The Battle of Second Bull Run: Pope’s Retreat

August 31, 1862 – The Second Bull Run campaign ended with a two-day fight in which the Confederates proved unable to destroy Major General John Pope’s retreating Army of Virginia.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit:

Pope gathered the remnants of his army on the heights at Centreville on the 31st. Confederate General Robert E. Lee opted not to pursue immediately because his men needed rest after two weeks of hard marching and three days of heavy fighting. Although Pope now had a day’s jump on Lee and 20,000 reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac, he informed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that morning:

“Our troops are… much used-up and worn-out (after fighting) as desperate a fight as I can force our men to stand up to… I should like to know whether you feel secure about Washington should this army be destroyed. I shall fight it as long as a man will stand up to the work. You must judge what is to be done, having in view the safety of the capital.”

Pope then called a council of war, something he had long resisted. After discussing their options, the corps commanders recommended falling back further into the Washington defenses. Capital residents began panicking as rumors spread that the Confederate army was about to put Washington under siege. This was a dramatic turn of events from three months ago, when the Federals were within six miles of the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Meanwhile, Lee looked to repeat his latest success by sending Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates on another march around Pope’s right. Major General James Longstreet’s men would once again demonstrate against Pope’s front while Jackson crossed Bull Run and moved around Centreville to cut Pope’s line of retreat to Washington. Pope anticipated this and notified Halleck, “The plan of the enemy will undoubtedly be to turn my flank. If he does so, he will have his hands full.”

Lee suffered an injury while studying a map. As Lee stood beside his horse Traveller, a gust of wind blew the map into the horse’s face, prompting him to rear. Lee fell when he tried grabbing the bridle, breaking one hand and spraining the other. Doctors put splints on both of Lee’s hands, rendering him unable to mount his horse.

Jackson’s Confederates headed out, led by Major General Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. Jackson hoped to seize the important village of Germantown, where Pope’s only two routes to Washington–the Warrenton and Little River turnpikes–converged. However, the Confederate advance proved ineffective because of fatigue. The men slowly crossed Bull Run at Sudley Ford and then moved down the Little River Turnpike, but rain fell that night and turned the road to mud, slowing the advance even further.

The Confederate wing under Longstreet followed Jackson, but his men had not yet crossed Bull Run by nightfall. Stuart’s cavalry harassed Pope’s flank but caused no real damage. Also during this time, Federal forces abandoned their positions on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, leaving behind enormous amounts of supplies.

Skirmishing occurred at various points, but the Confederates had been unable to cut Pope off as Lee had hoped. Pope received word that Jackson’s Confederates were heading east toward Fairfax Court House, and he informed Halleck:

“This movement turns Centreville and interposes between us and Washington, and will force me to attack his advance, which I shall do as soon as his movement is sufficiently developed. I hope you will make all preparations to make a vigorous defense of the intrenchments around Washington.”

Pope dispatched a portion of IX Corps under Brigadier General Isaac I. Stevens to form a rear guard to stop Jackson and cover the Federal retreat out of Centreville. That night, Jackson’s Confederates stopped along the Little River Turnpike in Pleasant Valley. Having marched ahead of their supply train, the men bivouacked without food.



Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 13;; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 49-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 208; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 643; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 201; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4553-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 258-59; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 167; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 94-95, 129-30

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