Monday, July 18, 2011

First Battle of Manassas

First Battle o f Manassas, Marker No. C-20 Centreville, VAFairfax County, VA
Marker No. C-20

Marker Text: McDowell gathered his forces here, July 18, 1861, to attack Beauregard, who lay west of Bull Run. From here a part of the Union army moved north to cross Bull Run and turn the Confederate left wing, July 21, 1861. This movement brought on the battle.

Location: At the intersection of Machen Road and U.S. Route 29 (Lee Highway) on the grounds of the Centreville Public Library located at the southwest corner of the intersection at 14200 Saint Germain Drive, Centreville, VA 20120. Grouped with three other markers, C-21 (Confederate Defenses); C-22 (Second Battle of Manassas); and C-40 (Campaign of Second Manassas). Erected by the Conservation & Development Commission in 1928.

  As I write this today, it is 91 degrees outside with a predicted high of 94 where I live in Northern Virginia and I thought of those men who gathered here awaiting what they thought would be the first and the last battle of the Civil War on a blistering hot July 18, 1861 only about 40 miles east of where I live. Standing out in this heat in a wool uniform with all the heavy equipment carried by a soldier of this era, makes one wonder, if anyone thought this was all crazy.

  Most of the men who gathered here had never been in battle before and almost all only a few weeks earlier had been back at their homes living out their lives as farmers, businessmen, tradesmen, logger and countless other occupations. Now they made up a new volunteer army. America had gone mad and went to war with itself, thinking this whole affair would end quickly, only to discover five days later that this was going last much longer and the horrors of war were considerably more horrible than they ever imagined.

First Battle o f Manassas, Marker No. C-20 (Click any photo to Enlarge)

Marker C-20 is on the right of the photo and is grouped with three other markers related to events after the First Battle of Manassas.

  This marker is not located in the same place it was originally installed, but is not far from its original position on what is now Route 29. You do have to use your imagination to picture how this area around the marker might have looked, at the time McDowell gathered his Union forces in preparation for what was to become the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. The area around this marker is highly developed with shopping centers, offices and housing and apartment complexes. The area would have been very rural with a small village located east of here at the time the troops gathered to prepare for battle.

  At this location the Federal forces under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell gathered here after marching from their camps in and around Washington, D.C. This marker gives the traveler a perspective about the events and locations that began to unfold prior to the battle. Though the Battle of First Manassas is recorded as being on July 21st, the movements and activities of the armies began several days before. Both Union and Confederate forces knew that the Manassas Junction railroad lines were an important military objective and needed to be taken by the Union and protected by the Confederacy.

First Battle o f Manassas, Marker No. C-20  McDowell had planned to use Brigadier General Daniel Tyler's division as the diversionary attack at the Stone Bridge, which was at about the middle of the line of battle along Bull Run and initially dividing the two armies. McDowell also planned to have Davies' brigade do the same at Blackburn's Ford. At the same time, Brigadier General David Hunter's and Samuel P. Heintzelman's divisions would cross Bull Run at Sudley Springs and attack from the north.

  McDowell's army left Washington later on July 16th than planned and did not arrive at Fairfax Courthouse until the evening of July 17. McDowell knew that by now his movements had been observed by the confederates. McDowell expected to encounter stiff resistance at Centreville, a few miles northeast of Bull Run. McDowell ordered Tyler's division to attack Centreville early on July 18 before Beauregard could consolidate a defense, but when Tyler arrived expecting a fight, he discovered that Beauregard had pulled his troops back to the south side of Bull Run. This marker is about three miles northeast of the Stone Bridge.

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