The summer of 1862 was a violent game of chess. Each army was vying for the best position to threaten and, eventually, to suppress the other. Stonewall Jackson kept the Federal army occupied in the Shenandoah Valley while George McClellan’s presence in the East took a mighty toll on the Confederate forces protecting Richmond. Meanwhile, large divisions of both armies also sought to outmatch each other in northern Mississippi and other places in the western theater of the war.
More leaders and personalities emerged from these clashes. The southern cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, had led 1,200 troops in an epic scouting mission around McClellan’s army during June 1862, and he was already part of the increasing southern lore. The master strategist Stonewall Jackson was also assuming his place in the myths emanating from the conflict. Jackson’s stand at Manassas the previous year had earned him his nickname “Stonewall,” and his ability to elude those in pursuit during the Shenandoah Valley campaign further ensconced him in the southern legacy.
Beginning in mid-August, the Confederate forces began positioning themselves again in the areas west of Washington, occupying places familiar to both armies—the fertile Virginia farmlands north of the Rappahannock and east of the Shenandoah Valley. The fight that was about to commence would culminate on grounds which had only the previous year served to host the initial large-scale hostilities in Northern Virginia. The blood on the fields at Bull Run was dry by August 1862, but the sacrament was about to be renewed.
The Union forces in Virginia included two main armies, one under the command of John Pope to the west of Washington and another under George McClellan to the south. Pope (right) was being pursued by Robert E. Lee’s troops, while McClellan’s Army of the Potomac moved toward Washington, having failed in its attempt to take Richmond during the course of the summer.
Beginning with skirmishes on the perimeter and then concluding on the fields at Manassas proper, Pope’s army fought for two days in late August, only to surrender the field to Lee in a conflict that involved 125,000 men. At the conclusion of the second engagement on this field, more than 3,000 men from both armies were killed, and as Civil War historian E. B. Long notes, “Once more, Confederate armies stood near Washington.”
Robert E. Lee (top), the victor on this day, would now begin to think in terms of a military offensive onto his enemy’s soil. His subsequent invasion of western Maryland in September of 1862 would conclude in the most visceral action of the war at a little-known creek in Maryland—Antietam.
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Robert E. Lee / Edward Caledon Bruce / Oil on canvas, 1864-1865 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
John Pope / Mathew Brady Studio / Albumen silver print, c. 1862 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Long, E. B. The Civil War Day by Day. New York: De Capo, 1971.