Why two battles of Bull Run?

Did the ref call a foul so they had to re-start play?

The battles were a year apart. the Confederates captured a Union supply depot at Manassas. The Union objected. Sometimes you fight over the same ground.

Incidentally, the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill was going to be re-fought. The refs said it had not been fought on the level.

The location has a lot to do with geography. If you look at a map of Virginia, you can’t bring an army straight up into DC from the south, because that’s where the Patomac River is located. Armies don’t swim very well. On the western side, you’ve got the Appalachian Mountains, which limits how far west you can effectively take an army. If you are bringing an army up from the south, you can kinda think of there being a corridor that you can effectively bring a large army through, with the Appalachian Mountains on the left side of it, and the Patomac River on the right side of it. In the middle, maybe a bit towards the eastern side of that corridor, you have the Bull Run / Manassas area. If you go up the western side of that corridor, you are going to go through Frederick, MD. Any further west and your army will get bogged down in the mountains. The armies on both sides are located more on the eastern half of this corridor.

The Confederates could theoretically come up the eastern side of the Patomac, but that would be much more difficult since the army would have to cross the Patomac (which can be done, and was done at times, but it adds difficulty). Also, the Union controlled most of eastern Maryland, which meant that the Confederate forces would have to fight their way through all of those Union forces to get to DC. So that was no good. It was much better for the Confederates to stick to the western side of the river.

Since the Bull Run / Manassas area is right along the path between DC and Richmond, a battle in that area was pretty much inevitable.

It’s no surprise that the first battle was fought there. Both sides thought that the battle would be an easy victory, and foolishly believed that one good battle would pretty much decide the entire war. Both sides really expected the entire war to be over in a matter of weeks, maybe a few months at the most. The major lesson of the first battle was that this wasn’t going to happen, and after that both sides began to dig in for a very long and very costly war.

A year later, Lincoln had been very frustrated with McClellan’s cautious leadership. Lincoln wanted someone who was more aggressive to lead their forces, so he put John Pope in charge of the Union’s armies in Virginia. Robert E. Lee split his forces to attack Pope. Stonewall Jackson (who earned his nickname in the first battle) swung around and attacked the Union’s flank from the west, while Lee took the remaining army straight at Pope. Jackson took a supply depot at Manassas, which lured Pope directly into a trap. Instead of fighting just Jackson’s forces, Pope found himself fighting both Jackson and Lee’s forces.

Again, if you look at the geography of the land and where the Union and Confederate forces were located, it’s easy to see how they ended up converging on the general Manassas / Bull Run area. The idea was to cut off Pope’s supply lines and wipe out his army. If the Confederates had attacked directly from south or if Jackson hadn’t gone as far north before turning west, they wouldn’t have threatened Pope’s supply lines as effectively. By swinging around Pope’s forces and taking the supply depot at Manassas, Jackson threatened to completely cut off Pope’s supply route. And again, with the Patomac River limiting how far east an army could go without adding a river crossing into the logistics, that puts everyone right back in the Manassas / Bull Run area.

So was Bull Run 1 an attempt by the CSA to take Washington?

The opposite. A Union attempt to take Richmond and end the war quickly. The Confederate strategy through most of the war was to keep Union troops out, not attempt to take Union territory. Even their brief forays north were meant to be temporary and diversionary in nature.

So the Union had thought it would be easy to take Richmond, hence the surprise at the loss in Bull Run 1?

Key locations attracted battles. The battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Wilderness in 1862, 63 and 64 in the American Civil War were also fought in overlapping areas near or west of the town of Fredericksburg VA.

Needless to say in more static wars there were more battles fought in generally the same place, like the 12 Battles of the Isonzo on the Italian/Austrian front in WWI.

People rode out of DC in their carriages with picnic baskets to watch the “certain” victory of the Union over the lowly rebels.

People on both sides were astonishingly naive about how quick and easy the war was going to be won by their side.

Unsurprisingly, this is a very sad attitude held by way too many humans when going into war.

And 2nd battle? Psssh. Imagine what happened in Kharkov during the 4 battles there during WWII. Modern weapons, Nazis vs. Soviets. Definitely not a picnic.

I’m not familiar with the geography there in Virginia … but it sure does look like that river is navigatable up to Manassas … and then cataracts down from the Piedmont … if so, then maybe the bigger surprise is that only two battle were fought there …

The Union only had 90 day enlistments and they were expiring. General McDowell was hesitant but Lincoln said both sides were green so go attack. Lincoln also initially underestimated the number of troops. After Fort Sumter he showed a copy of his speech to his old political rival Stephen Douglas. Douglas approved of everything except he felt Lincoln needed 250,000 troops, not 75,000
The Union didn’t miss winning by much at Bull Run. There were all kinds of confusion as to which side wore what color uniform and what flags they carried

Not really. As engineer_comp_geek rather brilliantly laid out, the area was prime land and a good meeting point/logistics hub to gather men at, and was also 70+ miles away from Richmond, so the Confederates had room to maneuver.

While there were Confederates who wanted to attack, most were willing to wait and organize; as I noted in another thread, putting together armies of 30,000+ men was unprecedented in US history at that time, and everybody was making it up as they went along. So the armies that eventually fought in 1861 were pretty much amateurs, from Generals down to privates, in terms of fighting a large-scale battle.

As for Second Manassas, I have nothing to add except Pope just might have been the worst Northern commander of the war (and he had a lot of competition).

As watchwolf49 alluded to, army movement in Virginia was hampered by its rivers, which flow generally from northwest to southeast from the Blue Ridge. Those rivers form relatively deep cuts in the Virginia Piedmont, and wide estuaries in the Tidewater. Crossing them is not an easy thing to do, and almost impossible in the face of strong enemy opposition.

The town of Manassas was located near two very important locations: first, a junction of railroad lines (one from Alexandria to Charlottesville and beyond; the other from Manassas through the Blue Ridge), and second, a relatively easy set of crossings of Bull Run near Centreville. Downriver, Bull Run gets much broader and deeper, and becomes difficult to cross (I-95 crosses it on a quite imposing bridge). So if the Union was going to march an army to Richmond, it was going to go by way of Manassas. Hence the reason that the area was the site of two Battles of Manassas.

It’s a pretty good battlefield to go see, btw. My sons live near there in Dale City.

It was ALSO on the wrong field entirely.

That’s silly. Really, it was rained out after four innings and was made up as part of a doubleheader the next year.

There were battles fought over almost every inch of Virginia, so some were bound to happen in areas that had seen previous action.

Near Manassas is Bristow Station (not to be confused with Bristol), and there was fighting there at least twice. There were battles at Centerville and Fairfax, both within a few miles.

But the “winner” has to be Winchester, Va. According to Wiki “Including minor cavalry raids and patrols, and occasional reconnaissances by various forces, it is claimed that Winchester changed hands as many as 72 times during the course of the war, and 13 times in one day. Battles raged all along Main Street at different points in the war. Both Union General Sheridan and Stonewall Jackson located their headquarters just one block apart at various times.

Thanks for the good information. All this time I thought the battle was fought over the naming rights for the Potomac River. :D:D

Wait! Bull Run is a river?!? Why wasn’t I told??? I thought it was a ranch or something. Maybe not Pamplona, but something like that.

Okay, now it’s coming into focus - wooded area, river with steep river valley, only a few places it can be crossed easily by a large group of men… right, I can see how that would tend to funnel armies in motion through the same spot.

(Bear with the prairie boy if that seems obvious. Around where I live, an army could pretty much head out in any which way it wanted to go. :slight_smile: )

What makes something a good battlefield to see? I’ve never been to one.


Heh. “Bristow” was the original pronunciation of “Bristol” (the first one,in England), until local pronunciation added a “l” at the end.

Some things to consider -
Historical significance
Ease of access (both getting to the field and moving about the field)
Digestability (ease of understanding the battle)

Manassas has all of those. It was the first real set piece battle of the war (well, First Manassas, anyway). The field very much looks the same as it did back in the day. It’s located just off I-66, and there are several ‘interpretive’ trails, along with a fine visitor center. The events are easy to understand, especially for a first time battlefield visitor. ‘The north attacked from over there, came over this hill, and were turned back by guys in a line here. It was all over in a day.’

The last probably the most important for a first time visitor. Gettysburg was 3 days, and covered fields north and south of the town, as well as fighting in the town - there’s a lot to cover. Antetiam was 1 day, but there were separate areas that were significant, and it’s almost 3 different fields. Petersburg covers miles - you have to drive 10 or 20 miles to see all of it.

I live near Manassas, and used to live in Gettysburg. I’ve stomped about all the fields between Petersburg and Gettysburg and west to WV. Manassas is a good first choice.