Battles of Baton Rouge, Cedar Mountain, and Second Bull Run: August 1862

150 Years Ago in the Civil War

 

After a relatively quiet July, the pace of the fighting picked up again in August of 1862.

At Baton Rouge Louisiana, a Confederate force of 2600 under the command of Major General John C. Breckinridge attacked a Union occupying force of 2500 under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Williams on August 4th. The Federal land force was supported by several Union gunboats on the Mississippi River. Breckinridge attacked from the east and drove the Union regiments back towards the river. Federal forces set up a new defensive line under the protection of the gunboats, held against the Confederate assaults, and forced Breckinridge to withdraw. Among the Union casualties was General Williams, who was killed in action.

The Confederate attack was supposed to be a land and river operation, with the ram CSS Arkansas engaging the Federal gunboats. But Arkansas had engine troubles, and didn’t reach Baton Rouge until August 5th. It was heavily damaged in battle with five Union gunboats led by the U.S.S EssexArkansas’ commander ordered the crew to abandon ship and the vessel was blown up.

In Virginia, the war was shifting away from the Virginia Peninsula back to the area north of Richmond. The newly formed Union Army of Virginia under the command of Major General John Pope advanced south from the vicinity of Culpeper towards Gordonsville in early August. General Robert E. Lee sent 24,000 men under Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and A.P. Hill north from the peninsula  to deal with this potential threat to Richmond. On August 9th, part of Pope’s army under the command of Major General Nathaniel Banks attacked Jackson at Cedar Mountain. Banks had initial success driving Jackson’s  force back. However, Banks attacked without support or reserve troops.  A counterattack by A.P. Hill’s command drove the unsupported Federals from the field, and secured a victory for the Confederates at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

In mid-August, Lee sent the rest of his Army of Northern Virginia from the Peninsula north to the Gordonsville area. Major General George McClellan had been slowly moving his army off the Peninsula as well and  completed his withdrawal August 16th. McClellan was to join with Pope in northern Virginia, but was not in much of a hurry to do so.

On August 25th, Jackson moved forward to the area around Manassas, Virginia, capturing supplies  and destroying the Federal supply depot at Manassas Junction on August 27th. On the 28th, Jackson attacked a Union division marching down the Warrenton Turnpike near Groveton, Virginia at the John Brawner farm. Intensive fighting lasted several hours and resulted in well over 1000 casualties on both sides. The battle itself was a indecisive. One of the Union brigades engaged included the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin regiments, as well as the 19th Indiana. The Battle of Brawner’s Farm  was the first large engagement for what would soon be called the Iron Brigade.

The next morning (August 29th), Pope again attacked Jackson, who had taken a strong defensive position in an unfinished railroad cut. Popes’ attacks were in an ineffective piecemeal fashion and failed. Late in the morning, five divisions under General James Longstreet arrived and reinforced Jackson’s right flank.

The next day, Pope again attacked Jackson, unaware that Longstreet’s force was on the field.  Longstreet counterattacked and caved in the Union left flank, driving the Federals back onto the Henry House Hill on the First Bull Run battlefield. Union forces held at Henry House Hill, allowing an orderly retreat, unlike the rout at 1st Bull Run. Nonetheless, this 2nd Battle of Bull Run was a decisive Confederate victory.

While the fighting was going on at Bull Run, a Confederate force under Major General Edmund Kirby Smith attacked Federals near Richmond, Kentucky. Smith had entered Kentucky from Tennessee on August 16th in an effort to drive out Union forces who had had taken control of most of the state earlier in the year. The Battle of Richmond, Kentucky was another decisive Confederate victory, with Smith’s troops capturing 4000 Federals in the process.

August was a successful month for the Confederate armies. Lee would try to capitalize on this success with an invasion of the north in September, an invasion that would culminate in the single bloodiest day in American history in a battle at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

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