Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2pm: Pope plans a new round of afternoon attacks


Dogan’s Ridge

From the Dogan House, Joe Hooker could clearly see the Confederate artillery that had made short work of Milroy’s brigade massed on Stony Ridge on the north end of the Brawner’s Farm. There seemed twice as many as there had been at that time, which was, in fact, true, but Hooker had no way of knowing that Longstreet’s artillery had been added to Jackson’s since then. He was still operating off John Pope’s representation of the situation, which claimed Longstreet had moved on Winchester and was taking up defensive positions in the Shenandoah Valley.

Pope was also the reason that Hooker was on Dogan’s Ridge looking across at Stony Ridge. The Massachusetts man was trying to convince Pope to call off an order for his men to launch an all-out attack on the Unfinished Railroad line to fix Jackson in place so that Porter and McDowell could more completely surprise him from the rear (a movement that had already been aborted). Based on what had happened to the men of the First Corps, Army of Virginia all morning and all those guns looking down on him from Stony Ridge, Hooker thought his men would be murdered.

Pope was unconcerned. He had heard three guns fire far to the southwest [unaccounted for in after action reports] that he believed signaled the beginning of Porter’s attack, which would be able to easily take the artillery on Stony Ridge. Hooker had to attack, but he issued Kearny an order to attack at Sudley Church as well to remove some of the pressure from Hooker’s men. Almost as an afterthought, he sent a copy of the written orders to Hooker and Kearny’s corps commander, Sam Heintzelman.

Sudley Springs

Heintzelman’s men were going in to replace the men of Franz Sigel’s corps. The First Corps, Army of Virginia were weary from fighting all morning, and almost out of ammunition. They had mostly been mauled by the Confederates, but one brigade from Schurz’s division had managed to take the railroad embankment and turn the tables on the Confederates, only to be overwhelmed because no reinforcements came. Too late, a brigade from the Ninth Corps had arrived, allowing them to pull back, but also for the Confederates to retake the embankment.

The localized success of Schurz’s division should have had the support of the division of Phil Kearny already, but the aggressive Kearny had inexplicably refused to move decisively. Kearny had positively boiled under George McClellan on the Peninsula, culminating in a signed statement pronouncing the army’s commander a coward. It seemed hardly possible, but he liked John Pope even less. He believed the general a braggart and a fool, so its unsurprising that even direct orders from Pope himself were unable to move the one-armed New Yorker until he had double- and tripled-checked everything. That the men of Sigel’s corps were widely stereotyped as the worst in the Union and always on the verge of a catastrophe probably didn’t help him move faster.

But that is not to say that Kearny did nothing for hours after his arrival. In fact, he was engaged in a series of marches and countermarches trying to find the weak point to exploit in the Confederate defenses along the railroad. At Sudley Church he thought he had finally found it. There were no Confederates on the railroad embankment there, so, after placing skirmishers on the church grounds to avoid surprises, he ordered one of his brigades to take up position at a 45 degree angle across the embankment, with the bulk of it on the far side. Now when Hooker attacked, Kearny’s men would be in position to cut off the retreat and rout the Confederates that had bedeviled Schurz all morning.

Groveton Woods

Just north of Groveton to the east of the Groveton-Sudley Road [Featherbed Lane], Brig. General Cuvier Grover received word from Hooker that Pope would not call off the attack. Hooker chose the brigade of New Englanders he himself had trained during the winter in Charles County, Maryland to lead the attack, so Grover began forming up the men. He had dubiously asked the staff officer carrying the message where his support was for an attack, and was assured “it is coming.”

Spotting the signs of a brigade preparing to attack, Robert Milroy sought him out.
I saw [Grover] forming up his Bgd. For the attack and being deeply interested in his success, I rode up along his lines to where he was and told him how I had wrecked on that position and what to expect. He asked me how he had best do. I told him the only way he could drive them was to go forward with fixed bayonets and loaded guns, fire when they got close and dash over the R.R. embankment with a yell and drive them at a point of a bayonet.
Grover didn’t record his opinion of Milroy’s advice, but he certainly took it, riding up and down his line and ordering his men to load and fix bayonets. When another order came to go forward, despite the support still not having materialized, the general moved the brigade forward through the brush slowly, while Milroy’s men called out a mixture of encouragement and doom. The five regiments were grouped in two lines, the 11th Massachusetts, 2nd New Hampshire, and 1st Massachusetts in front, with the 20th Pennsylvania and the 16th Massachusetts in back. It would provide a broad front to impact the line, with two regiments to rush to either flank if threatened or push forward more.

Grover halted the brigade and rode forward with his staff to personally survey the ground. Remembering Milroy’s account, which certainly included a great deal more caution than what that general later wrote down, Grover made a decision not to strike the railroad where it was intersected by the Groveton-Sudley Road [Featherbed Lane], and to turn it to the right to seek a place of greater vulnerability.

Northwest of Manassas Junction

Robert E. Lee rode down Meadowville Lane [No longer existent] with Longstreet through the right wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. Hearing reports from the brigade commanders and viewing what Longstreet had viewed a few hours early, he ruefully admitted that his trusted subordinate was correct. The Union forces coming upon the Confederate right from the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road] were a serious threat. Lee recommended that Longstreet order his reserve division under Cadmus Wilcox from Brawner’s Farm to take up a position astride the road as a further precaution.

Meanwhile, the Union division in strong position at the Lewis Farm that Longstreet had been concerned about, began to advance. It was the Pennsylvania Reserves of John Reynolds, who had been irritated to receive an order directly from Pope to attack the Confederates in front so that Porter and McDowell could get in position to attack from Gainesville. It is unclear whether Pope understood Reynolds’ position, but he certainly didn’t understand that Reynolds had spent the last few hours watching Confederates march past him. The Bucktails leading as skirmishers, the two so-far unengaged brigades of the Reserves started forward.

Across the way, watching from the woods, the South Carolina brigade of Jenkins division watched the Pennsylvanians cross the field and prepared to welcome them.

Further south, on the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road], the Union troops that so worried Lee were equally worried about him. In command of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, Fitz John Porter had concluded that Longstreet’s wing of the army was on the field in front of him, which meant that his roughly 9,000 men were faced off against 20,000 Confederates. Without cavalry, Porter had no idea if those 20,000 men were all right in front of him, or stretched out to Gainesville and beyond. But his lead division commander had been reliably sending back every shred of evidence gathered by his skirmishers, and it was definitely Longstreet in front of him.

Assuming McDowell would soon take up position to his right, Porter had his men begin preparing defenses to be the far left of Pope’s army.

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