Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson resumed his attempt to move his wing of the Army of Northern Virginia north around the right flank of Major General John Pope’s Federal Army of Virginia.
As Pope continued withdrawing from Centreville to Fairfax Court House in northern Virginia, Federal cavalry detected Jackson’s movement. Pope deployed a force to stop Jackson and cover the Federal retreat. He selected Major General Philip Kearny’s division of the Third Corps because it had fought well in this campaign. But he felt that the Army of the Potomac, which had reinforced him during the Second Bull Run campaign, had failed him. So to bolster Kearny, Pope selected a division of the Ninth Corps under Brigadier General Isaac I. Stevens to accompany Kearny’s men.
Jackson advanced on the muddy Little River Turnpike and stopped at a plantation called Chantilly, north of Centreville, to wait for Major General James Longstreet’s wing of the Confederate army to catch up. Two hours later, Jackson’s 15,000 men began climbing Ox Hill and approaching Stevens’s 6,000 Federals. A violent thunderstorm began pouring down water and wind as Jackson deployed his three divisions south of the turnpike and charged.
Fighting raged back and forth along Ox Hill near Germantown, with the hard rain and thunder drowning out the sound of gunfire and adding to the general confusion. The Federals repelled the attacks, but Stevens was shot dead while rallying his 79th New York Highlanders. Kearny’s division arrived as reinforcements, with Kearny taking command after Stevens’s death. Kearny, having only one arm, held his sword in his only hand and the reins of his horse in his teeth as he rode along the lines. Through the rain and darkness, Kearny unknowingly rode into a group of enemy skirmishers. When ordered to surrender, Kearny tried to escape but was shot dead.
The Federals held their ground against the ferocious Confederate attacks until nightfall. In the dark, the Federals withdrew to rejoin Pope’s main force. Pope had two corps ready to come up and join the fight, but he decided not to deploy them due to the heavy rains.
Kearny’s body was left on the field to be discovered by the advancing Confederates. Major General A.P. Hill, commanding a division under Jackson, had known Kearny before the war, and when he saw the body, he said, “Poor Kearny! He deserved a better death than this.” General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, returned the body the next day under a flag of truce with a note: “The body of General Philip Kearny was brought from the field last night, and he was reported dead. I send it forward under a flag of truce, thinking the possession of his remains may be a consolation to his family.”
Federals mourned the loss of Kearny, who had been one of the army’s most respected commanders. Stevens had also been well-respected; he was posthumously promoted to major general of volunteers.
Pope received orders from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck: “You will bring your forces as best you can within or near the line of fortification.” A demoralized Pope called a council of war, where all of his commanders recommended abandoning Centreville and falling back to Fairfax Court House, some 20 miles from Washington. The Federals were in motion that night, and a Federal officer described the retreat:
“Soon the road became a mud hole, in which one could with difficulty direct his steps by the flashes of lightning. Disorder began to affect the ranks… The middle of the road was soon monopolized by an interminable file of wagons, retreating toward Alexandria… The orders of officers, the cries of the teamsters, the oaths of the soldiers, were mingled with peals of thunder. All this produced a deafening tumult, in the midst of which it was difficult to recognize each other, and from the confusion of which we could not free ourselves without leaving behind us a large number of stragglers.”
Lee received word that Pope had been reinforced and decided not to pursue any further. The storm may have saved Jackson from defeat because it prevented Pope from deploying reinforcements. The Federals lost some 1,300 men in this fight, and the Confederates lost about 800.
The Confederates advanced to Centreville on the 2nd, only to find it abandoned as Pope continued withdrawing from Fairfax Court House on the road to Alexandria and Washington. The Federals positioned themselves in the defenses constructed by Major General George B. McClellan almost a year ago. This ensured that Washington would stay safe, even though the Confederates were now closer to the capital than they had ever been before.
This ended the Second Bull Run campaign much like the first–in embarrassing Federal defeat. From August 27 to September 2, the Federals sustained 16,054 casualties (1,724 killed, 8,372 wounded, and 5,958 missing) from about 75,000 effectives. The Confederates lost 9,197 (1,481 killed, 7,627 wounded, and 89 missing) out of some 48,500.
This campaign was one of the Confederacy’s greatest military victories. Three months ago, the Federals were within striking distance of Richmond, but now momentum had completely shifted and the Confederates were within striking distance of Washington. This secured the status of Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson as national heroes, and it enabled the Confederates to shift the eastern focus of the war from Richmond to Washington.
For the Federals, the defeat prompted charges and countercharges of dereliction of duty. Some blamed Pope for mishandling the battle. Some blamed McClellan for failing to hurry reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac to Pope. Some blamed Halleck for failing to coordinate the two men’s armies. Some went straight to the top and blamed President Abraham Lincoln. There was enough blame to go around.
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