The First Battles: April 1861 to February 1862

Bull Run

What was General McDowell’s plan?

Irvin McDowell had been forced into this battle by the insistence of President Lincoln. McDowell drew up a very solid plan of attack, nevertheless. On the evening of July 20, 1861, he stood with his brigade and division commanders, going over the maps a number of times.

The right part of the federal army, which was stationed to the north, would drive another three miles north, come across the Bull Run at a high point, and come south against the Confederates. The center part of the federal army would attack slowly, waiting for pressure to be exerted from the right. And the left, or southern, side of the federal army would demonstrate but not make any attack until the other two sections had accomplished their work. If not Napoleonic, it was nevertheless a fine plan. One trouble emerged right away, however: General McDowell rolled up the maps and kept them. Not a single brigade or division commander walked away from the meeting with a first-rate map.


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