Second Bull Run
By James W. Durney
After the battle of Brawner’s Farm or Groveton, Pope had “bagged” Jackson and all he needed to do was beat him in battle. Pope possessed unlimited confidence in his ability to do this with his army of 63,000 assembled from multiple independent sources. Franz Sigel commands the I Corps with a large German contingent. At the height of his military carrier, Sigel is the “Dutch” political general and not likely to be replaced soon. Sigel suffers from an uneven record. A poor performance in The Valley balances a good performance at Pea Ridge. Many of his actions are questionable and he has a reputation for independence. Given all of these problems, Sigel might be the “pick of the litter”. Nathaniel P. Banks commands II Corps. Known as “Nothing Positive” Banks, is one of the worst of the political generals Lincoln is compelled to appoint. In command of the III Corps is Irvin McDowell, protected by Salmon P. Chase, McDowell will manage to survive and retired in 1882. From the Army of the Potomac, came the III Corps commanded by Samuel Hiettzelman and V Corps commanded by George Morell. While Pope had good men at the division and brigade level, the corps commanders are fair to poor. This problem is common to many Union armies but always seems more noticeable in the east.
Jackson’s Corps is legend, with divisions commanded by A.P. Hill and R.S. Ewell. At the brigade level is Pender, Archer, Trimble and Early to name the more famous of these generals. His 18,000 men take up a position along an unfinished railroad cut in wooded terrain. Jackson with the advantage of leadership, being on the defensive and having a good position is a formable foe. Jackson is the bait and he proves impossible for Pope to resist. Jackson has to hold his position and keep Pope fixed on him until Longstreet arrives.
Pope spends part of the first day feeling Jackson’s position. It is a strong one with difficult approaches requiring above average command and control of the attacking force. From the start, Pope is unable to provide the necessary level of C&C. Pope “misunderstands” where his units are, how soon they will move and how quickly they can converge on the battlefield. What Pope envisions as a pincer movement trapping a fleeing foe becomes a series of frontal attacks on a well-placed defensive position. Worse yet, the initial attacks are under the command of Franz Sigel.
Two critical failures are yet to occur. First, it never occurs to Pope that Jackson wants to stand and fight. For the entire battle, Pope assumes Jackson is desperate to escape but frozen in place by his attacks. This assumption causes Pope to order attack after attack convinced that he is breaking Jackson and will destroy him. He comes very close to reaching his goal. Under constant attack, only some of the hardest fighting to date maintains the defensive line. Second, Pope misses Longstreet, he simply ignores the fact that the AoNV has a second Corps and any evidence they are in the area. In spite of a sharp fight between I Corps and elements of his army, Pope fixes on Jackson. This fixation allows Longstreet to position his Corps along Pope’s left flank.
Jackson continues to hold his line drawing Pope deeper into battle. Fixed in place, he is forced to conduct limited counter attacks to maintain this position. Longstreet is mobile, artillery position, poised waiting for the right moment. In the years to come, this will be part of the “Lost Cause” anti-Longstreet myth. The story grows that Lee is forced to prod a reluctant Longstreet to attack. The story is that Longstreet watches Jackson fighting for his life for unspecified reasons would not assist him. The record indicates that Lee wished to attack sooner than Longstreet did and that “Old Pete” held him off waiting for the right time. The “right time” occurs when Pope’s reserves are committed in pursuit of the “beaten Confederates”, Longstreet strikes. The Union left flank is destroyed, regiments tried to stand but they were shot down and overrun. The attacking line overlaps any Union defensive formations sweeping them away. Stunned and demoralized for the second time in little over a year, a Union Army is defeated at Bull Run.
Darkness, more than anything, saves the Army of Virginia as they fall back toward Centerville. Pope, totally defeated, went from bombastic statements about victory to gloomy predictions of disaster. His only “victory” is to have Fitz John Potter cashiered for disobedience to orders. Pope will continue to serve in a series of senior administrative positions until retirement in 1886, the most notable being department commander during the Sioux uprising in Minnesota. He died in 1892, a retired Major General in Sandusky, Ohio.
Fitz John Porter is dismissed from the army, on January 21, 1863. Sixteen years later, a board headed by General John M. Schofield exonerates him. They state he saved the Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run. In 1886, President Cleveland places his name back on the rolls as a Colonel ranking from May 14, 1861. General Potter dies in 1901 at his home in New Jersey.
Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 Amazon.com reviewer.
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