The attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 made it clear our nation was headed for war. Most believed there would be one, climactic, winner-take-all battle. So Union troops enlisted for only 90 days, more than enough time to reach Richmond and capture the capital of the Confederacy.
Just one thing stood in their way - Manassas Junction, an important railway crossroads between the federal and confederate capitals. Led by General Irvin McDowell, 35,000 Union troops set out through Fairfax County for Manassas to engage the 22,000 Confederate troops who guarded it under the command of General Pierre G.T. Beauregard. The Union Army was accompanied by a couple hundred private citizens, eager to view an easy victory.
Starting first with a fierce skirmish at Blackburn's Ford in western Fairfax County, and continuing a couple days later on July 21, 1861 was a series of events nobody predicted. Close to fifty thousand brave men fought for 10 hours on Manassas Battlefield until the Union Army retreated in what the South dubbed "The Great Skedaddle". Nearly 5,000 soldiers and bystanders were killed, wounded or captured. Confederate General Thomas Jackson earned the nickname "Stonewall". General McDowell was replaced by General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union armies. And a four-year nightmare began its grip upon our nation.