This Day in U.S. Military History - July 21, 1861

The first major engagement of the main armies in the Civil War takes place along a muddy creek known as “Bull Run.” The entire Confederate Army was composed of volunteer militia although some of its officers had served in the federal army before the war. While the Union Army had some Regular soldiers in it, most of its ranks also contained volunteer militia. Neither army was well trained and in the regiments of both were found a variety of uniforms in blue and gray, causing confusion on the battlefield. The battle was a Confederate victory, made notable by the determined defense of General Thomas Jackson and his Virginia troops, hereafter known to history as the “Stonewall Brigade.” When the Union army marched out of Washington, DC, it soon engaged the Confederate army assembled near the railroad junction at Manassas Court House, in Northern Virginia. This marked the first major land combat of the war. Both armies had units dressed in blue and gray, causing confusion among units all day. As Union forces started pressing hard against the Confederate left flank, the 4th Alabama Volunteer Infantry was dispatched to plug a gap while other southern forces formed a defensive line behind them. The 4th held its ground for more than an hour, repulsing four assaults by Union troops. Finally the rebels regrouped and went on the attack, winning the battle and sending the Union army reeling back into Washington, DC.

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