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What is the Second Battle of Bull Run?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

During the Civil War of the United States, the Union Army of the North and the Confederate Army of the South met for the second time at Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia. The Second Battle of Bull Run took place on 28-30 August 1862 and was a pivotal battle in a longstanding offensive waged by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army.

The Second Battle of Bull Run was preceded by strategic Union Army movements. Union Major General John Pope moved his troops south toward Gordonsville to both protect Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and to draw Confederate troops away from another battle farther away, in which the Union Army was suffering badly. Because Confederate General Stonewall Jackson had captured Manassas, Pope's line of communication with Washington was cut off.

Bull Run is a stream in Manassas, Virginia.
Bull Run is a stream in Manassas, Virginia.

Pope was on the defensive, but he was unaware of the numbers of Confederate soldiers General Lee had committed to the battle. Lee had withdrawn many of his troops from another battle that he considered inconsequential, and he committed them to Manassas. With Pope unaware of the number of troops he was up against, the Second Battle of Bull Run was poised to begin.

Union troops were forced to retreat during the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Union troops were forced to retreat during the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Pope's troops battled Stonewall Jackson's troops early in the Second Battle of Bull Run, which resulted in something of a stalemate. But Pope was convinced he had the upper hand, and he launched an offensive against Jackson's troops. These attacks were unsuccessful, and casualties on both sides piled up quickly.

What Pope did not know was that at another location on the battlefield, a Confederate force led by Confederate General James Longstreet had broken through a flank of the Union Army to join the rest of Lee's Confederate troops. Pope redoubled his offensive efforts, unaware that additional Confederate troops had joined the Second Battle of Bull Run.

When Pope sent the next wave of soldiers in on the attack, Confederate artillery all but decimated the Union flank. Confederate General Longstreet counterattacked, and the Union flank fully faltered. The Union Army was forced to retreat, bringing the battle to a close.

The Second Battle of Bull Run was a much larger battle than that of the First Battle of Bull Run, which took place on the same battlefield a year earlier. The Union Army suffered more than three times as many casualties than they did in the first battle, and General Pope was relieved of his command shortly after his defeat.

Discussion Comments


@indemnifyme - I'm pretty sure there is no room for a "mistake" in the military. It's not like normal society, as you said. If you make a mistake, people die! If a leader can't do their job well, they need to be replaced. I understand why the Union army leaders made that decision.

Anyway, I suppose it all worked out (in my opinion) because the Union won. However, I know there are some places in the South where they still talk about the "War of Northern Aggression" and fly the Confederate flag. I'm sure those people would disagree with my assessment of the situation.


I think it seems pretty unfair that General Pope was relieved of his command shortly after this battle. I mean, I know the military works differently than regular society. But everyone makes a mistake once in awhile!

Anyway, the Civil War is always kind of interesting to me. I can't imagine how all those people felt, fighting against their fellow Americans. I know we all learned in history class about how some families were on different sides of the war. Not to mention neighbors fighting against neighbors.


I have been to Bull Run or Manassas as I call it and was impressed by the many statues they had. It seemed like the community took great pride in their battlefield and the historical significance it played in the Civil War.

When I went to the battlefield it seemed like it was well maintained and they put a lot of effort in maintaining the statues and explaining the significance of the strategic points of the battle to the tourists that came through.

I found Manassas to compare most to Gettysburg in terms of battlefields and historical place, only on a smaller scale. I would definitely recommend anyone interested in the Civil War to visit this battlefield.


@jcraig - Thank you for this wonderful tip. I like to study the Civil War as a hobby and I have always found it hard to keep up with the names of the battles because people refer to it by different names.

I have always thought that maybe they just had different names for a reason or maybe even the battles had different names depending on who won, but it seems like it was more of a societal difference and a more simple reason than what I thought.

What I have to ask though is did this ever cause a problem in communication between troops when high command would refer to battlefields by different names or was there a clear understanding on the differences in names?


@JimmyT - That is an excellent question which I have an answer to. The reason for the double names of the battles as well as for many battles during the Civil War is because of the differences between the troops in the North and South.

The Union soldiers were from the North and mostly came from cities and towns. They were impressed by the geographic features of the country and the battlefields that they named the battle after geographic formations like a mountain or river. The Southern Confederates on the other hand came mostly from the country and were impressed by the cities and towns which were close to the battlefield.

When looking up battles of the Civil War one can quite often find two different names for the battles and this just goes to show the subtle differences between the soldiers who were fighting each other.


I have been to the battlefields of both the First and Second Bull Run battles and I thought it was a very good experience.

I have visited many battlefields over the years and always compare battlefields with Gettysburg. The battlefield for the Bull Run battles is not anywhere near as large in scale as Gettysburg, but it does offer quite a variety of hills and landscape that makes for an interesting look at how the strategy part of the battle was fought.

One thing that I always thought was interesting was that there they did not call the battles by the name Bull Run, but rather Manassas. I have always wondered why they call it by two different names and not just by the name it is most known for.


There appear to be conflicting assessments of John Pope's character and generalship (mostly negative), but it looks like he was simply out-maneuvered here by the General Lee, who of course was one of the most famous figure of the American Civil war and had his finest hour right here during the Northern Virginia Campaign.

The second Battle of the Bull Run is where he made that reputation. Pope was soon replaced by George McClellan who has an even lower reputation than Pope does, so this was a pretty dark time for the Union. This battle also set up the more famous Battle of Antietam a couple of weeks later.

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    • Bull Run is a stream in Manassas, Virginia.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Bull Run is a stream in Manassas, Virginia.
    • Union troops were forced to retreat during the Second Battle of Bull Run.
      By: macropixel
      Union troops were forced to retreat during the Second Battle of Bull Run.