Helps Confederates win the First Battle of Bull

When the war began, people in both the North and the South were confident that it would end quickly in a victo ry for their side. Spurred by such confidence, Northerners pressured President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; see entry) to make an early offensive advance into Confederate territory. After consulting with his advisors, Lincoln decided to attack a large Confederate encampment at Manassas Junction, Virginia. Since this rebel stronghold was located about thirty miles from Washington, Union leaders viewed it as a threat to the Federal capital. It also blocked the path that Union troops would take to reach Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.

On July 16, 1861, thirty-five thousand Union troops under General Irvin McDowell (1818-1885) marched out of Washington toward Manassas. They intended to fight twenty thousand Confederate troops camped on the banks of nearby Bull Run Creek, under the command of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard (1818-1893; see entry). In the meantime, fifteen thousand Union troops under General Robert Patterson traveled separately. They intended to meet eleven thousand Confederate troops camped at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891; see entry). The idea was for Patterson to keep Johnston busy while McDowell pushed Beauregard out of Manassas.

Unfortunately for the Union, Greenhow obtained a copy of McDowell's orders. She told the Confederate leaders when the Union forces would leave Washington, how many troops would be involved, what route they would take toward Manassas, and what strategy they planned to use in the battle. The First Battle of Bull Run (also known as the First Battle of Manassas) began on July 21. Just as McDowell began to gain ground against Beauregard's outnumbered forces, thousands of Johnston's troops arrived to save the day. Johnston had fooled Patterson into thinking that his Confederate forces were preparing an offensive attack, then snuck his men away to help Beauregard.

The Union forces made a panicky retreat, joined by thousands of spectators who had come down from Washington to watch the battle. People in the North were shocked that the rebels (Confederates) had won the first major battle of the Civil War. But people in the South were thrilled. Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808-1889; see entry) thanked Greenhow personally for her part in the victory. "But for you there would have been no Battle of Bull Run," he told her.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow sometimes involved her daughter when carrying out her spying operations.

(Reproduced by permission of Corbis Corporation.)

Rose O'Neal Greenhow sometimes involved her daughter when carrying out her spying operations.

(Reproduced by permission of Corbis Corporation.)

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