What Was the First Battle of the Civil War?

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Although the Confederate strike on Fort Sumter was the battle that began the Civil War, the first major land battle was the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas). This battle took place on July 21, 1861, close to Manassas Junction, along the banks of the small Bull Run river in Virginia. It involved 35,000 Union troops pitted against 20,000 Confederate troops.

In addition to being the first major battle of the Civil War, it was also expected, by Abraham Lincoln at least, to be the last. His intention had been to strike at the enemy troops and clear a route to Richmond. However, the Union troops, all of whom were amateurs, were not fully prepared for the battle.

Despite a promising start in which 4,500 rebel forces were forced to retreat, the Union troops were swamped by Confederate reinforcements. Although equally untrained, the Confederate troops came to match the Union soldiers in number and managed to break their line to force a haphazard retreat to Washington.

Owing largely to their military inexperience and disorganization, the Confederate soldiers failed to successfully pursue their fleeing enemy. However, their morale and optimism had greatly increased as a result of this early and decisive victory.

Total Union casualties amounted to 3,000 in contrast to 1,750 Confederates.