The Battle of Bull Run:
AKA The First Manassas

The Battle of Manassas (or the Battle of Bull Run as those Blue Belly Yankees called it) was the first major engagement of the newly started USCivil War.

The battle occurred on July 21, 1861 outside a sleepy little railroad junction called Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia.

Union General Irwin McDowell had led his 35,000-man army from Washington towards Centreville, Virginia on July 16.

The hope was to cut off Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard's army, positioned near Manassas, from its supply route to Richmond, ultimately securing an open route to the Confederate capital 100 miles away.

At the same time in the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate General Johnston was facing off with Union General Patterson, who was doing his best to keep the Confederates in the Valley from reinforcing Beauregard's force at Manassas.

Outside the armies of the South and the North, this was a period in the war when no one had even heard of Robert E. Lee or Ulysses Grant.

Lee was not yet in a command role of any force. William Tecumseh Sherman and Grant were only commanding a few hundred men as subordinates of McDowell's division commanders.

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson had not yet earned his rock solid moniker.

Nor had the war yet seen wholesale bloodshed as was seen in later battles such as Shiloh, Gettysburg, or Cold Harbor.

The war was fresh and new. To many, it was an "adventure". In fact, several thousand troops in McDowell's army were coming up on the end of their 90-day enlistments, so the battle was to be fought as quickly and decisively as possible.

The Battle of Bull Run

Battle of Bull Run - First Manassas Map

The Battle of Bull Run took place on Virginia soil... and the people, generally, were in sympathy with the South.

The belt of forest ran along the crest of a hill, where the soil had been considered too thin for profitable cultivation.

However, the growth of trees and bushes was heavy. There was a narrow path among the trees but evidently the war had driven away all who used the path.

The June sun had been hot that year in Virginia, but in the sheltered places the leaves were not burned. A moist, fresh greenness enveloped everything except the trickle of running water.

Bull Run, Young's Branch and the lesser streams.

The army was gathered at a place called Manassas Junction, where Beauregard had taken command on June 1st.

From the edge of the forest, you could look over the valley. It was a great panorama of green hills and of armies spread out upon them.

Near the southern horizon were the long lines of grey uniforms, and toward Washington, were the lines of a detachment of the Northern army.

The Battle of Bull Run "spectacle", with all the somber aspects of war, softened by the distance, was inspiring.

Truthfully, it was more like a spectacle than war's actuality.

Houses stood among green trees and shrubbery. Smoke was rising from their chimneys, as if the people who lived in them were going about their peaceful occupations.

In fact, they were if for just a short time longer.

Behind the Northern army the sun glinted on a long line of bayonets. It was a regiment marching to join the others.

"The Yankee vanguard is only a few miles away," he said. "You don't have to go far before you see their tents, though I ought to say that each side has another army westward in the mountains. There's been a lot of fighting already, though not much of it here. The first shots on Virginia soil were fired on our front the day General Beauregard arrived to take command of our forces."

"They've been up and doing. A young Yankee general named McClellan has shown a lot of activity. He has beat us in some skirmishes and he has organized troops as far west as the Ohio. Then he and his generals met our general, Garnett, at Rich Mountain. It was the biggest affair of the war so far, and Garnett was killed. Then a curious fellow of ours named Jackson, and Stuart, a cavalry officer, lost a little battle at a place called Falling Waters."

Casual talk and observation together with a fair knowledge of Washington's defenses made the situation quite clear. The North was pouring troops in an unbroken stream into the capital, and a great advance on the line of Bull Run would take place very soon.

The Battle of Bull Run was hours away...

That July day in 1861, curious spectators came in from Washington to witness the "skirmish" called the Battle of Bull Run, taking place nearSudley Springs, where the Old Stone Bridge crosses over a shallow stream.

Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run 

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