- 29 Aug 2020 13:19
A large post today with two separate battles, though the second is considerably smaller.
August 30, Saturday
At Manassas, Virginia, due to his ordered probe of Federal positions, General Hood holds the position he advanced to ahead of the Confederate right flank. But he knows he is in a poor position and toward dawn General Longstreet lets him fall back. At about the same time, General Jackson marches some of his units to the rear temporarily to replenish their ammunition.
As dawn comes bright and clear with a promise of heat, General Pope is up early in a blustering good mood, marred only by his anger at General Porter’s failure to advance yesterday afternoon. Pope believes that Porter wants the campaign to fail so that McClellan will be called to the rescue. Petty as this seems, McClellan himself has given the idea some weight. He is at Alexandria with Franklin’s VI Corps, Sumner’s II Corps, and a mountain of supplies that Pope’s men now badly need. Yet Franklin—presumably with McClellan’s approval—has written Pope an outrageous message that he will send a supply train only when Pope provides cavalry to escort it. But to Pope on this morning these hitches are soon to be made trivial by the sweeping victory he anticipates this day. At dawn he received reports of the movement of Longstreet’s and Jackson’s troops, and that Confederate prisoners were talking about a retreat, and he concludes that everything has changed and the Confederates are retreating. He begins to organize a pursuit. He had already decided to shift Porter to the north, unaware that Porter’s corps stands in the way of Longstreet’s corps on the Federal left. Porter started carrying out his orders at 3 am, marching his men to the headquarters area at the intersection of the Sudley road and the Warrenton Turnpike. The only Federals now left facing Longstreet’s corps are the men of a single division under Reynolds. Strangest of all the strange oversights of this day, Longstreet’s 30,000 men remain undetected by the Union high command after nearly a full day on the scene.
Pope has a talent for ignoring what he doesn’t wish to hear. Porter’s report of a Confederate force in front of him is dismissed as an excuse to do nothing. Pope now has Buford’s report of the seventeen enemy regiments passing through Gainesville, but he dismisses it as well. The clash between Hatch’s men and Hood’s Confederates might have alerted him, but it does not. His only thought is to destroy the vanquished enemy before they escape. Pope’s plan calls for McDowell to direct the pursuit. Porter’s corps will move westward along the turnpike while James Ricketts’ division, having arrived in the night from Bristoe, will push north then west along the Sudley Springs-Haymarket Road. Strother carries the orders to Ricketts on the Federal right, and observes that Ricketts, upon reading Pope’s orders, seems both surprised and annoyed. Ricketts informs Strother that, far from retreating, the enemy is pressing him so heavily that he isn’t even sure of being able to maintain his position. Pope receives Ricketts’ report from Strother in silence, and, when Strother asks if he should return to Ricketts with further orders, hesitates a moment then says, “No, damn it. Let him go.” For some time after Pope walks to and fro, smoking and anxiously considering the contradictory evidence.
Though Ricketts can make no headway on the Federal right, Porter moves out with his corps and Hatch’s division from the Federal left to the center, just north of the turnpike. On the south side of the pike, John Reynolds’ Pennsylvanians also begin moving west—against the bulk of Longstreet’s corps. At first the Pennsylvanians meet little resistance. Then there’s scattered fire ahead and the lead regiment halts. Informed that the enemy is ahead, Reynolds rides forward to investigate and only just escapes being killed like the orderly riding with him. Alarmed at the great number of Confederates, Reynolds spurs his horse through increasingly heavy artillery fire to warn Pope. He dashes up to Pope’s headquarters around 1:30, announcing, “General Pope, the enemy is turning our left!” Pope replies, “Oh, I guess not.” Furious, Reynolds returns to his troops. North of the turnpike, Porter’s advancing columns begin to take fire from Confederate skirmishers ahead of Jackson’s line on the unfinished railroad. Even so, many Federal officers still concur with Pope’s analysis. A few minutes later the column jerks to a halt, under heavy fire. Jackson is still there. General McDowell, with Reynolds south of the turnpike, seems rattled, and now he makes an extraordinary blunder—he orders Reynolds, whom the enemy has already stopped south of the turnpike, to move to the north side to assist Porter. With Reynold’s departure, the Union left is virtually uncovered. One of the few Federal units remaining there is an artillery battery commanded by Lieutenant Charles Hazlett. Appalled, he calls on a small brigade of only two regiments. Their commander, Colonel Gouverneur K. Warren, responds at once, posting him men just south of Hazlett’s six guns. About 1,000 New Yorkers now face Longstreet’s full might.
North of the pike, meanwhile, Porter’s Federals, realizing they face an emplaced enemy beyond the railroad grade, shift from column into line of battle and advance again. They instantly come under Confederate artillery fire but continue to advance until within pistol shot. Then, all along the railroad grade, a ling of Confederates fires a withering volley—and still the Federals struggle forward, some of them mounting the bank. Three soldiers bearing the colors of the 21st New York are cut down in quick succession. Confederates mount the bank as well, some with fixed bayonets, some with large rocks on their hands. Several Federals are killed by stone-throwing Confederates. Out of the smoke and frenzy, Major Andrew Barney of the 24th New York rides his white horse atop the railroad embankment, waving his sword in defiance. He is quickly riddled with bullets, despite the calls of some admiring Confederates not to kill him. Soon Colonel William Baylor, commanding the Stonewall Brigade, leads a counterattack, waving the flag he has taken from a fallen color-bearer. It isn’t long before he, too, is killed.
South of the pike, Lee has held fire until the Federal attack is fully developed and so fully vulnerable to the great force lying unsuspected on its flank. At last, Longstreet is ready. Eighteen guns have been shelling the Federal lines to the north. Longstreet orders four more guns to join them. Almost immediately, Porter’s ranks begin to waver and in ten or fifteen minutes it crumbles into disorder and begins to fall back. Then at 4 pm, Longstreet’s 30,000 fresh troops start forward. Unopposed, they rapidly gain momentum. Off in the distance, General Pope gapes in surprise as he watches line after line of enemy infantry advancing on his left flank with light artillery at the gallop. On the Federal far left, the two lone New York regiments brace to meet the assault. But the men advancing against them are of the Texas Brigade, some of the best in the Confederate Army, and they surge into the dense woods and take the New Yorkers under heavy fire. Colonel Warren calls for his New Yorkers to fall back, but no one hears him in the noise and they stand until they are practically annihilated. The Texas Brigade sweeps on, across Young’s Branch and up the slope beyond toward where Captain Mark Kerns’ battery awaits. Panicked by the sight of onrushing Confederates, the gunners flee for their lives. But Kerns remains and rams home a charge of canister as the Confederates call on him to surrender. Instead he jerks the lanyard and at point-blank range the charge tears scores of men to pieces. Immediately Kerns is shot down and his guns captured. As he lies dying, he says: “I promised to drive you back or die under my guns, and I have kept my word.”
Despite its force the Confederate advance is uneven, for on the left Jackson’s tired men don’t get moving until 6 pm, two hours after Longstreet’s onslaught. That means that the Federals north of the turnpike are less hard-pressed. Troops there fall back in a little better order, and Pope begins shifting to meet the surge on his left. He has two crucial points there below the pike. The first is a treeless plateau called Chinn Ridge, about 500 yards behind the creek where Warren’s New Yorkers were annihilated. East of Chinn Ridge, beyond the Sudley road, is a commanding rise surmounted by a pile of rubble—the remains of the Henry family home, destroyed during the battle here last year. Now Chinn Ridge and Henry House Hill become the keys to Union survival, for they control the route of retreat down the Warrenton Turnpike and across the Stone Bridge over Bull Run. By 5:30 pm, Colonel Nathaniel C. McLean’s Ohio Brigade is already in desperate straits on Chinn Ridge, pressed hard. But fresh Federal troops, four brigades and a battery, are streaming south across the pike to McLean’s aid. Spearheading the Confederate assault, a Virginia brigade hammers into McLean’s lead elements. Two or three Federal brigades counterattack, but are broken. The Virginians are joined by Hood’s Texas Brigade, and they pause to realign as about 600 yards away on the crest of Chinn Ridge the six guns of the 5th Maine battery blast away at them. Then the Confederates surge forward, braving the artillery fire to drive off or kill the gunners and capture the guns. In many such ferocious fights the Federal soldiers are pushed back, clear across the great front that stretches on both sides of the turnpike the Federals are in trouble and beginning to break into fragments and dissolve into a multitude of fugitives. But flight is not total. The Black Hat Brigade, in the Federal center, doesn’t waver. The units to their left and right start for the rear, but the Black Hats stand alone for a time before finally starting back themselves, making the three quarters of a mile run in good order.
All thought of defeating the Confederates is now gone, the question is whether the Federal army can avoid annihilation. To do so it must hold the turnpike as far as Stone Bridge. Already masses of guns, horses, ambulances, wagons, and men are jamming a long stretch of the pike. Three Federal brigades have been driven off Chinn Ridge by 6 pm, but their stand has bought Pope time to strengthen his last line of defense, Henry House Hill. So far the Union has suffered a defeat but not quite a disaster; the Federals are being rolled back, but many continue to move in good order, making sure that the foe pays a price for their gains. Brigadier General Robert Milroy leads his brigade of Ohio and West Virginia troops onto a stretch of road just west of Henry House Hill. Here the road is sunken, making a natural bulwark. He is soon joined by Reynolds’ Pennsylvania division and a brigade of Sykes’s regulars. Meanwhile Sykes’s other two brigades and his artillery batteries are taking a position on the west slope of the hill, and Reno with one of his brigades is moving south across the turnpike to their rear. Pope and his staff are with Reno. All of them are still under bitter artillery fire.
The Confederates roll on. North of the turnpike Jackson is gaining momentum, pushing Pope’s right flank toward Bull Run. As one Confederate colonel will recall, “The ridges ran at right angles to the turnpike, and over these infantry and artillery poured in pursuit. The artillery would gallop furiously to the nearest ridge, limber to the front, deliver a few rounds until the enemy were out of range, and then gallop again to the next ridge.” As evening comes on, rain clouds begin to build. In the sunken road at the foot of Henry House Hill, the defenders driven from Chinn Ridge come rushing, panic stricken, out of the woods. Then the Confederates emerge and charge. They are driven back, but are soon reinforced and charge again and again in spite of the scathing fire from a Federal battery on the hillside. Soon the Federal battery gives way, the left generally stampedes, and a trickle starts to fall back from the rest of the Federal line, their ammunition running low and no resupply able to reach them. Finally, they begin to withdraw. Meanwhile General Reno leads his old brigade to the crest of Henry House Hill, joyfully greeted by General Milroy. The Confederates below pause to reorganize, giving Reno time to form a strong line curving along the rim with one of Sigel’s brigades lined up behind as a reserve. About a half hour before sundown the Confederate batteries open up on Henry House Hill with canister and shell and Confederate skirmishers appear on Sykes’s front and are immediately taken under fire. To reach them and Reno’s three regiments and stray battery above them, all lying down and keeping perfect silence, the Confederates have to cross several hundred yards of open ground, moving up a gentle slope. The sun has set and in the growing dark the Federals hear a confused hum and rush of many feet in their front. On being ordered they leap to their feet and open fire, ten rounds per man. Then it is quiet, and the men lay on their pieces, listening to the cry of the Rebel wounded below them. On the left, Virginians crawl up a creek choked with brush until they are facing a New York regiment on Reno’s flank. It is nearly dark when the Confederates burst from cover with a wild yell. The New Yorkers whirl in dismay, and 85 are knocked down by a ferocious volley. But a Massachusetts regiment comes swiftly to their aid, and in the dying light the New Englanders drive the Virginians down the hill.
A slow, dismal rain begins around 8 pm, as the last light of day vanishes. The Confederate attack has ended and the final Federal bastions still hold, Reno’s men on the ridge, Sykes’s Regulars below. On the turnpike long skeins of Federal troops mill undisturbed, a staff officer at the Stone Bridge sorting them out and sending them across Bull Run to safety. Off to the Federal right, north of the pike, Gibbon’s Black Hat Brigade has retired slowly, allowing the enemy to advance only with due caution. Seeing this excellent service, General McDowell pauses and gives Gibbon and the Black Hats responsibility for the rearguard. The roads begin to turn to mire in the rain, and exhausted, hungry, dispirited men who know they have been badly led trudge through the mud toward Centreville. In the turmoil and darkness units are broken up, and all along the route of retreat officers stand by standards calling their regiments’ numbers, gathering the strays. At his headquarters in Centreville, Pope tilts a chair against the wall, laces his hands behind his head, and sits staring vacant-eyed at the room. Late in the night Gibbon begins the final withdrawal. By midnight all but a few stragglers are across Bull Run, and men of the 74th Pennsylvania destroy the bridge so the Confederates cannot use it. A few miles away, by a fence-rail fire, Lee is receiving his officers’ reports. Though Longstreet will later lament the lost opportunity to destroy Pope’s army, the camp this night is buoyant. Lee writes to President Davis, “This Army today achieved on the plains of Manassas a signal victory.”
For the entire campaign August 27 to September 2, Federals will have lost 1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, 5,958 missing for a total of 16,054 casualties. Total engaged will be put at 75,000. The Confederates lose 1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing for a total of 9,197 casualties of 48,500 engaged. Once more Confederate armies stand near Washington and the victories in the West do not look so bright.
In the West the Federal decision to make a stand at Richmond, Kentucky, is based on poor timing. During the previous night, Brigadier General Mahlon D. Manson, commanding the Federal infantry at Richmond, sent a courier to Lexington for instructions from his superior officer. Major General William Nelson, who weighs 300 pounds and carries the nickname Bull, was sent north two weeks earlier to take charge of affairs in Kentucky. When the messenger reaches him at 2:30 am, he advises retreat; but Manson will receive the reply too late. Meanwhile Nelson, who has little confidence in the green troops at Richmond, gets dressed and heads out to take command himself.
The morning dawns clear and beautiful. Colonel Scott’s cavalrymen have located four Federal infantry regiments with artillery across the Lexington Pike on high ground seven miles south of Richmond. The other Federal regiments are still marching south on the pike. Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne moves his division into position but delays his attack until Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill’s division arrives. Cleburne orders his artillery to “fire very slowly and not waste a round.” The Federals begin to advance toward the Confederate right. They are met by the men of the 154th Tennessee, who hold until the rest of their brigade moves up in support. Then, at about 7:30 am, Kirby Smith arrives with Churchill’s division. Kirby Smith immediately orders Colonel T.H. McCray’s brigade of Arkansas and Texas troops to move to the left and attack the Federal right. McCray moves into position, his lines overlapping the Federal right flank. Ignoring this threat, the Federal infantry closes with the Confederates on Cleburne’s right flank, only to be repulsed with heavy casualties. Cleburne is wounded in the mouth by a bullet and has to leave the field. Colonel Preston Smith takes command of the division. Now on the defensive, the green Federal troops are still fighting well. They fall back on the left and re-form their lines, only to break again when McCray’s brigade smashes into their right. Three late-arriving Federal regiments are caught in the rout as their comrades run toward Richmond.
General Nelson arrives on the field about 2 pm and manages to re-form about 2,200 of his men for a last stand on a ridge just south of the town. It is a formidable position, its left anchored on a stone wall in the Richmond cemetery, its right in a nearly impenetrable thicket. The weary Confederates, who have been fighting all day without water, attack again at 5 pm. McCray’s brigade charges the Federal right under heavy fire, while the men of Cleburne’s division scramble up the slope of the ridge into the Federal center and left. Urged on by Preston Smith, Cleburne’s men quickly swarm over the stone wall and engage the Federal defenders in hand-to-hand combat among the tombstones of the cemetery. Churchill’s men, meanwhile, pour into the thicket on the Federal right. In no time at all, Nelson’s Federals are in full flight, racing back through the town and onto the Lexington road—into a trap. Earlier in the afternoon, Kirby Smith sent Scott’s cavalry on a wide sweep to get behind the Federal position. When the rout begins, Scott is ready; the fleeing soldiers run straight into a barrage from Confederate horse artillery. Fully half the Federal troops lay down their arms and surrender.
The figures: 206 Federals were killed and 844 wounded. Captured or missing will be put officially at 4,144 for total losses of 5,194, which is probably high considering the 6,500 engaged. For the Confederates, of 6,800 engaged, 78 were killed, 372 wounded, and 1 missing for a total of 451. The invasion of Kentucky is well under way with a small but impressive Confederate victory.
Skirmishes this day are near Plymouth, North Carolina; Altamont, Tennessee; and near Marietta, Mississippi.
In Washington President Lincoln anxiously awaits news from both Virginia and Kentucky.
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