On July 21, 1861, Union troops marched against the Confederates for the first time and met the Rebels at a defensive line built along a creek known as Bull Run. The Confederate line guarded Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, and the railway line at Manassas Junction that linked Richmond to Confederate troops positioned in the Shenandoah Valley. Union troops crossed Bull Run at the Stone Bridge, and at 6:00 a.m. fired the first shot with 'Long Tom,' 30-pounder Parrott rifle. Union troops then pursued the Confederates to Matthews Hill. Assuming imminent victory, Union Gen. McDowell declared, 'The day is ours!'

The Confederates fell back, but after being reinforced and reorganized by Stonewall Jackson, repositioned themselves on Henry Hill and came back with a vengeance. Here, for the first time Union troops shuddered at the terrifying Rebel Yell during a day of brutal artillery combat at such a close range that soldiers threw rocks when they ran out of ammunition.

manassas stonewall jackson statue

During the battle on Henry Hill, Confederate General Bernard Bee rallied his troops by exclaiming, "There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!" With those words, a battle was won and the legend of Stonewall Jackson was born. Gen. Bee was later mortally wounded during the battle.

The Union finally retreated at Chinn Ridge and streamed back across the Stone Bridge. With combined casualties of nearly 5,000, this day was the bloodiest day in American history to that point - with many more to follow. The soldiers who fought at First Manassas were 'green' recruits - untrained, undisciplined and unprepared for battle. They would go on to become battle-hardened soldiers at places like Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill and Cedar Mountain, and when they returned for Second Manassas the following year, the casualties would exceed 20,000.

Visiting the Manassas I Battlefield

Your best bet to tour First Manassas is to start at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Here, there is a staffed park office offering a 45-minute film entitled Manassas: End of Innocence. The battlefield park features guided tours with park rangers, driving tours, hiking trails, picnic areas, and a gift shop. The 1-mile long Henry Hill Walking Tour passes through the heart of the First Manassas Battlefield with stops at the sites of major battle actions. A leader in battlefield biodiversity and conservation, Manassas National Battlefield Park offers over 40 miles of trails in a pristine battlefield that appears much as it did 150 years ago.

An app is also available from Civil War Trust that features a Battle Overview and Bull Run Tour that covers the full First Battle of Bull Run. This excellent resource contains driving directions to all stops as well as readings, photographs and interactive media describing the background and battle actions.

Visit Civil War Trust and National Park Service for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: Blind and bedridden, 85-year old Judith Henry refused to leave her family home on Henry Hill and was struck by artillery shell, making her the only civilian casualty of the battle. Her house still stands on the Manassas Battlefield.

manassas bull run creek

With its steep embankments, Bull Run provided a natural fortification for the Confederate line.

manassas robinson house

The Robinson House was built by 'Gentleman Jim' Robinson, a free African American man and successful tavern owner. The house survived both battles at Manassas and became part of the National Battlefield Park in 1936. However, the home was destroyed by arsonists in 1993 in an apparent hate crime.

manassas 1 stone bridge trail hiker

Manassas Battlefield Park preserves nearly 5,000 acres of historic lands and buildings as well as native wildlife and plant habitats that can be enjoyed on over 40 miles of hiking trails.

Historical Photo

manasas battlefield winter encampment

Winter camp near Manassas, Virginia  1861 (Library of Congress)