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The first major battle of the American Civil War occurred on July 21, 1861, in Manassas, Virginia. The Battle is known both as the First Battle of Bull Run, after the creek that ran through the battlefield, or, the First Battle of Manassas. Union forces under General Irvin McDowell, hoping for a decisive blow against the newly formed Confederacy, planned a surprise attack against the left flank of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard's forces at the railroad junction of Manassas. Both sides were unseasoned and unprepared for the carnage that would ensue. Hundreds of spectators from Washington lined the hills of the battlefield to cheer on the Union. McDowell, who was skeptical of the Union plan, amassed 35,000 soldiers - the largest land army ever assembled in America at the time, to attack the Confederate positions.
"Stonewall" Saves the Day
At 2:30 in the morning on July 21, McDowell sent two detachments from nearby Centreville toward Confederate positions. By 5:15, the first shots had been fired. Through the morning, Union forces had slowly pushed Confederate forces back until they broke through the Confederate right flank at about 11:30, sending them into a disorganized retreat. Gen McDowell elected not to pursue the retreating Confederates, who were able to regroup at the Henry Hill House. At 12:00, Confederate reinforcements under General Thomas J. Jackson arrived on the battlefield. It was at this moment, when Confederate General Bernard Bee is said to have uttered the timeless words "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall." From that point on Thomas J. Jackson would be known as Stonewall Jackson. Some historians believe Bee was actually angry at Jackson for not sending his troops directly into battle. The tide of the battle soon changed when Confederate forces under Jackson and Calvary Commander J.E.B. Stuart captured Union artillery around 3:00. Jackson commanded his soldiers to press on and for the first time in the war, Union forces would be horrified by the "rebel yells" screamed by Confederate soldiers on the attack. At 4:00, more Confederate reinforcements led by Kirby Smith and Jubal Early crushed a Union brigade and caused the collapse of McDowell's Union Army. Union forces began a disorderly and poorly managed retreat, accompanied by screaming spectators who clogged the retreat path. Confederate forces, also in a state of disarray, captured several hundred Union soldiers but failed to pursue the remaining forces back to Washington.
A Grim Reality
The First Battle of Bull Run proved to be the deadliest battle in American history to that point. Nearly 5,000 total casualties were recorded, with Union forces suffering roughly 1,000 more than the Confederates. The North was shocked and dismayed at the Union defeat and many feared the Confederacy would move immediately on Washington. At the very least, the First Battle of Bull Run proved the war would be long and violent. President Lincoln was forced to sign a bill that allowed for the enlistment of up to 500,000 additional soldiers.
Battle Breakdown - First Battle of Bull Run - This awesome printable helps students to essentially diagram battles! It requires students to write the cause, the players in the battle, the victor, and the effects of the battle. It comes with a descriptive narrative about the battle that students can use.
The Story of Wilmer McLean - This activity describes the ironic situation of Wilmer McLean, whose claim to fame was the Civil War "started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor." This activity requires students to make a comic about the situation.
First Battle of Bull Run Fact or Fiction Printable - This fun activity requires students to read a First Battle of Bull Run passage and then, to sort 10 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. The program gives immediate feedback.
First Battle of Bull Run Fact or Fiction Online - This fun activity requires students to read a First Battle of Bull Run passage and then, to sort 10 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. The program gives immediate feedback.
First Battle of Bull Run Correct-me Passage - This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about the First Battle of Bull Run that has eight factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.
Intonation - Stonewall Jackson Nickname - This fun activity requires students to analyze how emphasis can change the meaning of identical sentences, and describe what Bernard Bee may have meant by uttering the famous words "there is Jackson standing like a stone wall." Was he inspired or angry? See how emphasis changes the meaning of his words.