Battling for the Rocky Knoll
Backstory and Context
President Lincoln and Henry Helleck decided to recall the Army of the Potomac and unite it with the newly formed Army of Virginia, then under the command of General John Pope, this new army would then make a combined offensive towards Richmond. Knowing General McClellan’s army was on its way to join Pope, which would create an overwhelming numerical advantage for Union troops, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided to attack Pope’s forces before the two could meet. General Lee decided to divide his Army of Northern between Generals Jackson and Longstreet. Although Jackson’s troops were detected by Union scouts, their movement was misjudged and within two days Jackson’s troops had struck the Federal supply base at Manassas Junction.
General Pope’s troops turned to face General Jackson but was unable to locate his forces initially, until Pope’s cavalry engaged in a small skirmish at dusk on the 28th. Pope began to prepare his army for an attack on Jackson the next morning, assuming that General Jackson would be retreating in order to join back with the rest of the Confederate army. Unbeknown to General Pope, Jackson had actually taken up defensive positions and General Longstreet was moving to join Jackson’s forces against Pope.
On the 29th, Pope found Jackson’s forces posted on an unfinished railroad grade and prepared for a defensive. Although in some places the Confederate line was broken throughout the day, Union forces were quickly pushed back again. During so, General Gregg withheld heavy attacks upon his rocky knoll and rallying his troops by brandishing his grandfather’s Revolutionary War sword and saying, "Let us die here, my men, let us die here!". Notably John Fitz Porter defied an order from Pope in fear that General Longstreet’s troops had already arrived and that his forces would be outnumbered. This assumption has safe as Longstreet did in fact arrive by noon, unknown to Pope and overlapped the Union’s left flank. General Lee urged Longstreet to advance but General Longstreet refused and maintained defensive positioning.
On August 30th, General Pope had yet again misjudged a Confederate retreat with the adjustment of defensive positioning the previous night and urged another assault on Confederate positions. General Pope sent word to Washington of an imminent victory and of his plans to pursue the retreating Confederate’s prior to his troop movement. General Pope’s troops were turned back by Confederate artillery and then adjust to the right to attack Jackson’s right flank. General Longstreet took advantage of this and ordered and aggressive counterattack on the Union’s left flank. These attacks forced the Union to fall back and inevitably lead to their retreat.
Although 75,000 Union troops outnumbered 55,000 total Confederate troops, the Confederates maintained their defensive lines and pushed away Pope’s advances. Out of the 22,000 casualties of the battle, 13,000 of those belonged to Union forces.