The Armies Return to Bull Run; Jackson Waits as Pope Blunders

August 28, 1862 (Thursday)

John F. Renyolds

The sun rose upon utter confusion. The Union Army of Virginia, much like their commander, General John Pope, had been sluggish to react. A fresh corps under General Fitz John Porter was late in stepping off for Bristoe Station, scene of the previous day’s skirmish. Farther west, General Franz Sigel delayed his corps’ move towards Manassas until mid-morning. To make matters worse, Sigel had brought along his supply train, which tangled itself into General Irvin McDowell’s corps, delaying matters even more. Before Sigel could even start, McDowell had passed him.1

Things were not much better for Stonewall Jackson, who had ordered his wing of the Army of Northern Virginia to the crossroads of Groveton, near the old battlefield at Bull Run, seven miles away from Manassas Junction. Of his three divisions, only one wound up where he wanted it to be – and that was only because Jackson accompanied it. Once again, Jackson had issued vague marching orders to commanders unable to digest them. General A.P. Hill’s men somehow wound up in Centerville, which, while completely in the wrong direction, confused Pope greatly. By late morning, Jackson’s weary men were reunited at Groveton.2

Jackson’s main objective, and the reason he selected Groveton, was for a link up with General James Longstreet’s wing coming through Thoroughfare Gap. Meanwhile, Pope had ordered his army to coalesce at Manassas Junction, seven miles away. While Jackson was moving west, Pope was moving east (and north). At the point where the two forces came closest, they brushed up against each other.

Jackson's overnight/morning movements.

Union General McDowell had pushed forward General John Reynolds’ division across the railroad where he came under the fire of artillery. This was, suspected McDowell, “some rear guard or cavalry party, with artillery.” After Reynolds had deployed his men, the Confederates vanished. When skirmishers were sent to check out the former enemy position, they found no trace of the Rebels.3

In truth, Jackson was trying to draw the Federals – any Federals, apparently – into a fight. But McDowell had his orders, and when the Confederates disappeared, he decided not to pursue, but to continue on to Manassas Junction.

While Jackson waited, Pope reacted. He had heard the artillery booming off towards Groveton, but seemed to make nothing of it. When he arrived at Manassas Junction, he saw the place in ruins and believed Jackson to be retreating farther. From less-than-honest Rebel prisoners, he learned that the column seen near Centreville was Jackson’s entire force.4 Pope ordered McDowell and Sigel to Centreville, and sent two corps (under Generals Reno, Hooker and Kearny) towards the town, as well.5

Longstreet's troops at Thoroughfare Gap

As Pope moved north, Jackson grew more and more jaded. He knew that he had to hit Pope before the Army of the Potomac could gather its forces at Alexandria. Also, if Pope got north of Bull Run, he could take up a similar position as he did just north of the Rappahannock. But all Jackson could do was hope for Pope to attack him or for General Lee to arrive with the rest of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Around 3pm, a message arrived from General Lee at Thoroughfare Gap, letting Stonewall know that Longstreet’s wing would cross in the morning and join with Jackson very soon. The General’s spirits were lifted – he even smiled. Suddenly, his isolated position didn’t seem so bad.6

The road from Gainesville to Centreville, called the Warrenton Turnpike, led directly in front of Stonewall Jackson’s force, which was drawn up in a defensive position waiting for something to happen. Around 6pm, something happened. General Rufus King’s Division, of McDowell’s Corps, was missing their commander, who stayed back at Gainesville, sick. Instead, they were commanded by General John Hatch, the disgraced cavalry commander, who had been replaced by John Buford.

McDowell instructed Hatch to march towards Centreville, but to first throw out a regiment to probe the area around the road. The morning tangle with what he believed to be Jackson’s rear guard was still fresh in his mind. But Hatch found nothing and McDowell told him to continue on.7

As Hatch moved along the road, some of his flankers exchanged shots with a few Rebels. He seemed to have made little of it, and continued on. Stonewall Jackson, however, with a full view of Hatch’s mile-long and strung out column, made of it all that he could.

Battle at Groveton

“Bring out your men, Gentlemen,” Jackson quietly spoke to his officers. And soon lines were formed and bayonets fixed. From the woods that hid them from view, the bulk of Stonewall’s force emerged, flags waving in the breeze, and three batteries of artillery ready to fire.

Hatch’s men looked to their right and saw an unstoppable tide of Rebels screaming towards them. They turned towards the foe and immediately formed lines to advance. The Yankees met the Rebels halfway and the match began.8

Battle at Groveton

“In this fight there was very little maneuvering and very little tactics,” remembered General William Taliaferro after the war, “it was a question of endurance – and both endured.”9

For two and a half hours, the two sides stood against each other, firing at nearly point blank range. History remembers this as a battle between the Stonewall Brigade and the Iron Brigade, but really, the Rebels fielded 4,500, while the Federals had 2,800 opposing. Each side tried to make some sort of charge, but both sides’ resistance was far too strong.

As evening bled the sky to darkness, the dying barely slackened. But when a Georgia regiment of reinforcements was sent to support the Stonewall Brigade, they mistook the Virginians as Federals and poured deadly volley after volley into them, their comrades. During this sad respite, the Federals begged an orderly leave.

The losses were staggering. Jackson lost 1,200, including several colonels, as well as Generals Taliferro and Ewell, who was shot in the leg and would be out of commission for ten months. Two regiments suffered 70% casualties, while the Stonewall Brigade sustained 40%. Federal losses were much worse. 1,100 out of 2,800 were either wounded or killed.10

Very approximate map of how things ended up by nightfall.

That night, Pope finally knew exactly where Jackson was, and all Jackson could do was hold his own and hope that Longstreet arrived soon.

But Longstreet had problems of his own. General McDowell had sent a division under James Ricketts to stop the Rebel advance through Thoroughfare Gap. Though outnumbered, Ricketts put up a good fight. But by the end of the day, Longstreet had positioned units on the Federals flanks and threatened to envelope his enemy. With little other choice left to him, Ricketts retreated towards Gainesville.

When he heard of the brawl near Groveton, General Pope surmised that Jackson was retreating away from Centreville and he was certain that he could destroy him. Pope called for an all out attack at dawn. And so he committed to fight Stonewall Jackson on ground of the Rebel’s own choosing.

At this point, Pope had a better idea of where Jackson was than he had of where his own troops were. He believed that he had boxed Stonewall in on three sides, but in truth, he was only in Jackson’s front.

The attack would be spearheaded by General Sigel, who was nearest to Groveton, and General Philip Kearny. The latter of whom had grown very tired of Pope’s boasting and blundering.

“Tell General Pope to go to Hell,” spat Kearny to the courier bearing the message. “We won’t march before morning.”11

  1. General John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinios, 2000. []
  2. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p336. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 1, p203. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 12, Part 2, p37. []
  6. War Years with Jeb Stuart by William Willis Blackford, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945. []
  7. Return to Bull Run by John J. Hennessy, University of Oklahoma, 1993. []
  8. War Years with Jeb Stuart by William Willis Blackford, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1945. []
  9. “Jackson’s Raid Around Pope” by General William Taliaferro, as appearing in Battles & Leaders of the Civil War Volume II, The Century Publishing, 1914. []
  10. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan, 1997. []
  11. Return to Bull Run by John J. Hennessy, University of Oklahoma, 1993. []
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The Armies Return to Bull Run; Jackson Waits as Pope Blunders by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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2 thoughts on “The Armies Return to Bull Run; Jackson Waits as Pope Blunders

  1. Hi, typically fine coverage overall but I have one note.

    You state “Federal losses were much worse.” The statement is a bit ambiguous.

    They lost only 1,100 as opposed to 1,200 Confederate losses which is smaller in absolute terms. Were you referring to their losses as a percentage of troops engaged–1,100/2,800 is about 40% while 1,200/4,500 is 27%?

    I’d note that if you look at how many enemy casualties per friendly troops engaged, the Union forces did quite well–2.33 Union troops/Rebel casualty vs. 4.09 Rebel troops/Union casualty.

    The overall theme, that Pope blundered throughout his campaign, is totally accurate.

    1. Hi there!

      Yep, the Federal losses, by percentage, were much worse. Both sides performed rather well in the killing and dying category.


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