First Battle of Bull Run

American Civil War Battle

Jefferson Davis - President of the Confederate States of America During the Civil War
Jefferson Davis - President of the Confederate States of America During the Civil War. Courtesy Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, James Wadsworth Family Papers LC-MSS-44297-33-129


July 21, 1861


Manassas, Virginia. The Battle was called the First Battle of Bull Run by the north because of a stream where it was fought. However, the south called the battle First Manassas after the city of Manassas that was close by. The city of Manassas is located about 30 miles from Washington D.C.

Key Individuals Involved in the First Battle of Bull Run:

Union: Brigadier General Irvin McDowell
Confederate: Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston, Brigadier General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, and General P.G.T.


Brief Overview of the Battle :

The Union and Confederate forces met at Manassas, Virginia with relatively equal forces of 18,000 men on each side. Both sides planned to attack the other’s left flank with the majority of their armies. However, the confederates realized quickly the Union army’s plan and moved forces to meet the attack upon their left flank. A little known general from Virginia, Thomas J. Jackson led a brigade of Virginians that held their position against the Union flanking maneuver and earned his nickname 'Stonewall Jackson'. At the same time, the Confederate forces were able to build up enough troops on the Union right side to overrun that flank leading to a disorderly retreat of the Union forces to the North. In fact, many wealthy families came out for the day to picnic and watch what they thought would be an easy victory for the Union. These same civilians eventually fled in panic when things went poorly for the Union, impeding the retreat of the forces with civilians and troops on the roads back to Washington, D.C.

The president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis arrived at the battle in time to witness the Union's retreat. Even with his urging The Confederate army made little effort to pursue the fleeing troops.


The first battle of the Civil War was a victory for the Confederate forces even though both sides received heavy casualties.

However, approximately 5,000 men died. Of those, 3,000 were Union soldiers. The Union leader Brigadier General Irvin McDowell would receive the lion share of the blame for the defeat and would eventually be replaced as leader of the Union army by Major General George B. McClellan.

Significance of the First Battle of Bull Run:

This was the first major land battle of the Civil War. It was also the battle that made the war become real to many. Before the First Battle of Bull Run, many in the north and the south had romanticized the war. However, with the deaths of troops and civilians, the reality of war was brought home. President Lincoln signed a bill allowing for the enlistment of an additional 500,000 men, a prelude to the casualties to come.

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Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "First Battle of Bull Run." ThoughtCo, Nov. 30, 2015, Kelly, Martin. (2015, November 30). First Battle of Bull Run. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "First Battle of Bull Run." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 18, 2017).