The Army of Northern Virginia
Major Battles 1861-Chancellorsville
The Battle of Bull Run or Manassas was the first battle for the Army of Northern Virginia. The Army was commanded by Joseph E. Johnston, but used a plan of attack by General P.G.T. Beauregard since he was unfamiliar with the ground and Beauregard had been there since June 1. Though he had been there for almost two months Beauregard was taken by surprise by the Army of the Potomac. Beauregard, who was expecting an attack on his right, had positioned only a half a brigade to cover his left. Thanks to a heroic effort by Colonel Nathan G. Evans and his four companies the Confederates were able to bring reinforcements to their weak left side. More reinforcements started to arrive, including Thomas Jackson who received his nickname "Stonewall" at this battle. He received this nickname for holding his ground against continuous union attacks. The Union right was devastated by Confederate infantry and finally by a charge of Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry. As the Union right melted panic began to spread throughout the lines. The Yankees retreated back across Bull Run Creek and headed, as some say, straight for Washington. In this battle the Yankee’s lost 2,900 men and countless amounts of supplies. The Confederates suffered 2,000 casualties, but got the morale boost that would help them win future battles.
During the Second Battle of Bull Run, Robert E. Lee made one of his greatest, and riskiest, decisions of the Civil War. He decided to split his Army in the face of superior numbers to try to crush General Pope’s Army of Virginia before it could unite with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. To do this Lee sent Stonewall Jackson and his 25,000 men on a 50-mile march to encircle Pope’s forces. Jackson and his troops arrived at Manassas Junction on the 27th and began to pillage the supply post. Jackson then moved his troops to Stony Ridge on the old battlefield to wait for Lee and the rest of the Army. During mid-afternoon of the 28th Jackson decided to attack before Pope’s troops got too strong. He attacked with a 3-1 advantage before the Union’s lines were reinforced. A bloody battle ensued until day’s end. On the 29th Pope ordered his lines to attack in an uncoordinated effort. Longstreet’s troops arrived and reinforced the Confederate right while overlapping the Union left. The next day Pope felt that the Confederates were retreating and ordered many attacks on the well-entrenched Southerners. Finally as the Union lines began to crumble, Longstreet attacked and crushed the Yankee’s. This victory gave the Rebels an alleyway to the North and might help to give them foreign support. During this battle the Union lost 14,462 men while the Confederates lost 9,474.
After the confidence gained from Lee’s daring splitting of his troops at Second Bull Run, Lee decided to do it again during his first invasion of the North. McClellan cornered Lee with only half of his command and with the Army of Northern Virginia pinned against the Potomac River. This battle started in an unusual fashion, with McClellan on the offensive. Hooker’s and Mansfield’s Corps started by attacking the Confederate left. Later the II Corp under Sumner pushed into the Confederate center and met D.H. Hill’s Rebels at Sunken Road (Bloody Lane). This bloody fighting in the center raged on for hours. The Confederates had to move men from their right to counter the strong Union attacks on the center and left. This meant that their right was vulnerable. Thanks to inaction by Ambrose Burnside, and the timely arrival of A.P. Hill later in the day, the Rebel right would be safe. It was A.P. Hill’s strong counterblow that stopped the Yankee’s and saved the day for the Confederates. In this battle Lee lost 1/5 of his army (10,000 out of 50,000) and McClellan lost 12,400 out of his 85,000 men.
This battle, which took place just days before Christmas, was one of the Confederates greatest victories in the Civil War. The new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, spent all day on December 12th trying to deploy pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River. While the Union spent their day entrenching, Lee and his Army dug deeper and deeper into their well-fortified position on the heights of Fredericksburg, which was called Marye’s Heights. Finally on the 13th the Yankees attacked the Confederate position. Though the fighting on the Confederate right lasted until midday, the Union troops accomplished nothing and were left to wonder what could have been. The fight in the center of the battlefield did not begin until around noon when the II Corp began to advance against the Rebel lines. They were met by heavy fire, as were the many other divisions that followed the II Corp. They were all unmercifully slaughtered as they tried to descend the slope towards the Confederates. Finally nightfall came and put an end to the slaughter. The next day Burnside and his men left the battlefield, but refused to give up the town of Fredericksburg. Two days later Burnside called for a truce to collect the dead and then went back across the Rappahannock. In this battle Burnside lost almost 13,000 men out of his army of 120,000. On the other hand, Lee only lost 5,000 men out of his army of 90,000.
In the spring of 1862 Lee was surprised by the Army of the Potomac’s movement across the Rapidan. Though surprised, Lee was able to meet Hooker’s army before it got into a position to devastate the Rebels. Lee was now poised to take one of the biggest chances in military history; he would once again divide his army. Lee sent Jackson and several divisions to his left to flank the Union army. At around 5 p.m. on the 2nd of May, Jackson’s men struck the Yankee right with devastating effects. The shock of the attack caused many Yankee’s to go into a full-fledged retreat towards the rear. The Union army was only saved by darkness and disorganization on the part of the Rebels. This disorganization and darkness also caused a terrible thing to happen, General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was shot by one of his own men. He would die a few days later from complications to this wound. This was a devastating loss to the Rebels, one that if prevented could have changed the outcome of the war. On the next day as the Union was about to attack an exposed flank of the Rebel army, Hooker unexpectedly called off all attacks. It seems that he was concerned about getting his army off of the field intact. Yankee divisions from other parts of the battlefield started attacking the Confederates on the 3rd but Lee was able to take men from other parts of the battle that had died down to stop these Union attacks. Unorganized fighting went on for the next two days but nothing major. Finally Hooker pulled his men back across the Rapidan to rest. The campaign, which looked promising for the Union, turned into a devastating loss. The Union lost 17,000 of 134,000 men while the Rebels lost 12,800 out of 61,000. The South would never recover from the loss of Jackson, one of its finest commanders.
This Web Page by Dan Woolley
This page was last updated 3-7-00.