Curious about the history of the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) or interested in commemorating the 160th? Manassas National Battlefield Park will observe this event during the weekend of July 17-18, as well as on the anniversary day, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Each day visitors can enjoy special talks, walks, and ceremonies.

 

Ben Lomond Historic Site will host its annual Civil War Hospital Weekend the following weekend, July 24-25, 2021.

 

Below you'll find information on the Battle and upcoming commemorating events: 

 

 

WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE BATTLE OF FIRST MANASSAS (BULL RUN)?

Imagine this today. Cheers rang out in the streets of Washington, D.C. on July 16, 1861, as 35,000 Union troops marched out to begin the long-awaited campaign to quickly capture Richmond and end the war. It was an army of amateur recruits, few of whom knew of the battle that was to come. As excitement spread throughout the city, citizens and politicians loaded up their wagons with their families and planned to picnic as they watched a colorful show. Little did the spectators realize – they were about the watch one of the bloodiest conflicts in North America to date. The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of Manassas, marked the first major land battle of the American Civil War.

 

On the morning of July 21, Gen. Irvin McDowell sent his attack columns in a long march north towards Sudley Springs Ford. This route took the Union forces around the Confederate left. To distract the Southerners, McDowell ordered a diversionary attack where the Warrenton Turnpike crossed Bull Run at the Stone Bridge. At 5:30 a.m. the deep-throated roar of a 30-pounder Parrott rifle shattered the morning calm, and signaled the start of the battle.

 

black and white image of the Stone Bridge at Manassas national Battlefield Park

Stone Bridge at Manassas National Battlefield Park circa 1880

 

McDowell’s new plan depended on speed and surprise, both difficult with inexperienced troops. Valuable time was lost as the men stumbled through the darkness along narrow roads. Confederate Col. Nathan Evans, commanding at the Stone Bridge, soon realized that the attack on his front was only a diversion. Leaving a small force to hold the bridge, Evans rushed the remainder of his command to Matthews Hill in time to check McDowell’s lead unit. But Evans’ force was too small to hold back the Union forces for long.

 

Soon brigades under Barnard Bee and Francis Bartow marched to Evans’ assistance. But even with these reinforcements, the thin gray line collapsed, and Southerners fled in disorder toward Henry Hill. Attempting to rally his men, Bee used Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s newly arrived Virginia brigade as an anchor. Pointing to Jackson, Bee shouted, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” Generals Joseph Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate commanders, then arrived on Henry Hill, where they assisted in rallying shattered brigades and redeploying fresh units that were marching to the point of danger.

 

black and white photograph of the Stone House on Henry Hill at Manassas Battlefield Park circa 1862

Stone House on Henry Hill circa 1862 (served as a makeshift hospital during the First and Second Battles of Manassas)

 

About noon, the Union forces stopped their advance to reorganize for a new attack. The lull lasted for about an hour, giving the Confederates enough time to reform their lines. Then the fighting resumed, each side trying to force the other off Henry Hill. Screaming as they advanced, the Confederates would become infamous for the “rebel yell”.  The battle continued until just after 4 p.m., when fresh Southern units crashed into the Union right flank on Chinn Ridge, causing McDowell’s tired and discouraged soldiers to withdraw.

 

At first, the withdrawal was orderly. Screened by the United States regulars, the army’s professional soldiers, the three-month volunteers retired across Bull Run, where they found the road to Washington jammed with the carriages of congressmen and others who had driven out to Centreville to watch the fight. Panic now seized many of the soldiers and the retreat became a rout.

 

The Confederates, though bolstered by the arrival of President Jefferson Davis on the field just as the battle was ending, were too disorganized to follow up on their success. Daybreak on July 22 found the defeated Union army back behind the bristling defenses of Washington.

 

The First Battle of Bull Run resulted in 3,000 Union and 1,750 Confederate casualties.

 

Three cannons on a battlefield with a historic house in the background

Manassas National Battlefield Park circa 2019
 
 

COMMEMORATE THE 160TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF MANASSAS (BULL RUN):

More History Events:

Law and Order Detective Camp

August 2, 2021 - August 6, 2021

Law and Order Detective Camp 9 a.m. - noon; $130 per participant ages 8 to 13 Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a...

Wednesday Walk at Bristoe Station Battlefield

August 4, 2021

Wednesday Walk at Bristoe Station Battlefield 6 p.m.; Free, donations encouraged Join the staff and volunteers of Bristoe Station...

First Friday Night Fires at Ben Lomond: Parks and Preservation

August 6, 2021

7:30 p.m.; $5 per person, children 6 and under free In a time when the outdoors means more to Americans than ever before, get outside,...

Museum Kids Monday!

August 9, 2021

Bring your child to Brentsville Courthouse this summer to explore history through sight, sound, smell, and touch through hands-on...

Along the Water Summer Camp-The Native People of the Potomac

August 10, 2021 - August 12, 2021

Along the Water Summer Camp-The Native People of the Potomac Tuesday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., $120 per child, ages 9-12...

Brentsville Bluegrass Concert Series

August 14, 2021 - October 9, 2021

Brentsville Bluegrass Concert Series Gates open at 4:00 p.m.; Concert starts at 5:00 p.m., Admission is $10 per person. For hundreds of...

Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park Tours

August 14, 2021 - October 24, 2021

Bristoe Station Battlefield staff and volunteers will provide guided tours of this hallowed ground that contains camps, cemeteries, and...

Civil War Advanced Camp

August 16, 2021 - August 20, 2021

Civil War Advanced Camp Monday – Friday; 8 a.m. – Noon; $160 per child, ages 8 - 13 The Civil War Advanced Camp picks up...

Museum Kids Monday!

August 16, 2021

Bring your child to Ben Lomond this summer to explore history through sight, sound, smell, and touch through hands-on activities and...

Walking Tour of Historic Prince William Towns: Haymarket

August 20, 2021

Walking Tour of Historic Prince William Towns: Haymarket 7 p.m.; FREE; donations welcome. Join local historians once a month this...

Prince William African American History Car Caravan Tour

August 21, 2021

Join local historians on a daylong tour exploring the unique and powerful stories behind the African American history of Prince William...

Rippon Lodge Car Show

August 21, 2021

August 21 Rippon Lodge Car Show 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; $5 per person, children under 6 free Enjoy a display of vintage and classic...

A Real-Time Walking Tour of the Battle of Kettle Run

August 27, 2021

A Real-Time Walking Tour of the Battle of Kettle Run 5:00 p.m.; Free, $5 suggested donation Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park...

Battle of Kettle Run Anniversary Weekend

August 28, 2021

11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Free, $5 suggested donation Join Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park staff and volunteers on the 159th...

Native American Campfire at Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre

August 28, 2021

Enjoy a campfire and roasted marshmallows at Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre as you learn about the native peoples who lived in...

Places to Stay

Sources:
  • National Park Service
  • HISTORY®
  • Prince William County Office of Historic Preservation