First Battle of Bull Run
The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as First Manassas (the name used by Confederate forces), was fought on July 21, 1861, in Prince William County, Virginia, near the city of Manassas. It was the first major land battle of the American Civil War.
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First Battle of Bull Run
Though the Civil War began when Confederate troops shelled Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the war didn’t begin in earnest until the Battle of Bull Run, fought in Virginia just miles from Washington DC, on July 21, 1861. Popular fervor led President Lincoln to push a cautious Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, commander of the Union army in Northern Virginia, to attack the Confederate forces commanded by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, which held a relatively strong position along Bull Run, just northeast of Manassas Junction. The goal was to make quick work of the bulk of the Confederate army, open the way to Richmond, the Confederate capital, and end the war. The morning of July 21st dawned on two generals planning to outflank their opponent’s left. Hindering the success of the Confederate plan were several communication failures and general lack of coordination between units. McDowell’s forces, on the other had, were hampered by an overly complicated plan that required complex synchronization. Constant and repeated delays on the march and effective scouting by the Confederates gave his movements away, and, worst of all Patterson failed to occupy Johnston’s Confederate forces attention in the west. McDowell’s forces began by shelling the Confederates across Bull Run. Others crossed at Sudley Ford and slowly made their way to attack the Confederate left flank. At the same time as Beauregard sent small detachments to handle what he thought was only a distraction, he also sent a larger contingent to execute flanking a flanking movement of his own on the Union left. Spectators at Bull RunFighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back, despite impressive efforts by Colonel Thomas Jackson to hold important high ground at Henry House Hill, earning him the nom de guerre “Stonewall.” Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements including those arriving by rail from the Shenandoah Valley extended the Confederate line and succeeded in breaking the Union right flank. At the battle’s climax Virginia cavalry under Colonel James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart arrived on the field and charged into a confused mass of New Yorkers, sending them fleetly to the rear. The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated as narrow bridges, overturned wagons, and heavy artillery fire added to the confusion. The calamitous retreat was further impeded by the hordes of fleeing onlookers who had come down from Washington to enjoy the spectacle. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too disorganized to pursue. By July 22, the shattered Union army reached the safety of Washington. The Battle of Bull Run convinced the Lincoln administration and the North that the Civil War would be a long and costly affair. McDowell was relieved of command of the Union army and replaced by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who set about reorganizing and training the troops.
Sullivan Ballou's Letter to his Wife
July the 14th, 1861
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure - and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows - when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children - is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.
Sullivan Ballou would be killed during the First Battle Of Bull Run