FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN
The First Battle of Bull Run stemmed from the public (specifically the media) in the North wanting the Union Army to pursue on Richmond, Virginia. They assumed that if they could remain victorious, as they had in previous battles throughout the first few months of the Civil War, it might be possible for the entire war to end quickly. President Abraham Lincoln agreed, and he ordered Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to lead an attack on 20,000 Confederate troops near Manassas Junction, Virginia, where they camped at a river called Bull Run.
McDowell was known as a cautious man, and even though he would have had a 15,000 troop advantage at Bull Run over the defending Confederates, he felt like Lincoln should have postponed the attack to guarantee proper training for his soldiers. Although Lincoln would deny the request and order the troops to start marching on July 16th, the extra time in discussions allowed for General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was commanding the southern army at Bull Run, to call for reinforcements. Beauregard’s backup came in the way of General Joseph E. Johnston arriving with 11,000 rebel soldiers from the Shenandoah Valley, essentially evening the battlefield in numbers.
The fighting began on July 21st, when McDowell led his force across the river at Sudley Ford to attack the defending Confederate left flank. Throughout the first few hours, it seemed apparent that the Union forces were going to be victorious once again, as 10,000 troops pushed back the 4,500 rebel soldiers on the flank back across the Washington Turnpike. When reinforcements began to arrive for both sides, there seemed to be at a standstill as neither army was able to make a push. Approximately 18,000 men were fighting for both sides as Beauregard and McDowell ordered attacks and counter-attacks. Eventually, the Confederate army, fueled by their infamous “rebel yells”, broke through the Union lines, causing a retreat by the Northern army and civilians who had been anxiously watching the fighting from nearby hills. The Confederate army had successfully defended the push by the Union, and had therefore won a crucial battle.
Because there was a great deal of chaos throughout the battle with such a large amount of added reinforcements throughout the duration, the Confederate army was so unorganized that they were unable to press their advantage after the retreat of the Union forces. It did not matter however, the Confederate forces had won a battle, in both casualties and morale. Union forces lost 3,000 men in the single day fight, while the Confederates had 1,750 casualties. More importantly was the swing in momentum. Lincoln and the Union were hoping for a decisive victory to all but end the war, but after losing, the Northerners were now reeling, and the Southerners were now booming with confidence and even thought they might be able to achieve a swift victory. In the end, both sides would have to realize that they were in for a long and grueling fight, and that the first Battle at Bull Run was only the beginning.