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Bull Run (First Manassas). Campaigns of 1861-1862. First Manassas. Rejecting Scott’s Anaconda Plan, Lincoln gave orders in late June 1861 that the forces assembling around Washington must advance against Richmond

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Bull Run (First Manassas)

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Bull Run (First Manassas)

Campaigns of 1861-1862

First Manassas

  • Rejecting Scott’s Anaconda Plan, Lincoln gave orders in late June 1861 that the forces assembling around Washington must advance against Richmond

  • The commander, Brigadier General Irwin McDowell, objected that the men were not yet ready

  • Lincoln replied, “You are green, it is true. But they are green also. You are all green alike.”


  • Graduated from West Point in 1838 and had served in the Mexican War but not commanded troops in combat

  • Most of his career had been spent in various staff duties in the Adjutant General’s Office

  • His promotion to brigadier general from major had come largely from his political connections to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase


  • A second nearby Union force was located northwest of Washington, near Harper’s Ferry

  • Major General Robert Patterson commanded these 18,000 men

  • Patterson was 70 years old and a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War

First Manassas

  • On July 16, McDowell left Washington with about 35,000 men

  • Twenty five miles to the southwest lay 25,000 Confederates commanded by Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard

  • Beauregard had deployed his men along Bull Run and held the railroad town of Manassas Junction and blocked the direct overland approach to Richmond


  • Graduated from West Point in 1838 (same year as McDowell) and fought at Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec in Mexico

  • Had the shortest term of any superintendent of West Point, resigning after five days when his native Louisiana seceded from the Union

  • His first assignment with the Confederacy had won him fame as the “Hero of Sumter”


  • Joseph Johnston commanded 12,000 additional Confederates at Winchester

  • Johnston was to defend the Shenandoah Valley and support Beauregard if necessary

  • Among Johnston’s brigade commanders was Thomas Jackson

  • McDowell considered it imperative that Patterson hold Johnston’s army in the Shenandoah Valley while McDowell attacked Beauregard

First Manassas

  • On July 16, McDowell began his advance but the movement was slow and tedious

  • Beauregard was alerted of McDowell’s movements and requested reinforcements

  • An independent infantry brigade commanded by Theophilus Holmes in Fredericksburg and six infantry companies of Wade Hampton’s Legion in Richmond began heading north

First Manassas

  • McDowell’s lead division finally reached Centreville at 11:00 on July 18 and a brief clash with Confederates occurred

  • At around noon, Johnston marched out of Winchester behind a screen from Jeb Stuart’s cavalry

    • Patterson was completely deceived.

    • An hour after Johnston departed, Patterson telegraphed Washington, “I have succeeded, in accordance with the wishes of the General-in-Chief, in keeping General Johnston’s force at Winchester.”

First Manassas

  • Johnston’s men boarded trains at Piedmont Station (now Delaplane), a stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad, and departed for Manassas Junction

  • They reached the Bull Run positions on the afternoon of July 21, representing the importance railroads would play in troop movements throughout the war

First Manassas

  • McDowell’s plan was to feint toward Blackburn’s Ford and the Stone Bridge while his main force marched around the Confederate left flank

First Manassas

  • McDowell’s army began leaving their camps at about 2:30 a. m. on July 21

    • Again the march was beset with delays

  • At 6:00, Federals and Confederates were skirmishing at the Stone Bridge

  • Johnston became concerned with this activity and began reinforcing the Confederates at the Stone Bridge while Beauregard stuck to his original plan of attacking the Federal left

First Manassas

  • The Confederates were unable to hold the Stone Bridge and began a disorderly retreat to Henry Hill

  • It appeared that a Federal victory was at hand

Ruins of the Stone Bridge

First Manassas

  • At about noon, Jackson’s 2,600-man brigade arrived on Henry Hill

  • There he met his fellow brigade commander Bernard Bee who excitedly told Jackson the Federals were driving the Confederates back

  • Jackson calmly began to establish a position on the southeast slope of the ridgeline about 400 yards from the Henry House

Ruins of the Henry House

4:00 p.m.

First Manassas

  • Bee at some point reportedly said, “There stands Jackson like a Stonewall. Rally around the Virginians!”

    • This is the origin of “Stonewall” Jackson

  • At about 1:00, Federals began attacking Henry Hill

  • Rather than launching large scale, coordinated assaults, McDowell committed his forces piecemeal, frittering away his numerical advantage

First Manassas

  • The Confederates were able to defend against these piecemeal attacks while their own reinforcements were steadily arriving

  • McDowell’s army began to disintegrate

    • Thousands, in small groups or as individuals, began leaving the battlefield

    • McDowell tried to rally the army without success and eventually resorted to ordering a withdrawal

First Manassas

  • A few Confederate units attempted to pursue, but the victorious Confederates were almost as disorganized as the defeated Federals

  • Nonetheless the Union retreat quickly became a rout and hundreds of civilian spectators who had come out from Washington to watch the battle were caught up in the chaos

  • McDowell ultimately fell back to Washington

First Manassas: Results

  • Showed the difficulties in controlling large bodies of troops

    • Neither commander was able to deploy his forces effectively

      • Only 18,000 men from each side were actually engaged

  • Showed that the war would not be won in one decisive battle

    • Problems with culmination hindered Confederate pursuit

    • Lincoln began call for three year rather than 90 day enlistments

    • North called up an additional 500,000 volunteers; South 400,000

First Manassas: Results

  • Showed that the armies were untrained

    • McClellan replaced McDowell and began an intense campaign to organize, train, and equip the army

First Manassas: Reasons for Federal Defeat

  • McDowell spent most of his energy maneuvering nearby regiments and brigades rather than controlling and coordinating the movements of his army as a whole

  • Patterson failed to hold Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley

  • Federals were repeatedly slow in marching and moving

First Manassas: Reasons for Confederate Victory

  • Confederate use of rail provided timely reinforcements

Victory Rode the Rails:

Jackson at Piedmont Station, July 19, 1861

by Mort Kunstler

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