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July 1861: First Battle of Manassas or as the Yankee Army Called it, the First Battle of Bull Run

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

First Battle of Manassas 1861

First Battle of Manassas was the largest and bloodiest battle in United States history up to that point. Yankee casualties were 460 killed, 1,124 wounded, and 1,312 missing or captured; Southern casualties were 387 killed, 1,582 wounded, and 13 missing.

The First Battle of Manassas was the first major battle of the War Between the States resulting in a Southern Army victory. The battle was fought on July 21, 1861 just north of the Virginia city of Manassas near Bull Run creek and about 25 miles west-southwest of Washington DC.

On the 16th of July 1861, Yankee General Irvin McDowell moved his army of about 35,000 southwest out of Washington with a plan to make an diversionary attack on the Confederate forces on Bull Run creek with two of his columns, while the third column moved around to the south of the southern forces right flank, thus cutting the railroad to Richmond and threatening the rear of the Southern army. The Southern army was under the command of Brig. Gen. P. T. Beauregard. McDowell’s men were slow in positioning themselves for the upcoming battle, allowing southern reinforcements time to arrive and enter the battle. The battle soon fell apart for McDowell and his men thus resulting in a Southern victory for Beauregard.

The First Battle of Manassas is where an unknown Virginia brigadier general by the name of Thomas J. Jackson received his now famous nickname “Stonewall”. He and his soldiers rushed into a gap in the line and stood their ground holding the Yankees at bay when many others turned to run. Upon observing Jackson, one of his fellow generals reportedly said, “Look, there stands Jackson like a stone wall” and a nickname as born, not only a nickname was born, but a legend that many still look at today for his military greatness. The Southern army soon launched a counterattack, and as Yankee soldiers started to withdraw under a hail of southern bullets, many panicked and the retreat turned into a rout. McDowell's men frantically ran away without order in the direction of Washington, D.C. Then the victory at Manassas was secured for the south.

The Southern army failed to peruse the Yankee army and drive them into the ground like tent stakes, but instead were just happy to have their early victory. This was an epic failure, one that gave the Yankee army a chance to rebuild. This was a decision that many of them would come to regret later during the war.

As a student of history or even as a student of warfare, there is a lesson to be learned here from the First Battle of Manassas for us today. Never give your enemy the chance to retreat, regroup and or rebuild. This can and most likely will come back to bite you back on the rear one day, much as it did to Southern armies for the next four years.

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