“Battle of Bull Run,” by Kurz & Allison
On July 21, 1861, the Confederates defeated the Union army in the First Battle of Bull Run (also called the First Battle of Manassas), the first major conflict of the American Civil War. The battle would signal to both sides that the war would be longer and bloodier than either had anticipated.
In the months following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, there was increasing political pressure in the North for the Union army to launch an attack against the Confederates and quickly end the war. Despite General Irvin McDowell’s concerns that his troops weren’t prepared, he made plans to attack the Confederate forces gathered along Bull Run stream, near Manassas Junction, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington DC.
McDowell and his approximately 30,000 troops left Washington DC on July 16, slowly making their way to Centreville, Virginia. Once at Centreville, McDowell delayed for two days, unknowingly allowing time for thousands more Confederate troops under Joseph Johnston to join the main force under PGT Beauregard, bringing the Confederates’ total forces to roughly the same number as the Union’s.
Battle Description & Outcome
McDowell’s plan was to send half his troops in a feint at the Confederate center, while the other half of his force would come from upstream to attack the Confederates’ left flank. Despite problems with synchronizing the two parts of the attack, at first it seemed like the Union would carry the day.
However, a strong Confederate defense at Henry House Hill on the Confederate left, as well as a crucial attack on the Union right flank, helped turn the tide of the battle. The Union retreat soon turned to panic, and troops fled in chaos back to Washington, as did the spectators from the capital who had come to observe the battle.
Estimates vary, but the Union suffered about 481 dead, 1,011 wounded, and 1,216 missing (many of them taken prisoner), while the Confederates experienced about 387 dead, 1,582 wounded, and 12 missing.
Learn more about the First Battle of Bull Run through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the First Battle of Bull Run
Newspaper map showing positions of the Union and Confederate armies on morning of July 21, 1861 Mon, Jul 22, 1861 – Page 1 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.comVirginia newspaper reports on the Confederate victory at First Manassas (Bull Run) Mon, Jul 22, 1861 – Page 2 · Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America) · Newspapers.comMaryland newspaper carries description of First Bull Run battlefield, retreat, and aftermath Tue, Jul 23, 1861 – 1 · The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America) · Newspapers.comNorthern editorial on the Union loss at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) Tue, Jul 23, 1861 – Page 2 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) · Newspapers.comNewspaper speculates about the reason for the Union soldiers' panicked retreat at First Bull Run Thu, Jul 25, 1861 – 2 · The Perry County Democrat (Bloomfield, Perry, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.comVarious news from the North and South about the First Battle of Bull Run Fri, Jul 26, 1861 – 1 · The St Johnsbury Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vermont, United States of America) · Newspapers.comEditorial says Union loss at Bull Run is "a matter of comparatively small importance" Sat, Jul 27, 1861 – Page 2 · Wyandotte Commercial Gazette (Kansas City, Wyandotte, Kansas) · Newspapers.comSouth Carolina Confederate account of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) Tue, Jul 30, 1861 – Page 1 · Newbern Weekly Progress (New Bern, Craven, North Carolina, United States of America) · Newspapers.comDescription of the terrain of the Confederate batteries at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) Tue, Jul 30, 1861 – Page 3 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) · Newspapers.comNorthern paper describes geography & terrain of Bull Run battlefield, objectives, and casualties Wed, Jul 31, 1861 – Page 1 · Raftsman's Journal (Clearfield, Clearfield, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comStory of how "Stonewall" Jackson received his nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) Sat, Aug 3, 1861 – Page 2 · The Raleigh Register (Raleigh, Wake, North Carolina) · Newspapers.comCorrespondent's opinion about the aftermath, results, and effects of the First Battle of Bull Run Thu, Aug 8, 1861 – Page 4 · The Plymouth Democrat (Plymouth, Marshall, Indiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.comPrisoner reportedly says that Union soldiers did not expect defeat at First Battle of Bull Run Sat, Aug 10, 1861 – Page 2 · The New York Times (New York, New York, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.comWelsh newspaper reports on the Battle of First Bull Run (Manassas) and the Union defeat and retreat Sat, Aug 10, 1861 – 2 · Wrexham Advertiser (Wrexham, Clwyd, Wales) · Newspapers.comSouthern newspaper accuses North of inaccuracy in reporting outcomes of battles like First Bull Run Tue, Aug 20, 1861 – 4 · Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, United States of America) · Newspapers.com