Thursday, August 30, 2012

March to the Potomac River

Saturday, August 30, 1862

On Thursday afternoon at 3:00 P.M. the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment disembarked the steamer "Atlantic" at Alexandria and marched along the Little River Turnpike toward Fairfax Court House, making camp at Cloud's Mills for the evening. Expecting to march at 9:00 A.M. on Friday, the Twentieth delayed to await new recruits sent from Washington, D.C. The Twentieth could not accept these recruits, as they had no armaments, and sent them back to Washington. At 5:00 P.M. they began their march toward the Potomac River, continuing their progress until shortly after midnight. At 12:30 A.M. this morning they bivouacked on the road and resumed their march at 5:30 A.M. They reached Fort Marcy by 1:30 P.M and crossed the Potomac at Chain Bridge at 5:00 P.M., where they camped for the evening.

During their march the Twentieth heard heavy artillery fire coming from the direction of Centerville, near Manassas, and became aware that a fierce battle was raging. Union General John Pope, in charge of the Army of Virginia, was furiously fending off a series of Confederate attacks in a conflict later known as the Second Battle of Manassas. General Pope had been in charge of the Army of Virginia since the Seven Days Battles in June. President Abraham Lincoln had become dissatisfied with General George McClellan's leadership during the Seven Days Battles and had organized a new fighting force under the command of General Pope. Lincoln had hoped to squeeze Richmond from two directions, with Pope attacking from the west and McClellan attacking from the east. General Robert E. Lee, anticipating this dual attack, led both Pope and McClellan away from Richmond by driving north toward Washington. Lee's northward move succeeded in dividing Pope's and McClellan's forces and by driving both wings of the Union Army away from Richmond. The Second Battle of Manassas proved to be another Union defeat. Pope's vanquished forces were pushed back to Washington, D.C.1

1George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861 - 1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1906), 143-4. Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 159,161.

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