Today, July 21, 1861: First Battle of Bull Run

The stage for the Civil War was set as early as 1820. Tensions between the northern free states and southern slave states continued to grow as more states were added to the county. Some southern states had talked about secession from the Union as early as 1854.

In 1860, the tensions between the Union and southern states had grown to a breaking point. The 1860 presidential campaign pitted Abraham Lincoln (Republican), Stephen A. Douglas (Democrat), John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat) and John Bell (Constitutional Union).

On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was declared winner of the presidency. He had received 1,866,452 (40%) of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes. Breckenridge only received 847,953 (18%) of the popular vote, he received 72 electoral votes. Douglas, who finished second in the popular vote with 1,380,202 (29%), he only received 12 electoral votes. Bell received the fewest number of popular votes, 590,901 (12.6%), he finished ahead of Douglas in the electoral vote with 39.

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On December 10, 1860, less than a month after Lincoln won the election and nearly 3 months before he would be inaugurated, the news of Lincoln’s victory was enough to cause the final fracture in the tensions between North and South as South Carolina becomes the first southern state to secede from the Union. They were soon followed by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

On February 9, 1961, West Point graduate Jefferson Davis, is named President of the newly formed Confederate States of America.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as America’s 16th President. He is the first Republican to hold the office of President and it’s the first and only time that America has had two presidents at the same time and both born in the same state (Kentucky).

On April 12, 1861, Confederate General Pierce Beauregard has his forces open fire with 50 cannons on Union held Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay, South Carolina, officially launching the American Civil War.

On April 15 1861, Robert E. Lee, a 25-year member of the United States Army is offered command of the Union Army. Lee declined the offer.

On April 17, 1861, Virginia secedes from the Union.

On April 20, 1861, Lee resigns his commission in the US Army, then goes to Richmond, Virginia, the new capital of the Confederacy where he is offered command of military and naval forces of Virginia. Lee accepts the Confederate offer. When resigning his Union commission, Lee reportedly stated:

“I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children.”

On May 29, 1861, Lee arrived in Richmond to a large fanfare. He addresses the crowd, saying:

“I know that there beats in the breasts of Southern sons a determination never to surrender, a determination never to go home but to tell a tale of honor….Give us a fair field and a free fight, and the Southern banner will float in triumph everywhere.”

By early July, after the battle at Fort Sumter, Confederate Generals Joseph Johnston and Pierce Beauregard, under Lee’s instructions, mobilize about 32,000 Confederate forces at Bull Run, on the northern edge of Manassas, Virginia and about 14 miles west of Washington DC.

On July 16, 1861, Union General Irvin McDowell leads just over 28,000 raw recruits and leaves Washington DC to meet the Confederate forces at Bull Run.

On this day, July 21, 1861, Union troops attacked the Confederate troops at Bull Run. By early afternoon, the Union troops had succeeded in pushing back part of the Confederate line. Later in the day, Confederate reinforcements arrived and help stop the Union advance and helps to push them back. The Union army began to splinter and weaken, eventually turning back towards Washington DC. The Confederate forces were victorious but were left so disorganized that they failed to pursue the Union troops.

On July 22, 1861, the remaining Union troops managed to arrive back in Washington DC. The First Battle of Bull Run resulted in 1,750 Confederate casualties and 2,950 Union casualties. It was during the First Battle of Bull Run that Confederate officer Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned the nickname of Stonewall Jackson for his prowess over the Union troops.

The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major land battle between the Union and Confederate forces.

Soon after the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the first Battle of Manassas, Lincoln removed McDowell as the commander of the Union Army. He then appointed General George McClellan to take charge of the Union Army. McClellan began with an intensive training of Union troops and reorganized the structure of the Union Army.


Sources for the above includes: The U.S. Civil War 1861 – 1865; United States Presidential Election of 1860; Bull Run; Battle Of Bull Run; The First Battle of Bull Run; The First Battle of Bull Run, 1861; Battles of Bull Run; The Battle of Bull Run: The End of Illusions; Manassas, First;


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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