On 1 July 1863 , General John Buford’s Union cavalry brigade successfully held off General Harry Heth’s Confederate infantry division until relieving Federal infantry under General John Reynolds arrived on McPherson’s Ridge. This holding action decided the ground on which the three day battle of Gettysburg would be fought. Buford’s action also signaled the continued maturing of the Union cavalry and its development as a truly independent combat arm. However, a year prior, a similar action was fought during the Second Manassas campaign, at Thoroughfare Gap. This largely overlooked action offered Union General John Pope the missed opportunity to cut the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in two and defeat Robert E. Lee in detail.
In late August 1862, as General John Pope pursued Stonewall Jackson’s corps on the plains of Manassas , General James Ricketts’ Second Division of the Second Corps was dispatched towards the Bull Run mountains. Colonel Percy Wyndham, commanding the 1 st Regiment, New Jersey Cavalry , had reported Confederate units (James Longstreet’s corps marching towards Stonewall Jackson’s position at Bull Run) marching towards Thoroughfare Gap. Bayard’s Cavalry Brigade was assigned to Ricketts as an advance guard. Included among the seven regiments of cavalry was the 9 th New York . This regiment, known as the Westfield Cavalry, would later fight on McPherson’s Ridge under Buford.
(Confederate Military History VI, p. 180). In that battle the 51st Georgia lost 9 men (CMH VI, p. 184).
The first article is from Benjamin F. Abbot, 20th Georgia Infantry, Civil War Miscellany, Personal Papers. Drawer 283, Box 16, Georgia Archives (provenance of clipping is unknown-written ca. 1890). I have added items in ( ) for clarity. Punctuation, composition, spacing and/or spelling errors are left uncorrected. The composition of Anderson's Brigade at the time was: 1st Ga. Regulars, 7th Ga., 8th Ga., 9th Ga., and 11th Ga. Volunteer Infantry Regiments.
"Thoroughfare Gap, and the Second Battle of Manasses "
About 3 pm on the 28th of August (1862) the advance of the column reached the Gap, which is a narrow (defile??) in the Bull Run Mountains . The Manasses Gap Railroad, the turnpike and a small stream of water then passed through it. The mountain on either side of the Gap is steep and abrupt--covered with stones and tangled wildwood.
Brig. Gen. G.T. Anderson's command was marching in front of the column that day and Toomb's brigade, commanded by Col. Henry L. Benning was next. Gen. Rickett's ( Union ) Division of McDowell's corps was in possesion of the Gap when our force reached it.
The Ninth Georgia regiment was leading the advance, and on reaching the Gap, became hotly engaged. General Anderson, on hearing the firing, dashed forward to the front, followed by his brigade and Toombs'. The first named brigade and the 20th and 17th Georgia of the last named brigade formed the line of battle which cleared the Gap. The 20th and 17th Georgia being on the right of the railroad looking east.
Naturally the Gap was a very strong position ans a mere handful of men could have held it against the greatest odds, for a time sufficient at least to have enabled Pope to measure his full strength against Jackson . Our troops passed the Gap with but little loss but after a spirited engagement.
I am favored by Gen. Anderson with his account of the engagement (?unreadable) so specific I have copied the same.
"On the morning of August 28, 1862 I was at the head of Longstreet's Corps. On the march that morning my Brigade was in the following order. 9 Ga., 1 Ga. Regulars, 7 Ga., 8 Ga., and 11 Ga. Knowing that we were approaching the enemy I did not propose to be surprised, and to avoid this I ordered Col. Beck to place his Regiment the 9 Ga. 400 yards in front of thre Brigade, and his best officer with his company 200 yards in front of the Regiment, and to be very careful that we were not ambuscaded or surprised. Meeting Gen. Longstreet just after the column had moved, I reported to him the precaution I had taken which he heartily approved. The head of the column arriving at a hotel 300 or 400 yards from the Gap was ordered to halt for the accustomed rest. Col. Beck being in advance as directed was about the mouth of the Gap and not aware of the halt, continuing his march he first routed a cavalry picket and passed through the Gap and saw the Federal troops approaching. Forming his Regiment he fought until he was being flanked and fell back fighting. We had only dismounted a moment for rest when I heard Beck's muskets and remarked to Gen. Longstreet that my Regiment had found the enemy and I would go to him. Gen. Longstreet said to me go on, and I will follow with the rest of the command. Riding as rapidly as possible, my Brigade following also (at the) double quick. I met Col. Beck near the water tank, and he informed me of his situation, remarking with tears in his eyes that he could not fight a Division. I ordered Col. Beck to form his Regiment on the right of the R.R. in the small growth of bushes near the branch. By the time the Brigade was up and appreciating the fact that the hill on my left was the key to the Gap. I changed the direction of the column to the left, and so soon as the 1 Ga. Regulars had changed direction faced them to the front and hurried them up the steep face of the hill. As each Regiment passed in rear of the one preceeding it, it was also faced to the front and hurried into position. This hill was so steep that my men assisted themselves by (grabbing??) hold to the bushes on the hill. This then, was the order of the engagement: 9 Ga. to right of the R.R., 1 Ga. Regulars, 7 Ga. , 8 Ga. ,and 11 Ga. occupying the crest of the hill. The enemy reached a point about 40 yards from my line before we repulsed them, as many of their dead and wounded were about that distance from my position...."
On the 29th of August, Ricketts had fled toward Gaitsville and Longstreet with his 30,000 veterans moved on like a majestic stream to form a conjunction with Jackson onn the plains of Manassas, where, on the 30th of August, the Southern army gained one of the most brilliant victories of the war.