Lesson Plan

First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence

The Stone House at Manassas National Battlefield Park

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 5 Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and home front.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

What did the first battle of Manassas symbolize to soldiers and civilians at the outbreak of the Civil War?


1. To explain the physical features of the area that brought the armies to Manassas;
2. To describe how the fighting of July 21, 1861 affected soldiers and the local population, both immediately and in the months and years following the battle;
3. To describe how the impact of the battle changed the way Americans of the time--military and civilian--viewed the Civil War;
4. To discover the effects of the Civil War on their own community, as well as communities around the nation.


Time Period: Late 19th century
Topics: The lesson could be used in units on the Civil War. Students will strengthen their skills of observation and interpretation in the study of history and geography, and gain practice in analyzing primary documents.


To many Americans, the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops on the morning of April 12, 1861, signaled the separation of the United States into two nations. Soon thereafter, both the North and the South began preparing for war enlisting armies, training troops, and raising rhetoric to a fevered pitch. At first, Americans viewed the conflict romantically, as a great adventure. To many, it was a crusade of sorts that would be decided quickly, and would return both the North and South to a peaceful way of life, either as one nation or two. Scarcely three months later, however, events near the small Virginia community of Manassas Junction shocked the nation into the realization that the war might prove longer and more costly than anyone could have imagined--not only to the armies, but to the nation as a whole. On July 21, 1861, the first major confrontation of the opposing armies took place here, coming to a climax on the fallow fields of the widow Judith Henry's family, and claiming almost 5,000 casualties. Among the victims were not only the dead and wounded of the opposing armies, but members of the civilian population, and, ultimately, the wide-eyed innocence of a nation that suddenly realized it had gone to war with itself.

The importance of the first battle of Manassas, or Bull Run as it was generally known in the North, lay not so much in the movement of the armies or the strategic territory gained or lost, but rather in the realization that the struggle was more an apocalyptic event than the romantic adventure earlier envisioned.

Lesson Hook/Preview

The Confederate States of America was formed between December 1860 and May 1861, when 11 Southern states seceded from the United States. The division came about as a result of decades of sectional tension between the North and the South. After the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in November 1860 and the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, the nation seemed inevitably headed for war. Most Northerners and Southerners believed the coming conflict would consist of one climactic, winner-take-all battle. Federal troops were enlisted for only 90 days, more than enough time, Northern leaders believed, to rout the Southern army and end the "callow" rebellion.

The Union's first goal was Richmond, Virginia, the newly designated capital of the Confederacy and only 100 miles from Washington, D.C. To reach Richmond, the army first had to capture Manassas Junction, an important railway junction 30 miles southwest of Washington. Troops set out for Manassas on July 16, 1861. So naive was the nation about the coming horrors that 200 or so private citizens from Washington, D.C., accompanied federal troops on the march. They hoped to witness and be entertained by this once-in-a-lifetime event.

The two armies met in battle on the morning of July 21, 1861, along the banks of a small stream known as Bull Run. In a ten-hour contest, the green, inexperienced troops of both sides bravely fought and held their ground. By late afternoon, however, the federal troops, driven from the battlefield along with many of the sightseers, were in retreat. Hope of a quick and easy victory was a casualty of the day, along with almost 5,000 members from both armies and bystanders. Daylight faded from the once peaceful fields, bringing to an end not only the first major confrontation of the Civil War, but also the romantic way in which the majority of Americans had viewed the coming conflict.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Manassas National Battlefield Park
Manassas National Battlefield Park is a unit of the National Park System. The park's web page details the history of the park and visitation information. Included on the site are photographs, both recent and historical, letters from the Civil War, and comprehensive histories of the battles that took place at Manassas battlefield.

National Park Service Civil War Website
Visit the official National Park Service Civil War Web Site. Offering the current generation of Americans an opportunity to know, discuss, and commemorate this country's greatest national crisis, while at the same time exploring its enduring relevance in the present, the website includes a variety of helpful features and links such as the About the Civil War page that offers a timeline and stories from various perspectives. Also included are links to Civil War Parks, NPS education programs, and much more.

National Register of Historic Places: 
Manassas National Battlefield Park

The National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places with local partners created a travel itinerary along Virginia's Route 15 called "Journey Through Hollow Ground." The itinerary features a description and photographs of Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The American Battlefield Protection Program
The American Battlefield Protection Program, a division of the National Park Service, provides several detailed on-line publications on the Civil War, a list of all the Civil War related parks, and special NPS collection features on their web site.

Virginia Main Street Communities
The National Register of Historic Places' on-line travel itinerary, Virginia Main Street Communities provides information on over 50 places listed in the National Register, including Manassas National Battlefield Park, that are playing a role in the downtown revitalization of Virginia Main Street Communities, including Manassas National Battlefield Park.

National Park Service - Museum Management Program
Symbols of Battle: Civil War Flags is an online exhibit that explores the NPS collection of Civil War flags and their multiple symbolic meanings, covering concepts such as National Pride, Shared History, and the many roles flags serve on the battleground.

National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration offer a wealth of information about the Civil War as well as Manassas Battlefield. Included on the site when searching "first battle of Manassas" is a special collection of photographs covering many aspects of the Civil War. Another interesting search on "Civil War records" provides comprehensive Union and Confederate records.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress created a selected Civil War photograph history in their digital collections. Included on the site is a photographic time line of the Civil War covering major events for each year of the war.

The Valley of the Shadow
For a valuable resource on the Civil War, visit the University of Virginia's Valley of the Shadow Project. The site offers a unique perspective of two communities, one Northern and one Southern, and their experiences during the American Civil War. Students can explore primary sources such as newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, military records, and much more.

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Last updated: October 12, 2018