On June 26, 1862 President Lincoln appointed Gen. John Pope to command the newly created Army of Virginia, a force of about 51,000 men. The Peninsula Campaign, begun in March 1862 by Gen. George B. McClellan, would shortly meet with defeat on July 1st at the culmination of the Seven Days Battles. Lee forced McClellan to retreat behind the James River at Harrison’s Landing, effectively dividing the Union Army in northern Virginia, with the Confederate capitol and Lee’s army in the middle.
According to Lincoln’s original intention, Pope was to go on the offensive and strike at Gordonsville and Charlottesville and disrupt the operations of the Virginia Central Railroad to cut off Lee’s supply line from the Shenandoah Valley. With the retreat of McClellan to Harrison’s Landing, Pope decided that any offensive action would be impractical and he instead conceived a defensive plan. His army and McClellan’s would concentrate in a defensive line from Fredericksburg to Culpeper and Sperryville and would harass the railroad if the opportunity were to present itself. Until a better and more “well-defined plan of operations” could be developed, the armies would adhere to this defensive plan. On August 4th McClellan was ordered by Gen. Halleck, the general-in-chief of all the armies, to abandon his position on the James and join Pope along the Rappahannock.
Gen. Lee’s success in forcing McClellan to retreat to Harrison’s Landing was due in large part to a series of brilliant maneuvers executed in the Shenandoah Valley by Stonewall Jackson to divert the attention of the Union Army away from Richmond. Jackson advanced his army 350 miles through the valley towards the Potomac and Washington, and during the period from May 4th to June 9th won four battles against the Union troops, effectively preventing them from otherwise reinforcing McClellan.
In late July of 1862, with Pope and his army in a position to cut the Virginia Central Railroad, Lee realizes that he needs to take action. He decides to move against Pope’s army before McClellan has a chance to join him. He dispatches Jackson and Ewell (14,000 men) to intercept Pope, telling Jackson, “I want Pope to be suppressed.” Jackson clashes with Union troops at Cedar Mountain on August 9th, but by the end of August Jackson and Longstreet are in a stalemate with the Federals along the Rappahannock. Taking a great risk, Lee decides to split his army and send Jackson around Pope’s right to cut the O&A Railroad, Pope’s supply line. Jackson moves west along the Rappahannock through Orleans and Salem (Marshall), where he camps the night of the 25th.
By early evening on the 26th Jackson has captured Bristoe Station. The first train (the “Secretary”) to reach Bristoe Station after the arrival of Jackson’s men breaks through their line and speeds on to Manassas Junction where it warns the 105th PA guarding the depot that Bristoe has been taken. Word reaches Washington from Manssas almost immediately by telegraph. The Secretary leaves Manassas and then slightly east of the Bull Run Bridge it crashes into another train and the wreck completely blocks the tracks in the vicinity of Union Mills Station.
At Bristoe, Jackson hears that Manassas is only guarded by a few hundred men and has “stores of great value.” He orders Trimble to take Manassas with the 21st GA and the 21st NC and Stuart’s cavalry. Trimble captures Manassas Junction with a loss of only two killed and two wounded. That evening, Col. Herman Haupt, chief of construction and transportation for the U.S. Military Railroad, proposes to send a construction train to repair the bridge and 3000 to 4000 men to protect Bull Run Bridge. After midnight, four NJ regiments under Gen. G.W. Taylor and two Ohio regiments under Col. E. Parker Scammon board the train to go to the bridge.
On the morning of August 27, 1862, N.Y. troops (2nd N.Y. Heavy Artillery) under Col. Gustave Waagner set out across Mitchell’s Ford from Centreville to try to take back Manassas Junction from what they think is “a party of guerillas.” They are joined by Capt. Von Puttkammer, whose PA troops lost the junction the night before. They come in view of the earthworks at Manassas and deploy skirmishers and begin shelling, having no knowledge that Jackson has 9000 men to their 1000. In short order, 28 Confederate cannon open on them and Waagner realizes his mistake and orders a retreat. At about this same time, the 1200 men from the 4 NJ regiments (1st N.J. Brigade) arrive at the Bull Run Bridge. They have unloaded from their train about a quarter mile east of the bridge because of the wreck of the Secretary and the train it crashed into still blocked the tracks. 1800 more men (the 11th and 12th Ohio) are on a train behind them.
Taylor’s men get within sight of the plains of Manassas (Liberia Plantation) and they notice a battery on the hill to their right and cavalry on the left, but they are unable to determine if they are friend or foe. Jackson orders his men to hold their fire and let the Federals come on. By the time they are marching into the arc of the Confederate line, Jackson orders his men to fire and the N.J. troops are ripped into with “a storm of lead.” Taylor orders his men to charge, but Jackson has them boxed in on three sides. Jackson rides out with a white handkerchief, intent on asking them to surrender, when one of Taylor’s men fires a shot that whizzes by Jackson’s head. The Confederate batteries then open with full force upon the Federals. They retreat and Jackson pursues, driving them back towards Bull Run. At a steep hill before the bridge the N.J. men have trouble climbing it. When a Confederate battery rolls up and begins to fire, they panic and a bottleneck forms at the bridge. In the chaos, men are jumping and falling into the water and Gen Taylor is mortally wounded, shot through the leg. By this time the 11th and 12th Ohio arrive and bound off their train towards the sound of the gunfire. They run in to a crush of terror stricken N.J. soldiers. Taylor orders Col. Scammon to hold the bridge as he is being carried off the battlefield to die. Scammon forms his men on the stream bank above the bridge, with the 11th Ohio on the left and 12th Ohio on the right. They manage to hold the Confederates for awhile. They prevent attempts by Gen. Pender’s troops to ford Bull Run at Union Mills, but Gen. Archer’s brigade manages to outflank the 12th Ohio further upstream. Col. Scammon conducts a rear guard action for three miles as he retreats down the O&A (Sangster’s Station?). He is pursued by A.P. Hill’s division, but is able to escape by the railroad. Hill burns the two trains that had wrecked near Union Mills and the two trains that had carried the Union troops from Alexandria. As the Federals retreat to Washington, Fitz Lee’s cavalry intercept a train sent by Col. Haupt to retrieve the wounded at Bull Run Bridge. Union losses – 500, Confederates – 25.