1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bull Run

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BULL RUN, a small stream of Virginia, U.S.A., which gave the name to two famous battles in the American Civil War.

(1) The first battle of Bull Run (called by the Confederates Manassas) was fought on the 21st of July 1861 between the Union forces under Brigadier-General Irvin McDowell and the Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston. Both armies were newly raised and almost untrained. After a slight action on the 18th at Blackburn’s Ford, the two armies prepared for a battle. The Confederates were posted along Bull Run, guarding all the passages from the Stone Bridge down to the railway bridge. McDowell’s forces rendezvoused around Centreville, and both commanders, sensible of the temper of their troops, planned a battle for the 21st. On his part McDowell ordered one of his four divisions to attack the Stone Bridge, two to make a turning movement via Sudley Springs, the remaining division (partly composed of regular troops) was to be in reserve and to watch the lower fords. The local Confederate commander, Brigadier-General P. G. T. Beauregard, had also intended to advance, and General Johnston, who arrived by rail on the evening of the 20th with the greater part of a fresh army, and now assumed command of the whole force, approved an offensive movement against Centreville for the 21st; but orders miscarried, and the Federal attack opened before the movement had begun. Johnston and Beauregard then decided to fight a defensive battle, and hurried up troops to support the single brigade of Evans which held the Stone Bridge. Thus there was no serious fighting at the lower fords of Bull Run throughout the day.

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The Federal staff was equally inexperienced, and the divisions engaged in the turning movement met with many unnecessary checks. At 6 a.m., when the troops told off for the frontal attack appeared before the Stone Bridge, the turning movement was by no means well advanced. Evans had time to change position so as to command both the Stone Bridge and Sudley Springs, and he was promptly supported by the brigades of Bee, Bartow and T. J. Jackson. About 9.30 the leading Federal brigade from Sudley Springs came into action, and two hours later Evans, Bee and Bartow had been driven off the Matthews hill in considerable confusion. But on the Henry House hill Jackson’s brigade stood, as General Bee said to his men, “like a stone wall,” and the defenders rallied, though the Federals were continually reinforced. The fighting on the Henry House hill was very severe, but McDowell, who dared not halt to re-form his enthusiastic volunteers, continued to attack. About 1.30 p.m. he brought up two regular batteries to the fighting line; but a Confederate regiment, being mistaken for friendly troops and allowed to approach, silenced the guns by close rifle fire, and from that time, though the hill was taken and retaken several times, the Federal attack made no further headway. At 2.45 more of Beauregard’s troops had come up; Jackson’s brigade charged with the bayonet, and at the same time the Federals were assailed in flank by the last brigades of Johnston’s army, which arrived at the critical moment from the railway. They gave way at once, tired out, and conscious that the day was lost, and after one rally melted away slowly to the rear, the handful of regulars alone keeping their order. But when, at the defile of the Cub Run, they came under shell fire the retreat became a panic flight to the Potomac. The victors were too much exhausted to pursue, and the U.S. regulars of the reserve division formed a strong and steady rearguard. The losses were—Federals, 2896 men out of about 18,500 engaged; Confederates, 1982 men out of 18,000.

(2) The operations of the last days of August 1862, which include the second battle of Bull Run (second Manassas), are amongst the most complicated of the war. At the outset the Confederate general Lee’s army (Longstreet’s and Jackson’s corps) lay on the Rappahannock, faced by the Federal Army of Virginia under Major-General John Pope, which was to be reinforced by troops from McClellan’s army to a total strength of 150,000 men as against Lee’s 60,000. Want of supplies soon forced Lee to move, though not to retreat, and his plan for attacking Pope was one of the most daring in all military history. Jackson with half the army was despatched on a wide turning movement which was to bring him via Salem and Thoroughfare Gap to Manassas Junction in Pope’s rear; when Jackson’s task was accomplished Lee and Longstreet were to follow him by the same route. Early on the 25th of August Jackson began his march round the right of Pope’s army; on the 26th the column passed Thoroughfare Gap, and Bristoe Station, directly in Pope’s rear, was reached on the same evening, while a detachment drove a Federal post from Manassas Junction. On the 27th the immense magazines at the Junction were destroyed. On his side Pope had soon discovered Jackson’s departure, and had arranged for an immediate attack on Longstreet. When, however, the direction of Jackson’s march on Thoroughfare Gap became clear, Pope fell back in order to engage him, at the same time ordering his army to concentrate on Warrenton, Greenwich and Gainesville. He was now largely reinforced. On the evening of the 27th one of his divisions, marching to its point of concentration, met a division of Jackson’s corps, near Bristoe Station; after a sharp fight the Confederate general, Ewell, retired on Manassas. Pope now realized that he had Jackson’s corps in front of him at the Junction, and at once took steps to attack Manassas with all his forces. He drew off even the corps at Gainesville for his intended battle of the 28th; McDowell, however, its commander, on his own responsibility, left Ricketts’s division at Thoroughfare Gap. But Pope’s blow was struck in the air. When he arrived at Manassas on the 28th he found nothing but the ruins of his magazines, and one of McDowell’s divisions (King's) marching from Gainesville on Manassas Junction met Jackson’s infantry near Groveton. The situation had again changed completely. Jackson had no intention of awaiting Pope at Manassas, and after several feints made with a view to misleading the Federal scouts he finally withdrew to a hidden position between Groveton and Sudley Springs, to await the arrival of Longstreet, who, taking the same route as Jackson had done, arrived on the 28th at Thoroughfare Gap and, engaging Ricketts’s division, finally drove it back to Gainesville. On the evening of this day Jackson’s corps held the line Sudley Springs-Groveton, his right wing near Groveton opposing King’s division; and Longstreet held Thoroughfare Gap, facing Ricketts at Gainesville. On Ricketts’s right was King near Groveton, and the line was continued thence by McDowell’s remaining division and by Sigel’s corps to the Stone Bridge. At Centreville, 7 m. away, was Pope with three divisions, a fourth was north-east of Manassas Junction, and Porter’s corps at Bristoe Station. Thus, while Ricketts continued at Gainesville to mask Longstreet, Pope could concentrate a superior force against Jackson, whom he now believed to be meditating a retreat to the Gap. But a series of misunderstandings resulted in the withdrawal of Ricketts and King, so that nothing now intervened between Longstreet and Jackson; while Sigel and McDowell’s other division alone remained to face Jackson until such time as Pope could bring up the rest of his scattered forces. Jackson now closed on his left and prepared for battle, and on the morning of the 29th the Confederates, posted behind a high railway embankment, repelled two sharp attacks made by Sigel. Pope arrived at noon with the divisions from Centreville, which, led by the general himself and by Reno and Hooker, two of the bravest officers in the Union army, made a third and most desperate attack on Jackson’s line. The latter, repulsing it with difficulty, carried its counter-stroke too far and was in turn repulsed by Grover’s brigade of Hooker’s division. Grover then made a fourth assault, but was driven back with terrible loss. The last assault, gallantly delivered by two divisions under Kearny and Stevens, drove the Confederate left out of its position; but a Confederate counter-attack, led by the brave Jubal Early, dislodged the assailants with the bayonet.

In the meanwhile events had taken place near Groveton which were, for twenty years after the war, the subject of controversy and recrimination (see Porter, Fitz-John). When Porter’s and part of McDowell’s corps, acting on various orders sent by Pope, approached Gainesville from the south-east, Longstreet had already reached that place, and the Federals thus encountered a force of unknown strength at the moment when Sigel’s guns to the northward showed him to be closely engaged with Jackson. The two generals consulted, and McDowell marched off to join Sigel, while Porter remained to hold the new enemy in check. In this he succeeded; Longstreet, though far superior in numbers, made no forward move, and his advanced guard alone came into action. On the night of the 29th Lee reunited the wings of his army on the field of battle. He had forced Pope back many miles from the Rappahannock, and expecting that the Federals would retire to the line of Bull Run before giving battle, he now decided to wait for the last divisions of Longstreet’s corps, which were still distant. But Pope, still sanguine, ordered a “general pursuit” of Jackson for the 30th. There was some ground for his suppositions, for Jackson had retired a short distance and Longstreet’s advanced guard had also fallen back. McDowell, however, who was in general charge of the Federal right on the 30th, soon saw that Jackson was not retreating and stopped the “pursuit,” and the attack on Jackson’s right, which Pope had ordered Porter to make, was repulsed by Longstreet’s overwhelming forces. Then Lee’s whole line, 4 m. long, made its grand counter-stroke (4 p.m.). There was now no hesitation in Longstreet’s attack; the Federal left was driven successively from every position it took up, and Longstreet finally captured Bald Hill. Jackson, though opposed by the greater part of Pope’s forces, advanced to the Matthews hill, and his artillery threatened the Stone Bridge. The Federals, driven back to the banks of Bull Run, were only saved by the gallant defence of the Henry House hill by the Pennsylvanian division of Reynolds and the regulars under Sykes. Pope withdrew under cover of night to Centreville. Here he received fresh reinforcements, but Jackson was already marching round his new right, and after the action of Chantilly (1st of September) the whole Federal army fell back to Washington. The Union forces present on the field on the 29th and 30th numbered about 63,000, the strength of Lee’s army being on the same dates about 54,000. Besides their killed and wounded the Federals lost very heavily in prisoners.