With great cannon fire, the South forced the Union Fort Sumner to surrender. The Civil War had begun. After the battle at Fort Sumner, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to bolster the Union Army. About 35,000 men arrived and camped out at the Northern capital in Washington, D.C. under command of Irvin McDowell, a Brigadier General (Bri. Gen.) appointed by President Lincoln. A Confederate army of 20,000 led by General P.G.T. Beauregard was stationed at the Manassas Junction less than 20 miles away from Washington. Cautiously, General McDowell intended to protect the Northern capitol from any invasion.
The Union believed in their superior industrialization, population, and strategy. Many Northern politicians and common men felt like the South would fall easily and quickly to the advanced Union Army. In a manifestation of almost military arrogance, the Northern public pushed for an preemptive strike on Richmond, Virginia; the Confederate Capital. But Brigadier General Irvin McDowell expressed concern over attacking Virginia, mainly because of his nascent army composition. No training or conditioning had taken place yet. Seeking consolation, McDowell discussed with President Lincoln whether or not he should attack. President Lincoln pointed out that the Confederate army as well as the Northern army were both lacking organization and training. Therefore, President Lincoln reasoned, the Union should not fear a stronger Southern force. President Lincoln’s advice along with increased pressure from the Northern public drove McDowell’s decision to advance.
By Mid-July, 1861 four armies held positions in and around Virginia. The two northern armies included Bri. Gen. McDowell in Washington D.C. and Maj. Gen. Robert Patteron 60 miles northwest near the Shenandoah Valley while the two southern armies included Bri. Gen. Beauregard at Manassas Junction and Bri. Gen. Joseph Johnston in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. With a Union army of 35,000 guarding Washington D.C. and a Confederate army of 20,000 defending the Manassas Junction, a Northern numerical advantage became evident.
Bri. Gen. McDowell observed this discrepancy and developed an initial battle plan. He intended for Union Maj. Gen. Patterson to skirmish, distract, and harass Southern Bri. Gen. Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley so that Bri. Gen. Johnston could not reinforce Confederate Bri. Gen. Beauregard at Manassas Junction. If this plan was followed, the North’s army advantage could be maintained when Bri. Gen. McDowell attacked Bri. Gen. Beauregard.
On July 16, 1861 Bri. Gen. McDowell advanced to the Bull Run River, but after two days of heat exhaustion he allowed his army to rest at Centreville, Viriginia. Through southern spy networks, Confederate Bri. Gen. Beauregard was informed of the Union’s movements and reacted accordingly by withdrawing his army behind and along 6 miles of Bull Run. This placed a river between the two armies, allowed the South to easily defend...