Battle of Bull Run

Battle of First Manassas / Battle of Manassas

The Battle of Bull Run or the Battle of First Manassas as it is also known, was the first major battle of the young Civil War. Many on both sides felt the war could be won decisively with the first battle but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

There was much pressure from Washington for the Union army to be aggressive and win a decisive victory. Union Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was a career soldier and faced the enormous task of leading an army of unseasoned soldiers into a mass engagement.

Battle at Bull RunDonnybrookMaps of First Bull Run

He marched on a location southwest of Washington known as Manassas Junction and would face Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard. McDowell slit his force by taking 30,000 men for the main attack, and sending Brigadier General Theodore Runyan with 5,000 men to protect the rear.

McDowell planned to attack the left flank of the Confederate army with a rather complex maneuver for unseasoned troops. The attack was not executed well and after being at an initial disadvantage, the Confederates held.

Battle of Bull Run, Battle of First Manassas, Battle of Manassas

* All maps by Hal Jespersen,

They were helped by reinforcing troops led by Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston. He had arrived from the Shenandoah Valley by railroad and was just in time as the Confederates were faltering. One fine young officer stood out for the Confederates that day and earned himself a nickname that would stand for the rest of his years.

Thomas Stonewall Jackson earned the respect of his men by standing stoically in the face of enemy fire. It was said by Confederate General Bee “"There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians."

Battle of Bull Run, Battle of First Manassas, Battle of Manassas

The Union army crumbled under the counterattack and retreated with haste toward Washington. Neither army was prepared for the harsh realities of battle and it was evident it would be a long, drawn-out war.

The casualties were low as compared to other large engagements in the American Civil War - 2,896 Union/1,982 Confederate but the fighting was fierce and there was no turning back. Four long hard years would decide the fate of this young country and the cost would be terrible.

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