Critics of General John Pope suggested that his most prominent qualification to be appointed to command the Union’s new Army of Virginia was his father’s clout as a Federal judge in Illinois and a friend of President Lincoln. He actually had excellent battlefield experience in the west, including the capture of Island Number 10 in March 1862, that opened the Mississippi to northern shipping down to Memphis.
But Pope certainly didn’t help himself to win over the loyalty of eastern soldiers from George McClellan when he loudly sounded his own horn in the first order that he issued. In summary, he announced that “in the west, we were used to seeing the backs of our enemies” and that was a the tradition he expected to start with his new eastern army. He declared that his “headquarters will be in the saddle.” His new officers were quick to note that his “head-quarters were where his hindquarters” should be.
A second handicap for the new commander was that he was dependent on reinforcements coming from a second army that was being transported by ships from outside of Richmond to Alexandria and marched 20 miles to his support. A third obstacle would be that this other army was led by Gen. George B. McClellan, a man who considered Pope to be an unworthy rival. And fourth, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who was supposed to coordinate this strategy, was new to the job and proved himself to be ineffective. Pope must have been blissfully unaware of these complications when he rode out of Washington to begin his brief command that would end at the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia.
The campaign began with a modest Union victory on August 9, 1862, at Cedar Mountain. The next two weeks would find the armies testing each other and maneuvering for advantage. When the major battle opened at Manassas Junction on August 29, Pope committed his forces piecemeal, allowing Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson to take the day with a flanking action. By the 30th, Pope is not aware that Longstreet has joined Jackson and that Jackson had the Union army out-positioned. The Union disaster is made complete the following day (Sept. 1) when Jackson again flanks the retreating Federals at Ox Hill in Chantilly. This was Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory and it put the nearby City of Washington in a panic for fear of its imminent capture. But on Sept. 4, Lee decided to press into Maryland to the north of the capital and set the stage for another major battle at Antietam Creek.
A most interesting account of this campaign was put together by a Union officer who was uniquely positioned to witness the several conflicts play out within the Union side that led to the catastrophe. Col. Herman Haupt had been assigned to coordinate railroad transportation for Pope’s advance. Haupt was a highly accomplished civil engineer whose successful projects had made him known to Lincoln and other senior officials. In his book, published as Reminiscences in 1901, he wrote a little narrative to tie together the actual telegrams sent during the battle. In their own words, the principle actors in this drama reveal their concerns, plans, schemes, and their confusion in “the fog of battle.”
Haupt was put in his position because of his expertise in managing rail traffic. He found that every general considered himself the only authority on how his troops should use the railroad. Confusion reigned. Haupt soon came to see a pattern that convinced him that the McClellan faction was causing the confusion and had decided to “sit this one out.” When Haupt confronted Gen. Samuel Sturgis at Headquarters of the Defenses of Washington (Pennsylvania Avenue at 15 1/2 Street), Sturgis exclaimed, “I don’t care for John Pope a pinch of owl dung!” Haupt had already heard from other officers that Pope would be expected to “get himself out of his own fix.”
President Lincoln followed events closely from the Telegraph Office in the War Dept. While he expressed his own concerns about McClellan’s apparent slowness, he was not so quick as several of his cabinet members to consider his removal from command. On August 19, Treasury Secretary Chase wrote in his diary that he met Secretary Stanton at the War Dept. in the evening and drove together to Stanton’s home on Franklin Square. Stanton was outraged at McClellan’s conduct and was dissatisfied with the President’s lack of decision in the matter. They began to draft a resolution for others in the cabinet to sign that demanded McClellan’s ouster.Lafayette Square is the park and neighborhood that fronts the White House to the north, across Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House is shown at the bottom of this map. Gen. Halleck’s headquarters was in the house at 232 G Street (A) from July 1862 until October 17, 1863. The War Department with its Telegraph Office is west of the White House (B). Headquarters for the Defenses of Washington, established by Gen. McClellan in November 1861, is across from the White House on the Avenue at Madison Place, or 15 1/2 Street (C). Riggs Bank is on the Avenue at 15th Street (D). McClellan rented the house at 334 H Street, corner of 15th (E), from November 1861 through the end of 1862. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton bought the large house on K Street, across from the center of Franklin Square while he was James Buchanan’s Attorney General (F). Gen. Halleck rented a large townhouse in Corcoran’s Row at 305 I Street (G), before he moved to Georgetown early in 1863.
Lincoln would often turn to Col. Haupt for information about the flow of the battle, sometimes looking for specific details and at other times, just any information. The telegram sent at 9 a.m. on August 30, was terse: “Colonel Haupt; What news? A. Lincoln.”
Gen. McClellan found time to write to his wife several times each day after arriving in Alexandria from Fort Monroe on August 27. He reported to her that he had ridden to Washington to meet with Gen. Halleck at his I Street home about midnight. They talked until 3 a.m., with McClellan agreeing to cooperate with Halleck’s orders. Within 48 hours, a frustrated and exhausted Halleck would have to plead with McClellan to do what he thought best to aid Pope. McClellan was able to assure his wife that he would try to stop at Riggs’ Bank to save her fine silverware before the rebels could loot the place (August 31, 12:30 p.m.).
Presidential Secretary John Hay described the events of August 30 around the White House. He had accompanied the president to Halleck’s headquarters at 232 G Street. The general wasn’t there, but Stanton showed up and took them to his home for dinner. Over their meal, “Stanton was unqualifiedly severe upon McClellan,” Hay wrote. Stanton declared that if the battle is lost, it could only be from foul-play. “Stanton seemed to believe very strongly in Pope,” and, Hay noted, “so did the President for that matter.” They went back to headquarters and found Halleck. “The greatest battle of the century was being fought,” the general said. And he was confident of a good outcome.
On September 1, Lincoln invited McClellan to the White House to personally ask the general to “correct the unkind feeling of the Army of the Potomac toward Gen. Pope.” McClellan then went to see Halleck at headquarters. The president will meet them there later in the day and will ask McClellan to again assume command of the armies defending Washington. A history of troops from Wisconsin in Gen. John Gibbon’s Iron Brigade described Lincoln that day on the front lawn of the White House “with a pail of water in one hand and a dipper in the other…offering water to the tired and thirsty soldiers.” (Wisconsin in the Civil War; Letters from the Wisconsin Second, 1882).
The following morning, Lincoln and Halleck surprised McClellan having breakfast at his residence on H Street at 15th. They had come to present the official order restoring him to command in Washington. Lincoln returned to the White House where his cabinet had already assembled for a regular meeting. Chase says that it was only after he had asked several questions that the president acknowledged that he had replaced Pope with McClellan in command at Washington. Several of the cabinet members were outraged and puzzled by this apparent reward for treason. Lincoln simply said that McClellan would be better at deploying troops to defend the capital than any other man (Inside Lincoln’s Cabinet).
McClellan resumed his Washington headquarters in the Gunnell House on the corner of Lafayette Square at Pennsylvania Ave and 15 1/2 Street (Madison Place). Gen. Heintzelman described a meeting there on Sept. 4, with the president, McClellan and Gen. Marcy to plan the advance toward Frederick. Heintzelman also reported seeing the president at headquarters before McClellan was awake on Sept. 7 (The Life and Times of SPH). That was the last day that the general used the building before leading his army after Gen. Lee to Frederick and Antietam. But staff officers who remained there reported that the president would frequently come in to visit during the Antietam Campaign, starting off with the same simple question: “Any news, boys?”
Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay. Burlingame and Ettlinger (eds); SIU Press (1999).
Second Manassas 1862. Langellier; Osprey Publishing (2002)
Inside Lincoln’s Cabinet: the Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase. Donald (ed); Longmans, Green and Co. (1954).
Reminiscences of General Herman Haupt. Haupt; Wright & Joys Co. (1901).
McClellan’s Own Story. W.C. Prime; Webster & Co. (1883)
The Life And Times of Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman. J. Thompson; Texas A&M Univ. Press (2006)
City Directory of Washington and Georgetown, 1862,63 & 64