Bull Run Monument
The oldest monument within a Civil War Battlefield, this monument commemorating the Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of First Manassas, was dedicated on June 10, 1865. The battle occurred on July 21, 1861, and was the first major battle of the Civil War. In this monumental battle, both sides had approximately 32,000 untested troops, with just over half of each force being actively engaged in the battle. The Union's initial attack pushed the Confederates back, but the Union soldiers were slow in positioning themselves in a manner that could allow them to take advantage of this early momentum which allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive from the Shenandoah Valley and turn the tide. The result was a Confederate victory remembered largely for a disorganized Union retreat which became a symbol utilized by Southern partisans. The bloody battle was a sobering realization to many that the conflict would not end quickly, as previously speculated by United States leaders who hoped their army could quickly end the rebellion.
Map of the migration of troops from the First Battle of Bull Run.
Artistic recreation of the Battle - compare with what you see in front of you!
Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson
Rare wartime photograph showing the Matthews House on the battlefield
The reconstructed Henry House and Bull Run Monument
Backstory and Context
In the early months of the Civil War, United States political leaders pushed their generals for a march on Richmond, the established Confederate capital, believing that this action would bring a swift end to the rebellion. With great optimism and fears that they might miss the quick and decisive end of the rebellion, Northern civilians followed the soldiers to Bull Run. Some even held picnics, believing that they would witness a short engagement and complete victory for from a nearby hill.
Union General Irvin McDowell recognized that such an outcome was unlikely as his soldiers were inexperienced, but the same was true of Confederate forces. Intense political pressure eventually pushed McDowell to march into action despite his personal feelings against such a battle tactic. He set out with a large force of 35,000 men hoping to send two columns to attack the Confederate line of Bull Run to occupy their attention. McDowell’s other plan was to then send the third column to the rear of the Confederate line which cuts off their supply line to Richmond. McDowell's ultimate goal was designed to force a Confederate retreat and relieve some pressure on the Capital.
This plan, however, was poorly executed by McDowell's subordinate officers as they took too long positioning themselves. However, the surprise ambush was nonetheless effective putting the Confederate forces into dire straits. Despite this small lead in the conflict, the time it took the Union troops to position themselves became troublesome for their side. It allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive by rail and turn the tide of the battle. These reinforcements were fresh putting the disadvantage on the Union Army, but they did not have to march a great distance to the battlefield and had not been involved in the pitched combat. The arrival of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston from the Shenandoah Valley quickly turned the favor of battle to the Confederacy.
Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson, nicknamed Stonewall Jackson, and his men held their position against the Union Army refusing to give up. This allowed a counterattack to be launched from Confederate troops making the Union withdrawal fire. Due to the overwhelming Confederate response, the Union panicked and made a very hasty retreat. The Confederate Army claimed victory in this battle as the Union retreated back to Washington D.C. in a disorganized manner. This battle marked the first of many major battles to come in the American Civil War.
This battle also highlighted that this war would be a prolonging conflict and many lives would be at stake. It foreshadowed how bloody these battles were going to get and highlighted the problems during the first year of the war, like the inexperienced troops and disorderly battle plans. Over 2,000 Union troops died during this battle and the Confederacy lost over 1,000. Mobilization efforts would continue to rise as the battles became fiercer.
"The Battle of Bull Run Summary & Facts." Civil War Trust. Accessed August 4, 2016. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/bullrun.html. "The Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run)." U.S. National Park Service. Accessed August 4, 2016. http://www.nps.gov/mana/historyculture/first-manassas.htm. "First Battle of Bull Run." HISTORY.com. Accessed August 4, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/first-battle-of-bull-run.