Lee had placed his headquarters on Stuart’s Hill, overlooking the Warrenton Turnpike [US 29] just to the south of the Brawner farm. The two wings of his army were now stretched at an obtuse angle hinging on the Brawner house, like a gigantic set of jaws ready to snap shut on the men in blue in the middle.
The upper jaw was Jackson’s wing, positioned, though not dug-in, behind the embankment of the Unfinished Railroad. Taliaferro’s division, now led by Starke was Jackson’s right flank. Except for skirmishers, the whole division was held several hundred yards behind the railroad embankment, protected from Union artillery fire. Next in line was Ewell’s division, under Lawton, with two brigades battling on the railroad embankment, and three several hundred yards back in reserve. A.P. Hill’s massive Light Division covered the left, with four brigades along the railroad all the way to Sudley Church, and two in reserve.
The lower jaw was Longstreet’s wing. Hood’s division straddled the Turnpike at the Brawner farm, with the independent brigade of Shanks Evan as its reserve. The divisions of Kemper and Neighbor Jones extended south to the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road]. Wilcox’s division was held as an army reserve, and Anderson’s was still a days’ march away. A brigade of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry guarded either extreme of the army.
After six hours of the Union men throwing themselves fruitlessly on Jackson’s wing, Lee wanted to use Longstreet’s fresh men to snap the jaws shut. But Longstreet resisted launching the attack, telling Lee he had no personal knowledge of the ground or the enemy’s positioning, and only basic maps. Though impatient, Lee acknowledged the wisdom of Longstreet’s caution, and gave him permission to scout. Recognizing his chief’s desire, Longstreet hurried off, but gave orders for the bulk of his artillery to be concentrated at Brawner’s Farm for maximum effect.
East of Groveton on the Turnpike, Franz Sigel, the First Corps (Army of Virginia) commander, had concentrated the bulk of his artillery, in order to cover the retreat of Robert Milroy. Sigel was probably unaware that the men at Brawner’s were now Longstreet’s and not Jackson’s. John Pope definitely was.
The commander of the Union army had arrived at mid-day, and then rode forward from his headquarters established on the reverse slope of Dogan’s Ridge to discuss the situation with Sigel. Sigel described to Pope how he had started Schenck’s division down the Turnpike, only to run into the Confederates that had attacked McDowell’s men the night before, leading to another conflict at the Brawner’s Farm. Meanwhile, he had sent Schurz’s division up the Sudley Road, to get around the Confederates at Brawner’s, only to find more Confederates.
Then Milroy, supposed to be supporting Schenck, had stirred up a hornet’s nest at another point between Schneck’s trouble and Schurz’s. Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Reserves from the still-absent Army of Virginia Third Corps of McDowell had gone in to help Schenck, who had sent half his force to help out Milroy. Kearny’s division from Heintzelman’s Army of the Potomac Third Corps had arrived, but so far had been little help to Schurz. Reynolds and Schenck had managed to extricate themselves from the fight at Brawner’s, and Milroy appeared to have been rescued from his spot by the artillery concentration, but Schurz was still in trouble. Could General Pope provide a force to relieve Schurz exhausted men?
John Pope flatly denied the request. Schurz’s men were going to have to keep on fighting, and what’s more they were to attack. Sigel had ordered Schurz to counterattack in cooperation with Kearny just before Pope arrived in order to buy breathing room so his men could be replaced by the arriving reinforcements from Jesse Reno’s Ninth Corps. Both men parted, Sigel hating Pope for his lack of feeling, and Pope hating Sigel for his incompetence.
The fact is Pope thought he saw an opportunity. Jackson had been more of a fool than expected, and had stretched his entire force in a vulnerable position, where Pope’s army now had localized superiority in numbers. Pope would pour Heintzelman’s Third Corps men and Reno’s Ninth Corps men against the railroad embankment, forcing Jackson to reinforce, while McDowell’s Third Corps and Porter’s Fifth Corps would soon be in Gainesville, and able to cut Jackson off from the rest of the Confederate army under Longstreet. So it worked in Pope’s mind.
Northwest of Manassas Junction
The man in possession of the knowledge that Longstreet was not, in fact, far off, but instead on the battlefield south of the Turnpike and linked up with Jackson, was again lost in the woods. Irvin McDowell had decided to march his Third Corps, Army of Virginia, back to Manassas Junction, then north to the Turnpike to join up with its missing division on the Union left. But to save time, McDowell had marched with one brigade down a country road that he thought was a short-cut. Instead, he was lost in the same country he had been forced to spend the night in while trying to take a different short-cut.
Further up the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road], Fitz John Porter, commanding the Fifth Corps, had decided that the Confederates were in front of him in force, probably the divisions of James Longstreet, as McDowell’s intelligence report had indicated. Before he had gotten lost, McDowell had denied a request from Porter to loan him one division (King’s—having just gotten it back, McDowell sure wasn’t parting with it voluntarily) to break through the Confederates in front of him.
At an impasse, facing an enemy of unknown strength, and on unknown ground, Porter halted his column, and sent one brigade north along Dawkin’s Branch to try to see if he could find a path to Sigel. Before leaving, McDowell had suggested Porter remain where he was. Porter hadn’t liked the idea, but now it seemed like wise counsel.
Not far away, with several of his best scouts, Jeb Stuart looked down on Porter’s column and the dust being raised by McDowell and tried to deduce what the massive Union force on the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road] was doing. He would keep watching, but first he would send a messenger back to Lee at top-speed to let him know about this potential problem.
Unaware that they were not about to be relieved after all, Carl Schurz’s men charged the railroad embankment again. Major Blessing of the 74th Pennsylvania of Schurz’s right brigade wrote:
Forming again in column for attack the regiment advanced in quick time toward the enemy, who gave way until he arrived at the other side of the railroad dam. Here [we were] again flanked by the enemy, and under a galling fire of grape-shot and canister, the regiment had to leave its position, which it did by making a flank movement to the left, forcing the enemy to withdraw from the woods.
The brigade had seized the railroad embankment, and it was the Confederates that at last had to face the brutal fire from the superior defensive position. Schurz sent for artillery, in order to sure-up the narrow breakthrough, and desperately waited for Kearny’s division to begin attacking to his right.
But Kearny’s attack did not come. Not only that, but he withdrew the regiment that had covered the problematic gap between the two brigades of Schurz’s division, leaving them again vulnerable to being split down the middle. The brigade of Ninth Corps reinforcements that was supposed to replace Kearny’s men never got within range of the main fight, though they were close enough for the South Carolina sharpshooters to pick off their officers.