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The Battle of First Manassas
July 21, 1861

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Other Names: First Bull Run (Union reference to nearby stream)
Location: Fairfax County and Prince William County, Virginia
Principal Commanders:
Union: Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell
Confederate: Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard
Forces Engaged: 60,680 total (Union 28,450; Confederate 32,230)
Estimated Casualties: 4,700 total (Union 2,950; Confederate 1,750)

Click to view battle map The first major land battle of the Civil War was fought in Virginia, near the Manassas railway junction. On July 16, 1861, the untried Union army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched from Washington against the Confederate army, which was drawn up behind Bull Run beyond Centreville. The Federal forces under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell were organized into four divisions commanded by Tyler, Hunter, Heintzelman, and Miles. The Confederate command structure was somewhat more unwieldy, including two "armies", with no division structure and thirteen independent brigades under Bonham, Ewell, Jones, Longstreet, Cocke, Early, Holmes, Kershaw, Evans, Jackson, Bartow, Bee, Smith, and a cavalry brigade under Stuart. The Confederate Army of the Potomac was under the command of Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, and the Army of the Shenandoah was commanded by Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston. These two forces would equal McDowell's strength.

On the 21st, McDowell crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Tyler's and Davies' attacks at the Stone Bridge and Blackburn's Ford were already well under way, and the Confederate high command was beginning to sense a ruse because the Union attacks were not pressed very hard. When Beauregard was notified that Federal troops were massing on his left flank, he realized that this must be the main attack so began to shift his own troop dispositions. The Federals had about 18,000 men in the main attack column and it was only thanks to the quick reactions of Colonel "Shank" Evans and his small brigade that Beauregard did not suffer a major disaster. He quickly moved his small force to Matthew's Hill to block the Federal move. Sounds of the fighting drew other brigade commanders to Evans' aid on their own initiative.

Fighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill.  Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements (Johnston's brigade arriving by rail from the Shenandoah Valley) extended and broke the Union right flank. In one of those moments of dramatic inspiration, Brigadier General Barnard Bee sought to rally some of the wavering Confederate regiments. Not far away he saw a Virginia brigade of Johnston's troops, standing fast and delivering a sharp fire: a brigade led by that former V.M.I. professor, Brigadier General T. J. Jackson. "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall!" cried Bee, gesturing with his sword. " Rally behind the Virginians!" From this moment, Thomas J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre “Stonewall.”

The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated into a rout. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too disorganized to pursue. Confederate Gen. Bee and Col. Bartow were killed.

By July 22, the shattered Union army reached the safety of Washington. This battle convinced the Lincoln administration that the war would be a long and costly affair. McDowell was relieved of command of the Union army and replaced by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who set about reorganizing and training the troops.

View of Battlefield at Bull Run
(date unknown, but probably March 1862 when the Confederate Army evacuated Centreville and Manassas)

After First Manassas, the Confederates began building field works at Manassas to defend, and deter further attack on this important railway junction. Sketch of 4th South Carolina working in the trenches at Manassas, from Harper's Weekly.

National Park Service
The Civil War, American Heritage (Doubleday, 1960)



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