Battle of Bull Run, The [Laws A9]
DESCRIPTION: [Irvin] McDowell leads a Union army to defeat at Bull Run (Manasses Junction). The valiant rebels are compared with the cowardly Unionists, who are so completely routed that many fine Washington ladies must flee with them.
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (Randolph)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar battle patriotic
July 21, 1861 - First battle of Bull Run/Manasses fought between the Union army of McDowell and the Confederates under Johnston and Beauregard
FOUND IN: US(So)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Laws A9, "The Battle of Bull Run"
Randolph 210, "Manassa Junction" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 1892-193, "Manassa Junction (The Battle of Bull Run)" (1 text)
DT 799, MANASJCT
NOTES [1336 words]: There were a number of songs published called "The Battle of Bull Run"; Wolf, p 8, lists one betinning "Our gallant soldiers they are going to leave their friends to mourn" and one by Arthur McCann beginning "The Sons of Old Ireland, led forth in their glory." But this appears to be the only one that has gone into tradition.
Although the Confederates won the Battle of Bull Run (and its successor a year later), the insults they flung at their opponents were rather unfair. Both armies were raw, and had a number of inept general officers; the Confederates won more because they were on the defensive than because of any superiority on their part.
It is true, however, that the Federal army wound up in rout, and that many fine Northern ladies who had gone out to see the show fled with them. They hardly need to have hurried, however; the Confederates were so disorganized that they could not follow up their victory.
The truth is, neither side was ready for the battle, and both fought rather poorly. Union commander Irvin McDowell was well aware that his men were not ready for combat. But it was a case of "use them or lose them"; the Federal government, in its folly, had initially enlisted soldiers for only ninety days, and by July, their terms were expiring (see, e.g., Catton, p. 445). So, ready or not, McDowell marched. At least he expected to have the advantage in numbers -- roughly 40,000 men to 25,000 Confederates (Catton, p. 444).
He did not realize that he would also have an enemy who played right into his hands. The Confederates were concentrated at Manassas Junction, near a creek known as Bull Run, a few dozen miles south of Washington. Their commander was the famous Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who had commanded the bombardment of Fort Sumter that started the war. Beauregard had shown himself a competent engineer, and later would reveal some skill in defensive warfare. But whenever Beauregard was in position to plan a set piece battle, the results were pretty dreadful. Bull Run was his masterpiece. His objective was simply to hold off McDowell. But his battle plan made that nearly impossible.
The Federals would inevitably come down from Washington to a town called Centreville, about three miles away from Bull Run. From there, they would deploy and attack -- somewhere.
Beauregard had under his command the equivalent of about eight brigades. A logical approach would have been to spread them out along Bull Run, with a strong central reserve to resist where McDowell attacked. But a glance at Freeman, p. 47, shows that he did no such thing. His left was hanging in midair. In what should have been his center, he posted about two and a half brigades to guard the entire Bull Run front. The rest of his force, roughly two-thirds of the whole, he concentrated around Blackburn's Ford for a counterattack on Centreville once the Union force was defeated. Unless he received reinforcements, he had no general reserve; it was all at Blackburn's Ford.
And the Federals didn't go that way. They went around Beauregard's left, and were in position to roll up his flank (Johnson/McLaughlin, p. 33).
Beauregard was lucky. Reinforcements were coming. There were actually two armies on the Virginia front: One between Washington and Richmond, commanded by Beauregard, and one in the Shenandoah Valley, commanded by Joseph E. Johnston. The Federals had an army in the Valley also, and it was supposed to pin Johnston down, but the Union army was commanded by an officer by the name of Robert Patterson, who had actually fought in the War of 1812 (Catton, p. 445). Patterson, old and given confusing orders, simply sat, and Johnston took four brigades -- one led by a fellow by the name of Thomas Jonathan Jackson -- to Bull Run by railroad (Catton, pp. 446-449; McPherson, pp. 339-340).
Few generals had ever been luckier than Beauregard. With his army about to be defeated in detail, Johnston showed up, and they sent their troops to where the Federals were attacking. They set up a defensive line, anchored by Jackson whose brigade stood "like a stone wall" (earning him the nickname "Stonewall" Jackson; Catton, p. 460; McPherson, p. 342. There is controversy about exactly what happened there -- see Freeman, pp. 733-734 -- but no doubt that the Confederate line drawn by Jackson held).
Attacking is harder than defending. It's especially hard for inexperienced troops. The Union forces had done fine when they were rolling up the Confederate flank. Confronted with real opposition, they ran out of steam, and gradually the assault turned into a retreat, which turned into a rout (Freeman, p. 72; McPherson, pp. 344-345).
This should have been Beauregard's big hour. Those five brigades at Blackburn's Ford? If they could get to Centreville and hold it, they could capture nearly the entire Federal army.
No dice. Beauregard's command arrangements were so bad, and his planning so incomplete, and his forces so ill-trained, that nothing much happened (Freeman, pp. 73-78). Johnston would lter write, "Our army was more disorganized by victory than that of the United States by defeat" (McPherson, p. 345). First Bull Run was an overwhelming Confederate victory. But it was a victory that accomplished almost nothing except to show that neither army was really ready to fight.
The Union flight back to Washington involved more than soldiers. A number of congressmen and other dignitaries had come out to see the show. After the battle, the various impedimenta they took along caused the retreat to become even more disorganized as their coaches and such fouled and blocked the bad and muddy roads.
It is ironic to observe that the only surviving versions of this seem to be Randolph's, from Missouri and Arkansas. McDonald. pp. 186-191, lists the Confederate Order of Battle. The overwhelming majority of the soldiers were from east of the Appalachians. Hardly any came from west of the Mississippi. There were a few Louisiana regiments (6th, 7th, 8th Louisiana, 1st Louisiana Battalion) and one Arkansas unit (1 Arkansas), plus perhaps a few western artillery sections. Of these units, only the 7th Louisiana and the 1st Louisiana Battalion were engaged. There were no Missouri soldiers at all (they were busy fighting a war-within-a-war in Missouri). On p, 185, McDonald breaks down Confederate killed and wounded by state. Louisiana lost 11 killed, 58 wounded. Tennessee lost 1 killed, 3 wounded. Arkansas had no casualties at all.
Possibly the fact that the Ozarks were remote from the field explains the extraordinary number of errors in Randolph's texts. Some of the errors are probably Randolph's hearing, but others are clearly part of the informant's tradition. In the "A" text, we find the following (where noted, these are corrected in the "B" text):
"MacDowell": misspelled; should be Irvin McDowell, the Federal commander (corrected in B)
"With regular troops from Tennessee": A very strange line. The Federal army did indeed have regular soldiers (the equivalent of about a brigade, plus a lot of artillery; McDonald, p. 185, lists the regulars as taking losses of 41 killed, 91 wounded) -- but they wouldn't have been from Tennessee
"General Scott from Chesterville": Winfield Scott was the commander-in-chief of the Federal armies, but he was based in Washington and too feeble to travel with the army to Centreville (not Chesterville). Scott is mentioned only once in McDonald's whole book; his only contribution to the battle was to send and receive telegrams. Corrected in "B" to "Old General Scott from Centerville," which as noted is almost correct.
"German Gulf": The "B" text makes it clear that this is "Sherman's guns." William T. Sherman commanded a brigade which was heavily engaged (105 killed, according to McDonald, p. 192) which had an effective regular artillery battery attached.
"Kirby": Presumably Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith, who commanded Johnson's fourth brigade (Johnson/McLaughlin, p. 39) and was badly wounded in the battle. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.4
- Catton:Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury, being volume I of The Centennial History of the Civil War, Pocket Books, 1961, 1967
- Freeman: Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants, 3 volumes, Scribners, 1942-1945 (all references are to volume I, published 1942)
- Johnson/McLaughlin: Curt Johnson & Mark McLaughlin, Civil War Battles, Crown Books, 1977
- McDonald, JoAnna M. McDonald, We Shall Meet Again: The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) July 18-21, 1861, Oxford, 1999
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (The Oxford History of the United States: The Civil War Era); Oxford, 1988
- Wolf: Edwin Wolf 2nd, American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Political Broadsides 1850-1870, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1963
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