Toward the end of August, as more of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army marched north to reinforce Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops, daily clashes occurred between the Confederates and the Federals in Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia. Maj. Gen. James E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry, in concert with Maj. John Mosby’s partisan rangers, attacked Gen. Pope’s headquarters at Catlett’s Station in Fauquier County. In a severe thunderstorm, the cavalry captured Gen. Pope’s baggage train, with his dispatches, order books and his overcoat. About ten miles away, on the Rappahannock River at Waterloo Bridge, on the border of Fauquier and Culpeper Counties, intense fighting broke out as Gen. Jackson’s troops marched north.
In southeastern Minnesota, attacks by the Sioux Indians against citizens and the Federal soldiers at Fort Ridgeley continued. In New Orleans, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler authorized enlisting up to 5000 black soldiers to act as guards on plantations and settlements. Near the Azore Islands in the eastern Atlantic, the C. S. S. Alabama was commissioned as a cruiser in the Confederate Navy and received its armaments and supplies. Marching far behind Gen. Pope’s Union lines, Gen. Jackson’s troops took a circuitous route into the Amissville area of Rappahannock County around the Federals. By now, Gen. Lee had arrived with Gen. James Longstreet’s command to begin the offensive against Gen. Pope’s army.
On Tuesday, Aug. 26, Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee captured the railroad center at Manassas Junction. The same day, Gen. Jackson’s Confederate troops encountered Federals under Maj. Gen. James Ricketts at Thoroughfare Gap in the Bull Run Mountains at the Fauquier County/Prince William County line. There was severe fighting and high casualties, but Jackson and his men pushed through and headed to Manassas Junction, arriving there on Aug. 27 to destroy supplies, stores and facilities. Gen. Pope was confused about the dispositions of the Confederate troops, and pulled his men from the Rappahannock River line and sent them north towards Manassas. It was clear that a major battle was about to begin.
After destroying the rail center at Manassas Junction, Gen. Jackson marched his men to the high ground north and west of Manassas. On Aug. 28, a very confused Gen. Pope heard that the Confederates were concentrating around Centreville. Gen. Rufus King’s division was marching north on the Warrenton Turnpike towards Centreville when they were attacked by Gen. Jackson’s troops at Brawner’s Farm near Groveton, on the western edge of the fighting fields of Manassas the year before. Gen. Lee, marching with Gen. Longstreet’s troops towards Gen. Jackson’s command, ordered the two Confederate units to join along Bull Run. Gen. Pope’s army, which had arrived to find Manassas Junction destroyed and clear of Confederate troops, moved towards Centreville to destroy Gen. Jackson’s command, not knowing that almost all of Gen. Lee’s army was concentrated on the high ground near Groveton.
Through a series of tactical blunders, on Aug. 29, Gen. Pope failed to deploy his superior numbers of Union troops on Gen. Jackson’s command, which had not yet been joined by Gen. Longstreet’s men. There was severe fighting with high numbers of casualties at Groveton and along the unfinished railroad cut. Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter was ordered to launch an attack against Jackson’s men but it failed to materialize. Gen. Porter defended his actions by saying that he knew that Gen. Jackson’s and Gen. Longstreet’s commands had joined and outnumbered him.
Hearing artillery fire like very distant thunder, President Lincoln, 25 miles away in Washington, telegraphed his generals three times: “What news?”