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"This comprehensively researched, well-written book represents the definitive account of Robert E. Lee’s triumph over Union leader John Pope in the summer of 1862. . . . Lee’s strategic skills, and the capabilities of his principal subordinates James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson, brought the Confederates onto the field of Second Manassas at the right places and times against a Union army that knew how to fight, but not yet how to win."–Publishers Weekly
Success at Second Manassas brought the Confederacy to the brink of victory and nearly ended the Union war effort altogether. Here is the riveting story of the men who responded to the battle's awesome challenge. "This thorough study eclipses all other accounts."--James M. McPherson. 11 photos. 15 maps.
"Poor Old Virginia"
—Colonel David Strother
Early on the morning of August 10, 1862, Union Colonel David Hunter Strother mounted his horse and set off across the baked, bloody battlefield of Cedar Mountain. He found nothing of the glory the newspapers so fondly trumpeted in their descriptions of battles. He found only blood, misery and despair. The wounded, the dying and the dead, lying on blood-soaked stretchers, surrounded every farmhouse. They consumed every inch of shade, and many suffered under a ninety-five-degree sun. "Blood, carnage and death among the sweet shrubbery and roses," Strother called the scene, as if he were writing a poem.
Soon Strother came to Union General Nathaniel Banks's Second Corps, which had borne the previous day's fighting against Stonewall Jackson. Strother had been with Banks and his men all summer during their travails in the Shenandoah Valley, and he was anxious to see how his old friends had fared in their latest go-round with Jackson. They had not done well. Banks, despite initial success, had been driven from the field. Twenty-three hundred of his men were wounded, dead or missing—more than the entire Union army had lost at the Battle of Bull Run the year before. Strother found Generals George Gordon and Sam Crawford, two of Banks's brigadiers, huddled inside some woods trying to escape a sudden downpour. They were soaked and looked, Strother said, "worn and sad"—a faithful reflection of the army's mood that day. Gordon gestured toward a nearby group of three or four hundred men. That was all that was left of his brigade, he said.
Trotting on, Strother came to General John Pope's headquarters at the Nalle house—"a fine brick mansion" that had been, he wrote, a "home of plenty and refinement." No more. Inside, surgeons had piled the carpets in the corners and replaced them with now-bloody blankets and sheets. "Beside the piano stood the amputating table," the Colonel recorded. "The furniture not removed was dabbed with blood[;] cases of amputating instruments lay upon the tables and mantelpieces lately dedicated to elegant books and flowers." The house, Strother concluded, "looked more like a butcher's shambles than a gentleman's dwelling."
Outside the scene was no better. Sitting under one of Mr. Nalle's apple trees amid the wounded were Pope, the army's commander, and General Irvin McDowell, his closest confidant. As they sat in silence a squad of soldiers carried a dead soldier past them, followed by a work party armed with picks and shovels to bury him. The two generals watched them pass, then Pope leaned toward McDowell and said, "Well, there seems to be devilish little that is attractive about the life of a private soldier." McDowell, who had commanded the naive, overanxious Union army beaten at Manassas in the war's first battle, thought for a moment, then responded, "You might say, General, very little that is attractive in any grade of a soldier's life." As Pope pondered that, soldiers lugged five more corpses by and buried them under a nearby tree. The two generals spoke not another word.
McDowell's comment was a measure of how much the war had changed since those giddy days before First Bull Run. The war had lost its luster. It had become a brutal affair, one where battles cost thousands of young men and seemed to decide nothing; one where civilians were no longer spectators bouncing along in frilly surreys packed with picnic lunches, but rather victims of personal loss, pillage or destruction. Much of the North shared McDowell's dim view of soldiering. Indeed in that summer of 1862 the North, once united by confidence in swift victory, was cracking under the weight of defeat and stalemate in Virginia: the debacle at Bull Run; Banks, Frémont and Shields beaten by Jackson in the Shenandoah; McClellan, after a glacierlike advance with his Army of the Potomac, stalled on the Peninsula within twenty miles of Richmond. True, there had been victories in the west. But when the country, and the world, looked to see how the war was going, they looked to Virginia. And the war there was going very badly. By midsummer 1862 it was clear there would be no swift victory for the Union, and perhaps no victory at all. It was John Pope's job to change all that.
John Pope has come to us as a bumbling fool: much bluster, little substance. But in the summer of 1862 he possessed many of the qualities the administration felt it needed in Virginia. His record was not so much impressive as solid. Pope's ancestry included George Washington and an obscure line of Virginia Popes, the only hint of which that remains today is an appellation on two creeks—one of them near Washington's birthplace, the other, ironically, not far from Manassas Junction. He was born in Kentucky in 1822, migrated with his family to Illinois shortly thereafter, and graduated from West Point in the top third of the class of 1842. He saw credible service in the Mexican War, and afterward he served faithfully in the engineers out west.
With war came quick promotion for Pope, and with promotion came new opportunity for distinction, his most important accomplishment so far being the capture of New Madrid and Island Number Ten on the Mississippi River in March 1862. The Island Number Ten affair was more a triumph of engineering than military skill, and word was that much of the credit for the operation properly belonged to his subordinates. But there was no arguing the final tabulations: thirty-five hundred Confederates captured with, as Pope put it, "not so much as a stub of a toe" to the Federals. Pope then joined Western theater commander Henry Halleck and his wing led the slothful campaign against Corinth, Mississippi. Despite the slowness of the advance, the Confederates gave up the place and Pope charted yet another success. His repute waxed considerably in the Northern press.
Pope's public persona was something to which he accorded unflagging attention—a fact that his old army comrades did not fail to note. Confederate General E. P. Alexander remembered Pope as a "blatherskite," who had a fondness for exaggerating his own accomplishments—a trait he faithfully demonstrated in selling his successes at Island Number Ten and Corinth. Pope's penchant for self-promotion was even memorialized in an old army song, the first two lines of which captured its essence: "Pope told a flattering tale/Which proved to be bravado ..." Pope's pompousness would have been less notable had he been solicitous and charitable, but his old comrades also knew him to be brusque and intolerant. His new staff officers saw in him a dichotomy. Strother, Pope's topographer, found him to be a "bright, dashing man, self-confident and clearheaded," and "in his pleasant moods, jolly, humorous, and clever in conversation." But Strother also observed him to be "irascible and impulsive in his judgments of men."
Pope's personality might have doomed him had he not boasted significant political connections and a political ideology then much in demand in Washington. Pope's father-in-law, congressman Valentine B. Horton, was a close friend of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase. More importantly, his father had been a Federal circuit court judge in Illinois before the war, and had welcomed Lincoln to his court on many an occasion. Too, one of Pope's second cousins was married to Mary Todd Lincoln's eldest sister. It was these connections, no doubt, that had secured for Pope a place beside Lincoln during his dangerous journey to Washington before the inauguration in 1861. As one of only a few officers to accompany the President-elect, he had an opportunity to curry favor and to share with Lincoln his ideas on politics and the prosecution of the war. And that he obviously did.
Politically, Pope was an anomaly in the largely conservative professional army: his politics were decidedly Republican, and therefore becoming much in vogue in the summer of '62. He believed that slavery must perish and, as Secretary Chase recorded him saying, that "it was only a question of prudence as to the means to be employed to weaken it." Those "means," as Pope saw them, might mean bringing the burden of war to civilians. During his tenure in Missouri in 1861, he had not hesitated to live off the land or hold local civilians responsible for damage done to Federal installations by bushwhackers.
To many in Lincoln's administration and in Congress—men like Stanton, Chase, Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens—Pope's sympathy with these measures constituted his greatest attribute. Seeing the war as a long one, not the one-campaign affair envisioned by McClellan, these men wanted a war effort of broader dimensions. They wanted to attack slavery. And they wanted to bring the hard edge of war to the Southern populace, especially in Virginia. Pope, unlike the genteel (and politically conservative) McClellan, might just be the man to do it. Lincoln surely knew that Pope's appointment would engender resentment in the military establishment, but that resentment and infighting he was apparently willing to suffer, so long as it came with victory on the battlefield.
John Pope arrived in Virginia in late June 1862 to clean up the wreckage of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. During that lightninglike odyssey by Jackson, all three of the Union armies in northern Virginia had been beaten in some form: Banks at Front Royal and Winchester, Frémont at Cross Keys after a timid—some said miserable—pursuit of Jackson, and part of McDowell's army under Shields at Port Republic. Lincoln, whose prior military experience amounted to an ungraceful stint as a militia company commander in the Black Hawk War, had done his best to coordinate the three armies against Jackson. But the real problem lay not just with Lincoln's military inabilities, but with the government's insistence on using the military as a refuge for political patrons. Union general and former Detroit lawyer Alpheus S. Williams, who, while with Banks, had seen the disaster in the Valley firsthand, described the unfortunate situation best: "... The War Department seems to have occupied itself wholly with great efforts to give commands to favorites, dividing the army in Virginia into little independent departments and creating independent commanders jealous of one another.... If we had but one general for all these troops," lamented Williams, "there would not now be a Rebel soldier" in northern Virginia. John Pope, Lincoln hoped, would be that "one general" Williams and almost everyone else conceded the war effort in northern Virginia needed.
Reaction to Pope's appointment in the Northern press ranged upward to outright jubilant. The Philadelphia Public Ledger wrote that Pope's ascension "affords reasonable presumption that the mistakes, blunders and defeats of the region are to be corrected." Pope, the Ledger went on, "has proved himself to be a good officer, acting with skill, enterprise and good judgment." The editorialists of the Republican New York Tribune were more enthusiastic: "Pope is one of the stirring sort of men, and will not be likely to stand on the bank of the Potomac until all the water has run down before crossing." The New York Times went so far as to predict that Pope would "bag" Jackson—a term Pope would later adopt as his own, and one he would come to rue.
The orders appointing Pope to command, dated June 26, 1862, also created his new army, the Army of Virginia. The army consisted of three corps, each formerly an army unto itself. All told, Pope's new force numbered almost fifty-one thousand men. For the first month of the army's existence, Pope would operate it by remote control from Washington. His absence did nothing to instill in the army a sense of identity or esprit de corps. Instead, the three corps lay spilled across northern Virginia and the lower Shenandoah Valley, each the domain of its corps commander only.
Of those corps commanders Pope knew a good deal—enough to know, certainly, that they hardly constituted a sterling subordinate command for an army. Franz Sigel, commander of the First Corps, had graduated from the German Military Academy and served as minister of war for the German revolutionary forces in the upheavals of 1848—and therein lay his purported qualification for military command. After fleeing to the United States he had become a schoolteacher in New York, and later director of schools in St. Louis. He was prominently antislavery and popular with the nation's fast-growing German population. He did much to coalesce Northern Germans behind the Union cause and, for this, Lincoln rewarded him with command of the First Corps after the resignation of John C. Frémont. (Frémont could not tolerate serving under Pope, whom he saw as an objectionable man of lesser rank.) Although Sigel's mediocre record reflected little military ability, he was brave and full of effort. "Sigel is physically unable to do much," remembered an officer, "because he does everything himself so as to be certain." It was perhaps because of his habit of pitching in that he won the affection and confidence of his men. One man called him "the most unpretending Major General ... I ever saw. He is generally dressed in a snuff-colored sack coat without shoulder-straps or even brass buttons, and a brown felt slouch hat, without an ornament upon it." Pope, on the other hand, had witnessed Sigel's early-war performance in Missouri; he disliked him and held his abilities in low esteem, as did many others.
Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commander of the Second Corps, was just the kind of soldier most old-line professional officers disliked. As former Speaker of the House and Governor of Massachusetts, Banks's stature as the fourth-ranking general in Union service was pure politics. After assuming command in the Shenandoah in early 1862, he had the misfortune of being the primary target of Stonewall Jackson's greatest exploits. The fault in the Valley had not all been his, however, and he emerged from the debacle with his position and—at least in most eyes—his reputation intact. If Banks could not always command with the skill of a pro, he could at least look like one. He surrounded himself with a battalion of Philadelphia Zouaves as a bodyguard and paid scrupulous attention to his image. "He is a faultless looking solder," one man wrote. Another said he "had a genius for being looked at." But the best characterization of him came from a New York newspaper correspondent: "General Banks was a fine representative of the higher order of Yankee."
Irvin McDowell, the army's most experienced professional soldier, commanded the Third Corps. But for Pope, McDowell would be more than just a corps commander. His knowledge of northern Virginia and experience (albeit unsuccessful) commanding a large army instantly qualified him to be Pope's primary advisor. Personally, McDowell was, wrote railroad man Herman Haupt, "a man of fine education, with superior conversational powers, but a very strict disciplinarian." His rigid insistence on discipline, combined with the defeat he suffered in the war's first battle, rendered him highly unpopular with his men. In June, a soldier of the 13th Massachusetts had described a fall McDowell had taken from his horse. He was "slightly injured," the man wrote, "but did not seem to get much sympathy. I heard some one propose three cheers for the horse that threw him." Some men even questioned McDowell's loyalty, suggesting that the prominent hat he wore, "which looked like an esqimaux canoe on his head, wrong side up," served as a covert signal to the enemy that he was present and "all was well." Such assertions were ridiculous, but the fact remained that he was disliked and largely mistrusted. Herald correspondent George Townsend called him "the most unpopular man in America." Indeed, Pope seemed to be the only man in the army with confidence in poor McDowell.
With these subordinates and with this new hodgepodge of an army, Pope would carry out the administration's mandates. Lincoln, initially in late June 1862, envisioned Pope's task as offensive—part of an ongoing scheme to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond. McClellan's Army of the Potomac, the largest army the nation had ever seen, lay only miles east of Richmond. Pope would, as Lincoln explained it, protect Washington and the Shenandoah, and at the same time disrupt the Virginia Central Railroad—Richmond's communication with the Shenandoah Valley—by moving against Gordonsville and Charlottesville. That, the government hoped, would force the Confederates to draw down their forces in front of Richmond, and thereby ease McClellan's path into the Confederate capital. If not that, then Pope could move against Richmond directly from the northwest.
Pope's reaction to these orders was, if he can be believed, less than enthusiastic. He later asserted that he saw the administration's scheme as a "forlorn hope," though he never did define precisely what aspect of it was so "forlorn," and certainly in retrospect his assignment seemed quite manageable.16 Still, Pope later claimed he tried to wiggle out of the assignment then and there. He was greatly attached to the Western army, he explained; moreover, assuming command of three men who by rank were his seniors was an unappealing prospect. "I ... strongly urged that I not be placed in such a position." Stanton was not swayed by self-effacement. Nor was Lincoln. As Pope later remembered, "Suffice to say that I was finally informed that the public interests required my assignment to this command, and that it was my duty to submit cheerfully."
Excerpted from Return to Bull Run by John J. Hennessy. Copyright © 1993 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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