From the Annals of the Civil War – In 1861, Gen. Irwin McDowell began a premature offensive into northern Virginia. The overconfident McDowell let 34,000 largely inexperienced and poorly trained troops in a search for the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. Learning of the Union advance, General P.G.T. Beauregard massed some 20,000 troops at Manassas where he was joined by General Joseph Johnston’s 9,000 troops.
McDowell had initial success when three Union divisions crossed the Bull Run stream driving the Confederate flank back to Henry House Hill. Beauregard had established a strong defensive line at the hill anchored by a brigade of Virginia infantry under General Thomas J. Jackson whose men repulsed a series of Federal charges. Gen. Barnard Elliot Bee, Jr. allegedly shouted an order to his men to “Rally behind the Virginians! There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” No-one knows if this was meant to be complimentary or an insult regarding Jackson’s men not advancing. Bee then began to advance at the head of his brigade and fell mortally wounded. He died the next day 22nd July 1861.
The battle turned when Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart captured the Union artillery. Beauregard ordered a counterattack. With the soon to be famous “rebel yell” the confederate charged down Henry House Hill breaking the Union line and forcing a retreat across Bull Run. The retreat quickly disintegrated into an unorganized flight back to D.C.
Union forces endured a loss of 3,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action while the Confederates suffered 2,000 casualties. Such casualties were unheard of in previous American combat and foreshadowed the long violent struggle to come.
Photo of B.E. Bee from http://www.nps.gov