First Bull Run What was Mcdowell's plan if he had actually won at Bull Run?

TheKenoshaKid

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Jan 11, 2010
This has always kinda confused me. I believe he expected the Confederates to fall back to the Rappahannock, which makes sense on paper I suppose.

But wouldn't the loss of all those 3-month regiments shrink his army down considerably? I know there was Patterson's army, but didn't he have a bunch of enlistments expiring as well?

Was he planning on taking a bunch of brand-new regiments from around Washington down south with him if he needed to pursue the rebels? Were there even enough trained units that early on to both reinforce McDowell and protect Washington?
 

bankerpapaw

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Dec 26, 2007
Location
Rome, Georgia
This has always kinda confused me. I believe he expected the Confederates to fall back to the Rappahannock, which makes sense on paper I suppose.

But wouldn't the loss of all those 3-month regiments shrink his army down considerably? I know there was Patterson's army, but didn't he have a bunch of enlistments expiring as well?

Was he planning on taking a bunch of brand-new regiments from around Washington down south with him if he needed to pursue the rebels? Were there even enough trained units that early on to both reinforce McDowell and protect Washington?
Good question. I never gave that much thought if the Union had won.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Joined
Dec 16, 2018
This has always kinda confused me. I believe he expected the Confederates to fall back to the Rappahannock, which makes sense on paper I suppose.

But wouldn't the loss of all those 3-month regiments shrink his army down considerably? I know there was Patterson's army, but didn't he have a bunch of enlistments expiring as well?

Was he planning on taking a bunch of brand-new regiments from around Washington down south with him if he needed to pursue the rebels? Were there even enough trained units that early on to both reinforce McDowell and protect Washington?
I believe the general attitude was that beating the reb army would end the war. The reality is that may have been so.
 

Andy Cardinal

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Feb 27, 2017
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Ohio
I suspect McDowell's army would not have been in condition to do much -- just like the Confederates couldn't do much with their victory. I doubt the Confederates would have given up. Most likely they would have fallen back to a defensive losition somewhere in the Rappahannock. McDowell would have become a hero in the north and McClellan would not have been called east to take command. Even if McDowell hadn't waited until the next spring to launch another advance, it would have taken him some time to have the army ready to move again.
 

Joshism

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Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
I concur with a Rappahannock stalemate being the result.

Where McClellan ends up as a result is intriguing. Although perhaps the answer is just as McDowell's corps commander.

Patterson really wasn't capable of doing anything with his army, a fault of the soldiers as such as their general.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Where McClellan ends up as a result is intriguing. Although perhaps the answer is just as McDowell's corps commander.

Major-General McClellan ranks Brigadier-General McDowell, and that can't be altered. If McDowell is promoted MG in the regular army (which is likely) he'd still be junior to McClellan, although he'd rank Halleck when Halleck comes east.

McClellan was already commander in the west, commanding the Army of Ohio (future Army of the Cumberland).
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It's worth remembering that the mental picture a lot of people had of how the war would go was sort of coloured by "fiction" more than fact - a romantic view where there's a big pitched battle and then the winner gets to dictate terms. This might have been true if the two sides had a large regular force able to mount a pursuit, but as it was the armies simply were not good enough without one side getting very lucky.

Perhaps there was an element of "use it or lose it" in the Bull Run battle. First Bull Run was fought when the first 75,000 volunteers were about to expire (volunteer call 15 April, battle 21 July, expiration date depending on the individual mustering in date of each regiment) and if three months hasn't produced good enough troops then it's a big decisive battle in July that wins the war or you're waiting until at least 1862 to get good enough troops. (The call for 500,000 volunteers was early July, add four months to that and you're in early November - too late for an offensive that year).

This time pressure undoubtedly played on McDowell.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Just like the Northern newspaper headlines read - "On to Richmond"
A persistent idea, it kept resurfacing - this idea that you could fight a nice big battle and then advance straight to Richmond. Oddly this idea sometimes seemed to hold the view that the situation of the battle didn't matter much - just smash the enemy in the face and keep going.


McDowell was unprepared for 1st Manassas and knew it. I think the only plan he had was to try to survive with some part of his Army intact.
I'm not so sure. I think he was approaching the battle as a tactical problem without allowing for the weaknesses of his army.

The thing about the operational plan for First Bull Run is that it's the kind of plan you'd see worked out on a gaming table. It relies on lots of moving parts and a big flanking move around the enemy left, and while that bit worked it almost seems (to me) like at that point McDowell turned to the judges and asked them to award him points. :wink:

Perhaps that's unkind though.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
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Dec 16, 2018
What really gets lost in most accounts of 1st Bull Run is how unprepared the Confederates were. That was not because of a lack of will, either.
The Confederacy had severe shortages of weapons, ammunition and unmobilized manpower. The Union would face an ammunition problem later in the year, but was alright at that point. The Confederacy just did not have the means to carry on any decisive offense in the East. Had a change in the battle allowed Beauregard and Johnston to organize a proper pursuit of McDowell, they would have been stopped cold by the Potomac. The rebs could not force the bridges, and Patterson's men would have been on the fords upstream before the rebs got there. Washington was not going to be endangered unless Lincoln decided to retreat to Philadelphia. My opinion is that the Confederacy got absolutely as much out of the battle as could reasonably be had.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The rebs could not force the bridges, and Patterson's men would have been on the fords upstream before the rebs got there.
Hm, tricky. It's the plausible outcome, but there were some bridges still in place upstream.

Don't forget that the US was terrified of Virginia cavalry beyond all reason before they'd done anything to earn the reputation, so it's at least possible that a bridge could have been taken and held by Confederate cavalry until the Confederate army reached it.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Dec 16, 2018
Hm, tricky. It's the plausible outcome, but there were some bridges still in place upstream.

Don't forget that the US was terrified of Virginia cavalry beyond all reason before they'd done anything to earn the reputation, so it's at least possible that a bridge could have been taken and held by Confederate cavalry until the Confederate army reached it.
Yes, the Black Cavalry was going to come and eat them for dinner.
I think Confederate cavalry could get to advance points... but... I am sure the rebs were outnumbered and outgunned, and would have to be on the offensive, tactically. Every mile the CSA Army advanced after 1st Bull Run put it closer to running out of food and ammunition before running out of Yanks to fight.
A year later the CSA was in much better shape to take offensives.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I think Confederate cavalry could get to advance points... but... I am sure the rebs were outnumbered and outgunned, and would have to be on the offensive, tactically.
I don't think they could sieze a crossing if one was properly defended, but they could take one against minor opposition and keep it until the main force got there.

The real key to this sort of thing would be exploiting panic. Green or unseasoned troops can be infected by sudden panic and then take months to properly recover - indeed, even seasoned veterans can be ruined by a sudden shattering. Remember that Napoleon thought that three weeks wasn't enough time to turn his (large) post-Waterloo force into an army able to stand up to the British and the Prussians, even with the advantage of the defensive and a big corps that hadn't been defeated.

As it happens, the distance between the Bull Run battlefield and Washington is about two days' marching - not nearly enough time to rally everyone, but it is a short enough distance that troops could carry their rations.


I don't really think this is the most likely outcome, mind, but I also don't think it's flat impossible. It's the Union worst case, as it were.
 
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