* also, Gainesville, Brawner's Farm
Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson , CSA
Each side engaged most of their army.
The North lost almost 14,000 men, the South around 8,500.
Jackson lurked in the railway cutting until he found a Union column to surprise. Along came the lead elements of Gen. Rufus King's Union division; it was close to dark and possibly Jackson’s last chance, so he jumped them. Despite surprise and an artillery advantage shelling the thick Union columns before the deployed, he gained little advantage. The leading Union brigade was John Gibbon’s Midwesterners, who had never seen action before, and that may have helped them: they didn’t know the odds were against them. The two sides slugged it out at close range until after dark, both losing around one in three. Jackson was unlucky in his intended victim: they would later be called the Iron Brigade.
Overnight Pope was convinced he had Jackson isolated, and was determined to crush the rebel force. He ordered the bulk of his forces to attack Jackson’s position on the 29th – but he never managed to coordinate the attacks. As a result, the outnumbered Confederates managed always to survive the repeated blows. The left, under AP Hill, quivered under severe attack, but Jackson calmly expected they would hold and somehow the Light Division managed. It was a close run thing: one Confederate unit ran out of ammunition and had to throw rocks; if they’d done the ‘sensible’ thing and retreated, or if the Union troops had just a little more pluck to plunge in with the bayonet, Jackson’s line surely would have snapped. Twice the line was broken, once by Hooker’s division and once by Phil Kearny. Both times the Confederates counterattacked, and Pope didn’t have enough men up to support, and Jackson’s line held. At the end of the day Jackson pulled his main body back to rest, leaving only pickets along the railway line. Pope, optimistic to the last, thought he’d won, that Jackson had left a rearguard to cover a retreat.
During the day Longstreet’s larger ‘wing’ arrived and took positions on Jackson’s left, but didn’t enter action, even though the Union flank was open. Longstreet was a cautious man, Jackson was holding his own, Lee didn’t like throwing troops in piecemeal, and there were Union columns in a position to smash Longstreet’s flank if he attacked. So he deployed quietly, almost unnoticed.
On the 30th Pope took his time organizing what he thought was a pursuit. He intended to smash Jackson’s ‘rearguard’ and steamroller whatever he could catch. He gathered his forces and formed three strong lines. Jackson slid his men back into their defensive positions, but it was obvious that he’d be overrun if he didn’t get some help. He asked Lee to have Longstreet chip in, and ‘Old Pete’ was happy to help. Union troops were no longer moving across his front, and all his subordinates were in position, so he moved. Before his infantry could move out and catch the Union flank SD Lee’s artillery battalion, posted between the two Corps, opened up.
Their shells slammed into the Union flank. The second and third lines hesitated, stopped, fell back. Longstreet’s advance demolished any remaining cohesion. Without support, the first line looked at Jackson’s men ahead of them and Longstreet’s to the flank and knew better than to continue the attack. Expecting a pursuit against a beaten foe, the last thing the Northern troops wanted was another stand-up fight. The Union left flank was crushed and the army driven back to Bull Run. Only isolated resistance (the 5th and 10th New York distinguished themselves) an effective Union rearguard, a few brigades that held their nerve, including Phil Kearny, prevented a replay of the First Manassas disaster. No matter how sturdy the rearguard, most Northern soldiers had had enough: the retreat to Centreville was precipitous. The next day, Lee ordered a pursuit.
Content provided by:
American Battlefield Protection Program, Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service.