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Battle of Bull Run I

July 21, 1861

The Battle of Bull Run I, also known as the Battle of Manassas I, was the first major land engagement of the American Civil War. Fought near the town of Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, the battle resulted in a decisive Confederate victory.

After the Union surrender of Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 13, 1861, which began the American Civil War, many Northerners were eager to reunite the nation. Believing that Federal forces could easily capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, President Lincoln and other Washington, DC politicians urged Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to launch an offensive and to bring the rebellion to a swift end. Unsure of the readiness of his troops, McDowell reluctantly relented to political pressure and marched a force of about 35,000 soldiers (commonly, but not officially, known as the Army of Northeastern Virginia) out of Washington, toward Virginia on July 16.

Upon learning of McDowell's departure, Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard positioned his Confederate Army of the Potomac, consisting of approximately 22,000 troops, in a line along Bull Run, a stream near the town of Manassas Junction, Virginia. On July 21, McDowell initiated the battle by sending his troops across Bull Run at Shelby Ford, attacking the Confederate left flank. Unfortunately for the Union troops, McDowell's plan was so well publicized that even civilians traveled to the site of the battle for Sunday entertainment. The Rebels used the same information to begin sending reinforcements to the Union point of attack. Things went well for the Federals initially, and they drove the Confederates back from their defensive position. As the day wore on, however, Rebel reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of the Shenandoah arrived by rail and the Union advance stalled. Of particular note, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson's brigade was impenetrable, earning him the nickname "Stonewall."

By late afternoon, the Confederates mounted a counterattack, driving the Union soldiers from the battlefield. The ensuing Federal retreat disintegrated into a rout, sending McDowell's troops and civilians alike scurrying back to Washington. After the battle, Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis engaged in a lengthy feud over who was responsible for the Confederate failure to pursue the retreating Yankees more aggressively, possibly capturing Washington, and bringing the Civil War quick conclusion.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Bull Run I included:

Infantry units:

  • 1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

The battle, although small in comparison with what was to come, proved sobering to both sides. Combined casualties (killed and wounded) totaled over 5,000. Nearly 900 soldiers (460 Union plus 387 Confederate) perished on the battlefield that day. In the aftermath, McDowell became the first of several generals that Lincoln replaced during the course of the war, and both sides began making earnest preparations for what would prove to be a prolonged and bloody war.

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