade front, and now pivoted on the right-most across an open plain towards the railroad. Watching from Brawner’s Farm, James Longstreet couldn’t help but admire the smartly executed military maneuver:
I reached a point… where I could plainly see the Federals as they rushed in heavy masses against the obstinate ranks of the Confederate left. It was a grand display of well-organized attack, thoroughly concentrated and operating cleverly.
The left brigade had more ground to cover than almost any other unit, and had to do it entirely in the open. Remembered the colonel of the 17th New York, in the lead of the brigade:
We crossed the road, the men scrambling over the fence on the other side, and moved forward steadily in quick time. No sooner had we appeared in plain view of the enemy than he opened a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry on our advancing line. Nothing could surpass the behavior of the officers and the men, the latter steadily closing the huge gaps made in the ranks.
The 17th New York actually had a slightly easier time than the rest of its brigade going in. Four regiments followed behind it, one after the other, which made even more appealing targets to the Southern gunners. In the woods it had been too difficult to form the line of battle that was standard, so Porter had intended for them to do so in the field before charging the railroad. A member of the 44th New York, next in line, wrote:
Emerging from the woods, we were ordered to deploy column, a maneuver we tried to execute under a galling fire of the enemy’s batteries and infantry; and most of the companies became badly tangled; the enemy was concealed in an old railroad cut about 500 yards in our front, and their fire… made sad havoc of our ranks; the rain of shot and shell… was something terrible. About midway across this open field was a dry brook into which many of our men fell for shelter…
One of the casualties crossing the field was the brigade commander, so the colonel of the 44th New York took command. Not a military man, he did his best to get the brigade into position for the final charge into the bristling muskets behind the railroad cut.

As the New Yorkers had advanced across the field, Colonel Bradley Johnson’s Virginia brigade rapidly threw themselves into the railroad cut, some without even loading their weapons. Next to Johnson’s brigade, a soldier in the Stonewall Brigade wrote:
The Federals came up in front of us [as] suddenly as men rising up out of the ground, showing themselves at the old railroad line opposite our line in double battle phalanx coming forward in slow time, ouring their shot in our ranks in unmerciful volume.
The Northern men, now more-or-less fanned out as intended, slammed into the Confederate lines, sending the first line of defenders staggering back towards the rest of their units in the woods on Stony Ridge. On the far right of the advance, a member of the 24th New York from Hatch’s brigade remembered that the charge “seemed like the popular idea of pandemonium made real, and indeed it is scarcely too much to say that we were transformed for the time from a lot of good natured boys to the most bloodthirsty of demoniacs.”

The 24th’s commander, only a major because of losses, was shot dead off his horse right as he reached the embankment. An officer from the regiment wrote:
Those of us who were on the embankment were too few to even attempt to drive out the troops on the other side of it and accordingly lay as flat to the slope as we could, crawling occasionally to the top, and discharging our muskets, held horizontally over our heads, in the direction which seemed to afford a chance of hitting something on the other side.
On the other side was Starke’s Louisiana brigade, led by its senior colonel, Leroy Stafford. A soldier in the 1st Louisiana remembered their first volley into Hatch’s brigade and the 24th New York: “When the smoke arose the line of Federals was almost swept away, with the exception of the gallant band who [had] advanced and secured protection on the opposite side of the embankment.” A second attack wave crashed against them from Hatch’s brigade and almost dislodged the Louisianans, but their reinforcements came rushing into the hand-to-hand combat from the Stony Ridge tree line.

In the center of the attack, the Stonewall Brigade had been knocked out of the railroad by another New York regiment. Wielding his saber, Colonel Baylor ordered the second-line of Virginians to charge to regain it. Watching the flag of the 33rd Virginia fall and rise again three times as its bearer was shot, Baylor grabbed it himself and screamed “Boys, follow me!” in an instant he staggered as several minie balls riddled his body, and fell dead. The Stonewall counterattack fizzled and they began falling back.

A messenger ran as fast as he could to Jackson, who was pacing not far behind another part of the line and begged for reinforcements. “What brigade?” Jackson asked. “Stonewall Brigade,” the messenger replied, and Jackson told him to “go back, give my complements to them, and tell the Stonewall Brigade to maintain her reputation.” Jackson thought better of his harsh words though, and called the officer back, telling him instead to hold on for a short time longer and he would provide reinforcements. To find them, he asked A.P. Hill to send two from his battered division, and sent an urgent plea to Lee for some of Longstreet’s men.

At some point, John Hatch was wounded, but the individual units were fighting on their own now. Back on the right of Porter’s attack, Marsena Patrick had thrown his men in behind the men of Hatch’s brigade that were clinging to the railroad. Only some of the men had a few hundred yards of open space to cross before reaching the railroad, but Longstreet’s artillerists were zeroed in now, and fired with devastating effect. Cadmus Wilcox, watching from Brawner’s witnessed the effect of the artillery:
Seeing a second line issuing from the woods upon the field, I was in the act of ordering a battery to be placed in position to fire upon them when a battery was directed by the major general commanding [Longstreet] to fire upon them… They were caught in the open field. The effect of every shot could be seen... As the shells and spherical case would burst over in front and near them their ranks would break, hesitate and scatter…
Nonetheless some of the brigade made it forward, to find themselves in the same position as those that had preceded them. A Confederate soldier from Alabama wrote:
They just simply jammed up against the embankment opposite the right of the 15th Alabama and one of the Louisiana regiments. They were so thick it was impossible to miss them. Cicero Kirkland, of my company… mounted on top of our breastwork [the railroad] and poured buck and ball into them as fast as one of the boys could load and hand him a musket… What a slaughter! What a slaughter of men that was!”
The Louisianans grabbed rounds off the dead and wounded, but their ammunition soon ran out still. An Irish immigrant fighting with them shouted “Boys, give them the rocks!” and they began chucking them at the Union men. An officer from a New York regiment related later drolly called it “an unlooked for variation in the proceedings.” He continued: “Huge stones began to fall about us and now and then one of them would happen to strike with a very unpleasant effect.” Some of the New Yorkers decided to throw them back.

The rock throwing lasted only for a short time when one of the promised brigades from Hill, with plenty of ammunition, sprinted the last few hundred feet to the railroad embankment. No reinforcements had come from Porter’s second division, so the commanders of the attack ordered the withdrawal. In many cases, the order was superfluous, the men had already left.

On the left of the attack, where the men had the furthest distance to cover, they had to deal with additional artillery that Longstreet had moved into action rather than sending infantry reinforcements. One soldier from the brigade wrote: “The whole brigade went back pell-mell together… The Rebels kept up a heavy fire upon them as they retired, and it is probably that as many men were lost in the retreat as in the advance.” More than a few Union soldiers decided it was better to surrender than to cross the field again.


In the woods north of Groveton, Fitz John Porter had watched the spectacular defeat grimly. He had been fatalistic about the attack from the start, a negativity that probably saved some of his men by convincing Sigel to launch a supporting attack from Dogan’s Ridge with one division, keeping Jackson from transferring reinforcements from a closer point. But when the three brigades slowed at the railroad, Porter had immediately decided to withhold his division of Regulars. The Confederates were still on the battlefield in force, he reasoned, it was too dangerous to put in his last reserves.

Chinn Ridge

If Porter was grim, Irvin McDowell was frantic. Pope’s entire plan for battle was predicated on breaking Jackson’s line, if that was done then Lee was defeated. Even if Jackson wasn’t already retreating, he would be when the railroad was taken. Porter had been very negative about his chances of success, so McDowell was working overtime to give him every resource he needed.

Very shortly after Porter’s men stepped off, McDowell transferred two brigades away from Ricketts on the Sudley Road to Groveton, by way of Dogan’s Ridge, and rode to Chinn Ridge to find Reynolds. As the Confederate artillery began booming, McDowell ordered Reynolds to march up Chinn Ridge north of the Turnpike and be ready to go in after Porter.

Reynolds did so with disgust. The obsession with defeating Jackson once again won out over basic force protection. As his men marched off the ridge they passed the one Ohio brigade of Sigel’s that had been dispatched to “that bald hill” which they took to mean Chinn Ridge. Their commander wrote:
After a very short time, to my intense surprise, Genl Reynolds marched with his whole command immediately across my front to the right, leaving me entirely alone with no other troops in sight. Thinking Genl Reynolds had forgotten me, I sent an officer to ask if he had any orders for me. He answered no, but tell him to take care of himself, as the enemy are approaching in heavy force through the woods.
Stuart’s Hill

Reynolds was more right than he knew. From his headquarters, Lee was sending observational information back and forth through all parts of his army, by signal flag and currier, to make sure each end knew what was going on. At approximately 3:45 a messenger from Jackson had confirmed what Lee’s eyes were telling him, the Union men were beginning to fall back from the railroad. Lee turned to another officer on his staff and sent the order he had been waiting for to Longstreet: attack.

2pm: Still no Yank attack, but a lot of personal attacks



A note from Fitz John Porter expressing concern about the attack because of all the changes to the plan reached Irvin McDowell as he was riding with John Reynolds through the hamlet of Groveton. As Reynolds had assured him the picket line was very hot, and had been for the length of Reynolds line. McDowell had been unable to conclude anything other than Reynolds’ assertion that some massive Confederate force was well beyond the Union left.

But Porter’s attack was about to step off, and from the perspective of Pope’s plans it was essential that it breakthrough Jackson’s railroad line, so Pope committed most of the army’s reserves, Sigel’s corps, before the attack even began. He forwarded Porter’s request to Sigel and told Porter he could count on having the First Corps, Army of Virginia in support during his attack.

Which left Reynolds again alone south of the Turnpike (even more so now that Hatch had been ordered off the road too). McDowell let his division commander know the significance of Porter’s attack and that therefore he would not be reinforced. Instead, he recommended that Reynolds pull his division back from Groveton to Chinn Ridge. Reynolds, who never wanted to be in Groveton to begin with, agreed, and the two men parted, McDowell on his way to headquarters.

As the Pennsylvania Reserves marched off, the men of Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery battery looked on with alarm. After Reynolds had cleared the hamlet, Porter had put the six guns on a sharp little hill jutting above it. Charles Hazlett had commanded a section of the battery at First Bull Run, when it had been pushed far forward along with Ricketts’ battery to sweep Henry Hill of Jackson’s Confederates. On that day Hazlett and the battery commander had argued the guns needed to be moved off Henry Hill, because no infantry was there to protect them, but they had been overruled, and shortly after men from the Stonewall Brigade had slaughtered the battery and captured the guns. Hazlett had escaped along with the battery commander (while James Ricketts was wounded and captured nearby).

Determined not to repeat his experience of the previous summer, Hazlett sent a runner to Fitz John Porter asking for help. Porter, who was relying on the accurate fire of the battery to soften up the railroad defensive line before the attack, and to knock out Confederate batteries during it, instantly sent the small New York brigade of Gouverneur Warren to occupy Groveton. It was less men for the assault, but it was worth keeping Hazlett’s battery in position.

Buck Hill

At Army of Virginia headquarters, John Pope was in fits of rage at Porter again. It had been over two hours since he ordered Porter to attack and no attack had yet occurred. When a messenger arrived again confirming the Confederates were in force south of the Turnpike, Pope could only irritably wave in a southerly direction and snarl to staffer that he should tell Sigel to send a brigade to “that bald hill.” The staffer was only slightly less perplexed than Franz Sigel, to whom he repeated the vague gesture on Dogan’s Ridge ten minutes later. Sigel did his best, pulling one brigade from the corps’ preparation to support Porter and sending it to Chinn Ridge.

Back at headquarters, Pope had taken a break from his tirade of curses about Porter to send an actual message to him. “Go forward and see him and bring me word why he doesn’t attack,” he snapped at a staff officer. The officer rode off and Porter resumed his rant, as McDowell rode back from his examination of the left. Shortly before three (and before Pope’s staffer reached Porter) the boom of Porter’s artillery quickened and cheers drifted over the battlefield. The attack was at last beginning.