The Life of General Robert E. Lee
G. Mercer Adam


The failure of McClellan’s operations in the Virginia Peninsula was naturally disconcerting to the Federal Administration at Washington and led to further alarm over the safety of the capital, as well as to a call (July 2) for 300,000 volunteers, for a term of service of three years. The War Department, a week later, moreover, appointed Major-General Halleck commander-in-chief, and about the same time gave the command of the Army of Virginia, for the protection of the Federal capital, to Major-General John Pope, one of Halleck’s divisional commanders in the West, who had gained some reputation by the capture, in February, 1862, of Island No. 8, in the Mississippi. These appointments, as it turned out, however, were mere makeshifts, resorted to in the dilemma the Washington authorities found themselves in, with such masterly Southern fighters actively in the field as Lee and Stonewall Jackson. They were also made in consequence of the shaking of Northern confidence in McClellan, who was now ordered by Halleck to withdraw his army from the James River and place it under the direction of Pope, in front of Washington. This was what Lee most desired, as it not only removed the menace involved in the presence of 100,000 Federal troops within striking distance of Richmond, but freed the great Southern chieftain and his army to test Pope’s metal in operations north of the Rappahannock. The measure of Pope’s ability was presently now to be taken and put to the test; already, by his boastful General Order on assuming the chief command, he had discredited his sagacity as a general officer and gained for himself the jeers of friend and foe alike. Nor did his proclamations in regard to unarmed citizens and private property, in the section of Northern Virginia where his command was, manifest either tact or humanity. Otherwise, he acted wisely in collecting together under him the scattered brigades of McDowell, Fremont, and Banks, amounting to close upon 60,000 men, and advancing them across the Rappahannock, menacingly near to both Gordons ville and Charlottesville, important intersecting points in Northern Virginia.

To oppose this movement of Pope, General Lee once more relied upon his sturdy lieutenant in arms, General Stonewall Jackson, whom he directed to move, with Ewell’s command, to Gordonsville, where he arrived on July 19. A week later, Jackson’s army was strengthened by the junction with it of A. P. Hill’s division—a combined force of about 19,000 men, against which it had more than double that number so far opposed to it under Pope. On being apprised of Jackson’s presence at Gordonsville, the new Federal Commander-in-chief directed General Banks to advance with his force of 28,000 from Cedar Run to join him. In obeying this command of his superior, Banks got as far as Culpeper Court House, near which Jackson’s advance came across him and gave him battle, aided by the brigades under Ewell and Early. At a crisis in the contest that ensued, “Stonewall” himself was impelled to take the field, at the head of his own brigade, and with the timely help of a portion of A. P. Hill’s division, that had come up at the juncture when it was going ill with the Confederate forces, the Federal attacks were repulsed, and Banks and his army were driven in rout from the field, leaving upon it his Northern dead and wounded. After the victory—known as the battle of Cedar Run—Jackson, on the following day (Aug. 10), learning that Banks was being heavily reinforced, recrossed the Rapidan and returned to Gordonsville. His object in this was to await developments in a stronger position, when Pope or Banks was ready to resume fighting, and also to enable him the better to keep in touch with General Lee.

At length, to General Lee’s relief, who feared, when McClellan’s army joined Pope, that a concentrated movement upon Richmond directly from the North would ensue, McClellan betook himself from the James, his army being returned to Washington by sea from Harrison’s Landing, close to Westover, where his camp for some time had been. Already Pope had advanced his batteries to the north bank of the Rapidan; and thither, on the south bank, Lee began to remove his army, with the design of proceeding north to the Rappahannock to execute a purpose which he in concert with Jackson and Longstreet, had conceived, of getting in rear of Pope’s left flank, and with another portion of his army to get round the Federal right and cut the Northern army’s communications with Washington. From August 25th to the 27th, saw the initial movements of this daring design put in execution, by way of Thoroughfare Gap, the narrow pass in Bull Run mountain close to Manassas. To strengthen his forces for the accomplishment of this clever piece of tactics, Lee had ordered up from Richmond the divisions under D. H. Hill, Wilkes, and McLaws, which, on their arrival, gave Lee a combined force of nearly 60,000 men, to pit against Pope’s total, of close upon 92,000; for the latter had summoned Burnside’s and King’s commands from Fredericksburg to join him. To add to the Federal hosts, McClellan’s advance corps, together with those of Porter, Sumner, and Heintzelman, were now pouring in from Fredericksburg and Alexandria. In spite of his greater strength. Pope was nevertheless in much bewilderment as to the possible quarters from which the Confederate generals would launch their attacks upon him; while, at the same time, he was anxious to meet successively their commands in action rather than have to fight a united Southern army in the field. Especially did he seek to prevent the junction of Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson, or any two of them, until he himself had had some measure of success, and had tried his luck with one or other of them separately. He was soon now to obtain what he desired, and indeed more than he cared to grapple with, and with disastrous results to his reputation and tragic consequences to his Northern army. While in the midst of these anxieties, Jackson’s 20,000 men were resolutely pressing forward to Manassas Junction; while Longstreet took up a position at Orleans, leaving Lee, meanwhile, to keep watch on the river at Waterloo and send a supporting corps to Jackson and Longstreet. By August 27th, the latter had covered the fifteen miles between Orleans and White Plains, thence to his junction with “Stonewall” at the eastern end of Thoroughfare Gap, seven miles further on. Hither Lee himself came to overlook the ground and confer with his veteran generals, some of whose corps were now grappling with the enemy and falling on the Federal flank. In the region, Jackson, with the aid of Stuart’s and Trimble’s cavalry contingent, had come upon the Federal rear with such surprise that they fell upon Pope’s immense army supplies, and had for once a day’s high carnival on the bounties furnished by the Northern commissariat. To Jackson’s indifferently garbed, ill foot-shod, and poorly-fed men, operating in a country largely overrun by an enemy, the falling upon the Federal army stores was at the period a God-send, though little beyond the most pressing necessities of the command, with a day’s good and appetizing rations, could be made use of; while the great bulk of them, as the spoils of war, had to be destroyed or given to the flames, it having been impossible just then to transport them to the “rebel” lines.

By the 28th of August, Jackson and his eager, alert command, with shotted guns, reached Groveton, adjoining Warrenton, close by the old battleground of Bull Run. Meanwhile, several corps of the enemy were converging upon Centreville, Pope’s headquarters, where some of “Stonewall’s” brigades engaged a column under King, of McDowell’s command, and forced it to retreat. Next day (the 29th) Jackson (20,000 strong) was again in hot conflict with the Federals between Groveton and Sudley. Here, on Jackson’s left, the enemy, about 35,000 in number, under Sigel, supported later in the day by Reno and Heintzelman, were making a tremendous onslaught on the “rebel” veterans. These Federal onsets were repeated half a dozen times during the day, the final assault being made about 5 p.m. by the divisions of Kearney and Stevens, though Jackson’s men had hardly ammunition left, after the long day’s expenditure of it, to repel the last attack. All the Federal assaults were successfully beaten off by Stonewall’s invincible command. During the day, General Lee, though unknown to Pope, was a keen and watchful onlooker of the tactful operations of his able and resourceful lieutenant, his army being drawn up across the Warrenton turnpike, and alongside the brigades under Longstreet; while Pope was strengthened by the coming of Porter and McDowell and their commands from Manassas. The conflict was renewed on the morrow (Aug. 30th), by the advance of Porter’s army, flanked by the divisions of King and Reynolds, on Jackson’s left center. The delivery of these assaults was vigorously met by Jackson’s “Ironsides” under Starke and Lawton; while the Confederate batteries were unerringly directed under the eye of Lee and A. P. Hill. Later in the day, the play of these guns, with their enfilading fire, wrought dire havoc among the Federal masses, following which came a splendid charge of Longstreet’s brigade that broke the Federal lines and drove the Unionist troops into a confused stampede. Nightfall saw fugitive masses rushing across the Bull Run, Pope himself seeking safety in his headquarters at Centreville. The following day (Sunday, the 31st), the pursuit of the Federals was pressed by Lee, when Pope ordered a retreat to Fairfax, Jackson’s command taking up the pursuit on Monday in a rainstorm so furious as to render firearms useless, save for the bayonet, which came effectually and fatally into play. Thus was Pope driven in dismay from the Virginia borders, and for the time being the weary, footsore Southern forces had a brief spell of well-earned rest.

Return to The Life of General Robert E. Lee