Battles and campaigns

Use of Intelligence at Second Bull Run

Report by John Murray

 

Joe Whitehorne set the scene for his talk describing the Federal aims at the time: securing the border states, to operate on the Mississippi, protect the capital and destroy the Confederates in the East. The North had, however, been embarrassed in the Shenandoah Valley and suffered the fiasco of the Seven Days Battles.

 

 


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To confront Lee, Lincoln appointed John Pope, who had been successful in the West, as the new commander of the Army of Virginia. Joe confessed some sympathy for Pope who, in Joe's opinion, was not the incompetent as he has often been described.

 

As Pope probed southwards, Halleck ordered McClellan back from the Peninsula.

 

Joe commented on the vital role that cavalry would play in the forthcoming campaign. While the Confederates used divisions for light reconnaissance, the Federals allowed their cavalry to be frittered away in brigades employed in commando raids. Information was not filtered up to Union command. With his cavalry dispersed and abused in the campaign, Pope's information was haphazard. Because of Jeb Stuart's information, Lee could uncover Richmond and strike north.

 

At Cedar Mountain, south of Culpeper, Pope's order was unclear to Nathaniel Banks. In fact, it was an impossible order: the Federals did not know what was in front of them. While probing along the Rappahannock, Pope got accurate information (thanks to Buford's cavalry raid) and skillfully withdrew north of the river.

 

Lee's goal was, with about 55,000 men, to get at Pope, with his 45,000 to 50,000 men, before McClellan joined up. (In Joe's view, the campaign was a prototype of airborne operations such as Arnhem.)

 

Buford observed the dust of Stonewall Jackson's force at Fayetteville. Pope thought he was heading towards the Shenandoah Valley. Longstreet in the meantime demonstrated before Pope. Stuart set off to join Jackson whose cavalry consisted of local people - the 6th Virginia Cavalry. Because he was without cavalry, Longstreet proceeded slowly. It was a two-day march to Manassas Junction.

 

How was information processed? Lee was his own intelligence officer getting information from northern newspapers and sympathetic locals. He also knew the opposition. During 1852-55, Lee was commander of both Longstreet and Pope (who had both been in the West Point class of 1842). Lee used topographical engineers with a keen awareness of terrain, broken bridges and swollen streams. Lee, Jackson and Longstreet formulated plans in secrecy.

 

Pope on the other hand never established information flow. He only had a general sense of terrain and moved infantry without a feel for the ground. Pope also had a preconception of what Lee was up to. Pope was going to chase Lee!

 

Pope dismissed an attack on 28 August 1862 on Union infantry by B.T. Johnson's cavalry. A very confused meeting engagement ensued and Pope was unhinged from his Rappahannock positions. Pope's preconceptions led to very confused orders to go to Centreville.

 

Battle opened on the evening of 28 August at Brawner's Farm. Although McDowell was aware of Longstreet approaching, Pope dismissed the reports because he did not believe Longstreet could move so quickly. Other Union officers, because of lack of information, made decisions which affected the battle, pulling back and letting Lee to make his strategic objective. Sigel, ordered by Pope to keep up the pressure, committed his forces in piecemeal attacks. Longstreet finally made contact with Jackson whose forces were defending a railroad cut.

 

Sigel thought he was in pursuit rather than attacking a defensive line. There was no consolidation of Union forces. As an example of Pope's mindset - because the Confederates were pulling back, they must be retreating - a division was sent to go in pursuit and collided with Hood's division.

 

On the second day of the battle, Jackson could see vast forces building up and a one-mile long gun line. Pope aimed to destroy Jackson and did not believe Longstreet was present. Longstreet waited before attacking - although asked by Lee to do so. Longstreet then decided to attack while at the same time Lee ordered him to do so. In this misunderstanding, Joe heard echoes of Gettysburg.

 

Joe concluded his talk by describing briefly the aftermath at Chantilly and the Antietam Campaign. He concluded that Pope had failed because his information was skewed by his preconceptions or wishful thinking For example, he assumed Jackson's forces were at Centreville without checking. Pope went from one wrong conclusion to another and control was lost.

 

An interesting question and answer session covered cavalry training, the competence of certain Union generals, McClellan's uncooperative attitude, information flow in the Western theatre and the impact of topographical engineers.