Wednesday, August 29, 2012

3am - 5am: Pre-dawn, Lee and Pope both plan their battles


East of Thoroughfare Gap

Robert E. Lee awoke before dawn after spending the night in a soft bed. He bid farewell to his hosts and rode his favorite horse, Traveller, out to meet his army. It was an important day. Jackson had fulfilled his mission of bringing on an engagement with Pope’s Army of Virginia and Lee planned to smash it before McClellan’s Army of the Potomac could join it and again vastly outnumber him. To work, he had to get Longstreet’s Wing of his army united with Jackson’s before Pope realized how much trouble he was in. The paltry defense of Thoroughfare Gap the day before indicated good things. If Pope had understood how close Lee was to uniting his army he never would have left the pass so lightly defended. But the advantage would not last long, since the defenders would be reporting their fight even as Lee rode.

Near the Lower Fords

John Pope had issued a flurry of orders before turning in for a fitful sleep on August 28 for his main action on August 29 in which he envisioned the corps of McDowell and Sigel on the left side, and the corps of Heintzelman and Reno on the right side, closing like a book on a retreating Jackson in the center.

At 3:00 am, his chief of staff got around to sending orders to the one remaining corps, Fitz John Porter’s Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac. Repeating the errors of his boss, Pope’s chief of staff told Porter that “McDowell has intercepted the retreat of Jackson.” Undoubtedly believing that Porter had followed the previous day’s order to march to Manassas Junction he wrote:
Major-General Pope directs you to move upon Centreville at the first dawn of day with your whole command, leaving your trains to follow. It is very important that you should be here at a very early hour in the morning. A severe engagement is likely to take place, and your presence is necessary.
Down the hill from Pope’s headquarters, Joe Hooker roused his division, as ordered, and set them on the road for Centreville to catch up with the other division from Sam Heintzelman’s Third Corps, Army of the Potomac.


Stonewall Jackson was up before dawn as well and, as was his custom, rode forward personally to examine the disposition of his enemy. In the pre-dawn inkiness the pickets of the Stonewall Brigade had heard no noise from their opponents of the night before, just the cries of the wounded and dying. Jackson concluded immediately that the Northerners had abandoned the ground they had defended so well the night before and rode back to his lines to plan to redistribute his forces more ideally.

Chinn Ridge

Franz Sigel received good news when his First Corps, Army of Virginia cavalry finally returned. He was expected to make his attack at daybreak and had been working with his generals to adapt Pope’s orders to their reality, since they had been written with serious misconceptions about where Sigel was in relation to Jackson’s forces encountered the night before.

But the horses were exhausted, some unable to even carry a rider. It was too bad. The cavalry would have been useful to help Sigel get a better idea just how far north and west of Brawner’s Farm the Confederates were.

Somewhere North of Manassas Junction

Irvin McDowell lifted his corpulent frame off the hard ground at approximately 4:30 am. He and his staff set out to reunite the corps commander with his corps.

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