Thursday, August 30, 2012

6pm: U.S. Army Regulars finally put breaks on Reb attack, Pope calls it quits

Dogan’s Ridge

Stonewall Jackson was making very little effort to attack the Union men opposite him. He didn’t really have to. Longstreet’s complete obliteration of the defenders on Chinn Ridge had caught them in an untenable trap between the two wings of the Confederate army, and they were withdrawing on their own. All Jackson had to do was keep them moving.

Like during the Seven Days’ the month before, it is difficult to understand why the hyper aggressive Jackson chose not to push home an attack. Lee was riding with Longstreet and caught up in the fight, but Jackson was not usually one to need orders to charge. It’s also possible that he recognized the exhaustion of his men after the grueling two weeks previous and didn’t want to risk their repulse and rout while the Northerners were giving up already.

Powell Hill certainly saw it, and urged his exhausted men who had broken charge after charge the day before forward only sufficiently to keep the pressure on. Some  did so enthusiastically enough to capture several batteries, but they were the exception. The rest came forward steadily, enduring bombardment from Matthews’ Hill, and keeping ranks well enough to remind the attackers-turned-defenders that they could charge, even if they hadn’t yet.

Coordinating the fall back on the other side was Samuel Heintzelman, at last exercising some sort of command commiserate with his rank. He felt fortunate that his two divisions were posted on either wing of Dogan’s Ridge too, for the first time. He had Kearny fall back  along the banks of Bull Run, guarding against any effort by Jackson to ford at Sudley Springs and cut off retreat, and Hooker to manage falling back along the turnpike.

Heintzelman had already sent some of Sigel’s troops including his artillery to Buck Hill, while others were rushed to the southerly end of Dogan’s Ridge to stem Longstreet’s attacks. There had been very little coordinated effort by the Southerners, though, and it had mostly been brigades or mobs that had gotten carried away and charged against whoever they saw.

With the First Corps, Army of Virginia men thrown down as sacrificial lambs to stem the Southern assault, had been Abner Doubleday. Doubleday was now commanding King’s division, but with two of the brigades routed as part of Porter’s assault, and John Gibbon being himself, he was pretty much leading only his own brigade. He had been placed by Hooker on the Turnpike, below the Dogan house, but with the dissipation of an organized Confederate assault, he was now facing an entirely different threat. He was so far out that Sigel’s artillery on Buck Hill thought they were Confederates and took aim on then. Doubleday had his regiments wave their flag, but the artillerists thought it was a sign of defiance and brought more guns to bear. A trained artillerist himself, Doubleday turned his brigade around and marched into the Confederates in order to ruin their aim while his messenger ran at top speed to call them off.

Henry Hill

It was Henry Hill on which the fight was still raging. Irvin McDowell was doing everything he could to solve the problem he had created by moving as many troops as possible to the top. Henry and Buck Hills form twin pillars, through which the Warrenton Turnpike passes on to cross Bull Run at Stone Bridge. Keeping both was essential to using the Turnpike as an avenue of communication to Washington, for reinforcements or retreat.

Opposite the Sudley Road on Chinn Ridge Longstreet’s assault was now in the hands of D.R. “Neighbor” Jones, commanding a nearly entirely Georgian division. Behind him on the ridge were the remains of two Confederate divisions, entirely without order. Some soldiers had plopped down exhausted, some were corralling their prisoners, and others were fighting on with the Georgia men as leaderless masses.

On the far left were a brigade of regulars—some of the few professional soldiers as opposed to volunteers provided by the states. This had been the brigade that Pope had found marching away on the Turnpike and they were making up for it with some of the fiercest fighting of the day. Not only did they have to hold back the Georgians, but a brigade of southside Virginians from Anderson’s division had come up and was wrapping around their flank [where NOVA is today]. The 83rd New York, one of Sigel’s that had become separated on Chinn Ridge, but fell back to Henry Hill and joined the regulars instead of running, held the edge of the line as well as a professional unit.

On the other end of the line, John Reynolds was leading the two surviving brigades of the Pennsylvania Reserves. Unlike further to the left where Robert Milroy’s brigade was stationed and the Georgians had to plunge down hill from Chinn Ridge, only to scale the road banks to Henry Hill, most of Reynolds’ men were in the valley of Young’s Branch. Sigel’s artillery—finally letting Doubleday pass—was perfectly positioned to make up for the poor ground. After a charge, the Georgians staggered back and Reynolds was ready.

With a cheer, the Pennsylvanians dashed across Sudley Road, Milroy at their side, and forced the Georgians to flee all the way up Chinn Ridge. Reynolds sent a runner to McDowell to let him know the enemy was falling back and to send reinforcements. But Robert Milroy was already at headquarters ranting, a mad look in his eye. One staffer remembered that it took minutes to even figure out what Milroy was saying, but the gist of it was that he wanted a second brigade assigned to him so he could rout the Confederates. The staffer wrote that McDowell pretended he wasn’t there.

McDowell did, however, respond to Reynolds’ request, and the final brigade of the army, another of regulars, was put in behind the Pennsylvania Reserves. In the confusion of the battlefield and subsequent recriminations, it’s hard to track exactly who ordered what. But when the regular brigade took position in Young’s Branch, Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Reserves fell back and turned over defense to them.

McDowell was just getting things stabilized when an order reached him from John Pope: general retreat. The Union was admitting defeat.

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