The Battle of Second Manassas, or Second Battle of Bull Run involved a total of around 127,000 men and led to almost 3,000 deaths alongside a further 15,000 wounded.
This battle would give Gen. Robert E. Lee the momentum to initiate his Maryland Campaign, deal a severe blow to Union morale, and lead to the ignoble sacking of the Union’s Maj. Gen. John Pope.
The Battle of Second Manassas proved to be a decisive victory for the Confederates. Defeating an army much larger than his own, Gen. Robert E. Lee caused the Federals to retreat back to Bull Run and was able to get his army across the Potomac River and begin the first invasion of the North, leading to the battle of Antietam.
Before the battle, the fate of the Confederates was uncertain. Though they had enjoyed their share of victories, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant kept the Confederates in check in the West. Gen. George B. McClellan had built the largest army North America had ever seen.
McClellan’s forces were a direct threat to the Confederacy’s capital in Richmond, and the Union was constantly trying to get men down the Shenandoah Valley to reinforce McClellan further.
Despite the Confederate’s precarious circumstances, President Abraham Lincoln was growing tired of McClellan’s efforts on the Peninsula. This lack of substantial progress led to Lincoln establishing the Army of Virginia in June 1862 to threaten the back door of Richmond.
Once set up, Maj. Gen. John Pope was given charge of the campaign – an appointment that would prove to be a major mistake.
McClellan’s success in putting Richmond under threat provoked a response from the Confederates. In May, Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army attacked the Union forces in the Battle of Seven Pines, though the result was ambiguous, and Johnson was removed from action after being wounded.
At this point, Gen. Robert E. Lee was put in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia by Confederacy leader Jefferson Davis. Lee immediately went to work and took the fight to the Union. He successfully pushed McClellan back with the Seven Days’ battles.
But while Lee was finding his success, the Army of Virginia under the command of Gen. John Pope was moving ever closer. To counter Pope’s advances, Lee will send Stonewall Jackson west where he will defeat one of Pope’s Corps at the battle of Cedar Mountain. Next Lee will make a risky decision. He instructs Stonewall Jackson to attack Pope’s right flank to sever Pope’s supply line.
Jackon’s attack led to the Confederates taking Pope’s stores of supplies at Manassas Junction. His soldiers enjoyed the spoils of this conquest, eating and drinking well for a night before setting fire to the rest of the supplies. They then based themselves near the site of the First Manassas battlefield.
Lee’s risky strategy was to prove a success: Pope pursued Stonewall Jackson’s forces, just as Lee wanted. On August 29, intense fighting breaks out between Jackson’s forces and Union brigades at Brawner Farm. The battle runs from the daylight hours of the afternoon into the dark of night.
On 30 August, Pope launched attack after attack on Jackson’s men but were continually repulsed. Unbeknownst to Pope, Jackson would also be reinforced during the afternoon by Confederate forces under the command of Maj. Gen. James Longstreet.
But it was August 30 when Pope would make his greatest mistakes. After receiving conflicting pieces of information, he erroneously concludes that the Confederates must be on the retreat and decides to pursue them.
Of course, Lee’s army had gone nowhere and easily repulsed Pope. Pope orders further advance unwisely undeterred, but the Confederate artillery again repulses them.
Now, sensing the momentum is with them, Lee and Longstreet launch an enormous counterattack. It sends the Union lines into a panic and onto the retreat. Northern forces avoid decimation with brave resistance on Chinn Ridge and Henry Hill, but the game is up by nightfall – the Union army beats a retreat back towards Washington.
The Battle of Second Manassas was a major victory for Lee and allowed the Confederates to ready themselves for the first invasion of the North.
Tragically, the battle took the lives of many. It is estimated that the Union forces lost nearly 14,500 (dead and wounded) and the Confederates over 7,000 (dead and wounded).
For his humiliating defeat and incompetent leadership, Pope was dismissed and sent west. Following his firing, the Union’s Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams would remark, “more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man.”