America's Best History ... Battles of Bull Run

Manassas.  Bull Run.  The first major battle of the Civil War, plus a second battle a little over one year later.  Manassas Junction, just twenty miles west of Washington, D.C., became the site of two struggles to solve the split in the Federal government started with South Carolina secession and the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  It was a struggle that many thought would be over quickly, so much so, that when it was learned that a battle was brewing along the edge of the stream known as Bull Run, picnics were packed and bonnets were tightened amongst the political class and aristocracy of the city.  By the end of one hour amongst the hail of bullets, cannon fire, and the shrieks of the wounded and dying, it was pretty clear that the calousness and lack of seriousness that the citizens of the city thought about the strife, would be gone forever.  Fours years later and over 600,000 citizens and soldiers dead would make the first day at the first battle of Bull Run, in Manassas, Virginia, far from a quick and easy problem to solve.  Remember, that those casualties caused on the fields from this suburb of the District of Columbia to Vicksburg and Atlanta, to Gettysburg and Shiloh, came in a nation not of three hundred million residents, but one of thirty-one million people as of the 1860 census in all the states and territories.

The Civil War would begin at Fort Sumter, but not be cemented until the first Battle of Bull Run was over.  Just think about the numbers that would be coming, of the tragedies that would play a part of almost every family.  Context to today, imagine the demise of nearly six million Americans.  That is what the Civil War meant, after the battle.  That was what was about to come.  And if it had not been realized on July 21, 1861 on those surrey drives from Washington to the first major battlefield in 1861, it was on the way home or at least in the four years to come.  Let us not forget what Bull Run, or the Civil War, meant then or today, and the context it has, on the freedom we have today as well.

Abraham Lincoln had issued a call for troops on April 15, three days after the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.  For the next few months, outside a small skirmish or two, the time was spent in preparation.  Union commanders trained their troops, those three month wonders, while Southern generals, now including some of the best Army generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, did the same.
When the first shots were fired at Sumter, the Federal Army had only consisted of 16,000 troops.  By the time of the first Battle of Bull Run, the Union had 30,000 men under General Irvin McDowell near Washington and 14,000 under General Robert Patterson in the Shenandoah River Valley.  The Confederates had 20,000 under General Beauregard between Richmond and Washington with 11,000 additional troops under General Joseph E. Johnston in the Shenandoah.

General McDowell was confident that his army could defeat the troops of Beauregard.  The is predicated on the ability of Patterson to hold the remaining troops of the Confederate Army in the Shenadoah.  But this did not happen, and by the time of July 21, General Johnston had brought his troops into the Bull Run.  The fight would begin with Northern assault and end with a Confederate counterattack.  When the Union forces broke, they would retreat back to Washington in defeat, competing in the fury of withdrawal with all the spectators who had come to the Manassas, Virginia countryside for those picnics.  The casualties in the first Battle of Bull Run would be small compared to those of later battles, with over 3,500 killed, wounded, and missing.  It would be small compared to the second Battle of Bull Run held during the last days of August in 1862.  But what it augered for, and foreshadowed, was far from small.  It would devastate a nation, and would take years to bring the nation together again and heal all of the wounds.  (Print above right)  Second Battle of Bull Run. Shows the Army of Virginia and Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee. Currier and Ives, 1862.  Source: LOC.

General Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee
Source: U.S. National Archives.

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Pay the additional fee and see the Manassas: Age of Innocence film.  It covers the subject of both battles of Bull Run and the Civil War.  It is 45 minutes long and shown on the hour.

2. Take the Second Manassas driving tour.  With or without the audio CD (fee), the tour of the larger and more comprehensive 2nd battle helps the visitor understand the scope of battle.  During the First Battle, there had been 50,000 troops on the field and 4,878 casualties killed, wounded and missing; during the Second Battle, 112,000 troops on the field and 18,300 (approx.) casualties killed, wounded, and missing.

Battle of Bull Run

Ruins of the Stone Bridge after the 1st Battle of Bull Run.  Photo by Alexander Gardner.  Source: U.S. Archives.

What is There Now

Henry Hill Visitor Center
The main Visitor Center for Manassas National Battlefield Park is situated off Sudley Road.  You can view the park film, The End of Innocence, at the center, check into the ranger guided tours for the day (available spring to fall), and check out exhibits, including the electronic battle map, on the battles.  There is also the Henry Hill Loop Trail nearby, which is self-guided and one mile long. This trail predominantly covers sites of the 1st Battle of Bull Run.

Stone House
Twice engulfed in battle, the Stone House is open on weekends with guided tours and other programs.

Walking Trails
There are a variety of walking trails through Manassas National Battlefield Park.  Beyond the Henry Hill Loop Trail near the visitor center, two longer trails cover each battle; the First Manassas Trail is 5.4 miles long and the Second Manassas Trail is 6.2 miles long.  Interpretive trails at specific spots on the battlefield are also great for hikers and Civil War visitors at the Brawner Farm, Chinn Ridge, Matthews Hill, Stone Bridge, and the Unfinished Railroad.

President Abraham Lincoln archival photo
President Abraham Lincoln
Photo Source: U.S. National Archives

Lodging and Camping

There is no lodging or camping within Manassas, although there are plenty of motels, hotels, and other choices within the Route 66 corridor toward Washington, D.C.  For campers, there is Bull Run Regional Park nearby, as well as Prince William Forest Park.

Manassas Links

Manassas National Military Park

Nearby Attractions

Washington, D.C. National Mall and Memorial Parks NHS
Monocacy National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield
Mount Vernon
Washington D.C. Convention and Visitor's Bureau
Virginia Tourism
Maryland Office of Tourism

Manassas Then and Now

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas Then

1st Battle of Bull Run - With General Irvin McDowell appointed by Lincoln to head the Union troops of the Army of Northeastern Virginia, and given orders to gain quick victory.  The Confederates were too close to the city, with a line stationed barely twenty-five miles away.  McDowell would attack them with two columns while Patterson prevented reinforcements from the Shenandoah.  McDowell began his movement early on July 21, 1861 toward Sudley Springs and the Stone Bridge.  It had early success, but through the effort of Stonewall Jackson during the afternoon, the tide of the 1st Battle of Manassas began to turn.  When Union guns were captured, it turned to Confederate advantage, and the last Union troops retreated from Henry House Hill at 4 o'clock.  Meanwhile, Confederate reinforcement from the Shenandoah and Johnston's command came into play, defeating Union forces on Chinn Ridge.  The Union retreat became panic as they crossed the Bull Run, joining the fleeing civilians who had come to witness the battle.

Between the two battles, fear gripped the citizens of Washington as they feared a campaign against the city, but Confederate forces did not pursue that strategy. General McDowell was given credit for the defeat and replaced by General George B. McClellan following the battle.

Over the next year, federal forces would come back to the area.  In the photo above, Union cavalry at Sudley Ford in March 1862.  George Bernard photo.  Source: LOC.

2nd Battle of Bull Run- Fought from August 28 to August 30, 1862, the Second Battle of Manassas was much larger than its predecessor.  It was precipitated by the capture of the Union supply depot there by Stonewall Jackson.  On the 28th of the month, multiple attacks were launched by Confederate commanders under the overall command of General Robert E. Lee; Jackson at Brawner's farm (stalemate) and Longstreet at Thoroughfare Gap (success).  General Pope, now commanding the Union Army after McClellan's firing due to the failure of the Peninsula Campaign, attacked Jackson's position the next day, but gained no ground.  When Longstreet arrived on Jackson's right, unknown to Pope, the next day's attack by Union forces failed, causing a retreat that harkened back to that of the 1st Battle of Bull Run, although action in the rear of the Union Army restored order prior to the same level of disorder of 1861. 
Living History at Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas Now

Manassas National Battlefield Today - Visiting Manassas will give you an appreciation for the beginning of the Civil War and the sacrifices that were taken way back in 1861 and 1862 to guarantee our freedom while keeping the soverignty of our entire nation intact.  Although the park at Manassas has become surrounded by the enroaching suburbs of Washington, D.C., you can still feel the impact of the two Battles of Bull Run that shaped the Civil War and the nation.  Through guided walks, talks, films, and living history, all on the actual ground where the soldiers fought, a visit to Manassas today will go a long way to helping you understand where the nation was fought for and allowed to endure.  (Photo above) Reenactors show a firing demonstration.  NPS.

Custom Search

America's Best
History T-Shirts
and Gifts
Civil War and United States History T-Shirts & Gifts
150th Anniversary
Civil War T-Shirts and American History Gifts
Civil War 150th Anniversary T-Shirts and Gifts

Visitor Statistics

Manassas National Battlefield Park
538,888 visitors

#106 Most Visited National Park Unit

Park Size

Manassas National Battlefield Park
4,413 acres (Federal)
5,073 acres (Total)

Source: NPS.  2013 Visitor rank among 369 National Park Service Units.  

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Entrance Fee

Individual (16 and over) $3 for 3 days

End of Innocence Movie - $3

(under 16 free)

Manassas Weather
Summer - Warm and humid.  Winter - Cool to cold depending on the day.  Rare snow.

Stat Geek Baseball, the Best Ever Book
Get Stat Geek Baseball, the Best Ever Book, now including the Best Career Lists for Batters and Pitchers for every Franchise in History.

The Novel of the Wild West's 
Most Unlikely Hero & the son of Jesse James