Home / American Civil War / Origin of the Movement Around Pope's Army of Virginia, August 1862
Origin of the Movement Around Pope's Army of Virginia, August 1862
By Michael Collie

Following the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia went into winter quarters along the south bank of the Rappahannock River. Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's headquarters was at the Moss Neck Plantation eleven miles southeast of Fredericksburg. General Robert E. Lee and Major General J.E.B. Stuart made camp near Hamilton Crossing within 8 miles of Moss Neck and about four miles south of Fredericksburg. The proximity of these headquarters allowed frequent contact between the staffs during the winter of 1862-1863.[1]

From the civil war journal of Jedediah Hotchkiss, Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's topographic engineer, we find in the entry of March 4th 1863:

"We talked of the battles of Groveton Heights, etc. He [Stuart] said Gen. Jackson was entitled to all the credit for the movement round the enemy and Gen. Lee had very reluctantly consented to it."[2]

This entry was made following one of Hotchkiss' visits to the headquarters of Major General J.E.B. Stuart to collect some maps from Captain William W. Blackford, an engineer on Stuart's staff. A "pleasant visit" had casually turned to a discussion of the startling events of the previous August. This was during the same time that General Jackson had engaged Colonel Charles J. Faulkner to research and write reports of all Jackson's movements and battles from June 1862 through the Fredericksburg campaign.[3] This work required Colonel Faulkner to interview many of the brigade and division commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, those within Jackson's own command as well as Stuart's cavalry and Lieutenant General James Longstreet's Corps. As shown in Hotchkiss' Journal, it was common for staff members to share their experiences and reactions to the great times they were living.

On Friday March 6th, Hotchkiss carried papers to General Robert E. Lee's headquarters near Fredericksburg and after conducting his business he went to General Stuart's headquarters. During this visit, Stuart remarked to Hotchkiss that when Lee's army moved up to Gordonsville after the battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862, General Lee had a "rather low opinion" of General Jackson's ability to handle his command.[4] There can be little doubt that Lee had seen the same lethargy in Jackson of the Chickahominy that has become a puzzle for students of Civil War history.[5] Stuart also stated that General Lee had asked him (Stuart) if he did not "think it very hazardous" for General Jackson to go around Union General John Pope's Army of Virginia in the move opening the 2nd Bull Run Campaign.

Here we have two separate instances where Stuart gives positive testimony that Jackson had perhaps played the major role in determining the strategy of the campaign against Pope's army in August 1862. This account must be contrasted with the accepted version that Lee directed Jackson to march around Pope.[6]

The main narrative of these events in the biography Stonewall Jackson by Dr. James I. Robertson states that the plan and decision was made on Sunday August 24, 1862, at a council of war held near Jeffersonton, Virginia.[7] Robertson's account follows the statements made in Lieutenant Henry Kyd Douglas' memoir "I Rode With Stonewall".[8] Douglas was an officer on Jackson's staff. Only Generals Lee, Longstreet, Stuart, and Jackson participated in the meeting. The generals talked around a table set up in the middle of an isolated field away from any staff or other officers. Since no mention of the meeting has been found in any of Longstreet's writings, and Jackson and Stuart being killed before the war's end, little detail is known of this decisive council of the four great leaders of the Army of Northern Virginia. As with virtually all questions of war operations, General Lee made no comment on this meeting after the war. This makes the entry in Hotchkiss' Journal the only known account based on the statements of one of the participants.

Robertson also cites the account by Dr. Hunter McGuire where "Lee listened as his lieutenant verbalized thoughts and outlined a plan" according to his narrative.[9] We have the account by Douglas that Lee, Stuart, and Longstreet sat at the table while Jackson stood. That scene gives the impression that Jackson at least had the floor, and took the lead in the discussion. Robertson agrees with the assessment of Douglas Southall Freeman in concluding the movement was "Lee's plan." Here both Robertson and Freeman reject the clear evidence of the only eyewitness account in favor of the cryptic language of Lee's report. They also agree in stating that the language of Lee's report was the strongest evidence showing that Lee must have conceived the plan.

In Lee's Lieutenants, Douglas Southall Freeman takes the absence of any direct comment on the council in Hotchkiss' Journal entry for August 24th 1862, to mean that the meeting may not have occurred as we are told by Douglas. Freeman rejects the account and states as follows. "There is no confirmation of this from any source. Hotchkiss, in his Dairy, did not even mention the conference between Lee and Jackson that impressed itself on the memory of Dr. McGuire . . . Longstreet in none of his writings mentioned a council of war attended by him. Stuart did not refer in his report to his presence at such a council as Douglas described".[10]

He concludes by saying "Probability is that Douglas confused the memory of some other council with the one held briefly between Longstreet and Jackson later in the afternoon of the 22nd." While stating there is "no confirmation" of Douglas' account, he acknowledges that a conference between Lee and Jackson "impressed" Dr. McGuire but does not state why the statements by McGuire and Douglas do not constitute confirmation. In fact, Freeman does not state that these councils never happened but simply that the memories are confused. This conclusion follows some convoluted reasoning. Hotchkiss confirms no meeting on the 22nd but Freeman seems to accept that while rejecting the clear statements by Douglas.

Apparently, Freemen missed the reference in the two entries later on in the journal, for March 4th and 6th 1863. Freeman cited the same March 4th entry in reference to Stuart's account of how Jackson sought permission from Lee to delay following Longstreet's Corps over the mountains from the Shenandoah Valley after the Antietam campaign.[11] Stuart says that by remaining in the Valley Jackson had hoped to deceive McClellan as to Lee's intended actions. It seems surprising that the March 4th entry would be cited in reference to Jackson's attempt to deceive McClellan, while the statement in the preceding two sentences was entirely overlooked. This is particularly inexplicable in light of Freeman's comment in note 12 page 83 vol. II. In that note he says, "there is no positive evidence of any sort" to indicate that Jackson had in fact proposed the movement. In Return to Bull Run, the latest history of the campaign, John Hennessy agrees with Freeman that the movement was Lee's plan. Hennessy does not mention the account by Stuart as given to Hotchkiss and gives no analysis that might reconcile Stuart's statement with the plan being credited to Lee.[12] When taken together, Douglas' account and Stuart's statements to Hotchkiss that Jackson proposed the move, there must be some possibility of truth; if not "positive evidence". It would be difficult to assert, based on the slender indications available, that no claim could be made that Jackson may have been the originator of the plan. Indeed, taking into account the extent to which Freeman relied on Hotchkiss as a dependable witness throughout his history of Lee's army, the more likely conclusion is that Jackson proposed the strategy of turning Pope's right using Thoroughfare Gap as the avenue of approach.

Jackson's operations in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862 may cast light on the operations against Pope the following August. In the movement against Union General Nathaniel P. Banks at Strasburg in June 1862, Jackson used Massanutten Mountain in the Valley to shield his turning of Banks' position at Strasburg in a way similar to the movement against Pope's army in August. After using Confederate Brigadier General Turner Ashby's cavalry to fix Banks' attention to an approach from the south, Jackson moved his infantry through the gap opposite New Market and made a rapid march to surprise Union Colonel John Kenly's small force at Front Royal. After securing a position on Banks' extreme left flank Jackson attempted to get astride Banks' line of retreat. The effect of this surprise movement was to entirely dislocate Banks' plans and make his prepared defensive position at Strasburg entirely useless.[13]

The comparison with the march around Pope's Army of Virginia is strikingly similar. Again, Jackson used a significant mountain feature (this time Thoroughfare Mountain) as a screen for his movement into the enemy's rear. Having thus gained a position in rear of the enemy, he then sought to exploit the situation with more pressure against the enemy's already exposed line of communication. In the action against Banks, while failing to actually cut off and surround the federal forces, Jackson pursued them so closely as to force them to turn and give battle. The result was that Banks' forces were overrun and dispersed decisively.

(compare maps 1 and 2)

Against Pope, Jackson occupied a position so close and threatening to the Army of Virginia that Pope was compelled to attack Jackson's command on Sudley Mountain. The combination of Jackson's determined defense and Longstreet's final attack against Pope's left resulted in a powerful confederate victory. These two actions give a clear picture of Jackson's philosophy and competence in making decisive movements against the enemy line of communication. There can be little question of his ability to manage and execute these movements.[14]

In the Valley Campaign, General Lee suggested the basic strategic outline to Jackson from Richmond in consultation with General Joseph E. Johnston at Fredericksburg in the spring of 1862. That outline was to create a diversion in the Shenandoah Valley that would result in troops being withheld or recalled from General George B. McClellan's army, then moving up the Peninsula.[15]

It is clear that for real success a strategic outline requires massive fleshing out by detailed planning, swift execution, and fine strategic judgment. The Confederate command system envisioned a number of strategic plans for the ultimate defeat of the Union forces. The critical issue was finally that southern commanders were more often unable to successfully execute these plans.[16] Jackson's Valley Campaign shows his ability not only to give life to a bare outline of operations but also demonstrates his masterful understanding of practical military operations of his day. It is well established then, that Jackson possessed, in August 1862, both the strategic capacity and the ability as an independent commander to propose and execute the movement around Pope's army.

General Lee ultimately approved the plan to turn Pope's right and therefore was responsible as the ultimate authority in ordering the movement. This is beyond question. The issue here is the original source of conception for the plan. While it may be impossible to ever prove this point conclusively, evidence may be available to indicate some possibility, if not probability, that Jackson originally proposed the movement. During the time that Jackson's command was near Gordonsville watching Pope's growing army at Culpeper, July 12 to August 12 1862, Lee allowed Jackson full discretion in handling the new Union threat. Lee's full attention was required in opposing the continued threat from McClellan on the Peninsula. Jackson took up the advance against Pope's leading Corps under Banks entirely on his own initiative.[17] He engaged Banks and defeated him without any outside direction. Then based on his immediate and detailed knowledge of the situation along the Orange & Alexandria railroad, Jackson called a retreat back to Gordonsville on his own responsibility.[18] The critical nature of these actions are highlighted by the fact that another Union force, General Ambrose Burnside's Ninth Corps, of some 14,000 troops occupied Fredericksburg. From such a position, Jackson's right and line of communication to Richmond was easily within reach. Jackson's own force was no more than 18,000 men. In spite of Lee's opinion of Jackson's ability, his operations demonstrated how swift movement and decisive action could make a detachment master of the enemy army. Again, the singular conclusion must be that Jackson possessed ample strategic and administrative skills to envision the movement around Pope's right.

During the evening of September 17th, at the battle of Antietam, Lee had shown a strong desire to attack the spent federal Corps of Hooker and Sumner. Jackson played a significant role in finally convincing Lee that a defensive posture was preferable after the desperate fighting that day.[19] In the flanking movement against General Oliver O. Howard's Eleventh Corps at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863; Henderson's account, based on a letter from Hotchkiss, gives a strong impression of a partnership of almost equal responsibility between General Lee and Jackson in the formulation of the final plan.[20] This shows that Jackson's capacity as a strategist was near that of Lee's. Indeed, the general pattern of Lee's command style was to give as much latitude and discretion to his subordinates as possible.

The Gettysburg Campaign offers a number of examples of this aspect of Lee's leadership style. From June 11th to the 28th 1863, Lee allowed the greatest latitude to General Richard Ewell in the advance from Culpeper toward Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Prior to the beginning of Stuart's march around the army of the Potomac, Lee gave the cavalry commander discretion to choose his own route into Pennsylvania, either to follow General A. P. Hill's Corps through the Valley or to ride around Hooker's army into Maryland.[21] On the second day at Gettysburg, Lee gave Ewell discretion in attacking the Union forces around Culp's Hill on the confederate left.[22] Finally, on the third day of that battle Lee patiently allowed Longstreet to make his arrangements for Picket's attack against the federal center without interference.[23]

In Stonewall Jackson Robertson concludes "the weight of historical evidence points to Lee as the architect of the wide swinging flank march." Robertson cites Lee's official report of the 2nd Bull Run campaign as evidence that Lee originally proposed the movement. The language of that report is as follows; "In pursuit of the plan of operations determined upon, Jackson was directed...." Robertson then states "Lee surely would have given credit to Jackson if the latter had come forth with the idea." Robertson also cites Longstreet in "Battles and Leaders"; "the entire Bull Run Campaign was brilliant. It was conceived entirely by General Lee, who held no such consultation over it." Longstreet's account clashes strongly with Robertson's own narrative of the consultation held at Jeffersonton on Sunday, August 24, 1862. Robertson cites Henry Kyd Douglas' statement in reference to the counsel in which Longstreet was said to be in attendance.[24] He also cites a letter from Dr. Hunter H. McGuire to Hotchkiss which, according to Robertson, "presented essentially the same chronicle of Jackson's actions". Clearly Longstreet can not be taken as a source either confirming or denying the content of an event he states never occurred, yet is central to Robertson's narrative. In addition, we can establish that Longstreet on other points has also proven an unreliable commentator. A ready example being that in the same article cited by Robertson from "Battle and Leaders", the editors of the work found it necessary to point out an error of fact made by Longstreet in the preceding paragraph.[25]

In the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862 by Colonel William Allan, formerly chief of ordinance on Jackson's staff, we find the following:

“Under Jackson's orders to select the "best and most covered route," Captain J. K. Boswell, his chief engineer, suggested that which passes through Amissville... [Boswell] was directed to select guides, and lead in person the front division at dawn on the next morning.”[26]

This passage shows that Jackson was plainly responsible for establishing the detailed route of march for the movement. Robertson also states that Jackson determined the target of the march. He also cites Hunter McGuire saying that Jackson had drawn a map with the toe of his boot and was seen "gesticulating... as Lee listened as his lieutenant... outlined a plan."[27] It was Jackson in command of the marching column, Jackson who determined the route, Jackson determined the target. In spite of the statements by Stuart to Hotchkiss and the accounts by Douglas and McGuire, the prevailing interpretation remains simply that "Jackson was directed." It is clear that any action of the Army of Northern Virginia, no matter who might conceive the plan, would necessarily be carried out only at Lee's "direction" as army commander. Therefore to conclude, as the majority of writers have, that Jackson had not originated the plan purely based on the incidental wording of Lee's report appears to be an over simplified approach to a significant point in the strategy of the campaign of 2nd Bull Run.

The two entries, for March 1863, in the Hotchkiss Journal give clear evidence of Major General J.E.B. Stuart's knowledge of the plan to march around Pope's Army in August 1862. They make three essential points in understanding the role of Jackson in formulating the plan. First, that Jackson was entitled to credit for the movement. Second, that General Lee had "very reluctantly, consented to it." Third, that General Lee initially saw the movement as "very hazardous." Robertson and Freeman disagree as to the significance of Douglas' account of the council of war at Jeffersonton on the 24th. Robertson clearly accepts, in fact repeats, Douglas' account of the conference on the 24th as part of his main narrative and accepts McGuire's statements as confirmation. Robertson and Freeman can not agree that Jackson originally proposed the movement. Freeman appears to have simply missed the statements of Stuart in Hotchkiss' Journal. He clearly places great weight on the missing council in the Journal. The statements by Stuart should constitute important evidence. While Freeman appears to be unaware of this evidence, it is clear that had he known of it, he would have seen it as important. However, Robertson states "the weight of evidence points to Lee as the architect". Thus, in spite of accepting Douglas' account of the conference, Robertson agrees with Freeman's conclusion while rejecting his narrative. The simplest construction of the events and the conflicting interpretations would seem to follow the statements of the only known eyewitnesses, Stuart, Douglas and McGuire. Robertson accepts McGuire but not Stuart. It would seem that McGuire's statement confirms Stuart. Robertson accepts one but not the other. This seems inexplicable in that Stuart's statements seem to be more consistent with Douglas's account. Stuart's statements are more developed, very clear and speak directly to the basic issue of the origin of the plan. Robertson appears to be unconvinced of the reliability of the statements. Either Stuart is not to be believed or Hotchkiss erred in his account of the statements. The reliability of Hotchkiss as a witness is shown by Freeman's willingness to base his conclusion on the fact that Hotchkiss did not mention the conference. It seems that Robertson rejects the evidence that Freeman ranks as most telling, i.e. statements by Hotchkiss. Freeman cited the same Hotchkiss entry in reference to the Antietam Campaign, showing it is credible.[28] If Hotchkiss' account of Stuart's statements is correct, can Stuart's veracity be in doubt?

Lee's final report for Second Bull Run was not filed until June 8, 1863. Jackson's own report was complete April 27, 1863 but not filed until after his death on May 22nd by Lieutenant Joseph G. Morrison of his staff. In March 1863, Stuart tells Hotchkiss that Jackson "is entitled to the credit" and he "hoped that General Lee would do justice to Jackson's movements." The wording of Jackson's own report, "Pursuing the instructions of the commanding general, I left Jeffersonton", was no more illuminating than Lee's.[29] This practice was designed to cover events in a simple and factual way and no more. Jackson took great pains to avoid giving valuable information to his enemies through the official reports that he knew would become public record when read out in the Confederate Congress. He gave his staff specific instructions that the reports "would not do to publish to the enemy the reason that induced one to do certain things and thus enable them to learn your mode of doing".[30] Thus, the reason for the cryptic wording of these reports becomes clear. The reports were intentionally composed to avoid praise or explanations that may prove useful to the enemy. With such wording in Jackson's report and Lee clearly aware of Jackson's desire to avoid betraying his plans to the enemy and aversion to praise, Lee's report would hardly be laudatory or expansive. Notwithstanding the conclusion by Freeman and Robertson, this language is not conclusive. The leading phrase, "In pursuit of the plan of operations determined upon," actually leaves open the question of who made the plan. Had Lee, in fact, been the sole author, simply stating that "Jackson was directed" would have been enough to state the fact.

Hotchkiss Journal entry for Sunday, August 24 1862:

“Our troops, at an early hour, were all brought back across the river towards Jeffersonton, the state of the water and no permanent bridges making it necessary for security, so to do. The General was much out of humor with the quartermasters and the commissary because the army was not fed well and the provisions were not brought up in time. He told a Georgia Colonel that field officers were intended to be useful as well as ornamental. We moved our camp back to near Jeffersonton, out of range of the enemy's guns on the other side of the river, wither they had come up in force. There was much cannonading in the afternoon; we kept artillery and a supporting force on the hill on the Jeffersonton side of the river. General Longstreet came up to our HD. Qtrs. and examined the surrounding country, saying he intended to drive the enemy off and across there; I made a sketch of the position for him. I was down to the front with orders, under a severe cannonade. A fine warm day.”[31]

This is the journal entry that Freeman finds so significant for the absence of any reference to the counsel as related by Douglas. It, in fact, contains two pieces of information useful in understanding these events. First, it shows that indeed, General Longstreet was present at Jackson's headquarters some time on the 24th as Douglas tells us. This, together with Hotchkiss' entry for the 23rd which states that Stuart had returned to the area, confirms that Generals Lee, Longstreet, Jackson and Stuart were all in close proximity to Jeffersonton on August 24th. Another part of Douglas' story is confirmed, and raises question as to Longstreet's statement in his "Battles and Leaders" article. Longstreet said no consultation was held. It seems extremely unlikely that the key commanders could be present in such proximity and not communicate directly. We know that Lee and Jackson did talk and Lee and Stuart as well. Freeman even acknowledges that Jackson and Longstreet had a meeting that day.[32] Douglas states that there was a meeting of the four commanders. It would seem more likely that there might have been.

Second, it tells us why Hotchkiss himself did not witness the meeting and made no such entry in his journal. Hotchkiss was "down to the front" making a sketch for Longstreet. He was also busy moving his camp back away from the enemy. Moving his wagons back, consulting with Longstreet and then going forward again to make the sketch. Hotchkiss was simply too occupied to have been present during the meeting. In contrast, Douglas, a very junior staff member, had no business other than attending to General Jackson. Thus, it is clear why Douglas was present at, and related an important meeting, for which Hotchkiss had no direct knowledge.

Ultimately, the most telling statements are Stuart's own. He states positively that Jackson deserves credit for the movement. Lee initially found the proposal to be a "hazardous" movement. Lee "reluctantly consented." This last statement must be the most telling and decisive in explaining the origin of the movement. The language is undeniable when taken at face value. Lee "consented." Had Lee actually originally conceived the plan there would never be a question of consent. He would simply direct. Witness his decision and direction of the attack on the third day at Gettysburg. Lee did not give consent to Longstreet for the attack, rather Lee directed. Thus, unless Stuart's statement is entirely rejected as untrue and fabricated its clear and specific meaning must be accepted. That Lee consented; meaning consented to Jackson's original proposal to turn Pope's right. Only one interpretation can account for Stuart's statements to Hotchkiss in a simple and direct way. Jackson proposed to Lee at the conference held near Jeffersonton on the afternoon of August 24th 1862, that he (Jackson) make a march with his whole force to turn Pope's right, get astride his line of communications and force a decisive battle before McClellan's army could join Pope.


Hotchkiss Journal entries pertaining to the Second Bull Run Campaign. Archie P. McDonald, ed., Make Me a Map of the Valley: the Civil War Journal of Jackson's Topographer, (Dallas 1973)

Wednesday, March 4th 1863: As I had nearly finished the map of Cumberland Co. I wanted some more to add to it, I therefore went up to General Lee's to obtain others, or rather to General Stuart's, Capt. Blackford having them. I got the maps I wanted and then had a pleasant visit with General S. We talked of the battles of

Groveton Heights, etc. He said General Jackson was entitled to all the credit for the movement round the enemy and General Lee had, very reluctantly, consented to it. He spoke of the great results it had. He also said General Jackson was ordered to follow Longstreet over the Mt. In Nov. and after General Lee had gone General J.(Jackson) requested to be allowed to stay and move along up the Valley and then cross, thus deceiving McClellan and thwarting his plans. Gen. S. hoped Gen. Lee would do justice to General J.'s movements, etc. Had quite a nice visit and came back before night. Quite cool in am, wind high, froze some.

Friday, March 6th 1863: I wrote out my statement and asked my questions, and General J. made his remarks, and then I took the papers up to General Lee. He was busy, so I chatted awhile with his staff and then went on to General Stuart's and spent the rest of the day with him. Had a nice time and we chatted on all sorts of subjects. He says General Lee came to us at Gordonsville with rather a low estimate of Jackson's ability; -- but now he often wishes he had many Jacksons. Says General Lee asked him if he did not think it was very hazardous for General Jackson to attempt to go around the enemy when we crossed the Rappahannock in August. I questioned one of his scouts and made a map of a portion of Fauquier Co. He told a good story on Maj. Von Borcke's first interview with General Jackson. Von Borcke said when J. spoke to him "it did make his heart to burn." Slept in Capt. White's tent. It rained in the night, -- was quite cool and damp.

Reference to the Funk & Wagnall's New International Dictionary, shows as follows: "consent 1) to yield or accede, as to a proposal or request." The American Heritage Dictionary is in general agreement and reads: "consent 1) Voluntary allowance of what is planned or done by another"

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Show Notes

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© 2024 Michael Collie

Written by Michael Collie.

About the Author:
A student of military history and the American Civil War for some 50 years, I find that the process of researching and writing short essays provides greater enjoyment and deeper understanding of history. The main areas of interest are strategy, logistics, and the confederate high command. In military history, my strongest interest is in the horse and musket era, about 1700-1900. Trained as a topographic drafter and photogrammetric tech, he was formerly a cartographer and surveyor, and had worked for a public mapping agency in California.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.

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