September 1, 1862 (Monday)
General Robert E. Lee’s plan prior to the battle of Second Bull Run involved James Longstreet’s wing holding John Pope’s Union Army in place, while Stonewall Jackson’s wing swung around the Federal right flank. It was a good plan, fooling Pope and leading to a battlefield victory. But would it work twice?
Following the battle on the 30th, General Pope pulled his Union Army of Virginia back across Bull Run, destroying the Stone Bridge and cutting off the Confederates’ only direct approach to the new Union line at Centreville. To dislodge the Federals from the town, Lee again decided to send Jackson on a flank march.
Through the pouring Sunday rain, Stonewall’s men began their trudge, making excellent time. They did not march through the night, however. Near the Little River Turnpike, ten miles from the battlefield, Jackson halted his troops.
The gray dawn greeted him with more rain, but also Jeb Stuart, who informed Jackson of a strong Union line along the Turnpike near Germantown. Lee had warned Jackson not to bring on an engagement, and he had no intension of doing so.1
While Jackson had been expecting some resistance, Pope was expecting a flank attack. “The plan of the enemy will undoubtedly be to turn my flank,” wrote Pope to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck. “If he does so, he will have his hands full.” Though he lost the battle and was driven from the field, his spirits were bolstered by the “news” that Stonewall Jackson had been wounded and General Richard Ewell was killed (neither of which were true). The Rebels might try a move against his flank, but at least it wouldn’t be Jackson and Ewell.
Pope was completely fine with, even welcoming of, a Confederate attack upon his defenses at Centreville. What he didn’t want, however, was a fight at Germantown. The men he had stationed near there were ordered to watch for the enemy, and, if found, return to Centreville with the news.
Pope gave some half-hearted affirmations to Halleck, telling him that he would attack Lee in a day or so, but mostly he just wanted his army to return to the fortifications of Washington.
As the Rebel troops moved cautiously closer, word from Federal scouts trickled into Pope’s headquarters at Centreville. The Confederates were headed towards Fairfax, which, if captured, would cut off Pope’s line with Washington. Pope now knew that it was Jackson at the helm.
At 11am, he informed Halleck of the news. “This movement turns Centreville and interposes between us and Washington, and will force me to attack his advance, which I shall do as soon as his movement is sufficiently developed,” explained Pope. But he seemed to have no faith at all in his ability to conquer Jackson’s forces, which, by his own count, only numbered 20,000. “I hope you will make all preparations to make a vigorous defense of the intrenchments around Washington.”2
Pope shifted troops to defend his rear and sent the IX Corps, now under General Isaac Stevens, to check Jackson’s advance two miles west of Germantown.
As Jackson made his way towards Fairfax, Union cavalry played upon his right flank. Though they caused no real damage, it ensured Jackson that his march was no longer a secret. Like the plan prior to Second Manassas, the rest of Lee’s army, under James Longstreet, was to follow Jackson. In the late morning, Stonewall stopped his progress at the small crossroads town of Chantilly to allow Longstreet time to close the gap.
This rest inadvertently allowed Pope to act and for Isaac Stevens troops to seal off Jackson’s march to Fairfax. Their task was a great one. They had to hold their position to allow Pope enough time to evacuate Centreville – which he was incredibly sluggish about doing. Though he knew he was threatened, hours slid by while he did nothing.3
After two more hours of marching under gray skies that unleashed torrents and lightening, Jackson’s men finally ascended Ox Hill and were a stone throw away from Isaac Stevens’ Federals. Both sides had been ordered not to bring on a fight. Slight skirmishing erupted, but nothing more.
Stevens deployed his men, as General Jesse Reno, actual commander of the IX Corps, who had been too ill to begin the march, joined them with additional troops. While they formed their lines, Jackson did the same, curving away from the Turnpike to meet his foe.
Because of the lack of visibility due to the driving rain and wild wind, neither side had much of a clue as to what was going on before them. With only 6,000 men, Stevens decided to attack Jackson, who had no less than 15,000 drawn up into a line atop Ox Hill.
When the attack began, Stevens men seemed to be blown by the wind, as one unit crossed paths with another. The meandering assault began to waver. Stevens sent one of his staff to find reinforcements and then, in a fit of patriotic fervor, grabbed the colors of his own 79th New York Regiment and guided his boys forward through the flashes of lightning and sheets of rain. A Rebel bullet pierced his skull and he fell instantly dead.
The reinforcements soon came in a division led by General Philip Kearny. As he added his men to the bizarre deluge, he took command of the field. Hoping to gain some advantage, he personally rode out to inspect the Rebel lines, only visible at a distance of twenty yards. But he stumbled too close to a Georgia regiment, who fired, mortally wounding him.
With one quick Rebel counterattack, the strange battle was over, neither side really having any idea what had just happened. Each lost around 500 in the fray.4
As the battle ended, General Pope knew that he could no longer stay in Centreville. He ordered most of his army to retire to Fairfax, making sure that the troops facing Jackson would do so before dawn. The last thing he wanted was a running battle all the way to the gates of the capital.5
General Isaac Stevens was the first governor of Washington Territory. In the 1850s, he led a survey with George McClellan (at the behest of then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis) to find a good pass for a railroad. The town of Lake Stevens is named after him (I print jerseys for their football team), as is Stevens Pass (a personal favorite of mine). The Pass bearing his name was the same that he explored. In the 1890s, the Great Northern Railway used it extensively and today it continues as a BNSF line. In 1863, Fort Stevens, near Astoria, Oregon, was constructed in his honor.
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p81-84. [↩]
- Return to Bull Run by John J. Hennessy, University of Oklahoma, 1993. [↩]
- Counter-Thrust by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, University of Nebraska Press, 2007. [↩]
- General John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois, 2000. [↩]