On Stuart’s Hill, just across from Brawner’s Farm, Jeb Stuart’s messenger arrived to put the final nail in the coffin for Lee’s desired early afternoon counteroffensive. Longstreet had been arguing that the Union was in too strong of a position along Lewis Lane [Groveton Rd] (Schenck and Reynolds), and that it would stretch the Confederate forces too thin to flank them to resist an attack from the suspected force at Manassas Junction. When Stuart’s messenger arrived reporting at least 15,000 men on the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road], Lee at last relented.
He needed to know more about the force marching from Manassas Junction. Who were they, what did they know, and what did they intend to do?
When John Pope denied troops to replace Schurz’s men, Franz Sigel had immediately set to work coming up with a new plan for getting his men some relief. His first thought was to send Schenck from his spot at Groveton up Sudley Road and into action on Schurz’s right flank. Kearny apparently hadn’t received his request to attack or was ignoring it, so Sigel wanted to use his own troops instead.
Schenck balked. His skirmishers were engaged heavily with Confederate skirmishers (of Hood’s division, unbeknownst to the Union men) and if Schenck left, John Reynolds would be left all along south of the Turnpike against an enemy force of unknown size that would have only Reynolds between it and the backsides of the entire Union army. Until Porter and McDowell came down the Turnpike from Gainesville, Schenck successfully persuaded his corps commander, the division couldn’t move from its spot.
Northwest of Manassas Junction
Three brigades of King’s division turned left onto the Sudley Road from the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road], marching past the resting men of James Ricketts’ division. Ricketts’ men had had a long morning of marching and were happy to let King’s men march past them to battle. It especially amused Ricketts’ men to see their sister division march through the intersection for a second time that day, but from the opposite direction, since they themselves had been halted there since mid-morning.
But one brigade was missing from the division, still lost in the woods with the corps commander. McDowell and the final brigade would rejoin the division at about 2:00, but in the rear instead of the front as the decision to short cut had intended.
One brigade of Carl Schurz’s division had managed to seize the railroad embankment, now, with the timely help of artillery, the other was making an effort. According to Gregg’s South Carolinians ensconced on a rocky knoll above the embankment, it was a futile effort.
Our men had seldom better direction for their aim than the bushes from which the fire was poured in upon them. They were made to lie down and rise only to fire. Volley after volley was poured into them, but still they stood. The enemy dared not cross the railroad cut, though in force vastly superior to our own.
At least one regiment from the brigade had, in fact, attained the railroad, but it had hardly done so before Schurz realized no one was on his flank (Milroy should have been, but his men were recovering out of danger). Too late to save the position, but in time to prevent a rout, Joe Hooker sent two New Jersey regiments forward to draw attention further down Jackson’s line.
Thomas’s Georgia brigade charged a spot where the railroad grade descended from an embankment to a cut, and dislodged the flank of Schurz’s left brigade. Schurz now had no choice but to pull his men back and hope that there would be enough men of the Ninth Corps or from Kearny’s division to keep it from becoming a disaster.