Battle Analysis for Bull Run

Published: 2021-08-25 19:45:07
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The battle itself was fought on July 21st, 1861, though the Union Army began executing its movements to Virginia almost a week prior. The Civil War divided the states in simple terms of a Union north and a Confederate south, with a couple undecided states in the middle. The President of the Union was Abraham Lincoln and the Confederate President was Jefferson Davis. Months prior to Bull Run President Lincoln had appointed Brigadier General Irwin McDowell to command the Army of Northeastern Virginia.
McDowell was a Mexican-American War veteran and West Point graduate. The commander of the Confederate Army of the Potomac was Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, who was dubbed “The Hero of Sumter. ” He was also commended for valor in the Mexican-American war and like McDowell, a graduate of West Point. The two were classmates at one point. Only months after the start of the war at Fort Sumter, the Northern public pressed to march and capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, which could bring an early end to the war.
Against his better judgment, BG McDowell yielded to the political pressure and on July 16, 1861, the general departed Washington with the largest field army yet gathered on the North American continent. The Confederates found themselves at a disadvantage in mass initially, and BG McDowell wanted to keep that advantage. He ordered Union MG Robert Patterson’s Army to engage BG Joseph Johnston’s Army in the Shenandoah Valley, about 50 miles northwest of Manassas. The Union objective was to overwhelm the Confederate forces with a distraction flank attack to the right and a swift surprise flank to the left.
With the reinforcements choked off, BG McDowell’s ambitious plan would put his Army in the Confederate capital by the end of the day. The Confederates, however, had been planning to attack the Union left, and if the attack had gone as planned it might have led to a clockwise rotation of the forces. Hundreds of excited spectators in horse-drawn carriages flocked from Washington D. C. to Manassas to watch what they thought to be a speedy Union Army defeat the Confederacy. Both the spectators and the Union Army would leave Bull Run in a hectic retreat back to Washington D.
C. Each force had two Armies, one to the east and one to the west. For the Union, BG McDowell commanded the 36,000 Army of Northeastern Virginia Union troops in the east. MG Patterson commanded the 18,000 troops in the west. Within BG McDowell’s Army of five divisions there were several elements that consisted of: The 11th, 13th, 14th, 38th, and 69th New York, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Maine, the 1st Minnesota, the 5th and 11th Massachusetts, the 1st Michigan, the 1st Vermont, the 2nd Wisconsin, with Griffin and Ricketts Artillery Brigades.
BG Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac consisted of 21,000 troops in the east. BG Johnston’s four Brigades of 12,800 troops were in the Shenandoah Valley to the west and were critical reinforcements. BG Beauregard’s force of six Brigades consisted of: The 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 18th, 27th, 33rd, and 49th Virginia, the Hampton Legion, the 6th North Carolina, the 7th Georgia, the 4th Alabama, Stuart’s Calvary, Elzey Regiment, Early Regiment, and the 7th and 8th South Carolina. The weapon technology used was fairly similar for both sides.
Both the Union and Confederate Army relied on simple single-shot Pattern 1853 Enfield Muskets for their infantrymen. The revolvers used by the Union were mainly the new Colt Army Model 1860, and the Confederates preferred the older Colt 1851 Navy Revolver. A variety of bayonets were also an integral part of the infantryman’s gear. Typically, these were “socket” or “ring” bayonets, intended to be attached to the end of the musket or rifle, and not wielded separately like a knife. The Confederate Calvary would also employ a Sabre, which was a long, lightweight single-edged slashing sword.
Field Artillery also played an important role for both sides. The Union used 10-30 pound Parrott Rifles, 12 pound Napoleon smoothbores, 12 pound Howitzers, and 13 pound James Rifles. The Confederates had 6 pound guns, 6 pound rifles, 12 pound Howitzer, 10 pound Parrott Rifles, and 6 pound Cadet Guns. Both Generals had planned offensives. Much of the intelligence was concentrated on reporting the mass of the opposing forces rather than each other’s strategy. BG McDowell wanted a concentrated attack on the Confederate left flank, while BG Beauregard had planned to strike the Union left flank.
From Washington D. C. the Union troops had marched southwest into Virginia, and it was at Centreville on July 20th, that BG McDowell decided to rest his weary, overheated troops and concentrate his forces. The same day, BG Johnston’s troops to the west in the Shenandoah Valley received word of the Union advances and they immediate slipped away to reinforce BG Beauregard. He never met MG Patterson’s forces. An hour after BG Johnston’s departure, MG Patterson wired BG McDowell saying he had managed to keep BG Johnston’s Army in the Shenandoah.
Shortly after entering Centreville on the 20th, BG Tyler would disobey his orders and send his troops to attack the Confederate front along Bull Run. The attack was easily repulsed. With the Confederate troops dug in across the bank of Bull Run, and the majority of BG Beauregard’s force were behind them. The Union troops marched from Centreville at 0230 on July 21st. BG Tyler was ordered to initiate a diversion to the northwest at Stony Bridge at 0600. The diversion was quickly crushed by COL Evan’s Confederate forces and the feign fails.
At 0830 the bayonets of McDowell’s flanking troops were spotted by one of COL Evan’s soldiers and he was warned of the Union plan to flank him. BG McDowell’s troops continued on to the left down bad roads, which would destroy his timeframe to ford Bull Run at Sudley Springs. COL Heinzelman’s Union division also missed the trail at Poplar Ford, and they were forced to stack up behind COL Hunter’s division also fording at Sudley Springs, further downstream. They arrived there at 0930, hours behind schedule.

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