13 April 2012
The First Battle of Bull Run, or the First Manassas (as it was called by the Confederates), was the first legitimate land battle of the American Civil War. It was fought between the northern Union forces and the southern Confederate forces near the city of Manassas, Virginia, in the heat and humidity of a southern summer day. Bull Run is a tributary of the Potomac that divided the majority of the battlefield from southeast to northwest. The battle itself was fought on July 21st, 1861, though the Union Army began executing its movements to Virginia almost a week prior. The Civil War divided the states in simple terms of a Union north and a Confederate south, with a couple undecided states in the middle. The President of the Union was Abraham Lincoln and the Confederate President was Jefferson Davis. Months prior to Bull Run President Lincoln had appointed Brigadier General Irwin McDowell to command the Army of Northeastern Virginia. McDowell was a Mexican-American War veteran and West Point graduate. The commander of the Confederate Army of the Potomac was Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was dubbed “The Hero of Sumter.” He was also commended for valor in the Mexican-American war and like McDowell, a graduate of West Point. The two were classmates at one point. Only months after the start of the war at Fort Sumter, the Northern public pressed to march and capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, which could bring an early end to the war. Against his better judgment, BG McDowell yielded to the political pressure and on July 16, 1861, the general departed Washington with the largest field army yet gathered on the North American continent. The Confederates found themselves at a disadvantage in mass initially, and BG McDowell wanted to keep that advantage. He ordered Union MG Robert Patterson's Army to engage BG Joseph Johnston's Army in the Shenandoah Valley, about 50 miles northwest of Manassas. The Union objective was to overwhelm the Confederate forces with a distraction flank attack to the right and a swift surprise flank to the left. With the reinforcements choked off, BG McDowell’s ambitious plan would put his Army in the Confederate capital by the end of the day. The Confederates, however, had been planning to attack the Union left, and if the attack had gone as planned it might have led to a clockwise rotation of the forces. Hundreds of excited spectators in horse-drawn carriages flocked from Washington D.C. to Manassas to watch what they thought to be a speedy Union Army defeat the Confederacy. Both the spectators and the Union Army would leave Bull Run in a hectic retreat back to Washington D.C. Each force had two Armies, one to the east and one to the west. For the Union, BG McDowell commanded the 36,000 Army of Northeastern Virginia Union troops in the east. MG Patterson commanded the 18,000 troops in the west. Within BG McDowell’s Army of five divisions there were several elements that consisted of: The 11th, 13th, 14th, 38th, and 69th New York, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Maine, the 1st Minnesota, the 5th and 11th Massachusetts, the 1st Michigan, the 1st Vermont, the 2nd Wisconsin, with Griffin and Ricketts Artillery Brigades. BG Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac consisted of 21,000 troops in the east. BG Johnston’s four Brigades of 12,800 troops were in the Shenandoah Valley to the west and were critical reinforcements. BG Beauregard’s force of six Brigades consisted of: The 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 18th, 27th, 33rd, and 49th Virginia, the Hampton Legion, the 6th North Carolina, the 7th Georgia, the 4th Alabama, Stuart’s Calvary, Elzey Regiment, Early Regiment, and the 7th and 8th South Carolina. The weapon technology used was fairly similar for both sides. Both the Union and Confederate Army relied on simple single-shot Pattern 1853 Enfield Muskets for their infantrymen. The revolvers used...