By The Old Guard MuseumJuly 21, 2011
Starting in 2011, the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War begins. Since the founding of the nation and independence, no event has shaped the nation with such force and long-lasting consequences. On July 21, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run (known in the North as First Manassas) will be observed. Bull Run marked the first major land battle of the Civil War, and would see the 3d Infantry Regiment earn one of twelve battle streamers for its role in this “brothers war.”
The Civil War began in the summer of 1861. In the spring, President Lincoln had called for troops to defend the capital and the union, and the Regular Army was expected to set the example for citizen soldiers. The Regiment left Fort Clark, Texas and marched southeast to meet transports, which would carry five companies and the headquarters north, and two companies to Florida to garrison Fort Pickens (April 1861-April 1862). Three companies were not able to complete their evacuation of Texas, and were forced to surrender. It was not until the spring of 1862 that the companies from Florida rejoined the Regiment, and shortly after, the attrition and casualties of the first year of the war forced four companies to be disbanded and the men to be distributed to the remaining six. Many of the officers were detached and performed staff duty at brigade and division levels, setting an example in Army administration as the nation struggled to form a successful army. The senior officer, for a time, was Captain George Sykes of Company K, 3d Infantry Regiment.
In July of 1861, the Union advance into Virginia was stopped at Bull Run as the two armies floundered into each other. When the Union line broke in the afternoon, and the routed army began to flee toward Washington, D.C., a movement by the Confederates threatened to cut off the retreat. George Sykes, now a Major, with five companies of the 3d Infantry, two companies of the 2nd, and one company of the 8th Infantry marched his ad hoc battalion to a critical ridge near the road to Stone Bridge. The battalion formed a square and successfully defended the ridge and road against infantry, artillery and cavalry until all units of the fleeing army had crossed the bridge. The Battalion then retired in good order to Washington. Fewer than five hundred men had saved the Army and perhaps the Union. When the President came to review the troops at the end of the month, the Army commander pointed out the little Battalion and said to Lincoln "these are the men who saved your army." Lincoln replied "Yes, I have heard of them."
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