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The Federal army, disorganized and routed at Manassas on the 21st of the preceding July, had retreated to the defense of Washington. A line, stretching from the Chain Bridge to Alexandria, along the south bank of the Potomac, formed a living bulwark between the capital and the victorious Confederates encamped at Centreville, some thirty-miles away. McClellan, called from West Virginia ‘to save the capital,’ had spent the summer and autumn in the task of transforming a uniformed mob of citizens into a well-disciplined army of soldiers. The guns of Manassas had given a quietus to the clamorous cry of ‘On to Richmond,’ and the North was awaking to the fact that the road to the Confederate capital, if traveled at all, must be traveled by a well-trained army, and was not to be attempted by a heterogeneous mob.

The Federal right, encamped at Langley, a few miles in advance of the Chain Bridge (three miles above Washington), consisted of the First Pennsylvania Reserves, commanded by Brigadier-General George A. McCall, a West Pointer, who had seen active service in the Mexican War. The Reserves were formed in three brigades—the First, commanded by Brigadier-General J. F. Reynolds; the Second, by Brigadier-General George G. Meade; the Third, by Brigadier-General E. O. C. Ord.

The Confederates were at Centreville, a small village in Fairfax, a few miles in advance of the line of Bull Run.

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