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The First and Second Battles of Bull Run

Listed under Battlefields in Centreville, United States.

  • Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
  • Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
  • Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
  • Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
  • Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
  • Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
Photo of The First and Second Battles of Bull Run
Photo by iainstanden
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For the battlefield enthusiast one of the greatest sources of battlefields, outside Northern Europe, is the United States of America. Here the country’s short, but at times, bloody military history has been well preserved and offers many opportunities for exploration. One such opportunity is the battlefield of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (or Manassas depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you favour!), two of the key battles of America's four year Civil War. The two battles were fought on the same piece of terrain, just 26 miles south-west of Washington DC, and some thirteen months apart.

The First battle was the first real set piece battle of the American Civil War and at the time many believed that its outcome would resolve the conflict there and then. The battle took place on a warm 21st July 1861, and pitted some 35,000 Union troops under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell against 33,000 Confederate troops under Brigadier PTG Beauregard. The tide of the battle ebbed and flowed, but at a critical moment the intervention of a Confederate Brigade under Brigadier General Thomas Jackson steadied a wavering Confederate line. Jackson’s actions caused Brigadier General Barnard E Bee to utter the immortal words to his troops, ‘There is Jackson standing like a stonewall’, and earned Jackson the sobriquet by which he has been known since. The tide of battle turned in the favour of the Confederates and the Union forces were driven from the battlefield in disarray, although Beauregard’s troops were not in a position to pursue them and seal the victory.

The Second battle some thirteen months later (28-30 August 1862) pitched 63,000 Union troops under Major General John Pope against some 55,000 Confederate troops under General Robert E Lee and his trusted subordinates ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and James Longstreet. Fought over three days it saw Pope engage Jackson’s troops before the rest of the Confederate forces had reached the field. Jackson, in a strong defensive position along an unfinished railroad, held off the Union assaults until Lee and Longstreet arrived on the field. Lee then deployed Longstreet on the Confederate right flank from where he was able to counter-attack against Pope’s exposed left flank. Once again Union forces were forced to retreat towards Washington DC. This Confederate victory was the pinnacle of Confederacy’s military success and opened the opportunity for Lee to invade the North a couple of weeks later.

The battlefield, like so many of the American Civil war battlefields, is well preserved as it is now a National Battlefield Park and protected by an Act of Congress. On arrival at the Park the first port of call should be the well-furnished Visitor Centre where a film of the battles is available along with an interactive map display and a small museum. The Centre also includes a very well stocked book shop. The park is well laid out with paths, trails and road routes and with, a good guide, the battles can be easily brought to life. The park is scattered with memorials to the troops who participated in the battles, including a very impressive mounted statue of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.

A trip to the East Coast of America to visit this, and the other battlefields and sites of the American Civil War, will be an absorbing and fascinating experience. However, if you cannot manage a full holiday try to steal a day away from those business meetings in DC and take the half-hour drive to Bull Run – it will be well worth it.

Written by  Colonel Iain Standen.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

Bull Run was the location of the first major land battle in the American Civil War. The battle was fought near the current city of Manassas. The battle began on July 21, 1861 and both resulted in a Confederate victory. These battles were fought over a year apart and were both very bloody. The second battle resulted in more casualties than the first but it managed to shock both sides and made them realize the war was going to be much bloodier than they had imagined. The battle was fought here because the North were making their way to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

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