Some thought the first battle of Manassas (Confederate name) or Bull Run (Union name) would be the only major battle of the Civil War. Cheers erupted in the streets of Washington, D.C. on July 16, 1861, as General McDowell’s 35,000-man army of green recruits marched out to begin the campaign to capture Richmond, Virginia, and end the Civil War.
The Union’s newly-trained “green” troops were overly confident that they would rout the rebels in short order.
On July 21, 1861, townspeople and legislators assembled in carriages along the road from Centreville to watch the conflict between Union General Irving McDowell’s 35,000-man army of recruits, and the Brigades of Southern General Barnard Elliott Bee, and Cols. Nathan Evans and Francis Bartow. The battle began at 5:30 a.m.
Evans’ troops were too small to hold McDowell’s lead unit, and even with reinforcements from Bee and Bartow, the rebels began retreating toward Henry Hill.
General Thomas Jonathan Jackson’s brigade arrived in time to anchor the Confederates, General Bee, while attempting to rally his dispersing rebel troops, pointed toward Jackson and shouted, “Form, form, there stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians.” Thereafter, the legendary nickname of “Stonewall” Jackson was proudly used! Shortly after his rally shout, General Bee of South Carolina, and Commander of the Third Brigade Army of the Shenandoah, was killed. Southern Generals Johnston and Beauregard arrived shortly on Henry Hill to rally and redeploy the rebel troops.
About Noon, Union troops stopped for an hour to reorganize for a new assault. This gave the Confederates the opportunity to reform their lines, and the struggle began to push opposing forces from Henry Hill.
By 4 p.m., fresh Southern troops penetrated the Union’s right flank at Chinn Ridge, and McDowell’s Army withdrew. What began as an orderly retreat by the new Union recruits, ended with panic, and would have become a total rout, but the arrival of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on the battlefield as the battle ended caused the Confederate victors to become too disorganized to follow it up.
After 10 hours, and 900 bodies strewn on the battlefield, hopes of a quick conclusion to the Civil War at the First Manassas/Bull Run battlefield were dashed.
By August 1862, the North and South fought again at the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. The Union forces under new command of General George McClellan, were led by General John Pope. Both sides had seasoned soldiers and fought for three days, resulting in 3,300 dead. Confederacy Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet and “Stonewall” Jackson were instrumental in repelling Union troops. In darkness of night on August 30, Pope’s Army retreated across Bull Run to Washington, D.C.
The second victory at Manassas catapulted the Confederacy to the height of its power, but the Union was still determined to end the Civil War. More battles would determine the outcome.