by Nathan Burkan
Return to Bull Run, The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, by John J. Hennessy
John Hennessy’s book, one of the best written by a Civil War military historian, chronicles the worst defeat in the three day Battle of Second Manassas (August 28-30, 1862) suffered by the Union Army, the only time this army faced destruction. John Pope, its commander, a politically well connected Republican, who had limited success in the West, was appointed in July of 1862 to a new command, The Army of Virginia.
The plan was to move McClellan’s Army of the Potomac from its position at Harrison’s Landing and link it up with Pope’s army, spread out near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Time was of the essence for the joining of the two Union armies. General Robert E. Lee anticipated McClellan’s delay and decided to attack Pope before he could be reinforced.
The major part of the campaign commenced on August 25th when Lee divided his army, sending
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Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s corps to flank Pope’s rear through lightly defended Thoroughfare Gap, a narrow defile in the Bull Run Mountains. Jackson raided and destroyed Pope’s supply base at Manassas Junction, and various battles ensued. Hennessy relates how Pope lacked a coherent battle plan, was obsessed in crushing Jackson with- out knowing the whereabouts of Lee’s other corps, commanded by General James Long- street, leaving his left flank exposed. Thereafter Longstreet’s Corps passed through Thoroughfare Gap and linked up with Jackson. On August 30th the reunited Army of Northern Virginia rolled up Pope’s left flank and almost destroyed Pope’s Army, but due to strong Union defensive positions on Chin Ridge and Henry Hill the way became open for the Union Army to retreat. Pope’s failures were shared in part with Generals McClellan and Halleck, but not by most of his subordinate corps, division and regimental commanders. Hennessy’s concluding chapter brilliantly analyzes the campaign and dismisses Pope’s attempt to blame General Fitz John Porter for the fiasco.