Camp-Fires of General Lee, by Edward S. Ellis, Chapter 8

Camp-Fires of General Lee


LEE retained Longstreet’s command in front to divert Pope’s attention while Jackson was executing his flank movement. Stealthy as was the latter, it did not escape the knowledge of Pope, who, however, was unable to make certain of its precise purpose. His position, it may be said, was that of a man watching a body whirling about his head with inconceivable celerity. He became bewildered and began sending orders hither and thither, marching his men up and down and here and there until the wonder became whether he ever would be able to extricate the army from its labyrinth of danger. Fitz-John Porter telegraphed to Burnside, “I suspect the Confederates know what they are doing, which is more than any one here or anywhere knows.” Finally, as the best course, Pope decided to fall back nearer Washington. Shortly after reaching this decision he awoke to the fact that Jackson was in his rear, at Manassas.

Now was the opportunity for Pope to deliver a most effective blow; for when Jackson was at Manassas, Longstreet was two marches off. What was to prevent Pope from placing himself between the two columns and overwhelming each in detail? He had received large reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac and other sources, and was amply able to carry out this plan, which required only promptness and ordinary generalship. Pope exhibited intermittent flashes of perception, and he now appeared to grasp the situation; but he could not hold fast long enough to make his movements effective.

The only thing for Pope to do was to push forward his left and occupy the road by which Longstreet must advance to join Jackson. With this end in view, he ordered General McDowell, with his own and Sigel’s corps and Reynolds’s division, to march to Gainesville. This would place forty thousand men directly in the road by which the Confederate main column must march to join Jackson. Reno’s corps and Kearny’s division of Heitzelman’s corps were directed to support this force, which marched for Greenwich, while Pope, with Hooker’s division, advanced along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad toward Manassas Junction. Banks was to remain at Warrenton, relieving Porter’s corps, which was also ordered to Gainesville. To quote Swinton, “These dispositions were not only correct: they were brilliant. The lame and impotent sequel is now to be seen.”

The main column, under McDowell, was to reach its position at Gainesville and Greenwich on the night of the 27th. It succeeded in doing so, and at the same time Pope, with Hooker’s command, advanced along the railroad in pursuit of Jackson at Bristoe Station. During the afternoon, when near the place, Pope came upon General Ewell, who, it will be remembered, Jackson had left at that point for the very purpose of obstructing the Federal march. A sharp engagement instantly opened, and Ewell, finding himself hard pressed, fell back, as he had been directed to do, and joined Jackson at Manassas Junction. Under the belief that the battle would be renewed in the morning at Bristoe Station, General Porter was ordered up from Warrenton Junction; but the intense darkness and the difficulties of the road prevented his reaching Bristoe until about nine o’clock the next day, yet nothing was lost by the delay, inasmuch as Ewell had already joined Jackson. It now looked as if Jackson was inextricably entangled and was sure to be entrapped. In his order to McDowell, Pope exultingly added, “If you will march promptly and rapidly at the earliest dawn upon Manassas Junction, we shall bag the whole crowd.” McDowell with his forty thousand men was at Gainesville, between Jackson and Lee, the latter being a full day’s march distant, west of Bull Run Mountains.

“When, on the night of the 27th, Pope learned that Jackson was in the vicinity of Manasses, he directed McDowell, with all his force, to take up the march early on the morning of the 28th and move eastward from Gainesville and Greenwich upon Manassas Junction, following the line of the Manassas Gap Railroad, while he ordered Hooker and Kearny and Porter to advance northward from Bristoe Station upon the same place. From Gainesville to Manassas Junction the distance is fifteen miles; from Bristoe Station, it is eight miles; and from Manassas Junction west to Thoroughfare Gap, where Lee must debouch through the Bull Run Mountains to unite with Jackson, is twenty miles.

“This move was a great error. Pope’s left (McDowell’s column) was his strategic flank, and should have been thrown forward rather than retired; for in withdrawing from the line of the Warrenton turnpike to Manassas Junction he permitted Jackson, by a move from Manassas Junction to the north of the turnpike, to do precisely what he should at all hazards have been prevented from doing—namely, to put himself in the way of a junction with the main body of Lee’s army. Could Jackson, indeed, have been induced to remain at Manassas Junction for the convenience of Pope, that general’s strategy would have worked to a charm; but Jackson was fully dive to the peril of his situation, and while Pope thought he was in the act of “bagging” Jackson, Jackson was giving Pope the slip. The details are as follows: During the night of the 27th and morning of the 28th, Jackson moved his force from Manassas, by the Sudley Springs road, across to the Warrenton turnpike; crossing which, he gained the high timberland north and west of Groveton, in the vicinity of the battlefield of the 21st of July, 1861. When, therefore, Pope, with the divisions of Hooker and Kearny and Reno, reached Manassas Junction, about noon of the 28th, he found that Jackson had already gone!

“Pope then tried to correct his error by calling back McDowell’s column from its march toward Manassas Junction and directing it on Centreville, to which point he also ordered forward Hooker, Kearny and Reno, and afterward Porter. But much time had been lost; the columns on the march toward Manassas had been forced to take other roads than those indicated for them, and it was late in the afternoon when McDowell, with one division of his whole command (King’s), regained the Warrenton turnpike and headed toward Centreville. Now, Jackson, as already seen, had taken position on the north side of the turnpike, near Groveton; so that on the approach of King’s column it unwittingly presented a flank to Jackson, who assailed it furiously. Jackson attacked with two divisions (the Stonewall division, then under General Taliaferro, and Ewell’s division), while the fight on the Union side was sustained by King’s division alone. The behavior of the troops was exceedingly creditable, and they maintained their ground with what Jackson styles “obstinate determination.” The loss on both sides was severe, and on the part of the Confederates included Generals Ewell and Taliaferro, both of whom were severely wounded, the former losing a leg. Unfortunately for Pope, during the night King withdrew his command to Manassas, leaving the Warrenton turnpike available for Jackson’s withdrawal or Longstreet’s advance. That same night, too, General Ricketts (whom McDowell had detached with his division to dispute the passage of Thoroughfare Gap with Longstreet) also withdrew to Manassas. Thus affairs went from bad to worse.”*


* Swinton.

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