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The July 1862 defeat of the Union attempt to capture Richmond convinced President Lincoln that he had to push aside Army of the Potomac commander George McClellan. Apart from his military shortcomings, McClellan, a Democrat, was opposed to making the eradication of slavery a war aim. Lincoln decided in mid-July 1862 that emancipation was the most effective tool still left to him for destroying the Confederacy. 1
Lincoln decided to create a new army in northern Virginia under Republican Major General John Pope. Into this new army he placed the German “Political General” Carl Schurz. Schurz’s division of mostly German troops was part of Major General Franz Sigel’s Corps which was largely composed of Germans. Sigel and Schurz were comrades from the Liberal German revolution of 1848.
On August 22, 1862 Schurz was in his first battle at Freeman’s Ford. German Franz Sigel commanded German Carl Schurz who ordered German Brigadier General Bohlen to send German Col. Schimmelfennig’s mostly German 74th Pennsylvania Regiment into battle. Schurz’s inexperience showed when initial gains by his division were quickly undone by a Confederate attack. The Confederates Schurz fought that day were part of a force led by Stonewall Jackson towards Bull Run on the outskirts of Washington. Over the next week, Schurz’s men would chase Stonewall through a broiling Virginia August. 2
On the morning of August 29, 1862, Schurz was next to Bull Run, finally opposite Stonewall Jackson’s unseen force. After the war, Schurz wrote an involving description in the present tense of the unfolding Second Battle of Bull Run. “I receive the order to advance and attack”, he wrote of the moments before the fighting began, “Not the slightest sign of the enemy is to be seen. He is supposed to be posted in the woods yonder, but just where and in what strength, nobody knows.” 3
Schurz was worried because the division led by Phil Kearney that was supposed to be nearby to support his attack was nowhere to be seen. “However, my orders are positive and clear: ‘Advance at sunrise and attack.’ Evidently I am to open the preceedings of the day.” 4
Schurz sent some skirmishers out in front of his division to keep it from being ambushed as happened to the Germans at Cross Keys. His men entered the woods. “No sign of the enemy. A quarter of an hour elapses. Perfect stillness all around. Are the enemy there at all? But hark!- two musket shots in rapid succession…Then a moments silence followed by a …rattle of musketry along the line. No more doubt, we have struck the enemy.” 5
All was confusion, Schurz wrote; “[W]e can see very little. The woods are thick…Moreover, they are soon filled with white powder smoke” from the men’s muskets.6
Schurz soon heard “a tremendous turmoil in the direction of my center-the rebel yell in its most savage form, and one crash of musketry after another. I conclude that the rebels are making another and more furious charge…Not many minutes later, three of my regiments, completely broken, come tumbling out of the woods in utter confusion. A rebel force in hot pursuit, wildly yelling, gains the edge of the forest and is about to invade the open.” Schurz ordered his artillery, the Flushing Battery from Queens, New York, to open up on them at close range with grapeshot. 7
The Confederates were stopped, but Schurz had to reorganize his frightened men. He wrote that; “the routed men present a curious spectacle: some fierce and indignant at the conduct of their comrades; some ashamed of themselves, their faces distorted by a sort of idiotic grin; some staring at their officers with a look of helpless bewilderment, as if they did not understand what had happened…” 8
Schurz was able to rally most of the troops and lead them back into battle. He made some gains against Jackson, but his attack did not receive the help it expected from Kearney. Schurz wrote of the fight that; “time and strength and blood uselessly fritted away by separate and disconnected efforts of this and that body of troops…” led to defeat. 9
Schurz’s men fought for nearly eight hours before they were relieved. Why were they alone at the key moment of the struggle? 10
The Stone House was used as a field hospital during the battle of Second Bull Run.
The leading historian of the Second Battle of Bull Run, John Hennessy, says that when Phil Kearney’s division arrived on the battlefield, Franz Sigel directed it to attack in support of Schurz. Franz Sigel, the highest ranking officer on the field, had told Kearney to support Schurz’s troops, but Kearney did not.11
As Schurz found out to his men’s mortal loss, “Kearney would not attack”, writes Hennessy. According to the historian, Kearney’s division “would wander aimlessly for three hours, its commander apparently unwilling to cooperate with anyone this day.” 12
Kearney’s immediate superior, General Heintzelman, said later that “The orders given to General Kearney were to attack immediately. There was so long a delay that I sent him a second order to move at once…[T]he reply I got was very unsatisfactory.” 13
Hennessy believes that Kearney’s failure was a result of ethnic tensions which played out in a feud between himself and Franz Sigel. Kearney had expressed opinions perceived as hostile to German immigrants. Sigel had published a letter from Kearney to the governor of New Jersey criticizing the quality of German-American regiments. Kearney was angry and embarrassed by seeing his bigotry in print. Kearney’s hostility was reflected on the battlefield itself when Kearney said he had problems being “commanded by an officer of a foreign country,” even though Sigel and Schurz, although German-born were United States officers. 14
According to Hennessy “Kearney’s non-cooperation that day…doomed Schurz’s division to hours of solitary fighting—fighting that promised no success.” Hennessy believes that Kearney might have faced a court martial if he had not been killed a few days later in battle. Kearney’s reputation was saved “by the bullet that killed him,” the historian says.15
John Hennessy’s Return to Bull Run is the leading book on the Second Battle of Bull Run. Hennessy is an extremely well-respected National Park Service historian who still leads free tours of Virginia’s Civil War battlefields.
The Second Bull Run Staff Ride, used by the army to train officers, is available free online.
1. The Second Battle of Bull Run by John Pope in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. II pp. 449-494; Jackson’s Raid Around Pope by W.B.Taliaferro in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. II pp. 501-511; Our March Against Pope by James Longstreet in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. II pp. 512-526; Jackson’s Foot Cavalry at the Second Bull Run by Allen C. Redwood in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. II pp. 530-538; From the Peninsula to Antietam by George B. McClellan in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. II pp. 545-555; George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon by Stephen W. Sears published by Ticknor and Fields (1988); Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears pub. by Houghton Mifflin; The Long Road To Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution by Richard Slotkin (2012); The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 Vol. 1 by Ezra Carman Edited by Thomas Clemmens published by Savas Beatie (2010). Second Bull Run Staff Ride by Billy Arthur and Ted Ballard published by U.S. Army Center of Military History.
2. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993).
3. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) P. 362.
4. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) P. 362.
5. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) P. 363.
6. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) P. 363.
7. Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) P. 363-364; Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993) p. 216.
8. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) p. 366.
9. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) p. 367.
10. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) pp. 367-368.
11. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993) Pp. 214-216.
12. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993) P. 219.
13. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993) P. 221.
14. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993) P. 222; NY Times Oct. 29, 1876 published the letter from Kearney to Baron von Steinwehr. under the title Phil. Kearney’s Last Letter.
15. Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas by John Hennessy pub. by Simon and Schuster (1993) P. 222.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites