The Army of Virginia: Pope’s Suppression

July 14, 1862 – Major General John Pope issued a pretentious address to his new Federal Army of Virginia before embarking on a new campaign.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit:
Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

President Abraham Lincoln put faith in Pope, a western commander and fellow Illinoisan, to succeed in Virginia where Major General George B. McClellan had failed. Upon arriving in the East, Pope began criticizing McClellan, asserting (correctly) that the Confederate army was not half the size that McClellan feared. Pope also denounced McClellan’s retreat to the James River because it allowed the Confederates to move directly between their armies.

Pope’s new army consisted of all the Federals in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Virginia. It did not include McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Pope’s 56,000-man force was to advance on Richmond from the northwest while McClellan pressed the city from the east.

Now that Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates had left the Shenandoah Valley, Pope left a brigade at Winchester and occupied Culpeper Court House on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on July 12. Two days later, Pope issued a proclamation “To the Officers and Soldiers of the Army of Virginia.” Promising them the “opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving,” Pope announced:

“Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense… I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily…

“I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of ‘taking strong positions and holding them,’ of ‘lines of retreat,’ and of ‘bases of supplies.’ Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear.”

Pope, who had recently outraged southerners by threatening to wage war on civilians, now outraged his own troops by inferring that they were inferior to westerners. Many of these men had served with distinction in Virginia despite suffering some setbacks, and they respected the army leaders that Pope indirectly insulted.

General Fitz John Porter stated that Pope had “written himself down, what the military world has long known, (as) an Ass.” Other officers referred to Pope as a “blow hard,” and a “weak and silly man.” This address, which became known among the troops as “Pope’s Bull,” immediately deflated army morale and set the tone for Pope’s upcoming campaign.



Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78-80;; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 529; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 181; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 239-40; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 524; Wikipedia: John Pope (military officer)

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