the Warrenton-Alexandria Turnpike bridge over Bull Run was burned by Federal forces retreating after the First Battle of Manassas in 1861
Source: The Photographic History of the Civil War, Ruins of the Stone Bridge - Bull Run, Virginia (pp.138-139)
The Union Army that attacked the Confederates at Manassas in July, 1861 was green. Lincoln told his commander to attack anyway, since the Confederates were equally untrained. In the first part of the battle at Manassas, Union General Irvin McDowell's forces were successful at pushing forces of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard off Mathews and Buck Hill. By noon, the Union Army appeared to be able to march to the railroad junction and on to Richmond, ending the efforts of southern states to secede and allowing restoration of the Union - without ending slavery.
However, McDowell took too long to organize his forces and then attacked the Confederates "standing like a stone wall" regiment by regiment, rather than with larger units. Confederate reinforcements arrived on the Manassas Gap Railroad, and the Confederate generals were effective at getting them into battle. In the late afternoon on July 21, 1861, the Federal forces on Chinn Ridge started to retreat. By the time the sun had set, the Union Army was in a chaotic retreat to Alexandria.
The Confederates were as disorganized by victory as the Federals were by defeat, so there was no pursuit east of Centreville. Both sides spent the rest of 1861 organizing more troops than had ever been assembled in any previous American army, and fighting was minimal.
An attempt by Union forces to cross the Potomac River at Balls Bluff near Leesburg in October, 1861 resulted in a clear Confederate victory. The number of troops involved was tiny, but the victory increased Confederate morale and expectations of victory in a second "war of independence" comparable to defeat of the British in the American Revolution.
Fighting during the winter of 1861-62 was limited by the focus on organizing large armies, and by the impact of winter. Horses provided the primary transportation for hauling military supplies and artillery, and horses needed grass in pastures to refuel. An army marches on its stomach, including the stomach of its transportation machinery. In the winter of 1861-62, when pasture grass was scarce and hay for horses was difficult to haul, an army in the Civil War could not march far, especially over muddy roads that bogged down supply wagons and cannon.
By October, 1861, the Confederate politicians and generals were in public disagreement as they tried to assign the blame for the lost opportunity to seize Washington after First Manassas. At that time, the Confederates had outposts on Munson and Union hills in Arlington, and forces based at Fairfax Courthouse.
Confederates even placed enough cannon on the Virginia shoreline to block ships from sailing past modern-day Leesylvania State Park. The threat of cannon fire cut the river supply line, forcing the Union Army to get most of its supplies via the one rail line connecting Washington with Baltimore.
Confederates blockaded the Potomac River in the winter of 1861-62, until the northern defense line based on the Occoquan River was abandoned and forces moved to protect Richmond against McClellan's Peninsula Campaign
Source: Library of Congress, Blockade of the Potomac. Map showing Union and Rebel batteries January 1862 by Robert Knox Sneden
With wet weather in October 1861, the logistics of supplying the Confederate front lines grew worse. The army moved its front lines back to Centreville. In the winter, however, even Centreville was a long wagon haul from Manassas Junction. The Confederates built the first railroad purely for military purposes in November 1861-February, 1862, crossing Bull Run and climbing the hill. Ultimately, the Centreville Military Railroad reached what today is a McDonalds on Route 28, south of the modern interchange with Route 29.
The Virginia Central, Orange and Alexandria, and Manassas Gap railroads brought supplies and troops to Manassas Junction, after they were initially stationed at other locations in Virginia until they were "seasoned," or past the stage when soldiers from isolated rural areas in the South were likely to become disabled by their first exposure to communicable diseases such measles. Confederate encampments were scattered along Bull Run, from the town of Occoquan upstream to Centreville and the modern location of the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
Behind the lines, Confederate warehouses were built at Manassas Junction. Chapman (Beverly) Mill in Thoroughfare Gap, at the border of Prince William and Fauquier counties, also served as a supply depot. Over one million pounds of meat were stored there in the winter of 1861-62 to feed the Confederate Army.
The Confederate defense line along Bull Run appeared too strong to the General George McClellan, the Federal officer who replaced General Irvin McDowell. McClellan was charged with the responsibility of capturing Richmond, just like Irvin McDowell, but McClellan identified another route to Richmond. To bypass the Bull Run defenses, McClellan sent the Union Army down the Potomac River to Fortress Monroe, then marched up the Peninsula past Williamsburg to Richmond. The 1862 Peninsula Campaign relied upon Union ships, rather than captured Confederate railroads, as the mechanism to supply the invading army.
The Confederate response to McClellan's march up the Peninsula was a dramatic reduction of forces in Northern Virginia, in order to expand the defensive capacity near Richmond. Confederate cannon in forts at Centreville and along Bull Run were withdrawn and sent south. In some cases "Quaker guns" (tree trunks disguised to look like cannon barrels) were substituted to obscure the reduced capabilities of the Confederate defenses.
in 1862, fake cannon made from tree trunks were installed in Confederate forts near Centreville and the real cannon were shifted to Richmond, in response to the Union Army's Peninsula Campaign
Source: National Archives and Records Administration "Pictures of the Civil War," Confederate "Quaker" guns-logs mounted to deceive Union forces-in the fortifications at Centreville, Va.
Confederate troops were withdrawn quickly with little advance planning; the general staff of the Confederacy was small and unable to cope with the challenge. Because the withdrawal was rapid, the Confederate railroad system was unable to carry supplies as well as troops from Northern Virginia to Richmond. The extraordinary Confederate effort to stockpile supplies since First Manassas near Centreville, to supply troops on the front lines, required a massive destruction effort in late February 1862 to prevent those same supplies from being useful to the Yankees.
After the shift of Confederate forces to Richmond at the beginning of March, 1862, Union forces occupied the rest of Northern Virginia. They moved south to establish a new front line on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County near Fredericksburg. Further west, the Union Army crossed the Rappahannock River and set its new line on the northern bank of the Rapidan River.
Federal forces occupied the Manassas area after Confederates retreated in March,1862, and built pontoon bridges to facilitate crossing Bull Run south of Centreville
Source: The Photographic History of the Civil War, Prelude to the Combat - Blackburns Ford (p.150)
More warehouses were built at Manassas Junction, this time by the Union. A small settlement began to emerge at a massive supply depot that had been empty farmland until the Manassas Gap Railroad was linked there to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in 1857. After March 1862, US Military Railroad trains ran regularly on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad tracks to supply food, hay, ammunition, and fresh troops from Alexandria to the new Union front line on the Rappahannock River in Culpeper County.
in the summer of 1862, wood-burning locomotives of the US Military Railroad used the Orange and Alexandria (O&A) tracks to supply Union forces as far south as Culpeper County
Source: National Archives and Records Administration "Pictures of the Civil War," The engine "Firefly" on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad
Northern Virginia did not escape further fighting after Confederate troops marched south to defend Richmond during McClellan's Peninsula Campaign. The Confederate Army returned in August, 1862.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee took the initiative, after the Seven Days battles on the eastern edge of Richmond blocked McClellan. Lee divided his army, which he titled the Army of Northern Virginia, and headed north.
He left a small force east of Richmond, and sent the majority of his troops west of Richmond and up to the Rapidan River. Lee hoped to trap the Union between the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers, but Union scouts spotted the Confederate movements. The Northern forces retreated back to the Rappahannock River, and then further back towards Centreville. However, Stonewall Jackson' fast-marching infantry corps (called "foot cavalry") crossed the Rappahannock River in Fauquier County, snuck behind the Union Army's front lines, marched east through Thoroughfare Gap, and captured the Union supply depot at Manassas.
After a confusing set of movements, both sides ended up back at the site of the first battle of Manassas. General Pope, the Union commander, failed to recognize that both corps of Lee's army were on the battlefield. Pope focused exclusively on General Stonewall Jackson's Corps, fighting along an abandoned railroad line - allowing General Longstreet to attack an undefended portion of the battlefield and force the Union Army to retreat.
Once again the Union soldiers fled down the Warrenton-Alexandria Turnpike (modern Route 29) towards Washington, DC. This time, the Confederates were still capable of attack. Stonewall Jackson raced up Gum Springs Road to the Little River Turnpike (modern US 50), then turned east and intercepted the tail of the retreating Union Army near what today is Fair Oaks Mall. The two sides fought until an afternoon thunderstorm and nightfall allowed the Union to break away and successfully withdraw to the protection of the circle of military forts around Washington, DC.
In September 1863 after Ox Hill, Lee had four options:
- attack Washington, despite the circle of strong forts surrounding it
- stay in Northern Virginia, where food and supplies had been exhausted
- withdraw to south of the Rappahannock River where supplies were available, but abandoning the Virginia territory recaptured by Lee's bold initiative after the Peninsula Campaign
- invade the North
Lee, in consultation with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. He may have hoped for an easy march as far as the Susquehanna River, where he could burn the Pennsylvania Railroad bridges. A successful northern campaign, before the Congressional elections to the US Congress, would increase pressure on President Lincoln to negotiate a peaceful end of the war and allowing southern secession to succeed.
Instead, General McClellan reorganized the Union Army and blocked Lee's advance. Their battle at Antietam Creek was a draw, but Lee withdrew back into Virginia. That emboldened Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, expanding the war aims beyond restoring the Union and adding the objective to end slavery.
In the winter of 1862-63, John Mosby organized a battalion and initiated partisan warfare behind the lines in Union-occupied Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. Mosby's Rangers were successful in blocking Union troops from being sent to the front lines, and also blocked re-opening of the Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria railroads for Union use in late 1864.
In October 1863, Lee tried to repeat his maneuvers of the 1862 Second Manassas campaign. Once again he sent his forces west, around the right flank of the Union Army on the Rappahannock River. By this time Stonewall Jackson was dead, so Confederate General A. P. Hill commanded the march eastward down modern Linton Hall Road in Prince William County to the railroad at Bristoe (now spelled Bristow). However, the Union forces were far stronger than expected. After the Battle of Bristoe Station, General Robert E. Lee acknowledged to General A. P. Hill that the Confederates had been defeated, saying simply "Well, well, General, bury these poor men, and let us say no more about it."1
in the 1864 Bristoe Campaign, Confederate troops tried to sneak around the right flank of Union forces on the Rappahannock River, but this time the result was a Confederate defeat
Source: Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com, Bristoe Campaign