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A. P. Hill

July 21st, 156 years ago.

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On this day, 156 years ago, Union and Confederate forces fought the first major land battle of the Civil War. Though the Civil War began at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the fighting didn’t begin in earnest until the Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of Manassas). Many expected that a single decisive battle would decide the outcome of the war. That expectation would be shattered on July 21, 1861.

Union General Irvin McDowell attacked Confederate forces under General P.G.T. Beauregard north of Manassas and just east of a small creek known as Bull Run. He hoped to open the way to Richmond, Virginia — the Confederate capital — and end the war. McDowell’s plan proved to be too complex for the untested troops he commanded, causing significant delays which were noted by Confederate forces.

In early fighting, the Yankees beat the Rebels on Matthew's Hill, but fighting flared again on Henry Hill where the Confederates held firm. As the day wore on, Confederate forces grew stronger while weary Union soldiers were suffering in failed attacks. General Thomas Jackson was critical to the attack and defense of Henry Hill, and, within a day, was known as “Stonewall Jackson.” Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements broke the Union right flank. A chaotic Union retreat began, soon to be made worse by a blocked bridge. It was the bloodiest battle in American history up to that time. Yet when the opposing forces struggled over nearly the same ground the following year, the Second Battle of Manassas would be four times as costly. The Civil War Trust has saved 198 acres at the Bull Run and Second Manassas battlefields.

As you commemorate the Battle of Bull Run, check out our animated map or battle map to learn more about the first major clash of the American Civil War.

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