Brig. General Jubal Early’s brigade of Virginians had been in reserve throughout the battle, marching from one place Stonewall Jackson might need reinforcements to another. When Phil Kearny had wheeled over the unfinished railroad defensive line, Jackson had finally committed his reinforcements. Along with the Louisiana brigade, Early’s men had marched quickly to the collapsing left flank of the Confederate line and helped the survivors of the attack make a stand on Stony Ridge.
Now, Early was ready to counterattack. Taking the 8th Louisiana and the 13th Georgia from two different brigades along with him, Early ordered his men towards the faltering Union troops, clinging to the Groveton-Sudley Road [Featherbed Lane] across a field. They drove into the woods and into the Union ranks.
On reaching the railroad I found the enemy had possession of it and a piece of woods in front, there being at this point a deep cut, which furnished a strong defense. General Gregg’s and Colonel Thomas’ brigades… having nearly exhausted all their ammunition, had fallen back a short distance, but were still presenting front to the enemy. My brigade and the 8th Louisiana Regiment advanced upon the enemy through a field and drove him from the woods and out of the railroad cut, crossing the latter and following the pursuit several hundred yards beyond… The messenger from General Hill had stated that it was not desirable that I should go beyond the railroad, and as soon as I could arrest the advance of my brigade I moved it back to the railroad and occupied it.
The 1st South Carolina Rifles, though, out of ammo, followed Early’s men, gathering what they could off the dead and wounded on the way, and falling back to the knoll they had defended all day with Early’s men when the Northerners had been cleared. Ecstatic, A.P. Hill sent a messenger to Jackson to let him know the attack he had defeated the latest attack. “Tell him I knew he would do it,” he said with a smile, according to one aide.
At his new headquarters above the Stone House, Pope was surprised when Phil Kearny himself rode up to ask for more men to sustain his attack. According to one of Pope’s aides, the one-armed general had told his commander that “the enemy had marched on him in lines ten deep, which had been mowed down by the steady fire of his infantry.” The Confederates had driven back his men, but they had maintained their units and all he needed were more troops to launch another attack and complete Jackson’s defeat.
Eagerly, Pope turned to McDowell, who had been listening the whole time, and asked him to send a division to follow-up on Kearny’s attack. But McDowell was less sure about Kearny’s success. Tired of his subordinates failing to execute his plans, Pope unleashed a verbal tirade on McDowell, who indignantly parried his arguments. His rage spent, Pope finally relented and decided to send the one unengaged brigade of Jesse Reno into battle in the waning daylight. Pope gathered his staff and rode off to Dogan’s Ridge to find Reno, while Kearny returned to prepare his division to fight again.
Northwest of Manassas Junction
On the Manassas-Gainesville Road [Wellington Road] Fitz John Porter put the finishing touches on another request for orders, this time to Irvin McDowell. Pope had been unresponsive so far, so Porter was trying another general he had no faith in. The messenger had barely departed when Porter’s staffer he had sent earlier to Pope returned, with a message that the battle was going well on the Turnpike and that Pope was driving them back.
Porter immediately decided to fix the Confederates in front of him in place with an attack. By attacking them, they would be unable to send reinforcements to other parts of the line. With his usual precision he told his lead division commander, Maj. General George Morell:
I wish you to push up two regiments, supported by two others, preceded by skirmishers, the regiments at intervals of two hundred yards, and attack the party with the section of artillery opposed to you. The battle looks well on our right, and the enemy are said to be retiring up the pike. Give the enemy a good shelling when your troops advance.
Perhaps ten minutes later, Pope’s nephew arrived, with Pope’s unequivocal 4:30 attack order. The young man would later deny that he had gotten lost and that it had taken so long for the order to reach Porter, but he has no corroborating accounts, unlike Porter. Either way, Porter told Morell to launch his attack immediately. Morell balked. Sunset was only a matter of minutes (6:45 pm on August 29, 1862) and in the heavy woods it was already almost dark, making it impossible to deploy and advance. Porter rode forward to hear out Morell in person and agreed, probably without much debate.
Later, Porter would say that their presence on the Manassas-Gainesville Road alone was holding the enemy in place. Unfortunately, while this had been true a few hours before, Longstreet with Lee’s blessing had already withdrawn all but a single brigade each of cavalry and infantry. The division of Cadmus Wilcox that had been tied down there earlier in the afternoon, was at that moment marching towards the Warrenton Turnpike to support a reconnaissance in force down that road to probe just how weak Pope was.
John Gibbon had marched his brigade to protect the batteries on Dogan’s Ridge as fast as possible, having been told by his corps commander, McDowell, that it was urgent and the whole army depended on it. When he reached it, he had seen the tattered remains of several other brigades trying to reform after their failed assaults on the unfinished railroad lines, but the Confederates had already withdrawn. He placed his men next to the unengaged brigade of Jesse Reno’s Ninth Corps and waited for further orders.
To Gibbon’s surprise, the rest of the division hadn’t followed him, but he had been joined on the ridge by a ragtag collection of other units. Robert Schenck’s primarily German speaking brigade from the First Corps, Army of Virginia that had battled on Lewis Lane that morning marched to the hill and immediately bedded down for the night. Joe Hooker had been methodically gathering the pieces of his division on the Sudley Road between Dogan’s Ridge and Matthews’ Hill, with the New Jersey brigade closest to Gibbon, and the Excelsiors and Grover’s brigade straddling the road. Even Reno had made some progress in piecing back together the core of Nagle’s brigade.
As sundown approached, Gibbon was surprised to see Pope himself ride up “near my position where I was seated on my horse looking on.” Below them, they could see the completion of Kearny’s withdraw.
He [Pope] listened to the conflict for awhile and then turning to his Adjutant General, Ruggles, said, “Colonel Ruggles, telegraph to Washington that we have had a severe battle and have lost ten thousand men.” Adding as if to himself, “I think we have lost ten thousand.”
Despite the depression his exaggerated butcher’s bill suggested to Gibbon, Pope wasn’t finished yet. From Gibbon’s vantage point he rode on until he found Jesse Reno and ordered the Virginian to send in his last brigade for a renewed attack. In the midst of reassembling Nagle’s brigade, the good-natured Reno simply refused. No amount of cursing from Pope could persuade him otherwise and he left plotting vengeance on Reno. Within hours the whole brigade had heard that Reno had saved them from certain death, and his already high popularity skyrocketed.
Pope may have been distracted from Reno’s insubordination by another sight, though. Off in the distance, a large cloud was rising to the east, a sure sign of an army on the move. Inspection with a field glass revealed the source to be wagons moving to the west, and Pope proclaimed that Jackson was at last retreating. Ruggles, who despised Pope, disagreed vehemently, saying they were only ambulances bringing the wounded to safer locations, but Pope was convinced and sent the fastest rider he had to McDowell to order an attack down the turnpike.