The day was July 21, 1861 (150 years ago) in Manassas Junction, Virginia. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter on 4/12/1861. However, the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) was the first major encounter between the Union and Confederate troops.
President Lincoln was concerned that the 32,000 Confederate troops at Manassas presented a threat to the nation's capital city. He ordered an assault by 29,000 Union troops. It was believed victory would be swift and the troops would then easily take Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.
Many civilians packed a picnic basket, grabbed their blankets and went to watch the "skirmish."
The battle was not going well for the Confederates until two Virginia units commanded by Brigadier General Jackson and Colonel Stuart rallied the troops at Henry Hill, captured the Union artillery and the defeat was under way. Both the picnickers and Union troops made a hasty withdrawal across Bull Run. His determination to stand, rally his troops and turn the course of battle earned Jackson the nickname "Stonewall"
Although it was not the deadliest battle of the war it made President Lincoln realize it would be a long war.
The one day toll
- 2,896 Union casualties
- 1,982 Confederate casualties
By the time of Lee's surrender more than 630,000 Americans had been killed - more than any other war in our nation's history. The country's population was only 30 million at the time.
The Confederate victory at First Manassas (Bull Run) was in defense of a morally indefensible economic principle.
General Grant met with General Lee in the parlor of the McLean house in the town of Appomattox Courthouse on April 8, 1865 to accept the Confederate surrender, only 120 miles from the first Confederate victory at Manassas.
Arthur and I visited the battlefield recently. The first thing you notice is the high level of activity at the Visitor's Center, but as soon as you leave and step onto the battlefield there is almost absolute silence.
People walk slowly and talk in hushed tones. Children don't run all over the open fields. The very nature of the site commands respect for the American blood that was spilled here. It makes no difference whether it was Confederate or Union and it is the same at any Civil War battlefield. Once you realize the artillery that is displayed was aimed at Americans by Americans the feeling of revulsion is instant. You are very aware you are walking on hallowed ground where thousands of young Americans lay dead, dying or severely wounded.
While there we made the video below. The first clip is Jackson on his horse at Henry Hill looking northward. The next two clips are of Confederate artillery pieces aimed northward The farmland at the split rail fence and beyond is the view from the Henry farmhouse looking north. The Henry farmhouse was destroyed during the battle, but was rebuilt in 1870. The last clip is Jackson's view in the direction of Union troops from Henry Hill, Of course, there are Union artillery pieces barely visible at the treeline facing south. At the time of the battle there were no trees.
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