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Battles of Bull Run

Battles of Bull Run

During the American Civil War (1861–65), only one hundred miles separated the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia , from the Union capital of Washington, D.C. There were many violent encounters between the two sides within this stretch of land during the war, including two Battles of Bull Run. Bull Run is the name of a small stream near the site of the battles. Manassas, Virginia, was the closest town, so the battles are also called the Battles of Manassas.

The First Battle of Bull Run

The First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) took place on July 21, 1861. It was the first major battle of the Civil War. Although the war had started in South Carolina in April, the two sides had only engaged in small skirmishes before Bull Run. Public opinion, however, called for greater action. The Union army was still gathering volunteers and trying to train its men, but President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) faced pressure to suppress the rebellion. Under orders from Lincoln, Union general Irvin McDowell (1818–1885), who was posted near the nation's capital with thirty-five thousand men, advanced southward.

Two forces from the Confederate States of America waited to the south in Virginia. General Pierre Beauregard (1818–1893) had nearly twenty-two thousand men in his command along the line of Bull Run Creek, across the main highways to Washington. General Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891) had nearly twelve thousand posted nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. When the Confederates became aware of the attack, they gathered along Bull Run Creek. General Johnston and his forces arrived to support General Beauregard on July 20, 1861, despite Union attempts to interfere with Beauregard's movement.

Union general McDowell attacked the Confederate forces on the morning of July 21. At first, his well-planned assault drove the Confederates back. The continuing arrival of fresh men from General Johnston's troops, however, gave the Confederates an advantage. The Union began a retreat. Though orderly at first, the retreat gave way to confusion when a bridge was destroyed. As Union troops continued to retreat to Washington, the Confederates abandoned their pursuit at Centreville, Virginia. They were too exhausted and disorganized to persist.

While the Confederates seemed to win the battle, it proved to be indecisive, like so many Civil War clashes. Neither the North nor the South won a great advantage, but many men lost their lives. A total of nearly 900 were killed (481 Union, 387 Confederate) and 2,500 wounded (1,011 Union, 1,582 Confederate). Over 1,000 were reported missing (1,216 Union, 12 Confederate). The battle foreshadowed the brutal toll that the Civil War would take.

The Second Battle of Bull Run

The Second Battle of Bull Run occurred in the same area as the first one, near Manassas, Virginia. The battle took place from August 29 to August 30, 1862, following the siege of Richmond by the Union. Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) intended to shift the battles to the north towards Washington, D.C., to relieve pressure on Richmond.

Confederate soldiers launched a successful series of attacks on the Union troops, who were under the direction of Major General John Pope (1822–1892) of Virginia. Forcing a retreat back to Washington, the Confederates improved their position for an invasion into Maryland . The cost was high for both sides. The Union army had 1,747 killed, 8,452 wounded, and 4,263 missing or captured. The Confederates had 1,553 killed, 7,812 wounded, and 109 missing. General Pope was relieved of his command to hold him responsible for the defeat.

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