Gen. Irvin McDowell was in command of the Department of Virginia, with his headquarters at Arlington House; and, at about the middle of July,
1861, he was ordered to move against the Confederates. With 20,000 troops he marched from
Arlington Heights (July 16), for the purpose of flanking the Confederate right wing. A part of his troops under General Tyler had a severe battle with them at Blackburn's Ford (July 18), and were repulsed. McDowell found he could not flank the Confederates, so he proceeded to make a direct attack upon them, not doubting Patterson would he able to keep
Johnston in the valley. On the morning of July 21, McDowell's forces were set in motion in three columns, one under General Tyler on the Warrenton road, to make a feigned attack, and the other two, commanded respectively by Generals Hunter and Heintzelman, taking a wide circuit more to the left, to cross Bull Run at different points and make a real attack on
Beauregard's left wing, which was to be menaced by Tyler. The Confederate right was to be threatened by troops under Colonels Richardson and
Davies, moving from
Centreville. These movements were all executed, but with so much delay that it was nearly noon before the battle began. Meanwhile the Confederates had made a movement unknown to McDowell. The
Confederate government, just seated at
Richmond, hearing of the movements of the Nationals, immediately ordered
Johnston to hasten from the valley, and reinforce
Beauregard. This was done at noon (July 20) with 6,000 fresh troops. Hunter's column crossed Bull Run at Sudley Church, led by
General Burnside, with Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and
Massachusetts troops. Soon after crossing, it encountered the Confederates, and a battle ensued in open fields. The batteries of Griffin and Reynolds were brought to bear by the Nationals. Only a small stream in a little vale separated the combatants. The Confederates were led by Colonel Evans. The contest raged most fiercely. Hard pressed, Evans's line began to waver, when General Bee advanced with fresh troops, and gave it strength. Then the National line began to tremble, when Col. Andrew Porter sent a battalion of regulars under Major Sykes to strength-en it. More fiercely the battle raged. General Hunter was severely wounded. Colonel Slocum, of the Rhode Island troops, was killed, when Sprague, the youthful governor of the commonwealth, took command of his troops. The wearied Nationals, who had been on their feet since midnight, began to flag, when they were reinforced by troops under Heintzelman,
Corcoran. A charge made by a New York regiment, under Cot.
HENRY W. SLOCUM, shattered the bending Confederate line, and the troops fled in confusion to a plateau whereon Gen.
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had just arrived with reserves. The flight was checked, and order was brought out of confusion.
Alarmed by this show of unsuspected strength in the Nationals,
Johnston, who had arrived and taken the chief command, looked anxiously towards the mountain gaps through which he expected more of his troops from the Shenandoah Valley. Without these he had small hopes of success. There had been a lull in the conflict; and at 2 P.M. it was announced they were not in sight. At that time the Confederates had 10,000 soldiers and twenty-two heavy guns in battle order on the plateau. The Nationals proceeded to attempt to drive them from this vantage ground.
To accomplish this, five brigades—Porter's,
Howard's, Franklin's, Wilcox's, and Sherman's—with the batteries of Ricketts, Griffin, and Arnold, and cavalry under Major Palmer, advanced to turn the Confederate left, while Keyes's brigade was sent to annoy them on their right. General Heintzelman accompanied McDowell as his lieutenant in the field, and his division began the attack. Ricketts and Griffin advanced with their troops, and planted their batteries on an elevation that commanded the whole plateau, with the immediate support of
Colonel Ellsworth's Fire Zouaves, commanded by Colonel Farnham. To the left of these batteries, New York, Massachusetts. and Minnesota troops took a position. As the artillery and the Zouaves were advancing, they were suddenly attacked on the flank by Alabamians in ambush, and then by
Black Horse Cavalry in the rear, and the Zouaves recoiled. At that moment Heintzelman ordered up a Minnesota regiment to support the batteries, when the Con-federates in overwhelming force delivered a fire on these guns that disabled them by prostrating the men. Both sides suffered dreadfully. When
Johnston heard of the slaughter, he exclaimed, "Oh, for four regiments!" It was now three o'clock. His wish was more than gratified. Just then he saw a cloud of dust in the direction of the Manassas Gap Railroad. It was a part of his troops, 4,000 strong, from the valley, under
General Edmund Kirby Smith. They were immediately ordered into action, when the Confederates, so reinforced, struck the Nationals a stunning blow, just as the latter were about to grasp the palm of victory. It was so unexpected, heavy, and overpowering that in fifteen minutes the Nationals were swept from the plateau. As regiment after regiment gave way, and hurried towards the turnpike in confusion, panic seized others, and at 4 P.M. the greater portion of the National army was flying across Bull Run towards Centreville—leaving behind them over 3,000 men, killed, wounded, or made prisoners. The Confederates lost over 2,000. The Nationals lost twenty-seven
cannon, ten of which were captured on the field, and the remainder were abandoned in the flight to Centreville. They took only a single cannon in safety to Centreville. They also lost many small-arms and a large quantity of munitions of war, and medicine and hospital supplies. The Nationals were pursued some distance. Had the Confederates pressed on after the panic-stricken fugitives, the coveted prize of the national capital, with all its treasures, might have been won by them within twenty-four hours.
Johnston had escaped from Patterson, reinforced
Beauregard at a critical moment and won a great victory through the forgetfulness of Lieutenant-General Scott, who had given Patterson positive directions not to move until he should receive further orders. These the commanding general forgot to send! Patterson knew of
Johnston's movement, but his orders to wait were imperative. The first he heard of the disaster at Bull Run was through a morning paper from Philadelphia, on July 22.
The result of the battle was published with great exaggeration on both sides. It produced unbounded joy among the Confederates and their friends, and the loyal people were, at first, greatly depressed by it. While the Confederates were elated beyond measure, by the evidence the battle seemed to give of their superior skill and courage, and thousands flocked to the standard of revolt from all parts of the
Southern States, the loyalists were stunned by the great disaster, and the 75,000
men, whose three months' term of service was about to expire, were, for
the moment, made eager to leave the field, and return home. The
of the Confederacy, who arrived at Manassas just after the victory, made
an excellent speech at Richmond, now become its capital, and said to the multitude, when referring to the vanquished, with bitter scorn, " Never be haughty to the humble "; and predicted that the national capital would soon be in their possession. While the streets of Richmond were populous with prisoners from the vanquished army, and eager volunteers were pressing forward towards the camps of the victors at Manassas, the streets of Washington were crowded with a discomfited and disheartened soldiery, without leaders and without organization—the personification of the crushed hopes of the loyal people. Such was the sad picture of the situation of the republic, much exaggerated, which was presented to Europe in August, 1861. The intelligence was given first to Europe through The Times of London—the accredited exponent of the political and social opinions of the ruling class in England—by the pen of Dr. Russell, its war-correspondent in the United States. It excited among the ruling classes a derision of the government and loyal people of the United States, and gratified the opponents of republicanism. To them the ruin of the great republic of the west seemed to be a fact accomplished. English statesmen and journalists dogmatically asserted it, and deplored the folly and wickedness of the President and Congress in " waging war upon sovereign States," and attempting to hold in union, by force, a people who "had the right and the desire to withdraw from a hated fellowship." It was declared that "the bubble of democracy had burst." The London Times said (Aug. 13,
1861), " It is evident that the whole volunteer army of the Northern States is worthless as a military organization, . . . a screaming crowd "; and spoke of it as a collection of " New York rowdies and Boston abolitionists desolating the villages of Virginia."
The depression of spirits among the loyal people was, however, only momentary. Within a few days they were buoyant with faith and hope. There was a second uprising of the friends of free institutions more marvelous than the first. Volunteers flocked to the standard of the
Stars and Stripes by thousands. The Confederates were amazed by the spectacle, and did not venture near the capital in force, where loyal regiments were continually arriving. Five days after the battle,
Secretary Seward wrote to Minister Adams in London: "Our
Army of the Potomac, on Sunday last, met a reverse equally severe and unexpected. For a day or two the panic which had produced the result was followed by a panic that seemed to threaten to demoralize the country. But that evil has ceased entirely. The result is already seen in a vigorous reconstruction upon a scale of greater magnitude and increased enthusiasm."
The Pennsylvania reserves were transferred to the National army at
Washington. The government and people were satisfied that a long and
desperate struggle was before them, and they put forth most extraordinary
energies to meet the crisis.