Location: Manassas, Virginia
Dates: August 28 – 30, 1862
Generals: Union: Major General John Pope | Confederate: General Robert E. Lee
Soldiers Engaged: Union: 62,000 | Confederate: 50,000
Outcome: Confederate Victory
Casualties: Union: 14,000 | Confederate: 8,000


The Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Battle of Manassas) was fought August 28–30, 1862, during the American Civil War. It was much larger in scale and in the number of casualties than the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) fought in July 1861 on much of the same ground.

did the union army learn from their mistakes?

In this second battle, Major General John Pope, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln in March 1862 to command the newly formed Army of Virginia, was soundly beaten by Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, due in part to Pope’s misapprehension of the battlefield, confused orders and the reluctance of other Union commanders to come to his aid. Confederate lieutenant general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet hemmed in and crushed the Federals. Unlike the full-scale rout of inexperienced Union troops that occurred during the First Battle of Bull Run, in Second Bull Run, Pope and his more experienced troops made a determined stand that allowed the army to retreat in an orderly fashion after darkness fell.

In March, 1862, Lincoln demoted Maj. Gen. George McClellan from overall command of Union armies, giving him command of only of the Army of the Potomac. A new Army of Virginia was formed from various elements and Maj. Gen. John Pope, whose family had close connections to Lincoln, was chosen to lead it. Pope had achieved a victory at Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River and had shown verve at Corinth, Mississippi, but he was elevated to army command primarily because of his political leanings and approach to the war, which was much more aggressive than McClellan’s. Pope was not held in high esteem by most of his men or McClellan, who viewed him as vain, self-righteous, and obnoxious. In July 1862, Lincoln appointed General in Chief Henry W. Halleck to coordinate the effort between McClellan and Pope.

Lincoln had approved McClellan’s plan to advance with the Army of the Potomac against the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia, in what is known as the Peninsula Campaign. To make it easier for McClellan to attack Richmond from the east, Pope was to distract Lee by attacking the Virginia Central Railroad near Gordonsville 65 miles northwest of Richmond. However, McClellan’s cautious advance was thrown back in the Seven Days Battle.

On July 29, 1862, Pope took to the field. It was clear to Gen. Robert E. Lee that Pope was planning an attack on the railroad, and Lee sent Jackson to defend it, resulting in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, a Confederate victory. Pope withdrew to the Rappahannock and asked Halleck for reinforcement from McClellan’s army. Unfortunately, Halleck was in Washington and his orders held little sway with McClellan, who dragged his feet in withdrawing from the Peninsula.

On August 25, Jackson began a rapid march north around Pope while Longstreet remained facing Pope on the Rappahannock. Pope assumed Jackson was heading towards the Shenandoah Valley and, under orders from Halleck to hold, remained where he was, defending the Rappahannock crossings. Jackson was able to turn his army east, passing through Thoroughfare Gap in the Bull Run Mountains, advancing toward Bristoe Station, a lightly defended whistle stop southwest of Manassas Junction. Following the easy capture of Bristoe Station, Jackson pushed into Manassas Junction and captured the Union supply depot there on August 27—which was perhaps the best day in his men’s military career, due to the large amount of food and supplies they were able to obtain. They burned what they couldn’t carry.

same spot, new meaning

On hearing of the capture of his supply depot, Pope began marching the Army of Virginia north. He saw an opportunity to surround Jackson at Manassas Junction for what he felt was a sure victory, assuming his troops moved quickly and Jackson remained in place without reinforcement from Longstreet. McClellan had arrived in Washington with part of his army, and the corps of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter and Samuel Heintzelman had been dispatched to reinforce Pope, bringing his strength to over 70,000 men. McClellan did not want to be placed under Pope’s command and refused to take the field, retaining two corps for protecting Washington. He claimed the size of the enemy force between Washington and Pope’s army was unknown—indeed, Pope’s position was unclear because Jackson had clipped the telegraph line at Manassas.

Longstreet’s men were also advancing toward Manassas, but on the west side of the Bull Run Mountains, following the route that Jackson had taken. On August 28, they met with light Federal resistance at the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap. Longstreet was able to defeat the small Union force and continued on toward a union with Jackson.

Jackson, instead of occupying Manassas Junction, moved to nearby Groveton, where he found the perfect place to lay in wait for Pope while still being able to reunite with Longstreet. Stony Ridge was a low rise near the old Manassas battlefield where Jackson’s men would be concealed by woods but could clearly see the enemy advancing. At the base of the rise an incomplete railroad bed provided ready-made trenches, a position that would become known as the Deep Cut.

The Army of Virginia’s march to Manassas Junction on August 28 was marked by confusion and indecision as Pope changed course several times, eventually deciding to concentrate the Army of Virginia in Centreville. At about 6:30 p.m., Jackson engaged Federal troops passing before his position on Warrenton Turnpike on their way to Centreville. Jackson had ridden out to observe (or perhaps, provoke) the Federals himself, although they thought he was a lone scout and ignored him. Jackson’s artillery fire erupting from the woods on units from Brigadier General Rufus King’s division was a complete surprise. Although the Battle of Brawner Farm ended in a stalemate, the Federals now knew exactly where Jackson was, and Pope prepared to launch a frontal assault on him on August 29.

Longstreet began the march from Thoroughfare Gap at about 6 a.m. on August 29. Jackson sent a guide to position the initial elements of Longstreet’s column into positions along Jackson’s right flank and positioned his own depleted men in a line along Stony Ridge. Pope planned to attack Jackson’s left, ordering Maj. Gen. Franz Sigil to attack at daybreak, and then in a coup de grace, the corps of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter and Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell—the latter had been the Union commander in the First Battle of Bull Run—would attack Jackson’s exposed right flank later in the day.

Elements of Sigil’s corps were the first to make contact, encountering Jackson’s men around 7 a.m. The Rebels, instead of merely defending their positions, responded to each attack with a counterattack. The 82nd Ohio, part of Sigel’s corps, had minor success and broke through the Confederate line, but were eventually pushed back. By 1 p.m., Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (III Corps) and the brigade of Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens (IX Corps) reinforced Sigel.

Porter and McDowell had begun their advance north along the Gainesville-Manassas Road, but halted after exchanging fire with Rebel cavalry. Pope issued orders to them at around 10 a.m. intended to clarify his original orders but the “Joint Order,” as it became known, only muddied the waters further: it ordered Porter to advance, then to halt, and finally to pull back behind Bull Run. While Porter was trying to decipher the Joint Order, McDowell arrived with the news that Longstreet had been spotted nearby. McDowell’s assessment was that “This is no place to fight a battle; we are too far out,” so Porter, on the extreme left of the Federal flank, halted to await further clarification from Pope. McDowell left to confer with Pope but failed to inform his commander of a report from Brig. Gen. John Buford’s cavalry that Longstreet had arrived and blocked the Gainesville road. Not until early in the evening, long after the information would be useful, did McDowell think to impart that critical information.

pope’s costly mistake

Pope, who steadfastly believed Longstreet was still more than a day’s march away, had based his entire strategy that afternoon on the false assumptions that he was facing only Jackson and that both Porter and McDowell would attack. Arriving on the field around 1 p.m., Pope ordered more assaults on Jackson, all of which failed, to keep pressure on him until Porter attacked his right flank. When Porter still had not attacked late in the afternoon, Pope finally issued explicit orders for the corps commander to attack at 4:30 p.m.

Based on clear evidence of Longstreet’s presence on his left flank, Porter instead ordered his men to take defensive positions and settle in for the night. Pope was irate when he discovered that Porter had not attacked and would have arrested him had McDowell not talked him out of it. The following morning Pope received reports of Confederate troops moving west along Warrenton Turnpike that he interpreted as a Confederate retreat, instead of the repositioning it actually was. Not wanting to miss a chance to prove himself in what he thought would be a clear victory against Jackson, Pope again ordered Porter to attack.

In reality, the Confederates had the Union hemmed in and when Porter finally attacked around 3 p.m., his men were decimated by Rebel artillery fire. As soon as Jackson reported that the Union line was giving way, Lee ordered Longstreet to attack the Union left—which Longstreet had outflanked by nearly two miles. When the fresh Confederate corps poured off Chinn Ridge, it outnumbered the Federals in its front 10 to 1.

By this time, Pope’s conception of the situation finally matched the reality of what was taking place, and he began planning a retreat to Centreville to protect his line of withdrawal to Washington. He moved his headquarters to Henry Hill—the central point of the fighting in the battle a year ago—and established a defensive position and issued withdrawal orders. His army escaped without repeating the humiliating skedaddle of First Bull Run.

At the time, the staggering Union loss at Second Manassas was blamed on Pope, McClellan, McDowell, and Porter. All of their reputations were stained by what had happened, but Porter and McDowell were, for all intents and purposes, ruined. McDowell was exonerated of any wrong-doing but would never fully escape the opinion that he was incompetent and disloyal. Pope squarely blamed the defeat on Porter for disobeying the order to attack on August 29. Porter was court-martialed and discharged from the army, spending much of the rest of his life trying to restore his reputation.

Pope was relieved of command on September 5 and spent the remainder of the war in the west, first quelling the Sioux Uprising and then as commander of the Division of the Missouri, the largest department under the Federal army. McClellan was given command of the Army of the Potomac, which absorbed the Army of Virginia. Second Manassas emboldened Lee, leading him to march north to invade Maryland in the Maryland Campaign, resulting in the battles of Harper’s Ferry, South Mountain, Antietam, and Shepherdstown.

Banner image Cedar Mountain, Va. Federal battery fording a tributary of the Rappahannock on the day of battle, created by Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Library of Congress.