General Joseph E Johnston




The battle of first bull run was one of the strangest engagements in the history of modern warfare. Fought by two almost completely untrained armies, it would end with one being utterly routed and the other so disorganized it could not follow up and exploit its victory.

The American civil war began on April 12th 1861 with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Since neither government was prepared for war, the first three months were devoted by each side to the raising and equipping of troops.

By July however an impatient northern public were pressing politicians demanding a “March on Richmond” attack to end the war. The ageing cheif of staff of the Union, General Winfield Scott reluctantly bowed to pressure from the White House and ordered the Federal Army of the Potomac (35,000 men) under Brigadier General Mcdowell to launch an offensive campaign.


General Irvin McDowell



McDowells objective was a Confederate army of 22,000 men under Brigadier General Beauregard, posted thirty miles west of Washington near the railroad junction town of Manassas. Forty miles north west of Beauregard was a Confederate force of some 10,000 led by Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston, which could quickley support Beauregard by railroad.

On July 16th the Federal Army of the Potomac marched from Washington. Military security was rudimentary at the time so McDowell had ample warning of the Unions movements and summoned Johnston who moved his forces to Manassas unobserved by Northern spies.

Because Johnston was senior to Beauregard, upon his arrival he assumed overall command of the Confederate forces. Johnston’s army lay behind Bull Run with the left flank positioned by a stone bridge which carried the main road to Washinton. The center and right stretched out a further eight miles along the numerous streams and fords.

McDowell’s army was positioned directly opposite the Confederates with the stone bridge marking the Union right flank while the center was positioned just west of the town of Centreville with the remainder of the army matching the enemy south along the streams and ravines.


Bull Run



Before dawn on July 21st, McDowell had 12,000 men cross Bull Run at Sudley Springs and ordered Colonel Ambrose Burnside’s brigade to attack the enemy left flank. The Confederates numbering 1,200 men were positioned on high ground behind the stone bridge under Colonel Nathan Evans.

At 9:00am, the battle began as both Evans and Burnside’s men began exchanging volley fire. By noon Evan’s brigade began to take heavy casualties he then ordered his men to fall back and reform around Henry House hill. Johnston was now forced to shift forces from his extreme right to reinforce Evans.