Bull Run
Battle at Bull Run: A History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War

The battle, was unique in the Civil War in that no general on either side had ever exercised high command in combat. July 21, 1861 would demonstrate that careers devoted to theoretical studies of warfare provided poor indicators of success in combat.

First Battle of Bull Run
First Manassas
July 1861

Public demand pushed Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott to advance on the South before adequately training his untried troops. Scott ordered General Irvin McDowell to advance on Confederate troops stationed at Manassas Junction, Virginia. McDowell attacked on July 21, and was initially successful, but the introduction of Confederate reinforcements resulted in a Southern victory and a chaotic retreat toward Washington by federal troops.

A Single Grand 
Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861 
One of the better overviews of the campaign and battle of First Manassas or Bull Run. The book is very easy to read and is broken down in manageable chunks, with the events before and after the battle Victory Manassas
A Single Grand Victory: The First Campaign and Battle of Manassas

Nearly 900 men lost their lives and 2,700 were wounded. Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson earned his legendary nickname "Stonewall" here. Both North and South believed that a single victory at Manassas would decide the Civil War before it barely started

Kindle Available
Maps of Bull Run
The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball's Bluff, June-October 1861

"action-sections" enriched with more than fifty full-color original full-page maps.

History Channel Presents
The Civil War

From Harper's Ferry, Fort Sumter, and First Bull Run to Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg. The most legendary Civil War battles in brilliant detail. DVD

The Battle of First Bull Run: The Civil War Begins
Three months after the shelling of Fort Sumter, Union and Confederate forces met for the first time in earnest combat. However, neither side was prepared at this early stage of the war, and confusion reigned on the battlefield

Fields of Fury young reader book
Fields of Fury
The American Civil War

Written for young readers a stirring account of the greatest conflict to happen on our nation's soil, the Civil War, bringing to life the tragic struggle that divided not only a nation, but also friends and family. well-organized, well-executed, kid-friendly history of the Civil War was a brilliant idea if there ever was one. It's difficult to imagine anyone doing a better job than McPherson at breaking down this complex, interrelated series of events.

Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier
Biography of the dashing Confederate general is history at its best: fascinating, colorful, provocative. Includes portraits of Stuart's early life, training at West Point, the fateful decision to side with the South and action-packed battle scenes. 7 maps. 8 pages of photos.

Joseph E. Johnston
A Civil War Biography

A biography of the public and private life of General Joseph E. Johnston, one of the most important Southern field commanders during the American Civil War

P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray
Beauregard often gets overlooked, he was never as beloved as Lee or Stonewall Jackson, but he was capable, the man had a sharp mind and Lee understood this, even if Jefferson Davis did not
Joe Ryan Battlewalk Bull Run

Youtube Channel JoeRyanCivilWar

Excerpt: Bull Run: Its Strategy and Tactics, By R. M. Johnston

1st Bull Run, Conclusion

A curious thing about McDowell's enterprise at Bull Run is that one may fairly say that it was foreordained to failure, and yet conclude that it came within inches of success. Wholly untrained in the higher branches of the military art, he was compelled, by the force of circumstances, to operate with an army that was entirely unfit for active campaigning; but he had an opponent no better than himself, and the chief difference between two armies that both lacked the distinctive qualities of a field force resolved itself into that which lay between the disadvantage of the offensive and the benefit of the defensive.

In some ways McDowell did better than his critics have allowed. To move such an army at all, to get it concentrated at Centreville, to throw a wing of 17,000 men over Bull Run, meant much hard work and hard driving. And yet, as we have seen, all this fell entirely short of what was needed for success. Rapidity of action was essential, and at no moment, at no point, did McDowell show any tendency of the sort, -- rather the contrary.

It is perhaps fairer to emphasize that McDowell had had no training or experience in the difficult art of generalship, than to say that he displayed no sign of possessing military qualities. It was certainly not easy for a junior officer in a military service that gave neither practical nor theoretical training to its higher ranks, when suddenly promoted to the command of an army to assume all the superiority and decision, to display all the science, that such a function demands. It is not surprising that he took too much advice, and deferred too much to the views of subordinates whose judgments, on the whole, do not appear to have been as good as his own.

Bull Run Manassas July 21 morning  click to enlarge
Bull Run Manassas July 1861

In bringing his troops into contact with the enemy McDowell showed little tactical sense. His order of the 20th of July showed gross inability to handle marching arrangements. But he did better than his opponents in utilizing a considerable part of his forces for delivering his blow. His employment both of his guns and of his infantry was far from good. Griffin's and Ricketts' batteries were recklessly exposed; his infantry brigades were allowed to become mere supports for the artillery, and to go into action as strings of regiments employed one at a time. For these failings, the configuration of the ground, the superior tactics of the Confederates, the general lack of ability of McDowell's subordinates, the want of a proper system of command, and the general ignorance of staff work, were in part responsible.  

      Several of the Federal commanders ascribed their ill success to what they believed to be the inferiority of their musketry. Thus Franklin says :--

"It is my firm belief that a great deal of the misfortune of the day at Bull Run is due to the fact that the troops knew very little of the principles and practice of firing. In every case I believe that the firing of the rebels was better than ours."

The truth appears to be this. The Federal infantry as it advanced was too carefully nursed by its officers; as soon as it reached the fire zone it was ordered to lie down and keep covered while the artillery did the work. So long as the artillery was successful in breaking down resistance the plan succeeded, but when the infantry was called on--after the hard day's work and much lying out of sight of the enemy in the sun--to advance into the open, firing at the enemy's line at short range, it jibbed away, fired wildly, and eventually broke.

Far more important than this was the complete and miserable failure of the regimental officers. Quite one half of McDowell's regiments were good stuff so far as the men went; all they needed was to be led and commanded. McDowell himself relates that on the field disorganized bodies of soldiers called to him asking to be led. Colonel Biddle, speaking of the volunteers after their return to camp, says: "They had a perfect dread of going into battle with their officers, and they wanted to go back and enter into new organizations.''

If the regimental officers were for the most part worse than useless, the field and staff officers were not much better, though in a different way. The West-Pointers were fearless enough, and fit to lead any troops into battle; but they had no more knowledge of the art of high command than the regimental officers had of the art of company leading. This subject has already been dealt with. Suffice it to say that on the field the confusion of orders and of organization was almost complete. Everybody gave orders, and nobody gave orders. McDowell's staff in large part disintegrated. No one knew what to do, where to find headquarters. At the moment when the attack on the Henry house plateau began, Averell says: "this feeling was uppermost: want of orders." Later, even civilians like Governor Sprague took it on themselves to order troops about.

It was the rout of the army back to Centreville and Washington that attracted most attention at the time. On the whole that was a mere incident of a not abnormal character when all the facts of the case are considered. That rout really began when, on the advance, the columns were kept standing long hours in the sun and the officers proved unable to prevent their men from going off into the woods after blackberries; or when the Pennsylvania and New York troops were allowed shamefully to abandon the army, with hardly a word of reproof, at the moment of battle; or even when Lincoln proclaimed that only theWilliam N. Thornton's house on the route to Sudley Ford common soldier could be trusted and his officer was a leader not entitled to confidence. The rout at Stone Bridge was good newspaper copy, and little more.

It should be added that McDowell showed his even, steady, bravery, in that disheartening hour. He continued to do all that was in him to the bitter end. At Young's Branch, at Centreville, and again at Fairfax Court House, he did his best to turn the stream of fugitives, he continued to take every measure he could to fulfil his duty as a soldier; from that high and honorable standard he never for a moment wavered. And his report is on the whole a straightforward and honest confession of failure, very little colored or distorted in an endeavor to evade responsibility.

On the Southern side the superiority of Johnston's corps in leadership, organization, and mobility stands out conspicuously. Bee got much out of his troops. Jackson showed the highest tactical ability, and great firmness of character, in the way he chose his position and handled his infantry and guns together on the Henry house plateau; he earned and he deserved the honors of the day. Johnston himself showed too much diffidence till about twelve o'clock, and it was not till about 2.30 or 3 P.M. that he really assumed control of operations. He displayed courage and at times judgment. Yet on the whole his conduct in the battle was far less creditable to him than the degree of organization and fighting quality he had succeeded in imparting to his little army, and the way in which he brought it from the Valley to Manassas.  

Beauregard's errors, and his lack of the logic, system, and clearness of vision which are called for in the higher command of armies, have already been sufficiently emphasized. It is doubtful whether he did any one single thing that helped to bring success to the Confederate arms on the 21st of July, while his blunders would require a lengthy enumeration.

The defensive was assuredly a great advantage to the Confederate commanders. When their turn came to take the offensive on the Henry hill, -- and they timed the moment skilfully, -- their opponents were spent. Beauregard's orders and staff work certainly give one the impression that a Confederate offensive towards Centreville would probably have been marked by even less cohesion than McDowell's movement was. For although the Federal general failed to keep his brigades marching by the left after they passed Sudley Spring, he did at all events keep them together and strike a concerted blow. The movements of Ewell, Jones, and Longstreet do not suggest that Beauregard could have done as much.    

    Johnston himself wrote as follows:--

"A large proportion of it [Beauregard's army] was not engaged in the battle. This was a great fault on my part. When Bee's and Jackson's brigades were ordered to the vicinity of the Stone Bridge, those of Holmes and Early should have been moved to the left also, and placed in the interval on Bonham's left--if not then, certainly at nine o'clock, when a Federal column was seen turning our left: and, when it seemed certain that General McDowell's great effort was to be made there. Bonham's, Longstreet's, Jones', and Ewell's brigades, leaving a few regiments and their cavalry to impose on Miles' division, should have been hurried to the left to join in the battle. If the tactics of the Federals had been equal to their strategy we should have been beaten. If, instead of being brought into action in detail, their troops had been formed in two lines with a proper reserve, and had assailed Bee and Jackson in that order, the two Southern brigades must have been swept from the field in a few minutes, or enveloped. General McDowell would have made such a formation, probably, had he not greatly underestimated the strength of his enemy."

The subsequent action of the Confederate authorities contains an official verdict on the generals. J. E. Johnston was left in charge of the main Confederate army at Manassas. Jackson was promoted to an independent command in the Shenandoah; while Beauregard was sent out West and placed under A. S. Johnston, with whom in the following year he fought the battle of Shiloh against Grant.

At Washington the scenes that followed the battle were disheartening for the Federal cause. The city openly avowed its satisfaction at the Confederate victory. The volunteers showed up badly after their defeat. Discipline was at an end; drunkenness and disorder of the worst kind reigned supreme. The gravest anxiety prevailed, and a change of commanders was decided on that brought McClellan to Washington. Whether McClellan was any better than McDowell may be doubted, but at all events from that moment it was recognized by the Administration that the military problem was one for experts, and could not be solved by a handful of improperly organized three months' volunteers.

First Bull Run Campaign Map

Battle Map
July 21 1861
First Manassas Battle Map

Blackburns Ford July 18, 1861
Bull Run July 21, 1861

Click to enlarge

July 21,1861
Click to enlarge
First Bull Run Civil War Battle Map

First Manassas
"We Shall Meet Again": The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), July 18-21, 1861

The First Battle of Manassas claimed the lives of approximately 878 soldiers and wounded another 2,489. With a battlefield stretching nearly five miles, 15,000 Union and 14,000 Confederate soldiers clashed for four fateful days, many of them young and terrified and receiving their first taste of a long and bitter war

Click to enlarge map
Bull Run Battle Map

None of the photographs of First Bull Run were made at the time of battle (July 21); the photographers had to wait until the Confederate Army evacuated Centreville and Manassas in March 1862. Their views of various landmarks of the previous summer are arranged according to the direction of the federal advance, a long flanking movement by Sudley's Ford.

Bull Run Battle Field

Ruins of the Stone Bridge, looking toward the position of Colonel Evans
Stone Bridge Manassas

First Battle Bull Run Art Print
The Battle at Bull Run

24" x 18"

American Forts 1861
American Posts & Forts,1861
Andrew Johnson

37" x 27"


First Bull Run was a clash between relatively large, ill-trained bodies of recruits, led by inexperienced officers. Neither army commander was able to deploy his forces effectively, only 18,000 men from each side were actually engaged. Although McDowell had been active on the battlefield, he had expended most of his energy maneuvering nearby regiments and brigades, instead of controlling and coordinating the movements of his army as a whole. Other factors contributed to McDowell’s defeat: Patterson’s failure to hold Johnston in the valley; McDowell’s two-day delay at Centreville; allowing Tyler’s division to lead the march on 21 July thus delaying the flanking divisions of Hunter and Heintzelman; and the 2 1/2-hour delay after the Union victory on Matthews’ Hill, which allowed the Confederates to bring up reinforcements and establish a defensive position on Henry Hill.

On Henry Hill Beauregard had also limited his control to the regimental level, generally allowing the battle to continue on its own and only reacting to Union moves. Johnston’s decision to transport his infantry to the battlefield by rail played a major role in the Confederate victory. Although the trains were slow and a lack of sufficient cars did not allow the transport of large numbers of troops at one time, almost all of his army arrived in time to participate in the battle. After reaching Manassas Junction, Johnston had relinquished command of the battlefield to Beauregard, but his forwarding of reinforcements to the scene of fighting was decisive.

Compared to later battles, casualties at First Bull Run had not been especially heavy. Both Union and Confederate killed, wounded, and missing were a little over one thousand seven hundred each.

Three months after First Bull Run Union forces suffered another, smaller defeat at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, near Leesburg, Virginia. The perceived military incompetence at First Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff led to the establishment of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a congressional body created to investigate Northern military affairs. Concerning the Battle of First Bull Run, the committee listened to testimony from a variety of witnesses connected with McDowell’s army. Although the committee’s report concluded that the principal cause of defeat was Patterson’s failure to prevent Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard, Patterson’s enlistment had expired a few days after the battle, and he was no longer in the service. The Northern public clamored for another scapegoat, and McDowell bore the chief blame. On 25 July 1861, he was relieved of army command

First Bull Run demonstrated that the war would not be won by one grand battle, and both sides began preparing for a long and bloody conflict. In the North, Lincoln called for an additional 500,000 volunteers with three-year enlistments, and the men with ninety-day enlistments were sent home. In the South, once the euphoria of victory had worn off, Jefferson Davis called for 400,000 additional volunteers. The battle also showed the need for adequately trained and experienced officers and men. One year later many of the same soldiers who had fought at First Bull Run, now combat veterans, would have an opportunity to test their skills on the same battlefield.


The battle statistics and summary for the Virginia Civil War battle at: First Bull Run, First Manassas July 21, 1861

Kindle Available
Maps of Bull Run
The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball's Bluff, June-October 1861
Confederate General Beauregard

General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard from "The History of the United States"
General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
18 in. x 24 in.
Buy at AllPosters.com
Framed   Mounted

Union General McDowell
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Kindle Title
General McDowell
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Kindle Available

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Battle of First Bull Run, 1861
Battle of First Bull Run, 1861
24 in. x 18 in.
Buy at AllPosters.com
Framed   Mounted

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