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Sunday, November 2, 2014

U.S. Civil War: Events Leading to the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)

The first of two bloody conflicts at Manassas...


The Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas, took place in Northern Virginia at a location near Manassas Junction and Centreville. This battle was the first major land engagement of the U.S. Civil War, as previous skirmishes were minor in comparison.

General Irvin McDowell led 30,000 Union troops (with little to no experience), and General Pierre G. T. Beauregard led 22,000 Confederate (equally inexperienced) troops. This battle is known in American history as one of the most poignant and significant encounters which occurred during the Civil War. While the battle itself lasted just one day, it was a noteworthy one to examine when reflecting back on the brutal fighting that took place between the North and the South during the 4-year war.

During the First Battle of Bull Run, the clash between the Union and Confederate armies occurred on July 21, 1861, with much of the action taking place at Henry Hill and Matthews Hill. The battle resulted in a bloody day with a large number of casualties and injuries from both armies. There were just under 2,000 casualties from the Confederate army and 2,900 from the Union. This battle would also take its first civilian casualty. Judith Henry, who was in her 80s and bedridden, was hit by a bullet while lying in her room.

Grave of Judith Henry which is located next to where her house once stood.

 

Why Manassas?

   

A series of actions occurred which led to the culmination of First Manassas. The first key factor was when South Carolina led the movement to secede on Dec. 20, 1860, and several states followed this decision. Next the South Carolina militia opened fire on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter. In all, 10 other states would follow South Carolina's decision to secede from the United States. The secession of these states led to heightened conflict between the North and the South.

After the fire upon Fort Sumter, President Lincoln had made a call to arms and men signed up for 90-day enlistments. By July, these enlistment commitments were almost up. Lincoln was acutely aware action must be taken soon, especially with the Confederate Army lurking so close to the southwest of the Capital city (about 20-25 miles). Manassas was also the location of a vital railroad junction, and the U.S. Government determined it was important the Union protected this region because a victory would ensure a direct path to the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Taken at Manassas National Battlefield Park. Union cannons set up as they would have been during 1st Battle of Bull Run.

Taken at Manassas Battlefield Oct. 2014. This is how the Confederate Army positioned their guns.



 

Too Close for Comfort 

 

In the North there was a lot of public and Congressional pressure to capture the southern capital city of Richmond and end the rebellion. The problem was the Union troops were still largely untrained and unprepared for battle. The northern public was outraged that the Confederate Army had advanced to Northern Virginia at Bull Run and, as a result, pushed for immediate action from the Union Army. These factors all contributed to the fighting to occur at Manassas. The media also clamored for action to put an end to the southern army's northern movement towards Washington, D.C.

President Lincoln recognized the problem of engaging in conflict before the troops were better prepared, but ultimately began pressuring General McDowell to make a swift move. There was a lot of speculation the Confederate troops were just as ill-prepared and there was really no lack of confidence that the North wouldn't win any battle.

Both sides believed the battle would be quick with a rapid conclusion, but since neither was prepared for it to happen, chaos and disorganization plagued both armies. Washington D.C. itself was very vulnerable at this time due to the disorganization of the Union Army, and the Confederates had a good opportunity to gain significant leads by an invasion, but opted to remain in Manassas instead.

Confederate Win


The Confederate army won the fight of the First Manassas Battle, leaving this army feeling confident and a bit complacent over its victory. This would later be attributed as a part of the Confederates' eventual downfall because they lost the opportunity to invade Washington when they had the chance.

Despite the chaos, inexperience and disorganization, that fateful day in July 1861 began with a lot of optimism of a swift ending to the disputes; most people thought the war would be over on that single day. Instead, it resulted in a full-blown Civil War.

Today the National Parks Service (NPS) has done a remarkable job maintaining these hallowed grounds. The marker you see below was put up shortly after the war and stands next to Mrs. Henry's (now reconstructed to portray a later design) home.


What's unique about the region of Bull Run is the fact two major Civil War battles took place on this land. A later significant battle, known as the Second Battle of Bull Run (or also known as the Second Manassas) would occur the following year during Aug. 28-30, 1862.

Sources - 
Several tours at and visits to Manassas National Battlefield Park 

http://www.nps.gov/abpp/battles/va005.htm 

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