Who Defeated the Union Army at the Battle of Bull Run?

Confederate soldiers defeated the Union Army in the Battle of Bull Run.
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The Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Battle of Manassas Junction, took place in Manassas, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., on July 21, 1861, beside the Bull Run stream. Manassas was a popular and highly visible railroad junction, so some Washington residents heard of the approaching battle and chose to witness the event as a form of entertainment. They were surprised to find that the Union soldiers were at a disadvantage against the knowledgeable, strategic, well-prepared Confederate troops. The Battle of Bull Run was a bloody, but successful, victory for the South.

1 Confederate Scouts

The Union Army was unaware of the expert scouting methods used by Confederate soldiers. The Union’s initial attempt to take the Confederate troops by surprise was thwarted because the Confederate soldiers had previous knowledge of General Irvin McDowell’s flanking strategies and McDowell's plans failed. According to the Civil War Trust newsletter, McDowell had a complex military strategy that required detailed synchronization. His troops didn’t receive sufficient communication about the military strikes and were unable to perform them as planned. This gave the Confederate soldiers the upper hand.

2 A Southern Belle Spy

General Pierre Beauregard, leader of the Confederate troops during the Battle of Bull Run, was warned of McDowell's troop assignments, flanking positions and military movements by a woman, referred to as a Southern belle, according to USHistory.org. She hid the Union military plans in her hair to avoid discovery. As a result of the foreknowledge, Beauregard strategically organized his troops along the south bank of Bull Run -- prepared and equipped to meet oncoming Union troops.

3 Initial Battle

The Union Army dominated the initial few hours of battle. According to USHistory.org, 4,500 Confederate soldiers were outnumbered by the overwhelming 10,000 Union soldiers. Eventually, the Confederates were forced to retreat. However, as they were retreating, famous Confederate military leader Thomas Jackson arrived with new troops. General Bernard Bee of South Carolina shouted, "Look, there is Jackson with his Virginians, standing like a stone wall!" As a result of Jackson’s firm stance and heroic rescue of the fleeing Confederate troops at the Battle of Bull Run, he was given the nickname “Stonewall Jackson.”

4 Reinforcements

The railroad junction at Manassas provided a functional and strategic benefit to the Confederate troops, resulting in their military success. Thousands of additional Confederate troops arrived by train, and some by horse, during the afternoon hours of battle. The Union Army didn’t have reinforcements, so its soldiers were exhausted from the heat and ongoing fighting. Around 4 p.m., Beauregard issued a counterattack and Jackson’s soldiers yelled and screamed vigorously, stunning the demoralized remaining Union soldiers. This loud outburst is often referred to as the Confederate “rebel yell.” Union soldiers were forced to retreat.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.