THE SECOND MANASSAS
The end of the summer of 1862 saw General Robert E. Lee's forces return to the scene of the first Confederate victory at Bull Run or Manassas, as it was called by people in the South. Lee hoped to continue his successes of the Seven Days Battles. Southern generals Stonewall Jackson and A.P. Hill reached Brandy Station on the south side of the Rappahannock River on August 24. Three days later, Jackson marched 54 miles northwest completely around Pope toward Manassas Gap. On the 28th of August, Hill moved from Centreville to join Ewell at Blackburn's Ford, where they crossed Bull Run and moved south toward Manassas Junction. Hill took his men back across Bull Run and moved them up the northeast side of the creek toward the Warrentown Turnpike, where he turned to the southwest and crossed Bull Run for a third time. Participating in that battle were the Blackshear Guards and Laurens Volunteers of Laurens County and the Johnson Grays and Battleground Guards of Johnson County, along with a host of other local companies from east-central Georgia.
Gen. Jackson assigned Hill to protect the mill and ford at Sudley Springs. On the morning of the 29th, E.L. Thomas formed his brigade, including the Blackshear Guards, Laurens Volunteers and Johnson Grays, along the western margin of an unfinished railroad east of the Grovetown to Sudley Road. Union general Pope had hoped to use his superior forces to crush Hill before the rest of Lee's army joined the fight. Thomas discovered that the ground was a little higher to the west and moved back toward the road. Thomas also found impediments in placing his artillery in the woods. By noon, Union skirmishers, mainly composed of German regiments, began firing on Gregg's Brigade on Thomas's left. The Federal forces moved back after a brief skirmish. Thomas moved his men back to the railroad shifting his line to his right and leaving a 125-yard gap along a break in the railroad bed where it passed through a swamp.
Grover moved his Federal Division in front of the gap between Gregg and Thomas, who knew nothing of Grover's approach. Thomas' men escaped the battle that morning. But, Grover's men closed to within a few yards of the railroad before they spotted the Confederate line. Thomas's men stood up and fired. Grover launched a hand to hand combat attack through the gap and overran the 49th Georgia on Thomas's left. Thomas retreated back toward the Grovetown Road with many casualties. The move was described by onlookers as "like opening swinging doors." Grover lost one in six of his men during the first attack. Thomas moved to his left and rallied the 49th Georgia. The fighting was fierce with a crossfire of less than ten yards. Thomas's left was strengthened by the 14th S.C. and Pender's Brigade. Grover retreated in 30 minutes after losing another sixth of his men.
Federal forces under Gen. Kearney launched another attack at five o'clock running into Gregg and Thomas's skirmishers. Once again, Thomas was nearly surrounded by Federals. This time Thomas's Brigade stood firm. Gregg was nearly out of ammunition. Gen. Jubal Early came to the rescue, saving Thomas and Gregg, who had moved back to Stoney Ridge. Early, with his twenty five-hundred fresh men, crushed the Federals, who hastily retired to end the day's fighting. The battle shifted to the southwest on the 30th with Thomas on the extreme Confederate left. Thomas lost 155 men, killed or wounded, during the battle. Corp. James C. Lee, who was killed in action, was the only casualty of the Blackshear Guards. Capt. James T. Chappell and privates John M. Burch, Uriah S. Fuller and William H. Wright, all of the Laurens Volunteers, were wounded in the first day of the battle. John D. Wolfe, of the Volunteers was killed. William G. Pearson was wounded on the second day. Johnson Grays Francis J. Flanders, Williamson T. Flanders, Jonathan B. Smith and John Walker were wounded during the first day's fighting. Future Laurens Countians Sgt. G.W. Belcher (Co. C. 20th), William Cranford (Co. E, 26th) and Lt. James Mincey (Co. D, 61st) were wounded during the two-day battle.
The 48th Georgia was a part of Gen. Ransom Wright's Brigade of General R.H. Anderson's Division. The Division was attached to the Right Wing of the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General James Longstreet. During a grueling march, Quincey L. Black, A.J. Foskey, and Wilson Riner had to fall out of line. Ransom Wright, a Louisville-born attorney, commanded a Georgia Brigade composed of the 3rd, 22nd, 44th, and 48th Georgia Regiments.
At 4:50 p.m. on the afternoon of August 30, the 48th Georgia moved out from its resting place on the Brawner Farm. Anderson's Division crossed to the south of the Warrenton Turnpike and set out on a two-mile march toward Henry Hill. During the march, the Confederates were subjected to artillery fire from Dogan's Ridge. Three thousand Georgians opened the assault by pressing the Federal lines along the Sudley Road.
At the height of the fighting, the 48th Georgia moved to Jones' right. Wright brought his brigade to the far right in support of Gen. G.T. Anderson's brigade, who were being fired on before their lines could be formed. Mahone's brigade fell in on Wright's right flank and extended the Confederate right far beyond the Union left flank. The Federal lines were caught in a bad position. Many elements of the Confederate forces were crossing the road. The Confederates failed to press the attack and allowed the Union army to regroup. The 15th and 17th Georgia regiments fell back. Anderson's Division and the 48th held their position. James Neal, of the Battleground Guards, was killed in the fighting. James W. Rowland suffered a wound. Though Anderson failed to discern that an attack would have cut the Federal lines, his default did not end the assault on the Federal lines.
Wright and Anderson's brigades continued to pressure the Union lines at slow place until an hour after dark. Wright's fatigued men were replaced by Wilcox's and Drayton's brigade. Longstreet's Corps continued the attack forcing Pope's Yankees into a retreat. At the end of the battle Lee's forces were in position to launch an attack deep into the North. Gen. Lee's hoped his success at the Second Manassas would lead his army to victories in Maryland and beyond. Little did General Lee realize the devastating carnage that would follow in the succeeding battles of Antietam/Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.
In summarizing the battle, a Federal survivor of the attack on Hill's line said, "The slope was swept by a hurricane of death, and each minute seemed twenty hours long."
An artilleryman in Hill's division, put it this way, "When the sun went down, their dead were heaped in front of that incomplete railway, and we sighed with relief, for Longstreet could be seen coming into position on our right. The crisis was over ..., but the sun went down so slowly."
And so it was, 150 years ago today. Until that point, the fighting had been moderately intense. But from that point on, the fighting was about to get down right frightening, the dying totally sickening and the days, a lot more terrifying.