Thursday, August 30, 2012

12am - 5am: Pope plans chase of "retreating" Rebs


Northwest of Manassas Junction

At about 3:30 in the morning, Maj. General Fitz John Porter, commanding the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, was roused from sleep at his headquarters at Bethlehem Church on the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road]. A messenger had arrived from Maj. General John Pope, the commanding general, with his unequivocal order for Porter to march to the battlefield immediately to arrive before dawn. It would be light enough to see in just an hour and a half, so Porter sent orders to rouse the men and then got dressed.


Not long before Porter’s Union men started marching, Maj. General Richard Anderson’s Confederate men stopped marching at last. Anderson commanded the final division of the Confederate army, which had been detached for special work on the march from Richmond. They had marched 17 miles, and for the last few hours in the pitch-black, and the men were exhausted.

Anderson was marching without guides. He had expected to meet an officer from Longstreet’s staff in Gainesville and been disappointed, so he continued marching east on the Turnpike hoping one would arrive. They didn’t. At last he ordered a halt where the bodies lay thick enough that it appeared he was on the battle line. His men stacked arms and flopped onto the ground to catch some sleep.

About to take a quick nap before dawn in his position in the Brawner Woods, Brig. General John Bell Hood was interrupted by a subordinate who had watch Anderson’s men lay down on the hill overlooking Groveton [Stonewall Memory Gardens].
Knowing that some thirty or forty pieces of artillery bore directly on his troops, I mounted my horse, rode off in search of his quarters, and urged him to hasten withdrawal, as the Federal artillery would assuredly, at daylight, open upon his men… Upon my warning, he promptly aroused his men and, just after daybreak, marched to the rear of my line of battle.

Dogan’s Ridge

Maj. General Franz Sigel’s First Corps, Army of Virginia had opened the fight the day before and had a rough time against Jackson. But Sigel had had most of the afternoon to regroup them in the hollows behind Dogan’s Ridge where it crossed the Warrenton Turnpike. Schenck’s division, which had spent the previous morning engaged on the Turnpike, was resting unmoved since mid-afternoon, with only the 75th Ohio out on picket duty. Schurz’s division was largely re-formed on the right of the army, but as soon as daylight came Sigel had permission to bring it to Dogan’s Ridge too. His two one-brigade divisions—one of these was Milroy’s—were on the east side of Dogan’s Ridge and would be his reserves for the day.

Sigel was not alone in using the late afternoon and the night to regroup his corps. Maj. General Jesse Reno, commanding a two division detachment of the massive Ninth Corps, had been at work consolidating it on the ridge too. The division of Maj. General Isaac Stevens, the hero of Lewinsville, was now resting altogether on the Sudley Road, and Reno’s own division, including Nagle’s still shaken but battle-ready brigade, extended to their left up the ridge.

Between Sigel’s and Reno’s corps, though, Maj. General Joe Hooker was making little effort to reorganize his division. Sam Heintzelman’s Third Corps, Army of the Potomac was split, with Phil Kearny on the other side of Stevens. Hooker’s men had made attacks around the same time as Reno’s Ninth Corps, but he had not made a concerted effort to bring the division back together, letting the regimental officers keep their men wherever they could gather them. The New Jersey and Excelsior brigades were more or less on Dogan’s Ridge, while Grover’s was still scattered to the east of Sudley Road. Kearny’s division, meanwhile, had slept on their weapons after their late afternoon breakthrough, expecting the Confederates to come at any time. Getting them to the rear to rest and regroup was Kearny’s top priority.

With Porter’s Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac on its way, that left only Maj. General McDowell’s Third Corps, Army of Virginia. The corps was as close to being united as it had been in any time for the previous two days, but it wasn’t there yet. King’s division, being led by its senior brigadier, John P. Hatch, was still split from the action of the night. Hatch’s own brigade and that of Abner Doubleday were still in disarray from their nighttime adventures near Groveton. The brigades of John Gibbon and Marsena Patrick were both up on Dogan’s Ridge, surrounded by First Corps men.

On Henry Hill, McDowell had spent the night with the four brigade division of Brig. General James Ricketts, in the spot where Ricketts had lost his battery and been captured by Stonewall Jackson’s men just a year earlier. Rickett’s men were weary from marching, but other than two regiments that had skirmished at Thoroughfare Gap, hadn’t taken part in any fighting. Brig. General John Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Reserves were right across Sudley Road from them on Bald Hill.

Stuart Hill

As dawn broke on Lee’s Headquarters, Maj. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was already enjoying breakfast with the commanding general, Robert E. Lee. After weeks on the march, Jackson had accepted an invitation to spend the night in the comparable comfort of Lee’s tent. As they breakfasted, they discussed their situation and the strategy for the day.

Lee’s army was split between two wings, one stretching from Brawner’s Farm to Sudley Church at the base of Stony Ridge, with an unfinished railroad cut providing a superb defensive position. Jackson commanded this wing, and it had spent the previous day being pounded within an inch of its life by John Pope’s army. A.P. Hill’s battered Light Division held the left, with Ewell’s Division under Alexander Lawton in the center, and Taliaferro’s Division under William Starke on the right. Substitute commanders now outnumbered appointed commanders in the units in Jackson’s wing, some were even on their third commander since the battle began.

The other was Longstreet’s wing, now complete with Anderson’s arrival. It stretched from where Jackson’s ended at the Brawner house due south to the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road]. Cadmus Wilcox held the pivot in the line at Brawner’s, with Hood opposite the Turnpike from him (and now reporting to Shanks Evans). Stretching beyond them, but not in continuous line, were the divisions of James Kemper and Neighbor Jones, while rapidly marching west past them to a reserve position was Anderson’s division.

Lee had wanted to launch a counter-attack with this wing, first in the afternoon and then at dawn, but both time Longstreet and his generals had convinced him that he couldn’t do so without exposing the army’s flank and leaving himself open for defeat. Both times Lee had agreed, and now he had little to do but rearm the men and pray that Pope attacked again.

Buck Hill

At Pope’s headquarters, the braggart general finally looked crushed. It was not Lee that had brought him down, but rather Maj. General George McClellan, the erstwhile General-in-chief. When his replacement, Maj. General Henry Halleck, had ordered McClellan to bring the Army of the Potomac back from the Peninsula, it had been with the intention of joining it with Pope’s army to create what we would now call an “army group” of two armies working in support of each other. Halleck had led one with great success in Tennessee, though Pope, who had commanded one of the armies, had a different opinion on how Halleck had done.

But because McClellan was McClellan, he had dragged his feet, only arriving in Alexandria himself a few days before. Halleck had sent the Third and Fifth Corps to Pope since they had arrived before McClellan (also, half the Ninth Corps, a semi-independent unit under Ambrose Burnside), but backed down from his bold words about sending the Second and Sixth Corps as soon as McClellan voiced his objections in person.

The man who had left the capital bereft of defenders a year before, spawning the crisis that led to the creation of Pope’s separate army, suddenly became obsessed with having sufficient defenders for the capital. McClellan may have had some very good arguments for keeping his two corps in the capital, but his opinion was no longer trustworthy with the Lincoln Administration, and it was not hard to see how he benefitted from Pope’s troubles.

So when Pope had asked for the Sixth Corps to join him immediately and to send supplies for his weary army that had exhausted its own in the chase of Jackson all over northern Virginia, McClellan had instructed its commander to decline to help. Instead, he offered to send only supplies by train, and only if Pope would send a cavalry escort. Since the horses were starving, and the few that weren’t were needed to scout for the army, Pope understood that there was no relief coming.

To paraphrase McClellan’s suggestion to Halleck, it was up to him to get out of this scrape alone.

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