Tuesday, July 5, 2011

June/July 1861: Moving Toward Manassas

On May 23, 1861, Federal troops crossed the Potomac River to invade the Commonwealth of Virginia.

General Robert E. Lee, commander of Virginia's military forces, had foreseen the importance of Manassas Junction since it was the junction of the Manassas Gap Railroad and the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, which joined northeastern and northwestern Virginia.    On May 16, Lee ordered Colonel Philip St. George Cocke to maintain a large defensive force of militia to protect Manassas Junction. 

 On June 1, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent General Pierre T. G. Beauregard to Manassas Junction. Beauregard worked on a plan which would use the Manassas Gap Railroad as a link between troops in Manassas Junction and General Joseph E. Johnston's troops in the Shenandoah Valley - if needed. 

Federal troops defeated Confederate troops at Philippi on June 3 and at Rich Mountain on June 8.  In June, General Robert Patterson ordered his Pennsylvania troops to march into Virginia from Washington, DC to attack Johnston's troops at Harper's Ferry.  On June 13, General George B. McClellan led his Ohio militia troops into Romney, VA on a march toward Harper's Ferry.  

Militia troops of the Warren Brigade celebrated July 4 with parades in Belvidere, Hackettstown, Washington and Phillipsburg.  In Belvidere, the Belvidere Zouave Company, Belvidere Infantry Company, and Warren Guards Company paraded through the county seat with the Belvidere Coronet Band in the lead.  

In Washington, DC, regimental bands played marches and several regiments held dress parades.  Congress was in special session.  Soldiers and tourists sang "The Star Spangled Banner" in the Capitol rotunda in front of the flag.  

On June 17, false intelligence warned that General Beauregard had 60,000 Confederate troops ready to attack Washington, DC.  Federal General Winfield Scott ordered General Patterson to send back his best troops to defend Washington. 

On July 2, Patterson's troops were allowed to cross the Potomac back into Virginia with 14,000 men from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  Paterson's 11th Pennsylvania and 1st Wisconsin Regiments ran into 400 of Colonel Thomas J. Jackson's Virginia militia troops at Falling Waters, VA.  After approximately two hours of skirmishing, Jackson withdrew his outnumbered troops.  Patterson's troops advanced to where Jackson's Virginians had stood, but they did not pursue their enemy.  Instead, they celebrated their victory and ate a meal.

Not long after the Fourth of July celebrations, Confederate spy Rose O. Greenhow sent a message to Gen. Milledge L. Bonham, commander of the Alexandria-Manassas defenses, warning him General Irvin McDowell had been ordered to advance on Manassas Junction on July 16.  Five days later, Mrs. Greenhow sent another message warning McDowell and 55,000 men would start their advance from Arlington Heights toward Fairfax Court House, Centerville and Manassas Junction.  Other reports estimated McDowell would have 35,000 men with a reserve of 15,000 Federal troops.  Northern newspapers, such as The New York Tribune, printed detailed plans of McDowell's preparations and logistics for the July 16 start of his campaign, and the news was passed on by The Richmond Dispatch.  

General Beauregard continued Bonham's fortifications around Manassas Junction station, but he also made plans to oppose a large Federal force three miles away at the fording places of a creek called Bull Run.  The two fording places nearest Centerville were Mitchell's Ford and Blackburn's Ford.

On June 29, General Winfield Scott reported to President Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet that McDowell would be ready to start his expedition into Virginia within a week.  However, McDowell reported later he had not received his ambulances and supply wagons until July 13.  

After training at Camp Olden in Trenton, New Jersey regiments of the first NJ Brigade traveled by train to Washington, DC to await orders.  The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiments [three years enlistments] were joined by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th NJ Militia Regiments [three months enlistments] - even though the militia enlistments were running out later in the month.  

General McDowell assigned Brigadier General Theodore Runyon, of New Jersey, to command a division consisting of the four NJ Militia regiments, First NJ Brigade, and several New York regiments.  Runyon was ordered to keep his division in reserve and to guard the railroad lines in his area while waiting for orders to rush into battle if needed.        

copyright 2011: Jay C. Richards

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