A Walkabout Bull Run

This past Spring Break, I had the opportunity to go and visit one of the most famous Civil War sites in the country: Manassas. Or, Bull Run? I don’t know, the place has two names, very confusing. It is physically in Manassas, Virginia, but there’s also a nearby creek named Bull Run, so take your pick.

Anyway, through this post I’ll try and recapture the same experience I had while touring the hallowed grounds where Stonewall Jackson made his first appearance in the war, and also where the Confederacy maybe got a little too cocky about the years to come.

DISCLAIMER: All information gathered was solely through what was available at the site, just to give an idea of clarity and accuracy.

The above picture is the famous Stone Bridge, where the first “shots” were fired. I put shots in quotations because shots were fired, but only strategically. In order to get across the large creek in which the bridge overpassed (Bull Run), being defended by Confederate artillery, Union soldiers made a blanket of cover fire and quickly went around the bend of the creek into the woods to the right. The bridge that’s there now is actually NOT the same bridge from 1861, that bridge was destroyed by rebel troops as the Union made their last retreat in the Second Battle. The bridge in the picture was built at some point after the war, I believe in the 1880s, so still pretty old.

After sidestepping the bridge into the woods, this is where Union forces set up headquarters, at the now famous Stone House (very inventive names). As far as I know, there’s really nothing special about the house, but it was at a crucial point on the battlefield. Even to this day, it sits right on the intersection of two major, and historical, highways, Sudley Road and the aptly named Lee Highway and is the first thing you’ll see entering the battlefield. The modern-day Sudley Road goes right into Manassas and was a historical thoroughfare leading to Manassas Junction, an important railway station that I believe is what the Union was after in the first place. Lee Highway goes straight to D.C., perfect for funneling troops. Here, they set up their own artillery and began firing on the opposite hill where Confederates were stationed, right behind where the visitor’s center sits today.

This is the very important “Wood Bridge”. Kidding, it’s not important (except to not get wet) and it doesn’t have a name. But the creek on which it sits is Youngs Branch, a minor stream and a small arm of the larger Bull Run. Although troops probably didn’t have a bridge to cross, this is most likely where the Union made their advance on the Confederate-occupied hill. It is pretty cool to think that, as you’re walking across the bridge, soldiers made a mad rush across this stream, trying to gain the high ground above. Just thinking about it made me tired, although at this point I had walked well over a mile and the hill was pretty steep (maybe exaggerated memory).

As you come up the hill, just a bit to the left, sits probably the most important Union monument on the property. This obelisk represents the site of a mass grave, dug after the First Battle of Bull Run, with the brick structure being built after the war by Union veterans. It is perhaps the oldest extant (surviving) Civil War battlefield monument.

Post-war dedication by Union veterans.

The Confederate hill does have a couple structures representing important sites during the battles, but none of them are that old I believe so I didn’t feel the need to take pictures.

But what’s important to know is that the Union eventually took the rebel high ground position, causing the Confederates to retreat to the tree line behind the obelisk. This would actually prove to be a very advantageous position, however, where they could endlessly funnel troops through the forest from their nearby HQ on a small family farm. This is also where Stonewall Jackson made his famous, or perhaps arrogant, stand against the Union artillery, with his own general proclaiming he was standing like a “stone wall”. I say arrogant because it’s most likely that his fellow general said this in jest, as him and his troops were blocking reinforcements from advancing on the Union. However, his defensive strategy proved effective and now sits a GIANT monument where he made this immortal stand.

The picture doesn’t do it justice, it was really big.

Shortly after Jackson made his stand, Confederate Generals Johnston and Beauregard rode in from behind where I’m standing to take the photo and helped quell the Union offensive. And that would end the First Battle of Bull Run.

Well, that’s about it. I don’t know why, but it seems they had very little information about the Second Battle of Bull Run, maybe that occurred on some different hills in the park.

All-in-all, a pretty cool and seamless experience, no need for a guide and it was actually kind of fun putting the puzzle together and trying to solve what happened here. Hopefully I solved it accurately, but this is just what I gathered from walking around the place.

I will say, the placards on the battlefield were very Confederate-focused, perhaps because they proved to be the victors in both battles. What little I was able to piece of the Union moves was pretty much solely through where the Confederates were set up, to which the Union would be opposite them. In no way did I think it was pro-Confederate though, they did a good job of keeping it fairly neutral in terms of portraying both sides.

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