One-hundred-and-forty-years ago today (August 29, 1862), the stage was set for one of the greatest victories ever won by the Army of Northern Virginia against its opponents. The fighting at Second Manassas/Second Bull Run began when Stonewall Jackson brought his "wing" of the Army of Northern Virginia out of its hiding place above the Brawner Farm just above Groveton along an old railroad cut. Jackson attacked portions of Rufus King's Federal division as it marched along the Warrenton Turnpike heading toward Centreville. Jackson's men attacked the brigade belonging to Gen. John Gibbon, an Army officer from North Carolina who had stayed with the Union rather than follow his two brothers into the Confederacy. Gibbon's brigade, all Midwesterners, soon received their baptism of fire and a new name, "the Iron Brigade".
After the bloody fighting at Brawner's Farm died down with losses on both sides (including Confederate Gen. Richard Ewell, hit in the leg, which required amputation), commander of the Union Army of Virginia John Pope was convinced he had Jackson and the Confederates under him "in the bag". The fighting on August 28 and 29 raged all along the old railroad cut--intense, savage, bloody and, at times, hand to hand (even using rocks). All Federal assaults, however, were successfully beaten back but not without the hemorrhaging of Southern blood. During Jackson's holding the line against almost the full weight of Pope's Union Army of Virginia (during one of the battles A. P. Hill's men ran out of ammunition and had to use rocks to repel their Union attackers), Robert E. Lee with Longstreet's portion of the army in tow, was moving mightily to the relief of the embattled Jackson. Pushing through Thoroughfare Gap (Pope knew about the Gap as a key means for Confederate reinforcements to reach the Manassas-Centreville area but did not post a heavy force there because, as he later said, he was convinced Jackson was retreating), Longstreet and his men soon reached the field of battle and took position at almost right angles to Jackson's command. A look at a map following the arrival of Longstreet on the field shows a giant V for the Army of Northern Virginia, with Lee having not only his headquarters but also some artillery battalions at the point of the V. Strangely enough, despite some intelligence to the contrary, Pope's actions showed he was completely dismissive of Longstreet's presence and remained determined, at all costs, to drive Jackson from the field. He even sent orders to Fitz-John Porter, commander of the Sixth Corps from the Army of the Potomac (separated from the Army of the Potomac and sent to Pope and the Army of Virginia by the War Department) to launch a massive attack against Jackson the following day, August 30. Porter, who knew Longstreet was near his left flank, protested that to attack Jackson was to invite disaster to his command due to enfilade fire from a prepared enemy. Pope dismissed Porter's objections and stuck to his originally ordered attack.
On August 30, one of the greatest counterattacks ever unleashed by the Army of Northern Virginia against its Federal antagonists occurred. Longstreet finally struck out with his entire command, after having his artillery along with that of Jackson, execute superb enfilade fire against Porter's Sixth Corps as it attacked Jackson. Then, when the Federal attack was on the verge of collapse, Longstreet sent his men forward, screaming the Rebel Yell. The Federals simply collapsed from the weight of the attack on their left flank; Jackson's battered and worn men added their own impetus to the Federal disaster.
The Federal Army of Virginia was literally swept from the field; although scattered Union brigades and units performed heroic rear guard actions that stove off ultimate collapse. Pope and his Army retreated back towards Washington City, thereby setting up an attempt by Jackson to turn Pope's flank and bringing on the Battle of Chantilly (known also as Ox Hill or the Battle of Germantown on the Confederate side) where two Union generals, Isaac Stevens and Steven Kearney, were killed.
The ramifications of the Federal defeat at Second Manassas were huge. Lee was convinced the proper time had arrived for a Confederate movement into Maryland to offer its oppressed citizens relief from the Lincoln government, add new recruits to the ranks of his army, take the war out of Northern Virginia and allow the farmers in the Shenandoah Valley to gather in the harvest. This very opportunity would culminate less than four weeks later in the horrific Battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland, the single bloodiest day in American military history, before or since. For John Pope, his defeat at Second Bull Run meant virtual exile to Minnesota, where he assisted in squashing a bloody Sioux Indian revolt; he would never again command a Federal force of any size during the Civil War. In the aftermath of Pope's defeat and wholesale panic as the victorious Confederates commenced their movement into Maryland, an embattled President Lincoln would again turn to his difficult subordinate George B. McClellan to defend the national capital and halt Lee's incursion.
This writer knows this article is but a brief overview of the Battle of Second Manassas/Second Bull Run. He recommends the interested reader to do a search on Google.com for additional and more detailed reading material on this battle as well as the Battle of Chantilly.