Although the firing on Ft. Sumter at Charleston Harbor in April of 1861 marked the beginning of the Civil War, it was not followed up with battle upon battle thereafter. Quite the contrary. For the next three months both the North and the South were calling up volunteers, organizing armies and getting their respective citizens behind the war effort. Furthermore, in the South’s case they were still trying to put together a new government for their new nation.
By mid-July however, political pressure on Lincoln began to mount on trying to end this conflict quickly. Lincoln therefore ordered Brigadier General Irwin McDowell to march roughly 40,000 “green” Union troops against roughly 25,000 “green” Confederate troops under Brigadier General Pierre G.T. Beauregard (the hero of Ft. Sumter) at Manass Junction, VA not more than 30 miles from Washington, D.C. In order to shore up Confederate forces Confederate planners ordered troops to be brought in from Harpers Ferry to the west by rail. This is believed to be the first time in military history that troops arrived to a forward position or battle by rail.
Horrfic heat and poor troop training slowed McDowell’s march to a crawl and it took him five days to get within striking distance of Beauregard who set up his command behind Bull Run Creek. McDowell ordered a feint attack on the Confederate’s right flank, but the rouse did not work. The Confederates picked up both Union troop advancements coming from Warrenton Turnpike and down from Sudley Springs Ford.
It was at this battle that the eccentric Confederate Colonel Thomas Jackson received his legendary nickname. . .pushed back to Henry House Hill, Jackson came onto the field, where Confederate Brigadier General Bernard E. Bee yelled to his retreating men “there stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians.”
The Confederates did indeed rally, forcing Union troops to not only retreat off the field of battle but return to Washington, D.C. in a full scale panic. Washington politicians and socialites who came out to view the battle as “spectators” were caught up in the crazed evacuation back to the nation’s capital. The Union army was an undisciplined mess in late July 1861.
All told the Confederates won the battle, suffering roughly 2,000 casualties. Union losses were nearly 3,000 casualties. The real siginficance to the Battle of Bull Run ( called First Manassas in the South) is that it put an end to any thought that this conflict was going to be over quickly.