Who Won the Second Battle of Bull Run?

After the Battle of Shiloh, the Confederacy realized that the Union could not be held off. With a major victory in August, General Lee could prepare to invade the North.

Apr 2, 2024By Owen Rust, MA Economics in progress w/ MPA

who won second battle bull run


The Second Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of Second Manassas, saw the emergence of Confederate General Robert E. Lee as the South’s most prominent general. After its defeat in the Battle of Shiloh, the Confederacy realized that only threatening the North directly could help end the war. Lee needed a victory to show he was ready to go on the offensive!


Victory Goes to the Confederacy

Confederate generals Robert E. Lee (left) and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (right) had a renowned partnership exemplified by a victory at Second Manasses. Source: Army War College


The Second Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of Second Manassas, was a resounding victory for the Confederacy in the Eastern Theater of the US Civil War. A massive Union army, the Army of Virginia, had been created by President Abraham Lincoln in June 1862 to march on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, and hopefully end the rebellion directly. The new opponent of this new Union army, commanded by General John Pope, was Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Lee sought to outmaneuver Pope’s larger but cautious and slow-moving army and capture its supply lines.


Between August 28 and August 30, 1862, Pope’s army was outmaneuvered by Confederate forces under Lee and his close compatriot, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. A combination of superior Confederate tactics and inaccurate Union intelligence gave the South a victory against the larger Army of Virginia. On August 30, a massed attack under Confederate General James Longstreet, consisting of five divisions, decisively won the battle. Pope was forced to retreat and was replaced in his command, later being sent to the Western Theater.


Timeline of the Second Battle of Bull Run

A map showing the Union and Confederate movements during the first day of battle on August 28, 1862. Source: American Battlefield Trust


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In July of 1862, the Confederacy was in a precarious position on the Eastern Front between the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and the Union capital of Washington DC. A new Union army, the Army of Virginia, had been created at the end of June to assist the existing Army of the Potomac.


On July 12, General John Pope, commander of the new army, began moving south toward Richmond. The next day, Robert E. Lee began shifting his forces to the west, planning a flanking maneuver of both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia.


After a period of calm, Lee ordered his units to begin moving on August 13.


However, Lee’s plans were thwarted on August 18, when Union cavalry raided the headquarters of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart and discovered battle plans!


After a successful revenge raid by Confederate cavalry on August 23, Lee felt confident that the time was ripe to strike.


Pope also felt emboldened due to the arrival of reinforcements and so chose to attack on August 25.


The next day, however, Confederate troops under “Stonewall” Jackson completed a grueling 55-hour march and successfully emerged behind Pope’s lines.


The battle commenced on August 28, with Pope struggling with misinformation and poor communication.


As a result, Union attacks on August 29 were uncoordinated and lacked potency.


In contrast, effective Confederate communication on August 30 allowed positions to be reinforced against a large Union attack and then respond with perhaps the single largest single attack during a Civil War battle: 25,000 men under Confederate General James Longstreet struck at approximately 4:00 PM, leading Pope to decide to withdraw.


What Caused the Second Battle of Bull Run?

Union General George McClelland, seen here with his wife, was seen as hesitant and weak by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, sparking Lee’s offensive. Source: University of Virginia


Both the Union and the Confederacy felt the need to attack during the summer of 1862. The Union wanted to end the rebellion swiftly, having grown weary of more than a year of warfare. The Confederacy was suffering from Union army infiltration into its territory, seizing supplies from the countryside under Pope. Under General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, Union forces had been less harsh toward the Southern population. John Pope, however, wanted to pressure the South to end its resistance with his new, more aggressive Army of Virginia. Simultaneously, the South also “upgraded” to a more aggressive general – Robert E. Lee replaced Joseph E. Johnston as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.


The more aggressive Union and Confederate forces, both stationed near Richmond, Virginia, skirmished with each other in multiple engagements. Pope thought he had the opportunity to defeat a sizable Confederate army under “Stonewall” Jackson and sought revenge after Jackson had seized and destroyed one of his supply depots. Ultimately, the Second Battle of Bull Run was a natural result of two major armies being “upgraded” to a higher level of aggression after a year of relative stalemate in the war.


Why Was the Second Battle of Bull Run Significant?

Re-enactors depicting a skirmish from the Battle of Antietam, which came only weeks after the Second Battle of Bull Run. Source: Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)


The Second Battle of Bull Run was significant for a few reasons. First, it signaled that there would be no quick end to the war. Despite Union successes in the Western Theater and relatively continuous seizure of Confederate territory out west, Bull Run revealed that the South could strongly maintain its territory around its capital city of Richmond, Virginia. A smashing victory and quick drive to Richmond was extremely unlikely after the Second Battle of Bull Run, especially given that Lee and his generals had defeated a considerably larger Union force.


Secondly, the battle began the powerful legacy of Robert E. Lee. During and after the Civil War, Lee had one of the most vaunted reputations as a battlefield commander. Lee’s prowess as a general may have prolonged the war by intimidating his Union counterparts into being more cautious when facing his Army of Northern Virginia after Second Manassas. Indeed, the Army of the Potomac saw relatively rapid turnover in command after it failed to capitalize on victories over the Army of Northern Virginia in the Battle of Antietam and afterward. Finally, the dissolution of Pope’s short-lived Army of Virginia after its defeat at Bull Run resulted in the simplified showdown between the Union’s Army of the Potomac and the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia for the remainder of the war.


5 Facts About the Second Battle of Bull Run

A map showing the location of Union (blue) and Confederate (red) armies during the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862. Source: American Battlefield Trust


1. Casualties

Casualties at the Second Battle of Bull Run totaled almost 22,000, with the Union suffering about twice as many as the Confederacy. Approximately 1,750 Union soldiers were confirmed killed, versus only 1,100 Confederates. The biggest difference between the two sides came in terms of captured: some four thousand Union troops were listed as missing or captured, compared to less than one hundred Confederate soldiers.


2. Commanders

Union forces were led by General John Pope. Pope had enjoyed rapid promotions early in the Civil War and had only been an Army captain in February 1861 when he first escorted new president Abraham Lincoln around Washington DC. After the Civil War began, Pope won accolades in the Western Theater for quick victories in Missouri. In June 1862, he was recalled to Washington DC and given command of the new Army of Virginia – which he allegedly did not want. After his defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Pope was transferred to the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota to pacify the Native American population.


Confederate forces were led by Robert E. Lee, who had also taken command in June 1862. Despite his later reputation as a battlefield phenom, Lee had spent the first year of the war in coastal defense after the Battle of Fort Sumter and as an advisor in Richmond. Lee’s impressive victory at Second Bull Run guaranteed that he would remain the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the remainder of the war. After the war, Lee would be prominently remembered by both sides of the conflict, while John Pope is largely forgotten due to his brief tenure and dissolved army.


3. Number of Forces Involved

Up to 70,000 Union troops in the Army of Virginia and Army of the Potomac faced off against some 55,000 Confederate troops from the Army of Northern Virginia. Due to the large numbers of troops available, both sides received reinforcements before and during battle. However, Lee’s ability to defeat a much larger army revealed that the North could no longer count on simply marching into Richmond based on size alone.


4. Visiting Bull Run Battlefield Today

Today, the battlefield can be seen as part of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The park is near Bull Run, which is a census-designated spot in Prince William County, Virginia (hence the name “Second Battle of Bull Run”). Due to the two battles fought at the location, there are plenty of historic sites at Battlefield Park. Most visitors stay in Manassas, Virginia, which has many history-related sites and activities for tourists. As a large town of over 40,000 residents, Manassas has many places for visitors to stay overnight.


5. Trivia: The Dapper Dressing Feud

Shortly before the Second Battle of Bull Run, Union cavalry raiders captured J.E.B. Stuart’s famous plumed hat. This was a stinging humiliation for the dashing Stuart, who was a new hero of the Confederacy thanks to his own cavalry raids. Days later, Stuart got his revenge when his own cavalry raid captured Union General John Pope’s dress uniform from his tent. Allegedly, the two generals wished to bargain for their respective dapper clothing back, but the negotiations went nowhere before Stuart and Pope were both transferred elsewhere.


Aftermath of Second Manassas: Invasion of the North

Union General John Pope (above) had replaced George McClellan but was himself replaced by George Meade after his loss at Second Manassas. Source: Virginia Humanities


The victory at Second Bull Run was a major morale boost for the South and a humiliating loss for the North. The Army of Virginia was disbanded, and John Pope was transferred to Minnesota to fight the Sioux. Emboldened by his victory, Robert E. Lee chose to strike while the proverbial iron was still hot: he chose to invade Maryland. The goal was to relieve pressure on Richmond and simultaneously apply political pressure on the Union to seek an armistice. Theoretically, citizens in the North would urge a quick end to the war if the war could come to them. Until the Battle of Antietam, the Civil War had been fought entirely in the South.


Fortunately for the Union, Lee’s invasion of Maryland was unsuccessful. In fact, it resulted in the North increasing harsh policies toward the rebellion: President Abraham Lincoln presented the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free all enslaved people in territories still in rebellion against the Union on January 1, 1863. Thus, instead of alleviating the harsh conditions imposed by Pope’s Army of Virginia on occupied Southern territory, Lee’s invasion guaranteed that those territories would forever lose their slave labor. Lincoln’s focus on Southern slavery in his proclamation also helped scuttle any chance of British or French recognition of the Confederacy – both nations had voluntarily given up slavery years before.

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By Owen RustMA Economics in progress w/ MPAOwen is a high school teacher and college adjunct in West Texas. He has an MPA degree from the University of Wyoming and is close to completing a Master’s in Finance and Economics from West Texas A&M. He has taught World History, U.S. History, and freshman and sophomore English at the high school level, and Economics, Government, and Sociology at the college level as a dual-credit instructor and adjunct. His interests include Government and Politics, Economics, and Sociology.