Hood’s Texans had swept away Warren’s Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac brigade, and a brigade from the Pennsylvania Reserves, and now turned on the one brigade remaining south of the Turnpike, a First Corps, Army of Virginia brigade of Ohioans. They were disorganized, but still frenzied with battle, more of a mob with a common purpose than a brigade. The commander of the Ohio brigade remembered:
As soon as our retreating troops got out of the way, I opened upon the enemy with my artillery, and as they came nearer, with a heavy fire from my infantry, with the result that I drove them back more rapidly than they had advanced. During this time my attention was called to a body of troops in the rear of my left flank, and supposing them to be enemies I ordered two pieces of my artillery to be turned upon them, but countermanded this order when assured that they were our own troops coming to my assistance… This proved to be a mistake, as I very soon discovered.
In a strange analog to the first battle near Manassas on a larger scale, James Kemper’s division had gotten lost trying to keep up with Hood’s surging Texans. Instead of coming up in front of the Ohioans as they should have, they ranged down a ravine to the south, and came up the far side of Chinn Ridge, behind the Northern men. They still fought well enough that the Southerners didn’t realize how completely they had surprised them:
On we advanced until we nearly reached a small outbuilding—when suddenly a regiment of the enemy sprang up from behind a wall and let us have a withering volley at point blank pistol range. We were not expecting it, and it came upon us with the suddenness of a thunderbolt. Colonel Marye fell, his leg fractured by a bullet, and many were killed by that volley. All discipline now was at an end, and individual bravery fully made up for the deficiency. We all sprang forward with one ringing yell—the officers waving their swords and the men standing still only long enough to fire off their guns….
The Ohio brigade commander felt his men were holding but “at this time I saw what appeared to be a heavy force advancing on my right flank.” They were another brigade of Confederates, this time with Shanks Evans. “I felt if they reached me as I was then situated it would result in my defeat with great loss. Under these circumstances I gave the order to fall back slowly.” Disgustedly, he blamed Reynolds for leaving, since if the Pennsylvania Reserves had been to his left, he would have been able to hold.
On the other end of the ridge, near the Turnpike, the two brigades of Ricketts’ that had been rushed (as opposed to the two Heintzelman had refused to give up) were trying to get in the fight, but had to deploy while being hammered by Longstreet’s artillery and mobs of Texans, now joined by South Carolinians. The brigade commander fell wounded, early on, but the brigade held under withering fire, until the Ohioans marched right through the middle of their formation. “The battalion rallies as far as possible, continuing to fire,” the colonel of one of Ricketts’ regiments wrote. “Those in retreat were rallied on the flank at the edge of the timber.
Another First Corps brigade had been rushed up Chinn Ridge behind Ricketts’ wavering men:
To our left, where we found the De Kalb regiment [41st New York] isolated from their brigade, a battery… had been abandoned. The last named regiment.. endeavored to save the cannons, but in vain. The enemy by this time had brought up and posted near the border of the woods two sections of artillery, which, from a distance of scarcely 200 yards, covered [the brigade]… with a perfect shower of projectiles.
With the Confederate brigade and division commanders barely able to control their infantry, James Longstreet was personally placing artillery and selecting targets. Most of the time he was methodically picking off any Union guns that were aimed at the oncoming Southern tide. The Union men could scarcely set up or pivot a gun to help their comrades on Chinn Ridge without Longstreet ordering down a hellish hail of ordnance on them. Behind him, Lee rode, looking on approvingly.
While the Texans and South Carolinians hammered the mob of men from Ricketts’ division and the First Corps, the third brigade from the division decided to cross the Turnpike and hit the Union stronghold on Dogan’s Ridge.
Unable to distinguish the locality of the Texas Brigade, and seeing the enemy was pushing a heavy force into the ravine and pine thickets in front of me [one brigade from Schenck’s division]… just below Dogan’s house, apparently for the purpose of securing their formidable battery posted there [Hazlett’s, back in action], I carried three regiments to that point.
They charged the house and the depleted brigade faced overwhelming odds.
The regiment [the 45th New York] took position in an orchard on the left… to meet the advancing force of rebel infantry which was coming out of the woods and pushing up the hill. Two regiments of infantry had been brought up by General Hooker and drew up on our left—the only support [we had] on that part of the hill.
The regiments were from John Gibbon’s brigade, and Hooker hadn’t had time to send them. They were the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin, that had been ravaged at Brawner’s Farm the opening evening of the battle.
The 45th New York came running from an orchard; we could not stop them, until Gen. Gibbon orders us to charge bayonets… He order[ed] them back, but the frightened men dare not go. He turns to the shattered Second and says, “Men, will you go?” The men responded with cheers and an officer dashed to the front yelling “Come on Boys, God damn them we can keep them back!”
Law’s brigade fell back to regroup. It was then that a messenger arrived from Hooker, who had local command the troops around the Dogan House, ordering all troops to fall back to Buck Hill. The hyper aggressive Gibbon cursed out the officer who brought him the order, and swore he didn’t report to Hooker and wouldn’t fall back. In a few minutes the officer was back and explained that Hooker had said Buck Hill must be secured. The position at Dogan’s ridge couldn’t hold off Longstreet’s men from the south and the expected forthcoming attack from Jackson from the north and west. Reluctantly, Gibbon gave the order.
The brutal slaughter on Chinn Ridge was essential, from McDowell’s perspective, in order to buy time to get defenders on Henry Hill. More than anyone on the field except maybe Jackson McDowell knew that the site of the Henry House was the key position for the entire area, even more so than Buck Hill. Whoever held it dictated everything in the surrounding countryside, and if it was Lee then there was no escape for Pope’s army.
He had left the Ohio brigade and ridden to Henry Hill, where he found John Pope. The commanding general, who had fallen into a stupor shortly after Porter’s failure, had regained his vitality, and was galloping to and fro swearing up a storm to arrange the defenses. He had recognized the hill’s value at least in stemming Longstreet’s relentless wave, but it had been the regular army stalwarts that had truly reanimated him. While riding past Stone House in a daze he had run into a battalion of the 17th Infantry, calmly marching towards the Stone Bridge and safety. When he asked where the hell they were going, the commanding officer calmly told him they were marching over Bull Run to cook their dinners. Pope exploded, and re-routed the entire brigade of regulars to Henry Hill.
By a happy coincidence, John Reynolds was on Henry Hill too, with the remaining two brigades of Pennsylvania Reserves. Pope’s staff officer had found him after Heintzelman’s dismissal, and told him to hurry south of the turnpike. Either through a misunderstanding or through Reynolds’ timely insubordination, the Reserves had been marched not to the maelstrom of Chinn Ridge, but to a strong defensive position on top of Henry Hill.
McDowell joined Pope riding up and down the line and placing infantry and artillery for maximum defense. With one of his divisions being massacred on Chinn Ridge, Franz Sigel, still had the presence of mind to send Milroy’s brigade to Henry Hill. The sun was beginning to set low in the sky, and the smoke of battle gave a hellish appearance to its late summer redness. As McDowell looked across Sudley Road to Chinn Ridge it became apparent that Milroy would be the last reinforcements they would receive before the Confederates hit.