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.
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.