From First Manassas to Chancellorsville

After the secession of Virginia and the transfer of the Confederate capital to Richmond, both sides sought to mobilize men and resources and devise their military strategies. The North faced the prospect of mounting an active campaign to compel the Confederate states to return to the Union, while the Confederacy had the easier task of responding to northern movements. If Lincoln and his government proved unable to launch a major offensive, the Confederacy would win its independence by default.

Volunteers poured into both armies. The Confederate Congress passed laws in March and May 1861 authorizing the enrollment of 500,000 men (from a pool of roughly 1,000,000 military-age white males), and hundreds of thousands stepped forward. About half volunteered for three years and the rest for 12 months. The North drew roughly 700,000 men into its forces during the initial rush to the colors, most of them for three years' service.

The basic unit of organization on both sides was the company, which on paper contained 100 men. Ten companies made up a regiment, four or more regiments a brigade, two or more brigades a division, and two or more divisions a corps (the Confederacy did not officially have corps until the autumn of 1862). Companies tended to be raised from a single locality, and many regiments came from one town or county. Locally prominent individuals served as company and regimental officers. In terms of drill and discipline, regiments with a West Pointer, a graduate of military colleges such as the Virginia Military Institute, or a veteran of the war with Mexico typically progressed far more rapidly than those dependent entirely on civilian officers.

Strategic planning proceeded apace with volunteering. General-in-Chief Winfield

Scott coordinated Union planning. Born in 1786, hero of the second war against Great Britain in 1812 and the war with Mexico in the 1840s, and the Whig Party's nominee for President in 1852, Scott was in the final stage of an illustrious career. He had cut an imposing figure as a younger man, a full 6 feet 5 inches tall, immaculately dressed and of flawless military bearing. Ulysses S. Grant described him in the 1840s as 'the finest specimen of manhood my eyes had ever beheld, and the most to be envied.' By 1861, Scott suffered from an array of ailments and weighed more than 3001b (135kg), but his mind remained strong and in April and May he formulated a long-range plan for defeating the Confederacy.

Known as the 'Anaconda Plan' because it aimed to squeeze the Confederacy to death, Scott's strategic blueprint called for a vigorous movement down the Mississippi river by a naval flotilla and an army of 80,000. Union control of the Mississippi would split the Confederacy into two pieces, while other naval forces would blockade southern ports and cut off supplies from the outside world. Should the Confederacy continue to resist after losing the Mississippi and its key ports, Scott believed a major invasion would be necessary. Such an operation would consume two or three years and require a force of up to 300,000 soldiers. Scott took a realistic view of campaigning with volunteer soldiers. The initial strike down the Mississippi could not begin earlier than the autumn of 1861, he insisted, due to the need to muster the recruits, train them for several months and prepare the logistical effort.

The old General's planning, which in many respects anticipated the way the war would be conducted, soon ran foul of politics and public opinion. Scott worried

Eastern Theater of Operations, May 1861-June 1863

that the northern people would demand an immediate invasion of the Confederacy to extinguish the rebellion, and his fears soon proved to be well grounded. When the Confederacy moved its capital to Richmond, just 100 miles (160km) separated the two seats of government. Ignorant of the staggering task of equipping and training an army, northerners clamoured for an immediate campaign against Richmond. This began a pattern that held for the remainder of the war. Many in the North, both civilians and political leaders, exhibited a preoccupation with Richmond rooted in a belief that its capture would destroy the Confederacy. This preoccupation in turn helped make northern and central Virginia by far the bloodiest battleground of the war.

Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run

At a meeting on 29 June 1861, Abraham Lincoln listened to his military and political advisers discuss strategy. Brigadier-General Irvin McDowell, a 42-year-old West Pointer who had served his entire career in staff positions and enjoyed excellent political connections, commanded Union troops near Washington. He urged an attack against a Confederate force known to be in position 25 miles (40km) south-west of Washington near Manassas Junction. Scott opposed McDowell, arguing for 'a war of large bodies' rather than 'a little war by piece-meal.' Lincoln and the cabinet supported McDowell, approving an advance to begin on 9 July. Meanwhile, northern newspapers called for a quick movement into Virginia. The New York Tribune trumpeted: 'Forward to Richmond! Forward to Richmond! - The Rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the 20th of July! By that date the place must be held by the National Army!' On 16 July, a week past the date originally set, McDowell put his army in motion towards Manassas Junction.

Four armies played roles in the campaign. Near Winchester in the lower Shenandoah valley (rivers flow south-west to north-east in the valley, so the northern section is called the lower valley), Joseph E. Johnston commanded about 12,000 soldiers who guarded the north-west flank of Confederate forces in Virginia. Opposite Johnston, near Harpers Ferry, Robert Patterson led nearly 18,000 Union troops. A veteran of the war of 1812, the aged Patterson had orders to watch Johnston and prevent his movement out of the valley to link up with P. G. T. Beauregard's 20,000 Confederates near Manassas Junction. McDowell's 35,000 men, the largest American field army to that point in history, marched to strike Beauregard before Johnston could reinforce him. The Confederate forces enjoyed the strategic advantage of the Manassas Gap Railroad, which ran from Beauregard's position to a point slightly south of Johnston's.

McDowell's green troops moved slowly towards Manassas, exhibiting lax discipline while consuming two and a half days in a 20-mile (32km) march to Centreville.

Loyal Chancellor Images

A native of Virginia who remained loyal to the Union, Winfield Scott ranks among the most accomplished soldiers in United States history. Scott's brilliant march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City in 1847 impressed the Duke ofWellington. 'His campaign was unsurpassed in military annals,' observed the Duke. 'He is the greatest living soldier' (Author's collection)

A native of Virginia who remained loyal to the Union, Winfield Scott ranks among the most accomplished soldiers in United States history. Scott's brilliant march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City in 1847 impressed the Duke ofWellington. 'His campaign was unsurpassed in military annals,' observed the Duke. 'He is the greatest living soldier' (Author's collection)

Confederate civilians alerted Beauregard about the Union advance, and on 17 July he sent a message asking Johnston to join him and help 'crush the enemy.' Johnston had become convinced that the timid Patterson, who imagined himself badly outnumbered and refused to take decisive action, posed no serious threat. When orders arrived from Richmond early on 18 July urging him to support Beauregard if practicable, Johnston began shifting his troops towards a loading point on the Manassas Gap Railroad. The bulk of Johnston's force made the trip to Manassas over the next 48 hours, completing the first large-scale movement of troops by rail in an active campaign.

After inconclusive skirmishing on 18 July, Beauregard and McDowell each developed plans to hit the other's left flank on the 21st. Beauregard had placed the Confederates along the western bank of Bull Run, a sluggish stream to the north and west of Manassas Junction. Although outranked by Johnston, Beauregard maintained tactical control and planned to hold his left with a light force while massing his strength against McDowell's left. McDowell planned a demonstration against the southern right as a strong flanking force crossed Bull Run in the vicinity of Sudley Ford and sought to roll up the enemy's line along the creek.

The Union soldiers, or Federals, struck first on 21 July. After a fumbling advance towards Sudley Springs, northern troops under General David Hunter collided with Colonel Nathan G. Evans's brigade of South Carolina and Louisiana troops. Reinforcements came forward to support both sides, and a bitter struggle for control of Matthews Hill, a prominent knob on the Manassas-Sudley road, raged between about 10 and 11.30 am. The arrival of Union brigades under Colonels William Tecumseh Sherman and Erasmus Keyes eventually compelled the Confederates to abandon Matthews Hill and take up a position south of the Warrenton Turnpike on Henry Hill.

Beauregard and Johnston had abandoned all thoughts of a blow against McDowell's left. As Federals gathered themselves along

Picture Col Nathan Evans

Irvin McDowell impressed many of his contemporaries more as a gourmand than as a military leader Often tentative in the field, he acted more decisively at the table. A staff officer who dined with the General in 1861 described him as 'so absorbed in the dishes before him that he had but little time for conversation ... he gobbled the larger portion of every dish within reach, and wound up with an entire watermelon, which he said was "monstrous fine!" ' (Author's collection)

Irvin McDowell impressed many of his contemporaries more as a gourmand than as a military leader Often tentative in the field, he acted more decisively at the table. A staff officer who dined with the General in 1861 described him as 'so absorbed in the dishes before him that he had but little time for conversation ... he gobbled the larger portion of every dish within reach, and wound up with an entire watermelon, which he said was "monstrous fine!" ' (Author's collection)

A West Point classmate of Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston compiled a dazzling record during the war with Mexico and left the United States army in 1861 as a brigadier-general of staff. Always envious of his fellow Virginian Lee, Johnston garnered neither the public adulation nor the professional acclaim he believed his Confederate service deserved. (Author's collection)

A West Point classmate of Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston compiled a dazzling record during the war with Mexico and left the United States army in 1861 as a brigadier-general of staff. Always envious of his fellow Virginian Lee, Johnston garnered neither the public adulation nor the professional acclaim he believed his Confederate service deserved. (Author's collection)

the Warrenton Turnpike for a final push against Henry Hill, Confederates sought to knit together a stable defensive line. Among the southern troops going into position was a brigade of five Virginia regiments led by Brigadier-General Thomas Jonathan Jackson. This dour Virginian, a graduate of West Point in 1846, had fought with distinction in Mexico and later taught at the Virginia Military Institute. As Jackson's soldiers went into position on Henry Hill, Brigadier-General Barnard Bee of South Carolina, whose brigade had fought on Matthew's Hill, remarked that the enemy 'are beating us back.' 'Sir,' replied Jackson, 'we will give them the bayonet.'

Fighting swayed back and forth across the crest and along the slopes of Henry Hill between about 1.30 and 3.30 pm. Near the eye of the storm stood the home of Judith Carter Henry, an 85-year-old bedridden widow who became the only civilian killed during the battle (various accounts place the number of wounds she suffered as high as 13). Jackson's brigade played a major part in the action. At one point, General Bee approached a group of soldiers standing some distance behind Jackson's position and asked, 'What regiment is this?' 'Why General, don't you know your own men?' replied an officer. 'This is what is left of the 4th Alabama.' The men said they would follow Bee back into the fight, whereupon he pointed towards his left and shouted: 'Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall; let's go to his assistance.' Thus was born the most famous soubriquet of the Civil War.

The climax on Henry Hill came at about 4 pm. Confederate brigades under Colonels Jubal A. Early, Arnold Elzey and Joseph B. Kershaw had hurried forward from Manassas Junction. The weight of their bayonets turned the tide, propelling exhausted Federals away from the high ground. 'We scared the enemy worse than we hurt him,' remarked Early later. 'He had been repulsed, not routed. When, however, the retreat began, it soon degenerated into a rout from the panic-stricken fears of the enemy's troops.' Beauregard next ordered a general advance. Hungry, thirsty, hot and without experience in such situations, thousands of Union troops decided they had seen enough. 'The men seemed to be seized simultaneously by the conviction that it was no use to do anything more,' observed a northern officer, 'and they might as well start home.'

The tide of humanity sweeping away from the battlefield included a number of people who had ridden out from Washington to watch the action. Soldiers discarded their weapons and pressed eastwards in the midst of cannons, caissons and wagons, jostling for position among civilians in fine carriages. Congressman Alfred Ely of New York was taken prisoner, barely escaping death at the hands of an infuriated South Carolina colonel who tried to shoot him. 'He's a member of Congress, God damn him,' raged the colonel. 'Came out here to see the fun! Came to see us whipped and killed! God damn him! If it was not for such as he there would be no war. They've made it and then come to gloat over it! God damn him. I'll show him.'

The Confederates made only a feeble effort to harry the retreating Federals. Although this failure would prompt a great deal of criticism, the southern army almost certainly lacked the discipline to mount an effective pursuit. Victory had left Johnston's and Beauregard's soldiers nearly as disorganized as their foe. By the end of the following day, McDowell's army had gathered itself near Washington. Any chance for a Confederate counterstroke had passed.

The Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run (Confederates called it the former, Federals the latter) set a new standard for bloodletting in American history. Union casualties totalled 2,896, and the Confederates lost 1,982 men. Carnage at later battles would dwarf these figures, but in July 1861 the respective nations viewed the battle as a ghastly affair. It foreshadowed later engagements in a number of respects. Both commanding generals sought to avoid frontal assaults by launching flank movements. The side with interior lines held an advantage, as the Confederates used the Manassas Gap Railroad to effect a

Campaign and Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run, 16-21 July 1861

The strategic situaciĆ³n, showing J. E. Johnstons movement from the Shenandoah Valley to reinforce P. G,T Beauregard at Manassas Junction.

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