"They are young, spirited and accomplished gentlemen and with me have proven themselves to be dashing, gallant and daring soldiers, ready and anxious for service at all hours and under trying circumstances"
General John Buford, October 1862
The ground around Manassas was not auspicious for the Union forces. It was here in July 1861 that the Union army had broken on the bulwark of General Thomas Jackson's brigade and thus earned the Southern general his nickname 'Stonewall'. Victory here in 1862 was crucial as, from the battlefield, Washington was only 26 miles away while Richmond was also within striking distance. Union forces were combined in the area in the form of the newly created Army of Virginia under Major-General John Pope (left); a deeply unpopular figure both within his own army and similarly disliked by the normally respectful, Robert E. Lee.
Lee knew that if McClellan's 90,000 strong Army of the Potomac linked with Pope's forces of 63,000 men, the Rebel army would be vastly outnumbered and in serious danger of being heavily defeated. Lee decided to attack Pope with speed and might before McClellan realised what was occurring - he sent Generals 'Stonewall' Jackson and A.P. Hill north with 24,000 men.
In order to draw Pope's army into battle, Jackson (above) ordered an attack on a Federal column that was passing across his front on the Warrenton Turnpike on August 28th. The fighting at Brawner Farm lasted several hours and resulted in a stalemate. Pope became convinced that he had trapped Jackson and concentrated the bulk of his army against him.On August 29th, Major General John Pope launched a series of assaults against Jackson's position along an unfinished railroad grade near Sudley - Pope's intention was to move against Jackson on both flanks. The attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides.
It was at this point that General Buford along with his 500 strong cavalry, including his two Irish staff, Captains Myles Keogh and Joseph O'Keeffe, became involved in the engagement. At around 8.15 a.m., Buford reported that 17 regiments of infantry, one battery, and 500 cavalry were moving through Gainesville - this was General James Longstreet's (left) wing arriving from Thoroughfare Gap - and Buford's report warned the Union generals that trouble lay to their front. Myles Keogh later recorded that Buford's cavalry "engaged Longstreet's advance and cut his communications with Jackson".
Many months later, Robert E. Lee also made reference to Buford's sniping of his army:
"Besides engaging the cavalry of the enemy on several occasions, with uniform success, a detachment under the gallant and lamented Major [William] Patrick, assisted by Stuart's horse artillery under Major [John] Pelham, effectually protected General Jackson's trains against a body of this enemy cavalry who penetrated to his rear on the 29th, before the arrival of General Longstreet."
R. E. LEE
Army of Northern Virginia
June 5, 1863
Army of Northern Virginia
June 5, 1863
For some reason, General McDowell (US) neglected to forward Buford's report about Longstreet's arrival to Pope until about 7 p.m., so the army commander was operating under two severe misconceptions: that Longstreet was not near the battlefield and that Porter and McDowell (US) were marching to attack Jackson's right flank. Meanwhile since noon on the 29th, Longstreet was arriving on the field from Thoroughfare Gap and taking up position on Jackson's right flank - Porter and McDowell were in fact about to face Longstreet's fresh and enthusiastic command numbering 28,000 men.
On August 30th, Pope renewed his attacks, still unclear of Longstreet's position on the field. When massed Confederate artillery devastated a Union assault by Fitz John Porter's command, Longstreet's wing counter-attacked in the largest, simultaneous mass assault of the war. The Union left flank was crushed and the army driven back to Bull Run - it appeared that Pope's army was going to be chased from the field and devastated. Only an effective Union rearguard action at Henry House Hill by just four brigades prevented a total collapse of the Union army.
Pictured above are the ruins of the Henry house, Second Manassas battlefield
Unlike the calamitous retreat at the First Battle of Bull Run, the Union movement thereafter towards Centreville was quiet and orderly. The Confederates, weary from battle and low on ammunition, did not pursue in the darkness. Although Lee had won a great victory, he had not achieved his objective of destroying Pope's army.
BUFORD'S FIGHT - 30th August
As the demoralised Union troops were retreating from the field, Buford's Federal cavalry engaged in a spirited fight with a Confederate cavalry brigade. South-east of the battle, near Lewis Farm, Colonel Nazer of the 4th New York cavalry rode up to Buford and announced that Rebel cavalry were just beyond the hill, preparing to charge. Buford quickly arranged his troops - the 4th New York fell in behind the 1st Michigan, the 1st West Virginia and 1st Vermont stacked up behind the New Yorkers.From his vantage point to the west, Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson (left), commanding the Confederate cavalry, could only see what looked like a small detachment of Union cavalry galloping aimlessly, apparently dispersing and he gave Colonel Munford and the 2nd Virginia cavalry the honour of attacking the isolated Federal squadron. Munford, in turn, directed one detachment under Colonel J.W. Watts to pursue the enemy which they duly did until coming over the crest of a nearby ridge.
Now coming into view of Watts was Buford's four regiments in column and ready to fight. Buford yelled for the 1st Michigan to draw sabres and, followed by the 4th New York, Colonel Bromhead's Michigan regiment started forward before a bugle sounded to signal the order to charge. Munford had no time to maneuver except to counter charge and both Confederate and Union cavalry clashed in open combat for possibly the first time in the war. Colonel Munford was seriously wounded in the back by a Union sabre. One of his Virginian troopers later wrote: "They absorbed us....the shooting, running, cursing and cutting that followed cannot be understood except by an eye witness". Never before had a Yankee cavalry offered such resistance and, indeed, overrun one of Stuart's famed Rebel cavalry regiments in the manner that Buford's had just done. As the 4th New York entered the fray, Munford ordered a retreat back to the rest of his brigade.
Robertson (CSA) now ordered the rest of his brigade forward, in the form of the 7th and 12th Virginia under the command Major Myers and Colonel Harmon respectively. The 12th, followed by the 7th, formed a line and advanced towards the two Union cavalry regiments at a gallop. What followed was a classic melee of mounted men battling, sabre to sabre and pistol to pistol. The Rebel soldiers began to get the upper hand and soon forced the retreat from the field of Buford's cavalry. A member of the confederate 7th Virginia would later recount how the Yankee troops became "a mass of .....men dismounted and horses without riders...all trying to get away." Not all of Buford's men escaped; Colonel Bromhead, commanding the Michiganders, was surrounded and mortally wounded, many others were taken prisoner. Myles Keogh later recorded the cost this skirmish had on Buford's officer corp - "two majors wounded & thirteen line officers killed & wounded."
Pictured above is Lewis Spaun, 1st Michigan, Killed at Second Manassas, 30 August 1862 - The frock coat and Hardee hat are an excellent illustration of the early war uniform of the 1st Michigan.
The rapid retreat of the two engaged regiments also carried away the rest of the Federal cavalry. Despite John Buford's best efforts, within five minutes of the initial retreat, all four regiments were crossing the Bull Run at Lewis Ford.
"The head of Robertson's cavalry was now on the ridge overlooking Bull Run, and having seen no enemy in that direction, I was returning to the position of the artillery enfilading the Groveton road, when I received intelligence from General Robertson at the point I had just left that the enemy was there in force and asking re-enforcements. I ordered the two reserve regiments (Seventh and Twelfth) rapidly forward, and also a section of artillery, but before the latter could reach the point our cavalry, by resolute bravery, had put the enemy, under Buford, to ignominious flight across Bull Run, and were in full pursuit until our own artillery fire at the fugitives rendered it dangerous to proceed farther.In this brilliant affair over 300 of the enemy's cavalry were put to hors de combat, they, together with their horses and equipments, falling into our hands. Colonel Bromhead, First Michigan, died from his wounds next day. He was cut down by Adjutant [Lewis] Harman, Twelfth Virginia Cavalry. Major Atwood and a number of captains and lieutenants were among the prisoners."
J. E. B. STUART, (above)
Major-General, Commanding Cavalry.
Major-General, Commanding Cavalry.
What was significant about the cavalry fight at Lewis Farm on the third day of the battle was that Buford had prevented over 1200 of Stuart's Confederate cavalry from reaching the Union line of retreat on the Warrenton Turnpike. The affect of this engagement, should it have occurred, would have caused the widespread panic that Lee had hoped for. As it remained, the Union army withdrew bloodied but intact and was still a viable fighting force.Buford received some sort of wound in this fight although there are conflicting interpretations of its severity. Indeed, he was reported killed in some southern newspapers. Myles Keogh himself recorded that Buford "was wounded by spent ball in the knee". What ever it was, the wound did not appear to slow down the general - he was able to send an intelligence report the very next day and the brigade medical officer made no mention in his report of personally attending to Buford's injury.
The wounding during the battle indicates that Buford and his staff, Myles Keogh included, were in the thick of the action. Keogh stated in a later document that Buford "commanded in person" the initial charge of the 1st Michigan and where their General went, his two Irish staff, Keogh and O'Keeffe, would have followed. Buford later alluded to this fact when writing to the U.S. Army's Adjutant General, Lorenzo Thomas. In reference to Captains Keogh and O'Keeffe, Buford would state;
"These gentlemen accompanied me into Virginia and took active parts in almost every engagement the army had. They are young, spirited and accomplished gentlemen and with me have proven themselves to be dashing, gallant and daring soldiers, ready and anxious for service at all hours and under trying circumstances"
General Buford to U.S. Army's Adjutant General, October 5th, 1862
Following on from this success, Lee and the Confederate army continued to attack and on the 1st of September made a second large flanking manoeuvre, hoping to cut off the retreating Union army. With 'Stonewall' Jackson's brigade in the vanguard, the Rebels reached a town called Chantilly and there encountered Yankee forces under the command of Major-Generals Stevens and Philip Kearney. In the sharp fight that ensued during a horrendous thunderstorm, the Confederate advance was halted but a price - both Union generals were killed.
Although the four day engagement had now petered out, Myles Keogh may have had one further unusual task to perform before the end of the Second Battle of Bull Run....