by Andy Mateja

The saga of Union Maj Gen John Pope is one of the most interesting of the Civil War. He has been called “Five Cent Pope” by the Northern press primarily because of his bombastic comments such as: “I have come to you from the West where we have always seen the backs of our enemies: from an army whose policy has been attack not defense….I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of “taking strong positions and holding them ‘of “lines of retreat” and of “base of supplies”. Let us discard such ideas ……success and glory are in advance …..disaster and shame lurk in the rear” after assuming command of the newly formed Army of Virginia on June 27th 1862.

Pope had offended both Northerners AND Southerners with Union Maj Gen Fitz-John Porter commenting “Pope has now written himself down what the military world has long known ….an ass” and Lt Gen James Longstreet saying  “ (Pope’s) words would seem to indicate a great contempt for his enemy”.

Pope was stunned by the negative response.  He only wanted to invigorate the Eastern Union troops which he felt, based on their recent performance, was sadly wanting

John Pope was born in Kentucky and raised in Illinois. Easterners referred to him as a “bag of wind”, as he was considered a loud mouth and a braggart with an abrasive personality. he had a penchant for  expensive cigars and whiskey

Pope did not have many friends in the army and entered West Point in 1838 at age of 16.  He graduated 17th out of 56 in 1842 as an Engineer and brevetted captain during Mexican War.  Pope was promoted to captain in the regular army in 1853 and served for a total of 48 years until 1886. Unlike McClellan, Pope was a man of action and some politicians called him the favorite son of ILL.

Perhaps the greatest asset was his acquaintance with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln knew Pope’s father well who had been a Federal Judge in Illinois.  Pope had accompanied Lincoln on his inaugural train ride from Springfield to Washington in early 1861 and maintained a friendly relationship with him throughout the Civil War.

Pope began the war as a Brigadier General of volunteers in Missouri. He went on to command the Union Army of Mississippi in 1862 to assist in opening up navigation on the Mississippi River. Pope had captured New Madrid Mo in March 1862 and shortly thereafter captured Island #10 through the creative use of military ingenuity. He had captured thousands of Confederate prisoners and enormous amounts of artillery with minimal loss to his own forces.  It was during this time that some believed Pope developed his contempt for the enemy.

Lincoln promoted his friend to Major General after his victories in the West and brought him East on June 27th 1862 to command newly formed Army of Virginia.  It was comprised of troops from the Shenandoah Valley and original reinforcements originally intended for McClellan during Peninsular Campaign.  Pope did not join the army in the field until July 29th, almost a month after being appointed to command, and did little to unify the different elements brought together. Pope not happy about his assignment, as all his corps commanders were senior to him in rank and far more familiar with the battlegrounds in the East.  He had requested for transfer back to the West but was refused.

McClellan was also still popular and some officers resented the intrusion of Pope from the West. Pope himself played the political game and bad mouthed McClellan to gain favor with like minded politicians who wanted to see McClellan removed from command of the Army of the Potomac. Radical Republicans liked Pope because he was a vocal abolitionist and wanted to punish disloyal Southerners. He was hard on local citizens in Virginia who were suspected of condoning guerrilla forces including burning houses and shooting as spies those who refused to take oath of loyalty and returning to their homes after being banished from the area.

Pope’s motto “Headquarters in the Saddle” was ridiculed by his men.  He knew the men and some of his officers were making fun of him which undermined the spirit de corps of his new command.

When McClellan changed his base to Harrisons Landing after his defeat during the Seven Days Battles, Gen Robt. E. Lee’s army was now situated between the two Union armies. Pope refused to attack Lee…. not trusting that McClellan would cooperate with him in a joint flank attack. Instead it was decided to withdraw the Army of the Potomac from Harrisons Landing and unite it with Popes…. which was still positioned between Washington DC and Richmond. Pope had reached out and asked for advice on how to proceed from McClellan, who rebuffed his request. Maj Gen “Stonewall” Jackson was dispatched by Lee to deal with Pope before he could be reinforced by McClellan.  Lee had developed a rare personal dislike for Pope because of his bombastic claims and orders. Lee eventually realized that Pope was “all talk”.

Pope was confused and not sure of what his authority  entailed.  Troops began to arrive from Army of Potomac but at a VERY slow pace due to what some believe to be deliberate actions by  McClellan. Pope was unsure if and how to assign them the arriving forces.

Pope had assumed Halleck would take command of both Union armies once they were united.  McClellan was showing signs of jealously of Pope, slowing down transfer of his troops and was hoping for Pope’s defeat during the upcoming conflict which became known as the Second Battle of Bull Run

To further compound the issue, Pope made a serious tactical error and opened the door for Longstreet to launch a successful flank attack against him. Pope had truly underestimated his opponents, which cost him the battle.  Pope’s men retreated all the back to Washington DC for protection while Confederate forces pursued him to Chantilly VA …. only 18 miles outside the Wash DC defenses.

Pope blamed his loss on McClellan’s slowness in reinforcing him and claimed it was deliberate. There was evidence that available Union troops DID stand by idly while the battle rages. Pope instituted court-martial proceedings against V Corps commander Maj Gen Fitz John Porter who was a close friend of McClellan’s.

After his resounding defeat, e Pope wanted to renew the fight and attack Lee’s army with the abundance of fresh troops arriving around Washington DC. Unfortunately he did not have the confidence of his officers and men to accomplish a victory.

Lincoln, Halleck and Sec of War Edwin Stanton did not blame Pope for the tragic loss. They knew the game McClellan was playing who declared publically that “Pope should get out of his own scrape”. Ultimately, political pressure forced Lincoln to relieve Pope and reappoint McClellan to mainly reorganize the entire combined army.

Pope left Washington DC disappointed and was reassigned to fight the Sioux Indians in Minnesota. He was appointed Commander of the Department of the Northwest and during the following two years, complained about the rampant bribery that was occurring in his new command area.  In 1864, the New General and Chief Ulysses S .Grant expanded Popes military authority to include the states  of Missouri and Kansas  Grant realized that  John Pope got a raw deal at the hands of McClellan and was confident that his fellow Westerner was and able commander.

Pope went to serve in the military faithfully until 1886 when he retired. Sadly, he was unable recover and restore his credibility with the American public after his pompous and often controversial  comments and what he remembered in the annals of the Civil War……. his military debacle at Manassas in August 1862.