Wednesday, August 29, 2012

9am: Sigel's Yanks make first charge at the unfinished railroad



Schenck had reached an area immediately to the south of the previous night’s battlefield, but found himself beaten there by John Reynolds. Marching well out of Confederate fire, Reynolds had come up to the point where Lewis Lane [Groveton Rd] crossed Young’s Branch just a little before Schenck, coming down the Turnpike.

With Reynolds already in advance, Schenck asked him to set up an artillery battery that could put an end to the Confederate fire that was ripping through his men. Reynolds sent one forward--almost recklessly so--north of the Turnpike and even the Brawner House, where it opened up fiercely on Jackson’s massed artillery. To protect it, he sent George Meade’s brigade into Brawner’s Woods, on either side of the Turnpike.

Reynolds gave Meade the famed Pennsylvania Bucktails (a unit of elite sharpshooters) to act as skirmishers, and they fanned out to the west of the woods. They had barely exited it, when two regiments worth of Confederates opened fire on them. The Confederates had been placed south and east of the intersection of Pageland Lane and the Warrenton Turnpike [US 29] by Jubal Early for just such an occasion. The Virginians and Pennsylvanians were spread out, which gave the crack-shot Bucktails an advantage, but neither side retreated.

Schenck, meanwhile, moved his brigades south of the turnpike and just east of Meade’s position in Brawner’s Woods.


Hearing the heated fire of the Bucktails, Milroy decided that he needed to send Schenck assistance. Bailing out Schenck had become something of a habit for Milroy during their time together in the mountains of Western Virginia and during Jackson’s Valley campaign, so it’s not surprising that the pugnacious general consulted no one about his decision.

Splitting his command as soon as it reached Lewis Lane [Groveton Rd] at Groveton, Milroy sent two regiments south to the Turnpike. With his other two he decided on a much bolder plan. He would spring them out of Groveton Woods and rush them north on the Groveton-Sudley Road [Featherbed Lane] to seize a Confederate battery that was harassing him in that vicinity.

Sudley Springs

Gregg’s South Carolinians had barely had a chance to set up on the knoll on the unfinished railroad when Kryzanowski’s men came crashing down on them. The first two regiments had not been well positioned, and were facing all different directions, which gave the Union men plenty of opportunities to shoot them from every angle. When the third regiment came up, two of them were able to charge Kryzanowski’s lead divisions and send them fleeing back towards the line, but the forward motion opened them up to even more fire in their flanks and rear.

Gregg sent back to the next closest brigade for more regiments to support.


Longstreet’s Wing hadn’t yet finished marching through the town, but Stuart’s cavalry had made things too difficult for Buford to remain in the vicinity. He sent his findings to Ricketts:
Seventeen regiments, one battery, five hundred cavalry passed through Gainesville three quarters of an hour ago, on the Centreville road [Warrenton Turnpike [US 29]]. I think this division should join our forces now engaged at once. Please forward this.
Arriving from Hopewell Gap, Wilcox’s men finally caught up with the rest of the wing and fell in behind Neighbor Jones’ men.

Manassas Junction

Ricketts’ superior, Irvin McDowell, arrived at Manassas Junction and found King at Liberia, with Fitz John Porter. King, he learned, had handed over his division to Hatch, who was under orders to march with Porter to Gainesville. McDowell was livid, albeit in his own fashion. He lectured Porter about the chain of command and the mistake of detaching a division from a higher-ranked general who already knew the field (despite having been lost the night before). Porter, who had little regard for McDowell’s abilities, steadily refused to agree.

McDowell had sat down to write a letter of protest to Pope about the order, when John Gibbon arrived from Centreville with another copy of the same order. Porter declared it conclusive of Pope’s will, and McDowell changed his tactics. He suggested to Porter that he order King to march on the right to Gainesville, which would bring him close enough to Reynolds’ division on Sigel’s left that Ricketts could bridge the gap, and the whole of the Third Corps, Army of Virginia would be together. Porter was evasive.

So McDowell wrote another note to Pope, emphasizing his hope that this was only a temporary arrangement in order to try to draw out a concession from the commanding general. Meanwhile, he continued to delay Porter with arguments, since if the Fifth Corps commander gave no orders to King’s division, there would be no evidence that he was in charge of it.

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