On this day in 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee deals a stinging defeat to Union General John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run, or Second Battle of Manassas, Virginia. The battle arose out of the failure of Union General George McClellan’s Peninsular campaign earlier in the summer. Frustrated with McClellan, who was still camped on the James Peninsula southeast of Richmond playing non-combat army with his troops, President Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck decided to pull a substantial part of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac and send it to General John Pope’s newly formed Army of Virginia.
Following a wide-ranging flanking march, Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson captured the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction, threatening Pope’s line of communications with Washington, D.C. Withdrawing a few miles to the northwest, Jackson took up strong concealed defensive positions on Stony Ridge and awaited the arrival of the wing of Lee’s army commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet.
On August 28, 1862, Jackson attacked a Union column just east of Gainesville, at Brawner’s Farm, resulting in a stalemate but successfully getting Pope’s attention. On that same day, Longstreet broke through light Union resistance in the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap and approached the battlefield.
Many attribute the scale of defeat to McClellan’s earlier refusal to engage his troops during any phase of the battle, earning the diminutive General the Collier’s Weasel of the Year Award. McClellan would go on to run as the challenger against sitting wartime President Abraham Lincoln in the critical 1864 election. Political observers agree the 1864 election proved one of the most consequential contests in U.S. history, with the upcoming contest of November 4, 2020 equally momentous.