From Bull Run to Antietam
During the spring of 1861, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas joined the seven original Confederate States. Yet even that number put the odds at 11 versus 23 Northern states. The North had a far more extensive industrial base than the South and more than twice as many miles of railroad. As far as the production of foodstuffs was concerned, Northern agriculture was also better organized. Although the North was just recovering from an economic depression, the entire South could scrape together no more than $27 million in specie (gold and silver). The North not only commanded far more wealth, but it also had diplomatic relations with foreign powers and, therefore, could secure extensive credit.
Yet the South did have more of the army’s best officers, who, at the outbreak of hostilities, had resigned their commissions in the U.S. Army and joined the army of the Confederate States. Confederate leaders knew that their only chance was to score swift military victories that would sap the North’s will to fight.
The first major engagement of the war, after the fall of Fort Sumter, proved just how effective the Confederate officers and men were. When it began, the battle the South would call First Manassas and the North would call First Bull Run was a picnic. On July 21, 1861, Washington’s fashionable folk rode out to nearby Centreville, Virginia, in carriages filled with baskets of food and bottles of wine. Through spy glasses, they viewed the action three miles distant. The Union troops seemed similarly carefree; as they marched to battle, they frequently broke ranks to pick blackberries. Remarkably lax, too, was military security. Newspapers published the Union army’s plan of action, and what information the papers didn’t supply, rebel sympathizers, such as the seductive Rose O’Neal Greenhow, volunteered to spy for the cause. Thus General Beauregard was prepared for the. Union advance and had erected defenses near a railroad crossing called Manassas Junction. There, across Bull Run Creek, his 20,000 rebels (later augmented by reinforcements) faced the 37,000 Yankees under the command of the thoroughly mediocre General Irvin McDowell.
The battle began well for the North, as McDowell managed to push the rebels out of their positions. But then the Southern forces rallied when they beheld a Virginia brigade led by General Thomas J. Jackson. Like a “stone wall” the brigade held its ground, and thereafter, Thomas Jackson was best known by the name his soldiers gave him: Stonewall. The entire Confederate force now rallied and, ultimately, broke through the Union lines. Suddenly, panicked Northern troops retreated all the way to Washington. The First Battle of Bull. Run stunned the capital—which trembled in anticipation of a Confederate invasion that never came—and it stunned Union loyalists all across the nation. The picnickers ran for their lives, It would be a long, hard war.