Confederate plan of the First Battle of Bull Run
A rare Confederate plan of the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major encounter of the Civil War and an infamous disaster for the Union. Almost certainly published within weeks of the battle, it has a wonderful immediacy to the events depicted, and though rather crudely executed is replete with information. This is one of the earliest maps published in the Confederacy and must have been received with the greatest interest by the southern public.
Under tremendous political pressure to produce a victory, Union General McDowell advanced into Virginia in July 1861 with a huge army of 35,000. His plan was to flank General Beauregard’s Confederate army camped along Bull Run Creek near Manassas Junction, then march on Richmond and bring the war to a quick end. After failing to turn Beauregard’s right flank at Blackburn’s Ford on the 18th, on the 21stMcDowell attempted a much larger attack on the Confederate left. Though the Union forces held the advantage for a time, they were eventually turned by reinforcements from Joseph Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah—including Brigadier Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s First Brigade. The Union retreat turned into a rout, as men shed their weapons and units disintegrated in a disorderly flight back toward Washington. They were accompanied by panicked members of the Capital’s elite who had turned out with carriages and picnic lunches to watch an anticipated Union victory.The map shows the country along Bull Run, north of Manassas Junction, with the Union and Confederate headquarters, batteries, movements, and positions from July 18-21 laid down in detail. Major and minor roads, the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, bridges, and topographical features of military importance are shown, as are numerous private residences. Events of the battle are indicated by text captions and a table of “Explanations” in the upper right corner, with the “heaviest of the battles” indicated by small pyramids which may represent stacked cannon balls. The map is replete with names that were soon to become legendary, including those of Beauregard, Jackson, Longstreet and Sherman. An inset in the lower right shows the region between Washington, D.C. and Fredericksburg.
Per the title the map is a “sketch” rather than a scientific portrayal of the battlefield, probably drawn and published within days or weeks of the battle. This is evidenced by the lack of a scale, the absence of key geographic features such as Young’s Branch feeding Bull Run from the west, and the inclusion of “human-interest” features such as the spot where Mrs. Henry, a bed-ridden octogenarian, was killed by Federal artillery. The map’s “sketch” status is also indicated by the sheer difficulty of following the action as depicted.
The map was drawn by Samuel P. Mitchell, a Vermont native who had moved to Richmond in the 1830s and established a jewelry business. At Bull Run he was a Captain in the 1st Virginia Regiment, Longstreet’s Brigade. As shown on the map, the 1st was stationed at Blackburn Ford and did most of its fighting repelling a probing attack by McDowell on July 18th, but saw no direct action during the main battle on the 21st. Nonetheless its stand at the Ford delayed McDowell long enough for Joseph Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah to arrive on the 21st and reinforce the Confederate force just in time to turn the tide of the battle. Indeed Longstreet later wrote that “The heavy part of this fight [at Blackburn’s Ford] was made by the old First Regiment, so that it can well claim to have done more towards the success of First Manassas than any one regiment.”
By October Mitchell had been promoted to Quartermaster of the 2ndDivision of the First Corps, commanded by the also-promoted Longstreet. He rose to Chief Quartermaster of the First Corps, in which capacity he served at Gettysburg. He succumbed to diphtheria later that year, at the age of 30.
Parrish and Willingham, Confederate Imprints, #6191, p. 533 (illus.) Phillips, Maps of America, p. 989. Stephenson, Civil War Maps, #566. Wooldridge, Mapping Virginia, #250, pp. 278, 281 (illus.), 283. As of August 2015 OCLC #18518549 et al. list institutional holdings at the Boston Athenaeum, Duke, University of Virginia and elsewhere.