Battles of Bull Run

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First Battle of Bull Run
Part of the American Civil War
Cub Run in Centreville, Virginia. View with destroyed bridge.
Date July 21 1861
Location Fairfax County and Prince William County, Virginia
Result Confederate victory
United States of America Confederate States of America
Irvin McDowell Joseph E. Johnston
P.G.T. Beauregard
35,000 32,500
2,896 (460 killed, 1,124 wounded, 1,312 captured/missing) 1,982 (387 killed, 1,582 wounded, 13 missing)

The First Battle of Bull Run (named after the closest creek), also known as the First Battle of Manassas (named after the closest town), took place on July 21, 1861, and was the first major land battle of the American Civil War. Unseasoned Union Army troops under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell advanced against the Confederate Army under Brig. Gens. Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard at Manassas, Virginia, and despite the Union's early successes, they were routed and forced to retreat back to Washington, D.C., though the South's victory was not organized and the Union was able to regroup.

The Second Battle of Bull Run, or the Battle of Second Manassas, was waged between August 28 and August 30, 1862, as part of the American Civil War.

It was the culmination of an offensive campaign waged by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia against Union Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia, and a battle of much larger scale and numbers than the First Battle of Bull Run. The result of the battle was an overwhelming Confederate victory, but the Union army was left largely intact, compared to Irvin McDowell's army after the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. The winning of significant battles such as those of Bull Run by the Confederate Army helped the South, when finally defeated, to maintain pride and a sense of honor without which the work of post-war Reconstruction may very well not have succeeded.


Second Battle of Bull Run
Part of the American Civil War
Bull run bridge 1862.jpg
Ruins of Stone Bridge at Bull Run Creek, Manassas, Virginia, March 1862.
Date August 28 – August 30, 1862
Location Prince William County, Virginia
Result Confederate victory
United States of America Confederate States of America
John Pope Robert E. Lee
James Longstreet
Stonewall Jackson
63,000 54,000
1,747 killed
8,452 wounded
4,263 captured/missing
1,553 killed
7,812 wounded
109 captured/missing

First Battle of Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull Run occurred after Irvin McDowell was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia. Once in this capacity, McDowell was harassed by impatient politicians and citizens in Washington, who wished to see a quick battlefield victory over the Confederate Army in northern Virginia. McDowell, however, was concerned about the untried nature of his army. He was reassured by Lincoln, who responded, "You are green, it is true, but they are green also; you are all green alike." Against his better judgment, McDowell commenced campaigning. On July 16, 1861, the general departed Washington with the largest field army yet gathered on the North American continent, 28,452 effectives.[1]

The Confederate Army of the Potomac (21,883 effectives) under Beauregard was encamped near Manassas Junction, approximately 25 miles (40 km) from the United States capital. McDowell planned to swoop down upon this numerically inferior enemy army, while Union Major General Robert Patterson's 18,000 men engaged Johnston's force (the Army of the Shenandoah at 8,884 effectives, augmented by Theophilus H. Holmes's brigade of 1,465) in the Shenandoah Valley, preventing them from reinforcing Beauregard.

After two days of marching in the sweltering heat, the Union army was allowed to rest. In the meantime, McDowell searched for a way to outflank Beauregard who had drawn up his lines along Bull Run. On July 18, the Union commander sent a division under Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler to pass on the Confederate right (southeast) flank. Tyler was drawn into battle at Blackburn's Ford over Bull Run and made no headway, instead being forced to retreat towards Centerville, Virginia. Becoming more frustrated, McDowell resolved to attack the Confederate left (northwest) flank instead. He planned to leave one division at the Stone Bridge on the Warrenton Turnpike and send two divisions over Sudley Springs Ford. From there, these divisions could march into the Confederate rear. Though he had arrived at a sound plan, McDowell had delayed long enough that Johnston's Valley force was able to board trains at Piedmont Station and rush to Manassas Junction to reinforce Beauregard's men.

On July 19 and July 20, significant reinforcements bolstered the Confederate lines near Bull Run. However, it was not enough to hold back the flood of Union soldiers. General McDowell was getting contradictory information from his intelligence agents, and so he called for the balloon Enterprise, which was being demonstrated by Prof. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe in Washington, to perform aerial reconnaissance.

Second Battle of Bull Run

During late June and early July 1862, Robert E. Lee's army was able to break a Union stranglehold on the Confederate capital Richmond, Virginia, and drive George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac back into the Virginia Peninsula. Having lost the initiative, McClellan embarked his army on naval transports back to Washington. In the meantime, Lee undertook a campaign against John Pope's Army of Virginia, which was perched threateningly along the Rapidan River, where the Confederates hoped to trap them and divide the Union forces. If Pope's army were allowed to link up with McClellan's, their combined force would exceed 180,000 men—far too many for Lee to defeat with his army of 60,000.

On August 9, Confederate Major General Stonewall Jackson narrowly defeated Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks at Cedar Mountain, opening the series of tactical maneuvers that would culminate in the confrontation near Bull Run. After this engagement, Lee sent 30,000 men under Major General James Longstreet to reinforce Jackson and soon arrived himself to assume command of the combined force. A cavalry raid on Pope's headquarters at Catlett Station on the night of August 22 to August 23, yielded the Union general's tent, dress coat, $350,000 in cash, and—most importantly—his dispatch book.

In the details of the dispatch book, Lee's fears were confirmed: Elements of McClellan's army were seeking to link up with Pope's. The Confederate general immediately sought to defeat the Army of Virginia before it could be reinforced. On August 25, he sent Stonewall Jackson and 24,000 men on a wide flanking movement around Pope's right. While the Union commander remained oblivious at the Rappahannock River, Jackson's men poured through Thoroughfare Gap and captured a significant store of Federal supplies at Manassas Junction. The food and clothing they obtained provided a welcoming reward for their 36-hour forced march. The Confederates burned what they could not take with them.

On August 27, Pope realized his untenable position and moved to intercept Jackson from the southwest, while Union Major General and general-in-chief Henry W. Halleck directed Federal forces in Alexandria to move against Manassas Junction and Gainesville from the east. Meanwhile, at Bristoe Station, Jackson's rearguard under Major General Richard S. Ewell held off Pope's advance forces under Major General Joseph Hooker. With Pope's army approaching from the west, Jackson decided to withdraw his command during the night to a railroad bed running roughly parallel to the Warrenton Turnpike, then curving off to the north as it ran eastward.

First Battle of Manassas

Battle of Bull Run: actions until 2pm (July 21) ██ Confederate ██ Union
Battle of Bull Run: actions after 2pm (July 21) ██ Confederate ██ Union

On the morning of July 21, divisions under David Hunter and Samuel P. Heintzelman crossed Sudley Springs and struck the Confederate left. All that stood in the path of the 6,000 Union soldiers were Confederate Col. Nathan Evans and his reduced brigade of 900 men. Evans had been informed of the Union flanking movement and had hastily led most of his men from their position fronting the Stone Bridge to a new location on the slopes of Matthews Hill, a low rise to the northwest of his previous position.

Evans soon received reinforcement from two other brigades under Barnard Bee and Francis S. Bartow, but the Confederate line slowly crumbled, then broke completely. In a full run from their Matthews Hill position, the remainder of Evans's, Bee's, and Bartow's commands ran into a solid line of reinforcement on Henry House Hill. This was Thomas J. Jackson's Virginia brigade. "The Enemy are driving us," Bee exclaimed to Jackson. Jackson, a former U.S. Army officer and professor at the Virginia Military Institute, is said to have replied "Sir, we will give them the bayonet."[2] Bee exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me."[3]

There is some controversy over Bee's statement and intent, which could not be clarified because he was killed almost immediately after speaking and none of his subordinate officers wrote reports of the battle. Major Burnett Rhett, chief of staff to General Joseph E. Johnston, claimed that Bee was angry at Jackson's failure to come immediately to the relief of Bee's and Bartow's brigades while they were under heavy pressure. Those who subscribe to this opinion believe that Bee's statement was meant to be pejorative: "Look at Jackson standing there like a damned stone wall!"[4]

Scattered units began to group around the Virginia brigade, and the fighting continued as the Union tide rolled onward, up the face of Henry House Hill. As soon as the Federal troops crested the hill, they were face to face with the rifles of Jackson's men, and they took a full volley with devastating effect. They broke and began to retreat in what was called the "Great Skedaddle." Eventually, more fresh Confederate brigades entered the fray and turned the tide of battle completely in favor of Beauregard's army. McDowell's flanking column was blunted, then crumbled and broke. In the disorder that followed, hundreds of Union troops were taken prisoner. A Union wagon overturned on a bridge spanning Bull Run and incited panic in McDowell's force. Beauregard and Johnston decided not to press their advantage, since their combined army had been left highly disorganized as well.

The wealthy elite of nearby Washington, expecting an easy Union victory, had come to picnic and watch the battle. When the Union army was driven back in a running disorder, the roads back to Washington were blocked by panicked civilians attempting to flee in their carriages. Further confusion ensued when an artillery shell fell on a carriage, blocking the main road to the north.

Union forces and civilians alike feared that Confederate forces would advance on Washington D.C. with very little standing in their way. On July 24, Prof. Lowe ascended in the balloon Enterprise to observe the Confederates moving in and about Manassas Junction and Fairfax and ascertained that there was no evidence of massing Rebel forces, but he was forced to land in enemy territory. It was overnight before he was rescued and could report to headquarters. He reported that his observations "restored confidence" to the Union commanders. Though the Confederates had claimed a clear victory on the battlefield, they were unable to effectively organize and further harass the enemy afterwards.

Union casualties were 460 killed, 1,124 wounded, and 1,312 missing or captured; Confederate casualties were 387 killed, 1,582 wounded, and 13 missing.[5] Among the latter was Col. Francis S. Bartow, who was the first Confederate brigade commander to be killed in the Civil War. General Bee was mortally wounded and died the following day.

Irvin McDowell bore the brunt of the blame for the Union defeat at Bull Run and was soon replaced by George B. McClellan, who was named general-in-chief of all the Union armies. McDowell was also present to bear significant blame for the defeat of John Pope's Army of Virginia by Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia just thirteen months later, at the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Battlefield confusion relating to battle flags, especially the similarity of the Confederacy's "Stars and Bars" and the Union's "Stars and Stripes," led to the adoption of the Confederate Battle Flag, which eventually became the most popular symbol of the Confederacy and the South in general. Union defeat at First Manassas would prompt renewed vigor and determination to defeat the Confederates and provide for the re-creation of a more free and equal Union.

Second Battle of Manassas

August 28

Second Battle of Bull Run: actions on August 29 and 30 ██ Confederate ██ Union

The engagement began as a Federal column, under Jackson's observation near Brawner Farm, moved along the Warrenton Turnpike. In an effort to prevent Pope from moving into a strong defensive position around Centreville, Jackson risked being overwhelmed before James Longstreet could join him. Jackson ordered an attack on the exposed left flank of the column and, in his words, "The conflict here was fierce and sanguinary." The fighting continued until approximately 9 pm (some sources say midnight), at which point the Union withdrew from the field. Losses were heavy on both sides.

Pope believed he had "bagged" Jackson and sought to capture him before he could be reinforced by Longstreet. Pope's dispatch sent that evening to Major General Philip Kearny stated, in part, "General McDowell has intercepted the retreat of the enemy and is now in his front … Unless he can escape by by-paths leading to the north to-night, he must be captured."

August 29

Jackson had initiated the battle on August 28, with the intent of holding Pope until Longstreet arrived with the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia. August 29 would test if his men were able to hold their positions in the face of a numerically superior enemy, long enough to be reinforced.

Beginning about 10:15 am, Union forces launched a series of disjointed assaults against Jackson's position. The fighting was intense, and casualties were heavy on both sides. The battle continued until Federal forces ceased the offensive in late afternoon.

Longstreet's corps arrived on the field at approximately 11 am and took up positions on Jackson's right. His arrival apparently went unnoticed by Pope until late in the afternoon when a portion of Longstreet's command repulsed a Union advance. In the wake of Longstreet's arrival, the Confederate line was extended by more than a mile (1.6 km) southward. Pope's left flank was unprotected, beckoning Longstreet's fresh troops to attack it.

August 30

Early in the morning, Jackson's troops pulled back from forward positions gained while repulsing the assaults. Pope viewed this as evidence of a retreat and, although he was now aware that Longstreet had joined Jackson, was determined to push forward. His order was, "The … forces will be immediately thrown forward in pursuit of the enemy, and press him vigorously during the whole day …"

Following skirmishing throughout the day, Pope moved against Jackson's position in force at about 3 pm.

In a few moments our entire line was engaged in a fierce and sanguinary struggle with the enemy. As one line was repulsed another took its place and pressed forward as if determined by force of numbers and fury of assault to drive us from our positions.
—Major General Stonewall Jackson

While the Union forces were engaged with Jackson, Lee ordered Longstreet forward. Longstreet's forces, consisting of 28,000 troops led by John B. Hood's brigades, drove forward and crushed the Union left flank as Jackson held it in place. As Longstreet's men pushed forward, the Army of Virginia was rolled up and sent reeling from the field.

In Jackson's words, "As Longstreet pressed upon the right the Federal advance was checked, and soon a general advance of my whole line was ordered. Eagerly and fiercely did each brigade press forward, exhibiting in parts of the field scenes of close encounter and murderous strife not witnessed often in the turmoil of battle. The Federals gave way before our troops, fell back in disorder, and fled precipitately, leaving their dead and wounded on the field."

Elements of Pope's army made a stand on Henry House Hill—where Stonewall Jackson's Virginia brigade had made its own stand during the First Battle of Bull Run—and held off determined attacks until darkness brought a final close to the battle. The Union forces withdrew from the field, in a generally organized manner compared to the aftermath of First Bull Run.

Pope would retreat back towards Washington. On September 1, Jackson's army was finally repelled by the Yankees at Chantilly, Virginia. Union casualties were around 16,000, while Confederates suffered around 9,200 losses.

Unable to escape blame for this debacle, Pope was relieved of command. Conversely, the hopes of the Confederacy were gleaming brighter than ever. Within one week, the vanguard of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River in the Maryland Campaign, marching toward a fateful encounter with the Army of the Potomac at a creek called Antietam. The bold move would cost both Lee and the Union many casualties, but it would also produce one of the most revolutionary documents ever created in the United States: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclomation added the end of slavery to the Union's goals and changed the direction and course of the war. European support, badly needed by the Confederates, would not be granted following Lee's retreat and President Lincoln's speech, both occurring as a result of renewed Confederate enthusiasm following a victory at Second Manassas.


  1. Livermore, p. 77.
  2. Robertson, p. 264.
  3. Freeman, vol 1, p. 82; Robertson, p. 264. McPherson, p. 342
  4. SGoldfield, David, et al, The American Journey: A History of the United States (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999). ISBN 0-13-088243-7
  5. Eicher, p. 99.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0684849445
  • Freeman, Douglas S. Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command (3 volumes). NY: Scribners, 1946. ISBN 0684859793
  • Goldfield, David, et al. The American Journey: A history of the United States. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. ISBN 0130882437
  • Hankinson, Alan. First Bull Run 1861: The South's First Victory. Osprey Campaign Series #10, Westminster, MD: Osprey Publishing, 1991. ISBN 1855321335
  • Langellier, John. Second Manassas 1862: Robert E. Lee's Greatest Victory. Osprey Campaign Series #95, Westminster, MD: Osprey Publishing, 2002. ISBN 184176230X
  • Livermore, Thomas L. Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America 1861-65. Reprinted with errata, Morninside House, 1986. ISBN 0-527-57600-X
  • Lowe, Thaddeus. Official Report (Part I). Professor Thaddeus Lowe's Official Report (Part I).
  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States). NY: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0195038630
  • Robertson, James I., Jr. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. MacMillan Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0028646851
  • Ropes, John C. The Army Under Pope. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1901.

Further reading

  • Davis, William C. Battle at Bull Run. Louisiana State Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8071-0867-7
  • Detzer, David. Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861. Harcourt Inc., 2004. ISBN 0-15-100889-2

External links

All links retrieved September 26, 2023.


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