Lee Orders a Bold and Dangerous Plan

August 24, 1862 (Sunday)

Stonewall Jackson

General Franz Sigel, according to his own commander, General John Pope, was slow and stupid. The previous day, he did little to dispel that notion when he failed to attack an isolated Confederate brigade trapped on the north side of the overflowing Rappahannock River. The waters receded later the the evening and by 3am all of the Rebels were safely on the other side of the river. Sigel didn’t realize that he lost his chance and advanced towards Waterloo Bridge, where he met only Confederate skirmishers.

The Rebels belonged to General Jubal Early’s Brigade in Stonewall Jackson’s wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. Though Early had escaped what would have been likely destruction, it threw off General Robert E. Lee’s entire move up the Rappahannock. Originally, Lee wanted to beat Pope’s Union army to Waterloo Bridge, which he would have been able to do if Jackson wouldn’t have thrown Early’s Brigade across the river downstream of the objective. The Rebels lost a day due to this strange bit of maneuvering and the flooded river.1

Separated by the Rappahannock, the two sides pounded each other with artillery throughout the day. Commanding the right wing of Lee’s Army, General James Longstreet was ordered to bring his men up to support Jackson. Though his original plan had to be altered, it was not all lost. Lee called both Longstreet and Jackson together for a council of war.

Thanks to Jeb Stuart’s raid on Catlett’s Station, General Pope’s papers had been captured. Those letters and dispatches told Lee that the Union Army of Virginia and General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac were less than a week away from merging. This would bring the total number of Federals before Lee from 50,000 to somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000.2

Since a crossing of the Rappahannock near their current position would be met with considerable force, Lee could either retreat or make an incredibly daring move. He, much to Jackson’s delight, chose the latter. The Federals got their supplies through their base at Manassas Junction. Pope had to cover that base in his rear, while keeping a link with Fredericksburg, where portions of the Army of the Potomac were arriving.

Therefore, Lee’s plan was for Jackson to take his 27,000 on a wide march around Pope’s right flank until they hit the Manassas Gap Railroad. From there, they would descend upon Manassas Junction, through Thoroughfare Gap. If they used an unprotected ford and slid behind the mountains for cover, they would go undetected. While Jackson was on the flank march, Longstreet was to hold Pope’s attention along the Rappahannock until it was too late for Pope to do anything about Manassas Gap. Lee would then unite his two wings wherever Jackson would be. Pope’s army would be caught in the middle and cut off from reinforcements.3

Map showing approximate positions/number and Jackson's route.

Jackson immediately set about readying his men for the move. Longstreet, likewise, began to move his troops to replace Jackson’s. To screen his movements, Stonewall wanted Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry to clear the way. Stuart, however, took notice that Federals were moving upon Waterloo Bridge with the intent to destroy it. Since it was the only bridge remaining across the Rappahannock, he decided to put a stop to it. He deployed sharpshooters all along the bank, keeping their Union counterparts at bay until infantry from Longstreet’s wing could take their place.4

As Longstreet’s men slid in behind Stuart’s and Jackson’s, it freed them for the real work ahead. Jackson’s men returned to their camps at Jeffersonton, while Stuart studied the route he and Jackson would take.

They would first move through Amissville, then turn north on a small road, crossing the Rappahannock at an unknown ford at Hinson’s Mill. After crossing, they’d continue north through the town of Orleans to arrive at Salem on the Manassas Gap Railroad. Turning east, they’d bowl their way towards Manassas Junction.

Lee’s wings would be separated by about a fifty mile march. Pope could always turn on either Jackson or Longstreet and easily crush the one before moving onto the next. But Lee was certain that Jackson would not be detected and that Longstreet could keep the Federals occupied long enough.

At 3am, Stonewall Jackson’s men stepped off.5

  1. Return to Bull Run by John J. Hennessy, University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. []
  2. Counter-Thrust by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, University of Nebraska, 2007. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p553-554. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p733. []
  5. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
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Lee Orders a Bold and Dangerous Plan by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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