Wednesday, August 29, 2012

8pm - 12am: Battle stress, internal squabbles, and a miserable night


Chinn Ridge

Brig. General Marsena Patrick of King’s division had been sent by Irvin McDowell to support the Pennsylvania Reserves of John Reynolds. Reynolds had been largely on his own throughout the battle, and done marvelously, somewhat to McDowell’s chagrin. But since at least mid-afternoon only Robert E. Lee’s concern about just what the Union corps on the Gainesville-Manassas Road [Wellington Road] was up to had kept Reynolds from being overwhelmed by a Confederate attack. Most of Pope’s army was concentrated on Dogan’s Ridge and Matthews Hill. Only McDowell’s scattered corps stood a chance of reaching Reynolds in time in case anything happened.

So Patrick’s brigade would have been little help, anyway, so Pope’s staff had not hesitated to intercept it on its westward march across Chinn Ridge towards Reynolds and redirect it to join Gibbon’s brigade on Dogan’s Ridge for an all-out attack. Marching back east, then up Sudley Road towards Dogan’s Ridge, Patrick had then run into a staff officer from McDowell that angrily countermanded the order, and directed him to turn around and go back to Reynolds. This time cutting southwest down Chinn Ridge, Patrick led his brigade to the east of the position he had previously occupied, where he met John Reynolds in the process of withdrawing his division to a more defensible position on Bald Hill.

It was at that moment when an order came from McDowell to join Hatch and the rest of his division except Gibbon in chasing the retreating Confederates down the Turnpike. Marching his men as fast as their weary legs would take them toward the sound of the gunfire, he hadn’t gone too far when another messenger informed him it was all over and Hatch had withdrawn. So Patrick changed direction again, this time trying to reach a defensive position he had spotted on his travels earlier.

Riding forward to scout as he approached the spot he was challenged by pickets to identify himself. Thinking it was Hatch’s men, he shouted “Patrick’s brigade, King’s division,” but the South Carolinian he was speaking with shouted back a threat, “surrender or we fire!” Patrick cursed them and refused, so the Southern pickets opened fire, missing Patrick but hitting several of his staff. Quickly some of his own men came forward and drove off the Southern pickets while the brigade fell back to safer ground.

Buck Hill

Pope was beside himself with rage. In his hand he held a message from Fitz John Porter, commander of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, again asking for orders. It had been delivered by Irvin McDowell, whose men had just discovered the hard way that Jackson was nowhere near being defeated.

Pope had already been cursing Porter for failing to reach Gainesville and launch an attack from there. If he had, Pope reasoned, then Hatch would have really been able to mop-up Jackson. So when McDowell had handed him Porter’s earlier request—it read, in part: “please let me know your designs, whether you retreat or not… have lost a few men from infantry firing”—the commanding general went ballistic.

“I’ll arrest him,” Pope promised amid a torrent of obscenities and sat down to write out the order. But McDowell intervened, convincing Pope that Porter was simply an idiot, not treasonous. Pope should spell out for Porter exactly what he wanted him to do. So Pope did:
Immediately upon receipt of this order, the precise hour of receiving which you will acknowledge, you will march your command to the field of battle of today and report to me in person for orders. You are to understand that you are expected to comply strictly with this order, and to be present on the field within three hours after its reception or after daybreak tomorrow morning.
The order dispatched, McDowell next brought up his next bit of information, which was that the cavalry brigade of John Buford had seen a large Confederate force that must be Longstreet’s wing of the army pass through Gainesville at 9:30 am. Though this was a crucial piece of information and McDowell had withheld it from Pope through catastrophic oversight all day long, it barely registered with the volatile commanding general. Only a few hours before he had believed Longstreet as likely outside of Winchester, dismissing John Reynolds’ warnings. Now he pointed out that of course Longstreet was on the field and he had come down the Turnpike to take position behind Stony Ridge so he could reinforce Jackson.

No one on his or McDowell’s staff disagreed. Pope asked McDowell to move Reynolds north of the Turnpike during the night in preparation for another attack on the Unfinished Railroad and then dismissed everyone so they could turn in for the night. McDowell rode back to Henry Hill, where he chose to set up camp next to the ruins of Judith Henry’s house, the exact spot that his own army had collapsed a year earlier.

Stuart’s Hill

As his men fell asleep in exhaustion wherever they were for the night, Stonewall Jackson rode from Stony Ridge to Stuart’s Hill to meet with Lee and Longstreet. Lee was animated and excited for an attack at dawn, and told Jackson to be ready to rally his exhausted men. Jackson left to return to his men, but Longstreet and Lee remained to continue to plan.

Close to midnight, Brig. General Cadmus Wilcox returned from Groveton with news that made Lee very unhappy. Wilcox had brought his division up in support of Hood’s, and spent time reconnoitering the ground as well as talking with Hood, Shanks Evans, and their subordinates. The opinion of those that had made the attack against Hatch’s men was unanimous: call off the dawn attack. One told him that “the force we had repulsed consisted of only three brigades of King’s division that had been thrown forward from the main line, which was yet untouched, and that in advancing so far in front of our general line he must necessarily expose both flanks to attack.” Not only was a dawn attack unadvisable, even staying in Groveton was dangerous.

Lee canceled the attack, though unhappily. He would have to make sure Pope attacked him again—and that Jackson’s men could again survive it.

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