Day 9 – First Manassas (or Bull Run) 1861

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September 17, 2019 by Lee

Well today started out with us over sleeping and nearly missing breakfast. Not a good start when you’ve planned a six mile hike around the first Manassas (or Bull Run, depending what side your from) battlefield.

A Brief Summary of the Battle 

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On July 16, 1861, the new Union volunteer army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched from Washington DC toward the Confederate army under Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard, drawn up behind Bull Run creek west of Centreville. Beauregard’s men defended the strategic railroad junction at Manassas, just west of the creek.

On July 17th, McDowell sent a small force across Bull Run at Blackburn’s Ford to test the Confederate defenses.  A brief skirmish ensured, with light casualties and little result.

McDowell made plans to attack the north or left end of Beauregard’s line, while making a simultaneous demonstration where the Warrenton Turnpike crossed the creek at a stone bridge.

Early on the 21st, two of McDowell’s divisions crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the morning as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill and more Union brigades crossed Bull Run.

In the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements arrived via railroad from Gen. Joseph Johnston’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, among them a brigade of Virginians under Gen. Thomas J. Jackson.  Jackson organized a defense of Henry Hill bolstered by artillery.

McDowell also ordered more infantry and artillery to Henry Hill, where the fiercest fighting of the new war occurred. Additional Confederate reinforcements broke the Union right flank, and Jackson held his ground on Henry Hill “like a stone wall.” Under counterattack and with no reinforcements, the Federals retreated, and, when pressed hard by the Confederates, rapidly deteriorated into a complete rout.

The next day, the shattered Union army reached the safety of Washington and the first battle of the war was over.  The emboldened Confederates would fight on for nearly four more years.

Summary of our walk

The walk I thought we were going to do was that of around the perimeter of Henry Hill, how wrong I was. We arrived at the visitor centre where you can start the trail of First Manassas. This took us down the path where the Confederate reinforcements came to bolster Henry Hill in the afternoon.

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Confederate Reinforcements came up this path to Henry Hill in the afternoon

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Confederate path from Manassas Junction

Next we continued walking to Blackburn’s ford where the Union crossed and skirmished with the Confederates. The Confederate position has a signal station attached and they frantically sent messages back to Henry Hill to warn Beauregard that his left flank is going to be turned.

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Following along from this we came to the site of the stone bridge. This was the main access for the Union to get their wagons and artillery across the Bull Run. Bull Run has very steep banks and is impossible to get wheeled things across, apart from the bridge or the fords, (the later the Confederate forced were watching).

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After leaving the bridge we walked up a very steep path (this was the same path the Sherman took his brigade around the left flank of the Confederate army to Matthew las Hill). We continued this path until we reached Matthews Hill at the point the Union attack’s.

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Union artillery at the top of Matthews Hill

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Just over the crest of Matthews Hill advancing to ahem Bees position

We followed the path down through the centre of Matthews Hill to where Confederate Gen Bee and his brigade were positioned. Here was the site of fierce firefight which also included the area around the Robinson House. General Bee and his men fell back to Henry Hill under the weight of the Union numbers.

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General Bee position on Matthews Hill

Continuing our walk down Matthews Hill we came to a Stone House. This house was used by both sides in both battles at Manassas as a field hospital, it’s ironic as it’s right in the middle of both battle fields. The other side of this house is Henry Hill which saw the bloodiest action in the day.

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We began our walk up Henry Hill and believe me both Matthew and Henry Hills are fairly steep. You can certainly see why the Confederates chose to defend Henry Hill. As you get over the top, you come to a replica of Judith Henry House. Judith Henry was an old lady, partially blind and bed ridden. She refused to leave her home and chose to stay with all the fighting that was going on around. The Union soldiers managed to push the Confederates back and they moved Ricketts Artillery next to the house. Unbeknown to Rickett and the gun crews, the Confederates placed sharpshooters in the house and they began to pick off the gun crew. Rickett ordered the guns to be turned and fire on the house, this action killed Judith Henry and she is buried outside he home and her home was destroyed.

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Judith Henry House

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Judith Henry Grace Stone

The area around the top of Henry Hill is littered with artillery from both sides and of course the bronze statue of Thomas J Jackson standing like a stone wall.

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Some of the many Confederate artillery pieces on Henry Hill

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Stonewall Jackson

We’ve been told many times including at Stonewalls headquarters (where there is a replica of this statue), that the only thing that is like stonewall is the shoulders and head. His horse was only 15 hands and barley clashed as a horse, but this statue the horse has been on steroids. As for Jackson well, we were also told that most marvel comic super heroes were drawn from Jackson last body of this statue. Also Jackson’s uniform didn’t have a cape. After all the things we have seen, this statue is very poor and even the park rangers hate it, but are unable to get it changed.

We ended our walk with much needed water and rest. Although it was cooler today, it was still very humid.

If you’ve not seen the rest of our adventures going around some of the American Civil War Battlefields, then feel free to look back at the rest of the days.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this post then please like, comment and share as we continue our adventure.

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Colours 2019

Colours 2019September 7th, 2019
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