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Saturday, July 27, 2013

The First Battle of Bull Run


  

The First Battle of Bull Run

1861

Tourists Watch a Battle

In the summer of 1861, the Civil War had not yet won serious attention in the North particularly in the nation's capital. This mood of complacency was abruptly shattered on Sunday, July 21, as the cream of Washington, D.C., society rode out into the Virginia countryside southwest of the city to see some action. There, it was rumored, some 30,000 Union troops under General Irvin McDowell would do battle with 22,000 Confederates commanded by McDowell's West Point classmate (1835), General P.G.T. Beauregard. These odds were soon changed, for Beauregard was reinforced by about 9,000 men under General Joseph E. Johnston. Still, the sightseers remained convinced that McDowell's Northern troops, dressed in their gaudy, comic­ opera uniforms, would easily win the day and go on to capture the important rail junction at nearby Manassas (Virginia).

At first, each commander maneuvered his forces so as to outflank the other's left side. Beauregard directed his right wing to advance, but his orders never reached the men. His makeshift command organization had already broken down. McDowell then pressed his advantage at a stone bridge where the Warrenton Turnpike crossed a small stream, called Bull Run. Meanwhile, the bulk of his army crossed the stream further up, near Sudley Springs. Then they marched down along the Confederate line that stretched for eight miles (12.5 km.) from Little Bald Hill on the left to the bridge over Bull Run.

The amateur Union forces hit the enemy at Bull Run like a confused mob, and at first the equally green Confederates gave ground. But they had an advantage. As defenders, their forma­ tions tended to stay together. And in the center of their line, General Thomas J. Jackson stood, "like a stone wall," rallying his men (and earning himself the nickname of "Stonewall"). Despite the support of Union artillery, which was manned by regulars, McDowell's men faltered. Battered by bullets, choked and blinded by dust and thick, black smoke, the Union troops recoiled. Some men began to run, while others stumbled off blindly in different direc­ tions, entangling themselves with the sightseers, who panicked and carried a good part of the Union army with them in their flight.

The Confederates, however, were too exhausted to follow. In all, they had lost about 2,000 men, but the enemy had suffered more than 3,000 losses. More important, the Confederates had proven that theirs was a force to be reckoned with in the months to come.

Illustration: The North and South clash in the first major battle of the Civil War.

© 1979, Panarizon Publishing Corp. USA Illust: NY Historical Soc.
Printed in Italy 03.012.01.24
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