Northern Newspaper Reports Defeat at First Battle of Bull Run
The First Battle of Bull Run (called First Battle of Manassas in the South) was the Civil War’s first major land battle. Over 60,000 troops clashed outside of Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, with the heaviest fighting near a small creek called Bull Run. The fifteen-hour engagement caused almost 5,000 casualties, and ended with a Confederate victory as the Union army’s retreat turned into a rout—some soldiers throwing down their guns and fleeing all the way back to Washington, D.C.
This was not the resounding victory the North had been expecting. Shortly after the Civil War began with the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Northern politicians, the public, and the press started demanding that the Union army invade Virginia and make a move on Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Some of the newspaper editorials ridiculed Lincoln and his military advisers for their inaction.
When they finally got the big battle they wanted the North was thoroughly defeated, its troops running from the battlefield in panic. The Northern papers had to break the bad news to their anxious readers. This account of the defeat was printed by the Wisconsin Daily Patriot (Madison, Wisconsin) the day after the battle, in its July 22, 1861, issue:
The Very Latest.
Rejoicing Turned to Deep Mourning.
Our Troops Retreating.
Great Destruction of Human Life!!!
Three of Our Batteries Taken by Enemy.
A Stampede by Our Troops.
Only about 200 Fire Zouaves Alive.
Washington Reinforced with Fresh Troops.
Washington, 22d, via Philadelphia.—Our troops, after taking three batteries and making a great victory, were eventually repulsed, and commenced a retreat on Washington. The retreat was in good order, with rear well covered by good columns. Our loss 2,500 or 3,000.
The fortifications around Washington are strongly reinforced with fresh troops.
Washington, 22.—After latest information was received from Centreville at 7:30 last night a series of events took place in intensest degree disastrous. Many confused statements are prevalent, but not enough to warrant the statement that we have suffered in a degree that has cast a gloom over remainder of army and excited deepest melancholy through Washington.
The carnage was tremendously heavy on both sides, and on ours is represented as frightful. We were advancing and taking their masked battery gradually but surely, and driving the enemy towards Manassas Junction, when the enemy seemed to have been reinforced by Gen. Johnston, who it is understood took command immediately, and commenced driving us back, when a panic among our troops suddenly occurred, and a regular stampede took place.
It is thought that McDowell undertook to make a stand at or about Centreville, but the panic was so fearful that the whole army became demoralized and it was impossible to check them either at Centreville or Fairfax Court House.
Gen. McDowell intended to make a stand at Fairfax Court House, but our forces being in full retreat he could not accomplish his object.
Beyond Fairfax Court House the retreat was kept until the men reached their regular encampments, a portion of whom returned to them, but a still larger portion coming inside the encampments.
A large number of troops in their retreat fell on the way from exhaustion and were scattered along the route on the way from Fairfax Court House.
The road from Bull’s Run was strewn with knapsacks and arms, our troops deliberately throwing away their guns and appurtenances to facilitate their travel.
McDowell was in rear of retreat exciting the troops to rally, but with only partial success. Latter part of army is said to retreat in order, his orders on field did not at all times reach those for whom they were intended.
It is supposed the force against our troops consisted, according to a previous statement, of about 30,000 men, including a large number of cavalry. According to the statement of two of the Fire Zouaves, they have only about 200 men left from the slaughter, while the 69th and other regiments suffered in killed and wounded. Number cannot now be known. Sherman, Carlisle, and West Point batteries were taken by the enemy, and the 8 siege 32-pound rifled cannon. It is supposed all provision trains belonging to us are saved.
Large droves of cattle were saved by being driven back.
…The city this morning is in most intense excitement. Wagons are continually arriving, bringing dead and wounded. The feeling is awfully distressing.
Both telegraph and steamboat communication with Alexandria is suspended today to the public. The greatest alarm prevails in the city.
The following is an account of the panic that resulted so disastrously to our troops: All our military operations went swimmingly and Col. Alexander was about erecting a pontoon across Bull’s Run, when a terrific consternation broke out among the teamsters who incautiously advanced.
Immediately after the body of the army lined the Warrenton road their consternation was shared in by numerous civilians, who were on the ground.
Whole army was in retreat for a time, a perfect panic prevailed, which communicated itself to the vicinity of Centreville, and every available conveyance was seized upon.
Several similar alarms on previous occasions caused by a change of position of our batteries, and it was most probable that alarm was owing to same fact.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.