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Northern Virginia Campaign
The Northern Virginia Campaign, or the Second Bull Run Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during August and September, 1862, in the American Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee followed up his successes of the Seven Days Battles in the Peninsula Campaign by moving north toward Washington, D.C. and defeating Maj. Gen. John Pope and his Army of Virginia. Lee's maneuvering of the Army of Northern Virginia against Pope is considered a military masterpiece.
Background and initial movements
After the collapse of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in the Seven Days Battles of June, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed John Pope to command the newly formed Army of Virginia. Pope had achieved some success in the Western Theater and Lincoln sought a more aggressive general than McClellan. The Army of Virginia was constituted on June 26, 1862, from four existing departments operating around Virginia: Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont's Mountain Department, Maj. Gen Irvin McDowell's Department of the Rappahannock, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's Department of the Shenandoah, and Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis 's brigade from the Military District of Washington. The new army was divided into three corps of over 50,000 men. Three corps of McClellan's Army of the Potomac later were added for combat operations. Two cavalry brigades were attached directly to two of the infantry corps, a lack of centralized control that would have negative effects in the campaign.
Pope's mission was to fulfill two objectives: protect Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and draw Confederate forces away from McClellan by moving in the direction of Gordonsville. Pope started on the latter by dispatching cavalry to break the railroad connecting Gordonsville, Charlottesville, and Lynchburg. The cavalry got off to a slow start and found that Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had occupied Gordonsville with over 14,000 men.
Robert E. Lee was the victor in the Seven Days. Although Lee's army had lost most of the battles in the campaign, McClellan retreated after each and no longer threatened Richmond. Lee perceived that McClellan was no further threat to him on the Virginia Peninsula, so he felt no compulsion to keep all of his forces in direct defense of Richmond. This allowed him to relocate Jackson to Gordonsville to block Pope and protect the railroad. Lee had larger plans in mind. Since the Union Army was split between McClellan and Pope and they were widely separated, Lee's offensive spirit saw an opening to destroy Pope before returning his attention to McClellan.
On July 26, Lee met with cavalry legend and partisan fighter John Mosby, who had just been exchanged as a prisoner of war. Coming through the Hampton Roads area in Union custody, Mosby observed much naval transport activity and deduced that Ambrose Burnside's troops from North Carolina were being shipped to reinforce Pope. Wanting to take immediate action before those troops were in position, Lee the next day committed A.P. Hill to join Jackson with 12,000 men, while distracting McClellan with artillery bombardments and diversionary movements. McClellan advanced a force from Harrison's Landing to Malvern Hill and Lee moved south to meet the threat, but McClellan eventually withdrew his advance.
On July 29, Pope moved some of his forces to a position near Cedar Mountain, from where he could launch raids on Gordonsville. Jackson advanced to Culpeper on August 7, hoping to attack one of Pope's corps before the rest of the army could be concentrated.
The battles fought during the Northern Virginia Campaign were:
- Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862) — On August 9, Nathaniel Banks's corps attacked Jackson at Cedar Mountain, gaining an early advantage. Confederate general William Winder was killed and his division mauled. A Confederate counterattack led by A.P. Hill drove Banks back across Cedar Creek. Jackson's advance was stopped, however, by the Union division of James B. Ricketts . By now Jackson had learned that Pope's corps were all together, foiling his plan of defeating each in separate actions. He remained in position until August 12, when he withdrew to Gordonsville.
On August 13, Lee sent James Longstreet to reinforce Jackson, and on the following day, sent all of his remaining forces, except for two brigades, after he was certain that McClellan was leaving the Peninsula. Lee himself arrived at Gordonsville to take command on August 15. His plan was to defeat Pope before McClellan's army could arrive to reinforce it, by cutting bridges in Pope's rear and then attacking his left flank and rear on August 18. This plan fell through due to logistical difficulties and cavalry movement delays.
On August 20 and 21, Pope withdrew to the line of the Rappahannock River. He was aware of Lee's plan because a Union cavalry raid captured a copy of the written order. (Confederate cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart was almost captured during this raid; his cloak and plumed hat did not escape, however, and Stuart retaliated on August 22 with a raid on Pope's headquarters at Catlett Station, capturing Pope's dress coat. This raid demonstrated that the Union right flank was vulnerable to a turning movement, although river flooding brought on by heavy rains would make this difficult.)
- Battle of Rappahannock Station I (August 22–25, 1862) — The two armies fought a series of minor actions along the Rappahannock River, including Waterloo Bridge, Lee Springs, Freeman's Ford, and Sulphur Springs, resulting in a few hundred casualties.
Together, these skirmishes kept the attention of Pope's army along the river. By this time forces from the Army of the Potomac had arrived from the Peninsula to reinforce Pope: Samuel P. Heintzelman 's III Corps, Fitz-John Porter 's V Corps, and elements of the VI Corps under Brig. Gen. George W. Taylor . Lee's new plan in the face of all these additional forces outnumbering him was audacious—to send Jackson and Stuart with half of the army on a flanking march to cut Pope's line of communication, the Orange & Alexandria Railroad . Pope would be forced to retreat and could be defeated while moving and vulnerable.
- Battle of Manassas Station Operations (August 25–27, 1862) — On the evening of August 26, after passing around Pope's right flank via Thoroughfare Gap, Jackson's wing of the army struck the Orange & Alexandria Railroad at Bristoe Station and before daybreak August 27 marched to capture and destroy the massive Union supply depot at Manassas Junction. This surprise movement forced Pope into an abrupt retreat from his defensive line along the Rappahannock. On August 27, Jackson routed a Union brigade near Union Mills (Bull Run Bridge), inflicting several hundred casualties and mortally wounding Taylor. Richard S. Ewell's division fought a brisk rearguard action against Joseph Hooker's division at Kettle Run, resulting in about 600 casualties. Ewell held back Union forces until dark. During the night of August 27–28, Jackson marched his divisions north to the First Bull Run (Manassas) battlefield, where he took position behind an unfinished railroad grade.
- Battle of Thoroughfare Gap (August 28, 1862) — After skirmishing near Chapman's Mill in Thoroughfare Gap, Ricketts's Union division was flanked by a Confederate column passing through Hopewell Gap several miles to the north and by troops securing the high ground at Thoroughfare Gap. Ricketts retired, and Longstreet's wing of the army marched through the gap to join Jackson. This seemingly inconsequential action virtually ensured Pope's defeat during the battles of August 29–30 because it allowed the two wings of Lee's army to unite on the Manassas battlefield. Ricketts withdrew via Gainesville to Manassas Junction.
- Battle of Manassas II (August 28–30, 1862) — In order to draw Pope's army into battle, Jackson ordered an attack on a Federal column that was passing across his front on the Warrenton Turnpike on August 28. The fighting at Brawner Farm lasted several hours and resulted in a stalemate. Pope became convinced that he had trapped Jackson and concentrated the bulk of his army against him. On August 29, Pope launched a series of assaults against Jackson's position along the unfinished railroad grade. The attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. At noon, Longstreet arrived on the field from Thoroughfare Gap and took position on Jackson's right flank. On August 30, Pope renewed his attacks, seemingly unaware that Longstreet was on the field. When massed Confederate artillery devastated a Union assault by Porter's corps, Longstreet's wing of 28,000 men counterattacked in the largest simultaneous mass assault of the war. The Union left flank was crushed and the army driven back to Bull Run. Only an effective Union rearguard action prevented a replay of the First Bull Run disaster. Pope's retreat to Centreville was precipitous, nonetheless. The next day, Lee ordered his army in pursuit. This was the decisive battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign.
- Battle of Chantilly (September 1, 1862) — Making a wide flanking march, Jackson hoped to cut off the Union retreat from Bull Run. On September 1, beyond Chantilly Plantation on the Little River Turnpike near Ox Hill, Jackson sent his divisions against two Union divisions under Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens. Confederate attacks were stopped by fierce fighting during a severe thunderstorm. Union generals Stevens and Kearny were both killed. Recognizing that his army was still in danger at Fairfax Courthouse, Pope ordered the retreat to continue to Washington.
The Northern Virginia Campaign had been expensive for both sides. Union casualties were about 14,500, Confederate about 9,500.
With Pope no longer a threat, Lee turned his army west and north to invade Maryland, initiating the Maryland Campaign and the battles of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and Antietam. Pope, seriously out-maneuvered by Lee, was virtually besieged in Washington. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan assumed command of Union forces around Washington and his Army of the Potomac absorbed the forces of the Army of Virginia, which was disbanded.
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