Question of the Week: 8/22-8/28/22

In your opinion, what are the turning point moments of the Second Bull Run (Manassas) campaign and battle?

6 Responses to Question of the Week: 8/22-8/28/22

  1. This is a big question, as both the campaign and battle were fluid and dynamic. I’ll settle on three lesser-appreciated ones, listed in chronological order:

    A. Halleck ordering the Army of the Potomac off the Peninsula and back to Washington, thus giving Lee the initiative and freeing up troops for an offensive.

    B. Pope’s decision to attack on 29 and 30 August. His mission was to protect Washington and wait for the rest of the Army of the Potomac before taking the offensive. By simply marching to Centreville and defending on the hieghts east of Bull Run, he would have accomplished the mission.

    C. The Battle of Chantilly, which blocked Lee’s bid to surround Pope’s force and fight a decisive battle short of Washington.

  2. perhaps not a turning point, but a big moment in the battle … Longstreet’s Corps was poised to attack Pope’s left flank late on 29th … Old Pete persuaded the boss to delay the attack until the next day … Lee concurred and Longstreet hit Pope hard as he retired from an attack on the Confederate center … what could have been a victory on the 29th became a big victory on the 30th.

  3. Not a lot of traffic so far so I’ll chime in. In my humble opinion, on a tactical level, the turning point of the battle was the Union’s tenacious, albeit short-lived, defense of Chinn Ridge on August 30.

    After Pope battered a good part of his army assaulting Jackson’s men behind the unfinished railroad on the 29th and the morning of the 30th, Longstreet unleashed his massive flanking attack on the Union left and promptly routed Warren’s two regiments south of the Warrenton Pike. The objective of the assault was the plateau around the Henry house in order to block the Warrenton Pike and the Union’s escape route east towards Washington DC. In order to get there, the Confederates had to cross Chinn Ridge first. However, upon reaching Chinn Ridge, Longstreet’s men met tenacious resistance by outnumbered Union troops that disrupted and the counterattack and delayed it through much of the late afternoon and early evening. Union resistance on Chinn Ridge, combined with really bad coordination amongst the assaulting Confederate divisions, brigades and regiments, allowed Pope to establish a new line along the Sudley-Manassas Road along which the Confederate assault was blunted at sunset. Why is this a “turning point”? Had Chinn Ridge been quickly overrun and the Henry Plateau attained by the assaulting forces, it would have conceivably entrapped Pope’s army in a pocket between Longstreet’s and Jackson’s Corps, leading to the capitulation and possible destruction of large numbers of Union troops and artillery–a disaster which the Union could hardly afford at this point in the conflict. The failure of Longstreet’s troops to take their objective allowed most of Pope’s Army to slip away to fight another day on the Warrenton Pike during the night of August 30-31st. To return to an earlier theme: What if the Confederate assault had not been substantially delayed by the outnumbered Union troops on Chinn Ridge?

    I’ve always thought the critical nature of the struggle for Chinn Ridge has been overlooked and underdiscussed. I highly recommend Scott Patchan’ monograph on the engagement entitled *Second Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle foe Chinn Ridge*. It provides a detailed look at the topic and has a great walking tour as an Appendix.

  4. What about Jackson’s destruction of the Union supply depot at Manassas and then moving his men to the railroad cut. Pope then decided to attack Jackson’s command.

    Jackson’s command pinned Pope in place while waiting for Lee and Longstreet to rendezvous with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia. The rest is history.

  5. It’s an answer to a different, if related question, but: I wonder how much Kearny dying in the campaign impacted the Army of the Potomac? From the admittedly limited things I know about him, he seems like the kind of competent and aggressive general that they’d have benefited from over the next year.

  6. I think Lee’s victory was a turning point because it was, in a lot of ways, a point of no return. He’s followed up crushing victories on the Peninsula with a win at Cedar Mountain and then an aggressive move north to Manassas. How does he follow up his win there? He can’t go back southward for a whole bunch of reasons (momentum, politics, harvest time, etc.). He can’t go east into D.C. There’s no strategic value in going west (at least from that geographic position). So he HAS to go into Maryland and the new campaign northward. As decisive as his victory was at Second Manassas, it really limited his options afterward.

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