August 27, 1862 – Confederate troops under Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson descended on one of the largest Federal supply depots in Virginia, between the rear of Major General John Pope’s Federal Army of Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Leaving a force under Major General Richard Ewell at Bristoe Station, the remaining Confederates under Jackson and Major General Jeb Stuart arrived at Manassas Junction after midnight on the 27th. The “Foot Cavalry” had marched an amazing 60 miles in two days, and they found the vital railroad supply depot barely defended.
The Confederates captured over 300 prisoners, 200 fugitive slaves, eight artillery pieces, hundreds of horses and tents, and enormous quantities of commissary and quartermaster’s stores such as bacon, corned beef, salt pork, pickled oysters, flour, oats, and corn.
As the hungry Confederates gorged themselves on cakes, canned goods, meats, and candies, Jackson ordered the wine and liquor kegs destroyed, saying, “I fear that whiskey more than I do Pope’s army.” General George Taylor, leading a Federal brigade in the Army of the Potomac, believed that only Confederate cavalry were raiding Manassas Junction and led his men to take the depot back.
The Confederates positioned their guns in Taylor’s direction and awaited his advance. They overwhelmed the Federals first with cannon fire and then with cavalry attacks on their flanks. Taylor’s men withdrew after sustaining heavy casualties.
Meanwhile, Pope ordered General Joseph Hooker’s division from Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman’s corps (Army of the Potomac) to advance on Bristoe Station from Warrenton Junction. Hooker knocked back Ewell’s skirmishers, and the Confederates took cover in the railroad embankment. The Confederate guns held the Federals in check while Ewell’s troops fell back in accordance with orders to go to Manassas Junction if attacked.
The Confederates cut telegraph wires as they went, disrupting communications between Pope, Major General George B. McClellan at Alexandria, and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at Washington. When the line was restored, Halleck was bombarded by messages from both generals until he finally replied, “As you must be aware, more than three-quarters of my time is taken up with the raising of new troops and matters in the West. I have no time for details.” Halleck directed McClellan to coordinate the efforts of the two armies “as you deem best.”
Pope ordered more Federals to go to Bristoe Station, but then he changed his mind and decided to concentrate at Manassas Junction. He ordered the two corps under Major Generals Franz Sigel and Irvin McDowell to turn east from the Gainesville area and head that way.
Moving Sigel and McDowell left Thoroughfare Gap undefended. Jackson had used this path to get into Pope’s rear, and now General Robert E. Lee intended to send the rest of his Army of Northern Virginia through there to join forces with Jackson. Lee learned that Jackson was positioned perfectly as he received a message from President Jefferson Davis:
“Confidence in you overcomes the view which would otherwise be taken of the exposed condition of Richmond, and the troops retained for the defense of the capital are surrendered to you on a new request.”
At Manassas Junction, the Confederates burned what they could not take with them, including several thousand pounds of food and other supplies. As Federal forces closed in that evening, Jackson’s men began assembling at Stony Ridge, a wooded hill along the Warrenton Turnpike about seven miles away, on the northern edge of the 1861 Bull Run battlefield. Pope continued concentrating his army, still confused about Jackson’s intentions.
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