In July 1861, after the Union was defeated at Manassas, General George B. McClellan took over as commander of the Federal forces around and in Washington and got them organized into what was called the Army of the Potomac – which was a very formidable fighting machine. In March 1862, McClellan left a strong force to defend the capital and then moved his army via water over to Fort Monroe, located on the tip of the James-York peninsula, located 100 miles southeast of Richmond, VA. He advanced towards the Confederate capital in early April.
The Southerners anticipated this move and left the Manassas area marching to meet up with the Federals. McClellan’s troops, by the end of May, were almost to Richmond. There the Confederate army led by General Joseph E. Johnston clashed with the Federals in the inclusive but bloody Battle of Seven Pines. In the battle, Johnston was wounded and General Robert E. Lee was put in command by President Davis. Lee seized the offensive and sent his force (which was referred to as the Army of Northern Virginia now) across the Chickahominy River and, during a series of fierce battles, was able to push McClellan back towards the James River from the edge of Richmond.
During this same time in northern Virginia, the scattered Federal troops became part of the Army of Virginia under General John Pope’s command, who arrived with his newly won reputation from the war’s western theater. Betting that McClellan wouldn’t cause any more problems in the Richmond area, Lee sent the troops under Stonewall Jackson north to suppress General Pope. On August 9 at Cedar Mountain Jackson had an indecisive clash with some of Pope’s troops. In the meantime, Lee learned that the Army of Potomac was planning to withdraw via water and join Pope, so he marched along with the corps of General James Longstreet to assist Jackson. At Rapidan, Pope was able to successfully block the attempts by Lee to gain a tactical advantage, and then withdrew his troops to the north of Rappahannock River. General Lee realized that in order to defeat Pope he would need to strike before McClellan’s army got to northern Virginia. Lee made the bold move of starting Jackson’s troops on a more than 50-mile march on August 25, around the right flank of the Union to strike at the rear of Pope’s corps.
Two days later, the Jackson troops seized the supply depot of Pope’s at Manassas Junction. Following a day of feasting, the Federal supplies were burned by Jackson and then he moved into the woods at Groveton close to the old Manassas battlefield.
After his supply base was attacked, Pope abandoned the Rappahannock line and headed in the direction of Manassas to go after Jackson. Lee, at the very same time, was headed north with Longstreet’s troops to reunite his army. On August 28, to prevent the efforts of the Federal commander to gather at Centreville and draw Pope into battle, Jackson had his troops attack the Union column as it was marching near Warrenton Turnpike. The brutal fight took place at Brawner’s Farm and went on until dark.
Pope was sure that Jackson was isolated and so ordered his troops to converge at Groveton. He was certain he would be able to destroy Jackson before Longstreet and Lee would have the chance to intervene. On August 29 Pope’s army discovered Jackson’s men north of the turnpike, posted at an unfinished railroad grade. A series of uncoordinated attacks took place all afternoon by Pope’s men against the Confederates. The northerners, in several places, were able to breach Jackson’s line, but every time ended up being forced back. Longstreet’s troops arrived during the afternoon onto the battlefield and deployed on the right of Jackson, unknown to Pope, to overlap the exposed left of the Union. Lee encouraged Longstreet to attack, but he declined, saying that the time was not right.
On August 30, the morning passed quietly. Then right before noon, Pope mistakenly concluded that the Confederates were in retreat and ordered his army to march forward in pursuit of them. However, it was a short-lived pursuit. Pope discovered that Lee had not left. He then amazingly ordered another attack on the Jackson line. Part of McDowell’s troops, along with Fitz-John Porter’s, struck the Starke division at “Deep Cut,” which was part of the unfinished railroad. The southerners were able to hold their ground, ad Porter’s column was pushed back.
Longstreet saw that the Union lines were in disarray and pushed his huge columns forward, staggering the left of the Union. Pope’s troops were facing annihilation. The northern troops had a heroic stand, on Chinn Ridge first, and then again on Henry Hill, to buy time for the hard-pressed Union forces of Pope. Under the cover of darkness, the Union army finally withdrew across Bull Run and towards the Washington defenses. Lee’s brilliant and bold Second Bull Run campaign led the way for the first invasion of the north by the south in the Second Manassas campaign, to bid for foreign intervention. If history isn’t your think be sure to checkout the nearby waterparks!