Battle of First Manassas
(also known as First Bull Run)
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Location: Manassas, VA
Dates: July 21, 1861
Union Commander:  Irvin McDowell, Brigadier General
Confederate Commander:  P.G.T. Beauregard, Brig. General
                                         Joseph Johnston, Brig. General

Battle Summary:
After the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Virginia promptly pulled out of the Union, bringing Confederate territory right to the Potomac River, and Washington D.C.  In order to protect the capitol, Winfield Scott put Brigadier General Irvin McDowell in charge of the Washington defenses.  While regiments from the northern states arrived in Washington D.C., Irvin McDowell built extensive defensive lines south of the Potomac, on Confederate soil.  Having taken the heights of Arlington and the city of Alexandria, McDowell went to work training his "green" troops.

Further west, at a rail junction near Manassas, VA, Brigadier General, Pierre G.T. Beauregard, victor at Fort Sumter, started to bring together seven infantry brigades to protect from what was believed to be an inevitable Federal advance on Manassas.  The remaining Confederate defenders were operating in the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston.

Watching over these troops, in the Shenandoah Valley, were troops under Major General Robert Patterson.  Patterson's small army was instructed to demonstrate against Joseph Johnston's army and prevent them from reinforcing Beauregard's troops at Manassas Junction - a task at which he failed.

By earl July, pressure began mounting, for McDowell to bring his gargantuan army (the largest army on U.S. soil up to that time), to move on the Confederates, winning what was assumed to be one massive battle before moving "On to Richmond."  McDowell, like George B. McClellan after him, wanted more time to train and drill his troops, but the astute Lincoln reminded him that his troops were no "greener" than the rebels at Manassas Junction.

By mid-July, McDowell had reorganized his army, of sixty regiments and batteries, into brigades and those brigades were organized into five divisions.  These divisions were commanded by: Brigadier Generals Daniel Tyler and Theodore Runyon and Colonels David Hunter, Samuel Heitzelman and Dixon Miles.  All of McDowell's division commanders were older than him.

On the Confederate side, Beauregard had organized his army into seven infantry brigades, attaching artillery to each brigade.  His commanding lieutenants were: Brigadier Generals Richard S, Ewell, James Longstreet, David R. Jones, Milledge Bonham and Colonels Nathan Evans, Philip St. George Cooke and Jubal Early.  On the whole, the rebel commanders had significantly more experience than the Union commanders.

Leaving the Washington D.C. defenses around July 16, McDowell moved to Fairfax Court House, arriving on July 17.  Brigadier General Tyler was sent on July 18 to seize Centreville and probe beyond to determine rebel placements and strength.  Tyler ended up running into James Longstreet's troops at Blackburn Ford, which proved a very unproductive recognizance.  McDowell, undeterred, moved his army into Centreville where he devised his plan of attack.  It called for a two pronged advance, with one division feinting attack at the Stone Bridge, on Warrenton Turnpike, while two divisions hit the rebel left flank after crossing Sudley Ford to the north.

Having arrived from the Shenandoah Valley, troops under Joseph Johnston began to pour into the Manassas area.  As Johnston was the senior commander, it was agreed that Beauregard would command the field forces, with Johnston in overall command of the theater.  The troops arriving at Manassas, with Johnston, were under the command of a little known Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson.  These troops joined troops already at Manassas under the command of Beauregard.

Early on the morning of July 21, McDowell put his plan into motion.  Troops under Daniel Tyler demonstrated against the rebel commander at the Stone Bridge, Nathan Evans.  Evans recognized the movement as a feint and leaving a small covering force at the Stone Bridge, relocated his troops south of Matthews Hill, where he expected the Union attack to begin.  His troops, roughly 900, were attacked by close to 6,000 troops - two Federal divisions.  Being vastly outnumbered, Evans was pushed back quickly to another rise that would become famous - Henry House Hill.  Here Evans, and other troops under Beauregard, including brigades under Brigadier General Barnard Bee, were joined with a brigade of Valley men under Thomas Jackson.  These men faced an immediate artillery threat from a battery of federal artillery placed adjacent to the Henry house.  While shells and musketry shrieked into the Confederate line, Bee noticed Jackson, on his horse, calmly directing his brigade.  At this point, to rally his troops, he uttered the words that would immortalize Jackson in the south, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall.  Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.  Follow me."  Ironically enough, Brigadier General Barnard Bee was killed there.  This rallied the demoralized rebels.

After a one hour pause in the fighting, while the armies prepared for one final contest, massed Confederate artillery knocked out Federal artillery commanded by Captain James B. Ricketts, who would be shot four times and then captured.  While the Union guns were disabled, a fierce infantry fight took place around them.  During the final infantry push, Beauregard's troops were joined by troops under Jubal Early, Arnold Elzey and Stuart, tipping the balance in favor of the Confederates.  They pushed the Union troops from the field, past wealthy Washington D.C. citizens and politicians who had come out to see the "show."  With the roads leading east clogged, the retreat turned ugly with many buggies and wagons overturned, as the troops tried to get to the safety of the Washington D.C. defenses.

Campaign: First Manassas

Outcome: Confederate Victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 35,000
Confederate: 33,000

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 2,896 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 1,982 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:
While the losses were not large, compared to later battles, citizens of the north, nor the south, were ill prepared for the long casualty lists.  The country was baptized in fire and realized this war would not be won in one quick battle and may drag on for years.  The north realized that the resolve of the south, could overshadow their lack of manufacturing and technology.  The south became bold and believed that their armies could defeat any army thrown at them from the north.  In its aftermath, the loss at Bull Run, and subsequent retreat, made Lincoln's administration realize that the army, soon to be called the Army of the Potomac, needed a professional commander that could bring organization to the battered soldiers.  Fresh off a win against rebel forces, in what now is West Virginia, against his future nemesis, Robert E. Lee, Lincoln tapped the "young Napoleon," George B. McClellan to lead the reformation of his army.  Writing his wife shortly after his promotion to lead the Army of the Potomac, McClellan wrote his wife, Ellen, stating, "...I seem to have become the power of the land."  While overly confident in his abilities, McClellan did significantly improve the moral of his troops and they came to love him.  However, he will always be known as having, what Lincoln called, "the slows."

In the south, the Confederacy continued to build its army, soon to be called the Army of Northern Virginia.  Joseph Johnston, would command this army, protecting Richmond, until McClellan would be pushed into action, during the spring of '62, in what would become the Peninsula campaign.  Johnston would be severely injured in this campaign, at Seven Pines, and Robert E. Lee would push McClellan from the "Gates of Richmond," and the peninsula in the Seven Days battle.  By then, it was known throughout the north, and the south, that the war would rage for years.    Close Window