21 Jul 2017

The First Major Land Battle of the Civil War

The First Major Land Battle of the Civil War
On this day, 156 years ago, Union and Confederate forces fought the first major land battle of the Civil War. Though the Civil War began at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the fighting didn’t begin in earnest until the Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of Manassas). Many expected that a single decisive battle would decide the outcome of the war. That expectation would be shattered on July 21, 1861.

Union General Irvin McDowell attacked Confederate forces under General P.G.T. Beauregard north of Manassas and just east of a small creek known as Bull Run. He hoped to open the way to Richmond, Virginia  the Confederate capital and end the war. McDowell’s plan proved to be too complex for the untested troops he commanded, causing significant delays which were noted by Confederate forces.

In early fighting, the Yankees beat the Rebels on Matthew's Hill, but fighting flared again on Henry Hill where the Confederates held firm. As the day wore on, Confederate forces grew stronger while weary Union soldiers were suffering in failed attacks. General Thomas Jackson was critical to the attack and defense of Henry Hill, and, within a day, was known as “Stonewall Jackson.” Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements broke the Union right flank. A chaotic Union retreat began, soon to be made worse by a blocked bridge. It was the bloodiest battle in American history up to that time. Yet when the opposing forces struggled over nearly the same ground the following year, the Second Battle of Manassas would be four times as costly. The Civil War Trust has saved 198 acres at the Bull Run and Second Manassas battlefields.

As you commemorate the Battle of Bull Run, check out our animated map or battle map to learn more about the first major clash of the American Civil War.

Bull Run Battle App

Explore the Civil War’s first major land battle with the Bull Run Battle App® guide. Our GPS-enabled mobile touring application will guide you through the battle with historian videos, audio accounts of soldiers, photos, orders of battle, chronologies, key facts, and more.

Hiking The Loop Trail

The Loop Trail at Manassas National Battlefield Park gives visitors the chance to walk on the same path that was used by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Stonewall Jackson on the day of the Battle of Bull Run.

Bull Run Gallery

Explore the Battle of Bull Run through historic images and battlefield photos, from Sudley Ford, to Henry House Hill, to the 50th anniversary commemoration with President Taft.

Shock and Awe at Bull Run

At its time, Bull Run was the largest battle ever fought in North America. 156 years later, it is still surrounded by myth and legend. In this War Department™ episode, Civil War Trust and National Park Service staff analyze this landmark battle.

Spectators Witness History at Manassas

It is a popular, almost legendary, story that innumerable civilians armed with picnic baskets followed the Union Army out from Washington for a seven hour carriage ride to watch what everyone thought would be the climactic battle of a short rebellion. Learn their stories.

Living History at Manassas National Battlefield Park

Join NPS staff to commemorate the 156th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) with a variety of historian led walking tours and living history demonstrations, from Stone Bridge to Chinn Ridge.


American Battlefield Trust

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