August, 1862: Second Battle of Bull Run Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Major General John Pope displayed his unfitness for command throughout the Second Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Second Manassas Battle). Confused by Stonewall Jackson’s destruction of the huge Union supply depot at Manassas Junction on August 27, Pope ordered his scattered army to concentrate at Centerville and try to cut off Jackson. However, instead of thinking about escape, Jackson assumed a strong defensive position along an abandoned railroad on the battlefield at Bull Run and awaited attack.

Major General John Pope displayed his unfitness for command throughout the Second Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Second Manassas Battle). Confused by Stonewall Jackson’s destruction of the huge Union supply depot at Manassas Junction on August 27, Pope ordered his scattered army to concentrate at Centerville and try to cut off Jackson. However, instead of thinking about escape, Jackson assumed a strong defensive position along an abandoned railroad on the battlefield at Bull Run and awaited attack.

Pontoon bridge at Bull Run, Virginia. (National Archives)

Union general John Pope’s mistakes during the Second Battle of Bull Run gave a victory to the Confederacy and caused a drop in Union morale. (Library of Congress)

On August 29, Pope attacked Jackson, repeatedly sending in troops as they arrived on the battlefield. The piecemeal, uncoordinated nature of these assaults gained little headway; still, when Jackson adjusted his line that evening, Pope misinterpreted it as a retreat and ordered the attack to continue the following morning.

These assaults were heavier and better organized, but Pope focused so much on Jackson that he completely ignored the arrival of Major General James Longstreet’s 30,000 Confederates. Consequently, when Longstreet attacked Pope’s exposed left on the afternoon of August 30, he sent the entire Union army into a hurried retreat. Only an effective holding action around Henry House Hill prevented disaster. Union losses exceeded 16,000, while Confederate casualties numbered about 9,200.

Coupled with George B. McClellan’s withdrawal from the Virginia Peninsula, Pope’s defeat sent Union morale spiraling downward. When Robert E. Lee moved northward the following week, Abraham Lincoln fired Pope and restored McClellan to overall command in the east.

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