In August 1862 there was a real fear for the safety of Washington DC. The success of Lee against McClellan in Virginia compelled Lincoln to order McClellan to withdraw his men (the Army of the Potomac) to an area where the capital could be better protected. Ironically, this outcome was exactly as McClellan had feared – all he needed, McClellan argued, was to lose heavily just once and the capital would be threatened. In fact, Lee’s army was not as strong as McClellan actually thought.
August 1st: The Confederate government issued General Order Number 54. This was in response to General Pope’s order that anyone caught helping Confederate forces in areas under his command would be executed. General Order Number 54 stated that General Pope and his subordinate officers would not be treated as prisoners-of-war if captured and would be held in close confinement. It also stated that if anyone was executed for helping the Confederates, Unionists prisoners selected by lot would be executed in retaliation.
August 2nd: The North rejected an advance by Great Britain to act as a mediator in the war. Secretary of State Seward said that a civil war should be of no concern to outsiders.
August 3rd: McClellan, having been previously instructed to be more aggressive in his campaign against Richmond, was ordered to withdraw to Alexandria, which was a lot closer to Washington DC. This was done to bolster the capital’s defence. McClellan claimed that his forces would have been of greater value threatening Richmond.
August 9th: In a clash at Cedar Mountain, the North lost nearly 1,500 men while the South lost just over 1,200. The majority of the casualties were wounded but the medical facilities for looking after these men were crude and basic in the extreme.
August 11th: General U Grant announced that any fugitive slaves who came into an area under his command, would be employed by the military.
August 16th: McClellan, under orders, started to move the Army of the Potomac to link up with General Pope’s Army of Virginia. Their joint target was Richmond.
August 17th: An uprising by the Santee Sioux started in Minnesota. Many in the North believed the Confederates orchestrated it. The Sioux concentrated their attacks on white settlers. Over 800 people were killed before the uprising was put down by Federal troops.
August 20th: General Lee advanced his Army of Northern Virginia to the banks of the River Rappahannock. On the opposite bank was Pope’s Army of Virginia. Lee tried unsuccessfully to cross the river while Pope anxiously awaited the arrival of McClellan’s men.
August 22nd: Lincoln defended his stand on slavery. Criticised by the ‘New York Tribune’ for not doing enough about slavery, Lincoln stated that his primary aim was to save the Union. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could do so by freeing all the slaves I would do it." At Rappahannock, a Confederate cavalry raid led by Jeb Stuart, got into Pope’s headquarters and captured some command officers and Pope’s dispatch book. This had vital information in it, such as the number of men under his command, where they were stationed along the Rappahannock and when reinforcements were to arrive. For Lee, this was critical information. The raid continued to build on Stuart’s growing reputation as an outstanding if unconventional cavalry officer.
August 23rd: Overnight heavy rain stopped Lee attacking Pope’s men as he had planned. However, armed with Pope’s dispatch book, Lee now planned to march the bulk of his men around Pope’s army cutting them off. To distract Pope’s men, a large force of Confederate troops would remain by the banks of the Rappahannock River and engage Pope’s men with fire. Lee’s whole plan was to isolate Pope’s force and then defeat Pope in battle if he did not surrender.
August 26th: Jackson took Manassas Junction – the largest Unionist store depot in the area. This left Pope seriously short of supplies and he decided to move his army away from the Rappahannock River to Manassas Junction to recapture the town and his supplies.
August 27th: Both armies were on the move. Lee wanted to meet up with Jackson while Pope wanted to recapture Manassas Junction.
August 28th: Jackson was faced with the possibility of being cut off by Pope’s men. To lull Pope into a false sense of security, Jackson feigned a withdrawal to the Shenandoah Valley. He then attacked Pope’s men at Groveton, near to the Bull Run battlefield. The fighting continued until the night darkness stopped it.
August 29th: The fighting continued with neither side gaining a clear advantage over the other. Again, only the night darkness stopped the fighting.
August 30th: The fighting at Bull Run continued for a third day. Jackson’s men started to run out of ammunition. Jackson responded to this by ordering an all-or-nothing counterattack. The attack would either win or lose the battle for Jackson. It worked and Pope had to withdraw his forces and ordered a withdrawal to Washington DC. The South lost about 8,500 men killed and wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run while the North lost 12,000 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
August 31st: A heavy rainstorm hampered the Confederates pursuit of Pope’s men.