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Places in Civil War History: The First Battle of Bull Run

This is part of a series of guest posts from Ed Redmond, Cartographic Specialist in the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, documenting the cartographic history of maps related to the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The posts will appear on a regular basis.

On July 21, 1861, Federal forces and Confederate troops converged near Manassas Junction, the junction of the Manassas Gap Railroad and the Orange and Alexandria Railroads. Federal troops hoped to seize the junction and thereby deny Confederate forces the advantages of using the railroads to transport troops or resupply.

The battle developed slowly but eventually involved over 35,000 Federal troops and 32,000 Confederate forces. Federal forces under General Irwin McDowell attempted to flank Confederate positions by crossing Bull Run but were turned back. The end result of the battle was a Confederate victory and Federal forces retreated to the defenses of Washington, DC. One week later, General George McClellan was appointed head of the Army of the Potomac.

National Tribune - Bull Run

“The first battle of Bull Run. July 21, 1861. Washington, Dec 26, 1895.” National Tribune, 1895. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The three maps shown here all use the name “Bull Run” to identify the battle. A convention developed during the war whereby Federal maps named battles after local water features (Bull Run, Antietam, etc.) while Confederate maps named battles after local towns (Manassas, Sharpsburg, etc.).

Plan of the battlefield at Bull Run

“Plan of the battlefield at Bull Run, July 21st 1861.” Amiel Weeks Whipple, 1861. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

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