August 2, 1862 (Saturday)
For the past several days, rumors had been flying from General John Pope’s Army north of Richmond to Washington to General George McClellan’s army east of Richmond. The Rebel Army of Northern Virginia, as the rumors told, was apparently abandoning the Confederate capital. Some placed the destination far to the west in Danville or Lynchburg, while others predicted that Lee was moving south towards Petersburg.
Malvern Hill had been held by scant Confederate forces since the close of the battle. Though it was a horrible repulse and defeat of the Rebels, McClellan left the field in Lee’s hands. Lee had since pulled back to Richmond, but left a contingent of cavalry under General Wade Hampton at Malvern.
Halleck had ordered McClellan to send his wounded and sick back down the Peninsula. McClellan seems to have thought this was done to allow his load to be lightened for a move towards Richmond. With the rumors forwarded from General Pope, there was little else he could think.
To comply with Halleck’s direction to suss out the rumors of a Confederate withdrawal, he ordered General Joseph Hooker’s Division to make “an expedition of importance in the direction of the enemy’s lines near Malvern.” Hooker was to be given a knowledgeable guide, who would direct his division, as well as General Alfred Pleasanton’s cavalry to the hill, six miles away. His men were to have two days’ rations in their haversacks and be ready by the afternoon.
The march commenced at 7pm and would take them through the night.2
Pope Consolidates, Begins to Move towards Jackson
Though it was not clear to General McClellan, by this time, it was fairly obvious in Washington that General-in-Chief Halleck was about to withdraw the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula. His call for McClellan to remove the sick and wounded was not to enable a forward movement, but to make a retreat as easy as possible.
General John Pope’s Union Army of Virginia, situated north of Richmond, would also play a roll. Mostly, Pope had been in Washington since his arrival from the West, but had recently taken the field to command his army in person. He was well aware that McClellan and his army were going to be out of the picture for some time. It was his job to cover Washington.
Pope’s force consisted of about 50,000 troops, ready for battle.3 Opposing him were about 24,000 troops under Stonewall Jackson at Gordonsville. Though he believed Jackson to have at least 10,000 more than he did, he still outnumbered the Rebels before him. If, however, General Lee, with his Army of Northern Virginia, joined with Jackson as McClellan was in transit, Pope would have his hands very, very full.
McClellan’s retreat was not to be just a retreat back to Washington, but a joining of forces. When combined, Pope’s and McClellan’s armies would total over 150,000 men. Until then, Pope was to hold his line along the Rappahannock River.
Pope, then, had two objectives in this campaign. First, he was to defend Washington from any Rebel forces moving north. The most obvious would be Stonewall Jackson’s army. Second, if no Confederates ventured from their defenses, he was to play upon the enemy’s communications between Jackson and Lee, forcing the Rebels to leach troops from Richmond to counter the Federal raids. This weakening would allow McClellan to more easily retreat.4
Pope’s army was spread out along a sixty-mile front, hugging the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, while clinging to Fredericksburg to the east. General Ambrose Burnside’s Coastal Division, around 20,000-strong, had just been ordered to relieve Pope’s troops at Fredericksburg. This would allow him to compact his line and further concentrate his troops.5
He had wanted to establish a command at Culpeper, twenty miles in front of his main line, but one of his cavalry officers, General John Hatch, had repeatedly failed him. Having replaced Hatch with a relative-unknown, John Buford, Culpeper was finally under his control. Pope had also been able to funnel an infantry brigade under General Samuel Crawford into the area, fully occupying the town, allowing Buford to push towards Jackson’s left flank.
On this date, he sent Crawford and part of Buford’s cavalry towards the Rebel picket posts along the Rapidan River, near Orange Court House. It was a minor scrap, mostly feeling the Confederate position, but the Rebels, taken by surprise and plagued with the slowness of reinforcements, were driven from the town. Though only a regiment of infantry and one of cavalry occupied Orange Court House, it was Pope’s deepest foothold south, and less than ten miles from Jackson’s main body. They would soon fall back to Culpeper, but it served as a reminder to Jackson that this Pope fellow meant business.6
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 1, p76-77. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 2, p951. [↩]
- See Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p523 for a full breakdown. This is also the source for my map. [↩]
- “The Second Battle of Bull Run” by John Pope, as appearing in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol 2 by The Century Magazine, p457-458. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 3, p523-524. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p111-114. [↩]