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Second Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge

Scott C. Patchan; Potomac Books

Most studies that focus on a portion of a battle fail to fit that particular piece into the overall puzzle. Scott Patchan manages to avoid this pitfall, briefing readers on the lead-in to James Longstreet’s assault on Chinn Ridge, which encompassed three days of indecisive bloodletting. He explains how the Second Manassas Campaign evolved and also follows the fighting that preceded the pivotal moment, when Longstreet moved against the Union left. That attack proved to be the culmination of what some consider Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.

Patchan’s text is surprisingly readable considering the tactical detail included for both sides. The struggle for Chinn Ridge is chronicled in 100 concise pages. Patchan points out that the assault was a tale of mistake-prone Confederate division commanders and piecemeal attacks by their men, and of Union officers shuffling troops helter-skelter, struggling to maintain a patchwork line of defense.

Within two hours the Confederates had virtually cleared the ridge, but Patchan credits two Union brigades for preventing a complete disaster. He limits his praise of senior Confederates to D.R. Jones, and criticizes Stonewall Jackson for not supporting Longstreet’s attack. He blames Richard Anderson for failing to seize Henry Hill, but Patchan’s sparse account of why the Confederates came up short is unclear. He doesn’t mention Longstreet’s designation of Robert Toombs to lead the final assault, nor does he explain the praise for Toombs and Anderson that Longstreet included in his official report.

A selection of maps, glossy photographs and a 19-stop walking and driving tour of Longstreet’s assault enhance Second Manassas. In the volume’s foreword, noted Second Manassas authority John Hennessey writes that “Scott Patchan has done history and students of the Civil War a great service.” His praise is spot-on in this case.


Originally published in the April 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.