Tag Archives: Manassas Junction

The Second Bull Run Campaign: Manassas Junction

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.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

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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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 83-84; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17186-95; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 207; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 629; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 197; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4388-4400; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 474-79; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 53-54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 255-56; 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. 526; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 450-51; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 129-34; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 94-95, 328-29; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

Northern Virginia: Lee Divides His Army

August 25, 1862 – Confederates under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson approached the Federal supply base at Manassas Junction, as Federal Major General John Pope remained unaware of the enemy’s objective.

Confederate Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General Robert E. Lee had boldly divided his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia by sending nearly half his men with Jackson in a clockwise motion around the right (western) flank of Pope’s Army of Virginia to destroy the Federal supply base in Pope’s rear. Lee hoped this would force Pope to either retreat or move into the open where he could be destroyed before being reinforced by Major General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

By dawn on the 25th, Jackson’s men were on the move, with only Jackson knowing their destination. The force consisted of about 23,000 men in three divisions under Generals Richard Ewell, A.P. Hill, and William Taliaferro. The troops crossed the Rappahannock River four miles upstream from Waterloo, the last guarded ford, and then headed north toward Salem (now Marshall) on the Manassas Gap Railroad. Meanwhile, Lee’s diversionary force under Major General James Longstreet crossed the Rappahannock on Pope’s left (eastern) flank after another ferocious artillery duel.

Federal signalmen on hilltops along the Rappahannock spotted Jackson’s movement and estimated his force to number about 20,000 men after counting the regimental flags. Pope, who already knew that Longstreet had crossed the river, now knew where Jackson was as well.

Pope told General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that Jackson probably intended to return to the Shenandoah Valley, adding, “I am induced to believe that this (Jackson’s) column is only covering the flank of the main body.” But this did not explain why Longstreet remained on his left flank, bombarding him with artillery in an apparent attempt to provoke a fight in that sector.

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Pope planned to send a reconnaissance in force the next morning to confirm that Jackson was leading Lee’s army northwest toward the Valley. Jackson’s “Foot Cavalry” camped at Salem that night after covering a remarkable 26 miles.

When Lee learned that the Federals may be falling back, he directed Longstreet to join forces with Jackson as soon as possible. The next day, Longstreet’s men began moving along the route that Jackson had taken, with Lee leaving behind a small force to continue diverting Pope’s attention with artillery.

Meanwhile, Pope dispatched General John Buford’s cavalry as planned, but Buford informed him, “If the enemy advances, I can do very little. My command is almost disorganized.” Disregarding this warning, Pope directed Buford to go to Waterloo Bridge, where Longstreet’s left flank was now anchored, and send troopers west to determine where exactly Jackson’s force was headed.

Jackson’s Confederates resumed their march on the morning of the 26th, moving east from Salem along the Manassas Gap Railroad. They passed through Thoroughfare Gap between the Bull Run Mountains, which Pope failed to guard since he believed Jackson was retreating. The Confederates entered the plains and approached the site of the Battle of Bull Run last year. By mid-morning, Jackson had moved 20 miles behind Pope’s army unopposed.

Pope received word that afternoon that Jackson had not gone back to the Valley but instead turned east and advanced through Thoroughfare Gap. Pope sent a division to take up positions between the gap and White Plains, which was useless because Jackson had already passed that point.

Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry caught up to Jackson’s troops at Gainesville, where Jackson directed Ewell’s division and some cavalry to turn south and attack Bristoe Station. Arriving there in late afternoon, the Confederates derailed two trains, tore up track, cut the telegraph lines, and captured several hundred Federals. The lone train that made it through the station steamed east to warn Pope of the Confederate presence.

Pope did not immediately react to these enemy movements, which made him seem helpless. Brigadier General George G. Meade, a Federal brigade commander and old friend of Pope’s, visited Pope at his Warrenton Junction headquarters and asked, “What are you doing out here? This is no place for this army. It should at once fall back so as to meet the rest of the Army of the Potomac coming up and by superior force overwhelm Lee.”

Pope claimed he had plans to handle the threat, but he did not share them with anybody. When he learned of the Confederate attack on Bristoe Station around 8:30 p.m., he believed it was just a small-scale raid and sent just one regiment to confront it. Those troops saw the mass of Confederates at Bristoe and hurried back to warn Pope. Pope responded by sending the two corps under Major Generals Franz Sigel and Irvin McDowell toward Gainesville, but Jackson had already passed that point.

With Jackson’s Confederates interposing themselves between Pope’s army and Washington, Pope had just two options: fall back east toward Fredericksburg or attack Jackson. Pope chose the latter. Meanwhile, the bulk of Jackson’s force advanced on the supply depot at Manassas Junction.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 83-84; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17178-86, 17204; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 207; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 628; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 197; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4388; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 474-79; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 53-54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 255; 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. 526; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 450; Time-Life Editors, Lee Takes Command: From Seven Days to Second Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126, 128-29, 133; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 94-95, 328-29; Wikipedia: Northern Virginia Campaign

McClellan Invades Northern Virginia

March 10, 1862 – General-in-Chief George B. McClellan’s Federals finally entered northern Virginia, but the Confederate retreat from that area jeopardized McClellan’s overall strategy.

Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

On the night of the 9th, President Abraham Lincoln met with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General McClellan. Lincoln announced that he had received word of General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Potomac falling back behind the Rappahannock River. If true, this would block McClellan’s planned landing at Urbanna. Lincoln’s secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, recorded that McClellan received the news “with incredulity which at last gave way to stupefaction.”

McClellan, who had said for months that Johnston’s Confederates were too strong to confront, now hurried his own Army of the Potomac to pursue them. As General Philip Kearny’s Federals chased the Confederate rear guard, the bulk of McClellan’s army poured across the Potomac River into northern Virginia:

  • General Irvin McDowell’s division moved from Arlington to Centreville
  • General Edwin V. Sumner’s division occupied Manassas Junction
  • Other divisions advanced to Fairfax Court House

They found little more than wrecked railroad equipment and burned supplies. Even worse, the Federals soon discovered that many of the fortifications that McClellan had considered impregnable were manned by “Quaker guns,” or logs painted black to resemble cannon. Moreover, the abandoned camps indicated that no more than 50,000 enemy troops, or one-third the size of the force that McClellan had guessed, could have been stationed there.

A New York Tribune reporter submitted his article from what he called “Camp Disappointment, near Centreville.” Another correspondent stated that “the fancied impregnability of the position turns out to be a sham.” One reporter wrote, “Utterly dispirited, ashamed, and humiliated, I return from this visit to the rebel stronghold, feeling that their retreat is our defeat.”

Still, McClellan maintained that the abandoned defenses were “quite a formidable series of works.” While Johnston had held the line largely through bluff, he had been given enough time to build very strong defenses in certain points, especially overlooking a likely Federal approach northeast from Centreville. McClellan asserted that this area would have been “somewhat uncomfortable for new troops to carry by storm.”

Although Johnston’s withdrawal allowed for a deeper Federal probe into Virginia, Federal officials, particularly the Radical Republicans and the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, were generally unimpressed with McClellan’s “hollow victory.” After McDowell gave him a tour of the Bull Run battlefield, McClellan directed the army to fall back to Alexandria while he pondered his next move.

The Urbanna plan was no longer tenable, but McClellan did not want to altogether abandon the idea of moving down the Virginia coast. When the U.S.S. Monitor recently drove the C.S.S. Virginia away from Hampton Roads, it opened the possibility for McClellan to move his army even further down the coast. He could land the Federals at Fort Monroe, on the peninsula formed by the York and James rivers. From there he could advance 70 miles up to Richmond, with only two waterways in his path.

McClellan, having previously discussed this possibility with Stanton, wired him from Fairfax Court House:

“I have just returned from a ride of more than 40 miles… The rebels have left all their positions, and, from the information obtained during our ride to-day, I am satisfied that they have fallen behind the Rapidan, holding Fredericksburg and Gordonsville… They left many wagons, some caissons, clothing, ammunition, personal baggage, etc… Having fully consulted with General McDowell, I propose occupying Manassas with a portion of Banks’s command, and then at once throwing all forces I can concentrate upon the line agreed upon last week… I presume you will approve this course…”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 86-87; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13385-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 183; 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. 423-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162

Johnston Abandons Manassas Junction

March 5, 1862 – General Joseph E. Johnston issued orders to withdraw his Confederate Army of the Potomac from its Manassas Junction-Centreville line southward to the Rappahannock River, almost halfway to the Confederate capital at Richmond.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General Jeb Stuart notified Johnston of “unusual activity” across the Potomac River from Dumfries, Virginia, which was Johnston’s right flank. Johnston both expected and feared that this foreshadowed an attack by Federal General-in-Chief George B. McClellan’s 120,000-man Army of the Potomac. If McClellan struck Johnston’s right, he could wedge his Federals between Johnston’s army and Richmond.

Johnston and President Jefferson Davis had recently conferred and agreed that if McClellan made such a move, retreat may be necessary. But they had not agreed on a timetable, leaving Davis to hope that Johnston would stand his ground until the last possible moment before falling back. However, without consulting his superiors, Johnston ordered all his 42,000 men east of the Blue Ridge to withdraw immediately.

Unaware that Johnston was already preparing to retreat, Davis wrote him on the 6th acknowledging the possibility of such a move:

“Notwithstanding the threatening position of the enemy, I infer from your account of the roads and streams that his active operations must be for some time delayed, and thus I am permitted to hope that you will be able to mobilize your army by the removal of your heavy ordnance and such stores as are not required for active operations, so that, whenever you are required to move, it may be without public loss and without impediment to celerity…”

In their hasty withdrawal, the Confederates left behind large quantities of supplies and equipment. They distributed other goods to nearby farmers before destroying a meatpacking facility at Thoroughfare Gap that had stored a million pounds of meat. Johnston soon established new defensive positions 25 miles south on either side of the Rappahannock’s north fork.

Meanwhile, McClellan was busy developing his plan to move the Federal army by water to Urbanna, at the mouth of the Rappahannock on the Virginia coast. Like Davis, McClellan did not know that Johnston’s Confederates were abandoning such key points as Manassas Junction, Dumfries, Evansport, and Occoquan. However, Federal General Philip Kearny received word of Johnston’s withdrawal and sent a brigade into northern Virginia without orders. They marched along the railroad toward Manassas Junction, arriving at Burke’s Station, six miles east of Centreville, on the 10th. By then, the Confederates were long gone.

Kearny sent cavalry scouts forward, and they clashed with the Confederate rear guard before disengaging. As Johnston established new defenses, Davis, still unaware he had retreated, telegraphed: “Further assurance given to me this day that you shall be promptly and adequately reenforced, so as to enable you to maintain your position and resume first policy (an offensive) when the roads will permit.” But Johnston was not only already at the Rappahannock, he was considering falling back even further to the Rapidan River.

Davis did not receive official confirmation that Johnston had abandoned the Manassas Junction-Centreville line until three days later, on the 13th. Davis responded to this news on March 15:

“I have received your letter of the 13th instant, giving the first official account I have received of the retrograde movement of your army. Your letter would lead me to infer that others had been sent to apprise me of your plans and movements. If so, they have not reached me; and, before the receipt of yours of the 13th, I was as much in the dark as to your purposes, condition, and necessities as at the time of our conversation on the subject about a month since. It is true I have had many and alarming reports of great destruction of ammunition, camp-equipage, and provisions, indicating precipitate retreat; but, having heard of no cause for such a sudden movement, I was at a loss to believe it. I have not the requisite topographical knowledge for the selection of your new position. I had intended that you should determine that question; and for this purpose a corps of engineers was furnished to make a careful examination of the country to aid you in your decision. The question of throwing troops into Richmond is contingent upon reverses in the West and Southeast. The immediate necessity for such a movement is not anticipated.”

Johnston’s withdrawal enraged Davis, as it cost the Confederacy millions of dollars in much-needed supplies and equipment. But once done, it could not be undone.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83, 86-87; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Mar 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 8123, 8136-47; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13385-93; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 238-39; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 118; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3149; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179-80, 181-83; 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. 423-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162

McClellan’s Secret Plan

December 10, 1861 – General-in-Chief George B. McClellan rejected President Abraham Lincoln’s proposal to send the Army of the Potomac into northern Virginia against Centreville and Manassas Junction.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Lincoln was feeling pressure from politicians, mostly in his own party, to force McClellan into some kind of action. On December 1, Lincoln sent McClellan a memorandum asking, “If it were determined to make a forward movement of the Army of the Potomac without awaiting further increase of numbers or better drill and discipline, how long would it require to actually get in motion?”

Lincoln offered several suggestions, all related to the plan that McClellan had imparted to him in which the army would move southwest from Alexandria, cross Cedar Run, and attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction from the southeast. McClellan did not inform his commander-in-chief that he was abandoning that plan in favor of a water-borne invasion along the Virginia coast.

After nine days, McClellan finally responded to Lincoln by rejecting all his suggestions. McClellan explained that they would all fail because “the enemy would meet us in front with equal forces nearly… I have now in my mind actually turned towards another plan of campaign that I do not think at all anticipated by the enemy, nor by many of our own people.”

The plan called for McClellan to ship his army on transports down the Potomac River into Chesapeake Bay, then move down the coast and up the Rappahannock River to Urbanna, Virginia. The Federals would then disembark and place themselves just 50 miles from Richmond and well behind General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate line at Manassas Junction.

But McClellan did not divulge this plan to Lincoln. He then made matters worse by refusing to explain that he was not taking the offensive at this time because such a complex plan required several months to implement. Lincoln and other administration officials became increasingly impatient at what they saw as delaying tactics. These turned into a complete halt late this month when McClellan contracted what doctors called typhoid and became incapacitated indefinitely.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-64; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (December 1); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145, 149-50; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 773-74

The Davis-Beauregard Feud Continues

November 10, 1861 – The feud between Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General P.G.T. Beauregard, which had begun in October, continued into this month.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When Beauregard submitted his official report on the Battle of Bull Run, Davis had written to him expressing annoyance that Beauregard had allegedly glorified his role in the battle at Davis’s expense. Seeking support against Beauregard’s charge that he impeded the Confederate army’s intended move on Washington after the battle, Davis wrote to Beauregard’s superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Department of Northern Virginia:

“Reports have been, and are being, widely circulated to the effect that I prevented General Beauregard from pursuing the enemy after the battle of Manassas, and had subsequently restrained him from advancing upon Washington City. Though such statements may have been made merely for my injury, and in that view might be postponed to a more convenient season, they have acquired importance from the fact that they have served to create distrust, to excite disappointment, and must embarrass the Administration in its further efforts to reenforce the armies of the Potomac, and generally to provide for the public defense.

“For these public considerations, I call upon you, as the commanding general, and as a party to all the conferences held by me on the 21st and 22nd of July, to say whether I obstructed the pursuit of the enemy after the victory at Manassas, or have ever objected to an advance or other active operation which it was feasible for the army to undertake.”

While waiting for Johnston to respond, Davis also sought advice on military strategy from Generals Robert E. Lee and Samuel Cooper. Davis, a graduate of West Point and former U.S. secretary of war, resented growing charges of military incompetence from fellow Confederates. Johnston responded a week later:

“To the first question I reply, No. The pursuit was ‘obstructed’ by the enemy’s troops at Centreville, as I have stated in my official report… To the second question I reply that it has never been feasible for the army to advance farther than it has done—to the line of Fairfax Court-House… After a conference at Fairfax Court-House with the three senior general officers, you announced it to be impracticable to give this army the strength which those officers considered necessary to enable it to resume the offensive. Upon which I drew it back to its present position.”

Davis wrote to Johnston stating that although the army at Manassas Junction had gained many recruits since July, “we are restricted in our capacity to reinforce by want of arms.” Davis hoped to expand the army, “but you must remember that our wants greatly exceed our resources.”

The controversy between Davis and Beauregard eventually waned, but the animosity between the two men was permanent.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6351-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 135, 138-39

Confederates Talk Strategy in Northern Virginia

October 1, 1861 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis met with General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of the Potomac, and Johnston’s two corps commanders to discuss military strategy at Centreville in northern Virginia.

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Jefferson Davis and Gens J.E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Pressure had been mounting from the Confederate public and press for Johnston to take some form of an offensive against the Federals just a few miles away at Washington. That pressure had increased when it became clear that the Federals sought to divide the Confederacy between East and West by taking control of the vital Mississippi River. In response, both Johnston and his Second Corps commander, General Gustavus W. Smith, endorsed a bold plan developed by General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the First Corps.

The three generals explained to Davis that the plan involved crossing the Potomac River into Maryland and seizing the region between Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. This would divide the U.S. and force Major General George B. McClellan’s Federal Army of the Potomac to come out of its Washington fortifications and fight on ground of Johnston’s choosing.

However, the generals stated that they needed reinforcements to put this plan into action. Currently, Johnston had only 40,000 officers and men, which Davis questioned since he had recently sent many recruits to Johnston’s army. Davis then asked how many troops would be needed “to cross the Potomac, cut off the communications of the enemy with their fortified capital, and carry the war into their country.”

Beauregard and Smith answered that 10,000 more men, trained and armed, could execute the plan. However, Johnston overrode them by asserting that he needed 20,000, bringing his army total to 60,000. Davis considered this nearly impossible since manpower was at such a premium. He explained that he could not provide such numbers without having “a total disregard for the safety of other threatened positions.”

Johnston countered by arguing that Virginia was the war’s central focus. If Virginia fell, all surrounding states would also fall until the Confederacy crumbled. Therefore, it would be worth the risk to pull the troops from the other points under Federal threat.

From a political standpoint, Davis knew that governors adhering to states’ rights would resist transferring troops from their states to Virginia. From a military standpoint, Davis knew that the Confederacy did not have enough arms and supplies to equip such a large army at that time.

Davis suggested that Johnston send a raiding party into Maryland instead, but the generals rejected the idea as not worth the risk. Beauregard was infuriated that Davis would not approve his plan. Johnston resolved to maintain a defensive posture until he could try mounting an offensive in spring. As such, he began preparing to withdraw from Centreville and Manassas Junction.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 82-83; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 121-22; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 123