The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major clash of the American Civil war, which took place between the Confederate and Union armies on July 21, 1861. The battle started when Abraham Lincoln ordered General Irvin McDowell to attack the Confederate forces located in the city of Manassas, Virginia.
With the offensive strike, the Union government wanted to show Confederates that they were playing with fire. However, Confederates won that battle and made the Union forces to retreat to Washington DC. Concisely, the First Battle of Bull Run showed both sides that the war will be long, bloody, and costly.
To explain the history of the First Battle of Bull Run in a more readable and clear fashion, we provided 25 facts about the battle. Each fact includes informative statements so you will have broader knowledge about the subject.
- The First Battle of Bull Run is also known as the First Battle of Manassas.
Confederates called it the First Battle of Manassas because the battle took place near the city of Manassas in Virginia.
The Union Army called it Battle of Bull Run because when General Irving McDowell marched out of Washington DC, he was aimed at crushing the confederate forces located near the Bull Run creek.
- People of the Union believed the Union forces would gain an easy victory in a short time, so people set up a picnic on nearby hills to watch the First Battle of Bull Run.
However, the battle destroyed the illusions of the northerners. The confederate forces not only showed them that the war will be long and costly, but they also won the battle, which dissipated the hopes of northerners.
- At first, the Union forces started with successful offensive attacks, however, confederates could stop their advances at the Henry House Hill.
The battle at the Henry House Hill is considered the most important part of the First Battle of Bull Run. Because, under the command of Colonel Thomas Jackson, the confederates could hold the Union army from further advancing.
According to some stories, colonel Thomas Jackson held that area as a stonewall, and that brave action has earned him a nickname “Stonewall”. In the civil war history, you will hear more about this famous Confederate colonel, but under the name “Stonewall” Jackson.
- Both the Union and Confederate forces were inexperienced during the First Battle of Bull Run.
For example, the Union side had so many volunteer soldiers who neither got proper training nor experience. Plus, the hopes and expectations of the Union Generals were too complex and hard for the inexperienced Union soldiers to handle. On the other hand, the confederate army encountered communication issues which resulted in poor coordination.
- A day after the battle on July 22, 1861, retreated confederate forces get back to Washington DC.
When the northern army got back, the government understood that they underestimated the Confederate forces. They understood that they need more precise strategies and more soldiers to gain victory over the Confederate troops
- After the First Battle of Bull Run, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the enlistment of new soldiers to suppress the southern rebellion.
Soon after the battle, Abraham Lincoln authorized the enlistment of 500,000 new soldiers. Also, the Union government allowed African Americans to join the military. By the end of the Civil War, 10% of the Union army consisted of Black men.
- Abraham Lincoln was the President of the Constitutional government of the United States during the First Battle of Bull Run.
Lincoln was an opponent of slavery and he wanted to abolish it from American territory. Therefore, he took military action against Southern states with great determination. Although he did so much for the success of the Civil war, he could not see the victory of his army.
When the Union army was approaching its victorious days, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, who was a Confederate sympathizer.
Because of his contributions to the Civil war, Americans considered him a martyr of liberty. Therefore, many remember him as one of the greatest presidents of the United States.
- Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate states during the battle.
Davis was a Mexican war hero. Although he could unite Confederate forces against the northern states, he struggled to manage the new nation and its economy effectively.
According to some historians, due to his contentious personality, Davis was at the conflict with his military and political personals.
- Due to the high number of injured, nearby schools and homes were turned temporary hospitals after the First Battle of Bull Run.
When there is a war, there are also human casualties. To save the lives and relieve pains of wounded, temporary hospitals were created inside nearby schools and homes treated.
After the battle, first-hand witnesses described the battlefield as a “horrifying site” where many soldiers laying injured begging for help.
- During the first Battle of Bull Run, 35,000 Union troops attacked 20,000 confederates.
Despite being outnumbered and well-equipped with weapons, the Union army failed to secure its victory over the Confederates. Instead, they faced a defeat which caused a political controversy back in Washington DC.
- The victory in the First Battle of Bull Run gave confidence to the Confederate forces so they continued to pursue their goals.
The First Battle of Bull Run helped the Confederate government to gain confidence. Their confidence was based on the idea that if they continue to show resistance to the Union forces, they may be victorious at the end. However, they did not know that they will lose the civil war after 4 years of bloody battles.
- Generals Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Confederate army during the First Battle of Bull Run
General Joseph Johnston (1807-1891) was the highest-ranking military official to join the Confederate forces during the civil war. However, he was replaced by Robert E. Lee in 1862 after the Battle of Seven Pines, where he was severely wounded.
After the civil war, Johnston worked in the railroad commission and served a term in the U.S. Congress. He died at the age of 84.
- Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818-1893) was another General who commanded the Confederate army during the First Battle of Bull Run.
He commanded the First Battle of Bull Run and several other battles. Since he had a pretty long name, he was known with the name P.G.T Beauregard. Overall, he was a good commander. However, his outspoken personality prevented him to have a warm relationship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
As a result of a poor relationship, Davis removed him from his post in 1863 and appointed him a commander to defend Charleston, South Carolina. After the civil war, he worked as a railroad director and managed the Louisiana lottery. He died at the age of 74.
- Although the Union government knew that their militia was ill-repapered, they sent the soldiers to the First Battle of Bull Run anyways.
Abraham Lincoln reasoned that Confederate soldiers were also ill-prepared. Therefore, he thought that his army poorly trained army could crash another amateur army.
- Joseph E. Johnston came as reinforcement to Beauregard’s troops during the First Battle of Bull Run.
Reinforcement troops under the commanded of Johnston contributed to the victory of the First Battle of Bull Run. 11,000 reinforcement troops could march towards Manassas to join Beauregard’s troops, avoiding resistance from the Union forces.
- Confederates screamed as they make their advances towards the Union army, which was later known as “Rebel Yell” for the Union troops.
The Confederates organized a soundly offensive during the afternoon hours when confederate forces gained their position. That sound became the infamous “Rebel Yell” for the northerners. The term was used during the rest of the civil war.
- The Union army suffered around 3000 casualties, while the Confederates won the First Battle of Bull Run with 1,750 casualties.
Both sides suffered great losses in the battle. However, neither sides were too far from quitting the war. The First Battle of Bull Run brought to the serious of other civil war battles. In other words, the battle led to the full-scale civil war.
- The Union and Confederate armies used different strategies during the First Battle of Bull Run.
The battle strategies of the Union were to conduct a series of offensive strikes to destroy the rebellion before it could grow to an uncontrollable force. Concisely, the Union army wanted to prevent confederates from gaining strength.
The Confederate strategy was to win the battle by withstanding or not losing the battle and by striking whenever there is a chance. That is what exactly happened during the First Battle of Bull Run. The Confederate forces first fought at the defensive end. And when the Union army could no longer make offensive moves, they counter strike and made them retreat.
- People can read the first-hand description of the First Battle of Bull Run from the letters written by the Civil War soldiers.
One of those letters was written by James Keen Munnerlyn Jr. He described his experience in the First Battle of Bull Run in the letter addressed to her sister. You may read his complete paper here.
There are many other letters written by first hand witness. You may find them and read them here.
- The location of The First Battle of Bull Run was only 25 miles away from Washington DC.
Therefore, reporters and politicians in D.C. could get updates about the battle pretty quickly. Even some reports tell how some of the Washington residences came to the countryside to watch the victory of the Union troops. However, the First Battle of Bull Run brought them surprising results.