On July 21, 1861, the Confederates defeated the Union army in the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), the first major conflict of the Civil War.
In the months following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, there was increasing political pressure in the North for the Union army to launch an attack against the Rebels and quickly end the war. Despite General Irvin McDowell‘s concerns that his troops weren’t prepared, he made plans to attack the Confederate forces gathered along Bull Run stream, near Manassas Junction, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington DC.
McDowell and his approximately 30,000 troops left Washington DC on July 16, slowly making their way to Centreville, Virginia. Once at Centreville, McDowell delayed for two days, unknowingly allowing time for thousands more Confederate troops under Joseph Johnston to join the main force under PGT Beauregard, bringing the Confederates’ total forces to roughly the same number as the Union’s.
McDowell’s plan was to send half his troops in a feint at the Confederate center, while the other half of his force would come from upstream to attack the Confederates’ left flank. Despite problems with synchronizing the two parts of the attack, at first it seemed like the Union would carry the day. However, a strong Confederate defense at Henry House Hill on the Confederate left, as well as a crucial attack on the Union right flank, helped turn the tide of the battle (and it was there that Thomas J. Jackson received his immortal nickname, “Stonewall”). The Union retreat soon turned to panic, and troops fled in chaos back to Washington, as did the spectators from the capital who had come to observe the battle.
The casualties were shockingly high, though they would pale in comparison to those of later battles. Estimates vary, but the Union suffered about 481 dead, 1,011 wounded, and 1,216 missing (many of them taken prisoner), while the Confederates experienced 387 dead, 1,582 wounded, and 12 missing.
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