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American Civil War

First Battle of Bull Run

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The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War. Although the Union forces outnumbered the Confederates, the experience of the Confederate soldiers proved the difference as the Confederates won the battle.

First Battle of Bull Run
by Kurz & Allison

When did it take place?

The battle took place on July 21, 1861 at the start of the Civil War. Many people in the North thought it would be an easy Union victory resulting in a quick end to the war.

Who were the commanders?

The two Union armies in the battle were commanded by General Irvin McDowell and General Robert Patterson. The Confederate armies were commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard and General Joseph E. Johnston.

Before the Battle

The Civil War had begun a few months earlier at the Battle of Fort Sumter. Both the North and South were eager to finish the war. The South figured that with another major victory the North would give up and leave the newly formed Confederate States of America alone. At the same time, many politicians in the North thought that if they could take the new Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia the war would be over quickly.

Union General Irvin McDowell was under considerable political pressure to march his inexperienced army into battle. He set up a plan to attack the Confederate force at Bull Run. While his army was attacking General Beauregard's army at Bull Run, General Patterson's army would engage the Confederate army under Joseph Johnston. This would prevent Beauregard's army from getting reinforcements.

The Battle

On the morning of July 21, 1861, General McDowell ordered the Union army to attack. The two inexperienced armies ran into many difficulties. The Union plan was far too complex for the young soldiers to implement and the Confederate army had troubles communicating. However, the superior numbers of the Union began to push the Confederates back. It looked like the Union was going to win the battle.

One famous part of the battle occurred at Henry House Hill. It was on this hill that Confederate Colonel Thomas Jackson and his forces held back the Union troops. It was said that he held the hill like a "stone wall." This earned him the nickname "Stonewall" Jackson. He would later become one of the most famous Confederate generals of the war.

While Stonewall Jackson held off the Union attack, Confederate reinforcements arrived from General Joseph Johnston who had been able to avoid Union General Robert Patterson to join the battle. Johnston's army made the difference pushing back the Union army. With a final cavalry charge led by Confederate Colonel Jeb Stuart, the Union army was in full retreat. The Confederates had won the first major battle of the Civil War.


The Confederates won the battle, but both sides suffered casualties. The Union suffered 2,896 casualties including 460 killed. The Confederates had 1,982 casualties with 387 killed. The battle left both sides realizing that this would be a long and horrible war. The day after the battle, President Lincoln signed a bill that authorized the enlistment of 500,000 new Union soldiers.

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