Thursday, July 21, 2011

First Battle of Bull Run 150th Anniversary at Manassas

 Union Cavalry at Sudley Springs, After the Battle.            PD from en.wikipedia

 Different Names, Horses for Courses, To Each His Own
One thing about the Civil War that can be confusing to the uninitiated is the nomenclature having a Northern and a Southern version. The battle that took place today's date 150 years ago near Manassas, Virginia  is called the Battle of Bull Run in those histories written from a northern point of view, but has always been called Manassas, or First Manassas, from a southern point of view.

Likewise the war itself can be called by various alternate names other than the Civil War, which itself is a term favored in the North. It could also be the War Between The States, the War of Northern Aggression, or the War of the Rebellion. Either of the last two indicates stronger feelings from the speaker, be it pro-South or pro-North.

If the northern terms seem more familiar to you, that indicates that you have been exposed more to the northern point of view in the past. It just isn't the only way of looking at the situation, that's all.

But as long as you realize why they seem more familiar, in your ears, then that's the point I am getting at here. It just shows which POV you are more accustomed to hearing. Overall I would say the Northern POV is dominant in exposure around the world and in the US as a whole.

People Do Still Politicize the Civil War One Way or Another
It doesn't make me angry either way, but in researching I see it does still annoy others to no end, to this day, to even hear a different point of view, and there are some who cannot help but politicize every thing they see. It can be blatantly by commission or more subtly by omission. Everyone is not like that; it's only a small minority, but they are noticeable when it comes to putting out information.

I am going to link to one shortly, but I'll explain first. He probably barely even knows he's doing it.

I am not suggesting that either side is right or wrong, only that the history is largely written by the victors, and some of them are glad that people don't really know too much about the details. The ones who don't feel that way often themselves don't know the details in the first place, and so don't know any better.

This photo is interesting as it shows federal cavalry at Sudley Springs at a more relaxed time given vaguely as after the battle. Matthew Brady the photographer was present at Bull Run, but this is not on the day of battle, I don't think, even though the movies do try to show it that way.  The Union army was routed from the field, in an infamous panic,  and things would not be this relaxed.

A couple of those older boys sure look like their uniforms might be gray.

But it is still a good shot because not only does it show Civil War soldiers in live action, it also shows the place where the Union army made a secret crossing up the stream of Bull Run. A 'run' is a word used around that area for a strong creek, just short of being called a river, and that's what Bull Run is.

As to the names issue, the North tended to call battles and armies after bodies of water, and the South would pick the nearest town or other  man-made feature in selecting names, so Manassas Junction was what they called the battle of Bull Run after, and this trend then continued on with many other battles. Fredericksburg is called the same by both north and south.

 The Plan  
Th war had begun in earnest back in the middle of April, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. At that time seven states had seceded from the union. This was a federal installation right in one of the South's busiest harbors, and at that point they had demanded its surrender, and when refused they bombarded the place into submission.

After that the President, Abraham Lincoln, called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the seven Southern states and force them by arms into submission themselves. He also ordered a naval blockade, even though the navy was not then strong enough to enforce it.

It was a diplomatic blunder because a blockade is something done to a sovereign nation, thus in effect recognizing the Confederate States of America, even though they have been in denial ever since.

After that decision, that is when four more states seceded, so as not to help invade their fellow states. So, after the Northern decision to invade the South, then the seven states became eleven. Seven before, eleven after.

One of them was Virginia, and the Confederate capital was then moved from Montgomery in Alabama to Richmond, in Virginia, about a hundred miles from the federal capital in Washington, DC. That set the stage for a battle at Bull Run, which is a strong creek crossing the road from Washington to Richmond.

It took the rest of the spring and into the summer for the volunteers on both sides to assemble and get trained and ready, and at length in July after a few lesser bouts of sparring the Northern army was ready to move en masse.

General Irwin McDowell planned to march one column up to the Stone Bridge across Bull Run to make a feint, while sneaking a stronger column around his right flank across the Run further upstream at Sudley Spring Ford, shown in the photo above. Even if taken as much as a year later, the photo shows it was a place where you could wade through that water without bothering with the bridge.

There was a large crowd of civilians, politicians, journalists, and thrill-seekers who followed along with picnic baskets to watch the great battle to decide the war once and for all.

All that and more is depicted in movies such as Gods and Generals, the miniseries North and South, or many books including the Bernard Cornwell novel of 1993, The Rebel, in his the Starbuck Chronicles series.

The Confederates led by Generals Joe Johnston and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard also planned to swing around on their right to cross at another ford downstream, so if the plans had all gone ahead, it would be possible the two armies would swing around each other like a revolving door.

As it was the North moved faster and the battle developed when their columns made the first approaches, and then the first Confederates fell back until up on Henry House Hill, Jackson's Brigade stood 'like a stone wall,' as the dying General Bee put it, and the name of Stonewall Jackson, or the Stonewall Brigade, became legendary.

Things went back and forth for a while and then Jackson launched a counterattack down the hill, along with the Black Horse Cavalry with J.E.B. Stuart to bowl over the red-legged New York Fire Zouaves supporting Ricketts' Battery of artillery, and then they were able to take those dangerous guns.

This photo of a painting shows the crews are still at the guns for the moment but their drivers are taking off without them before being overrun by the Stonewall Brigade and Stuart's cavalry. Many men and horses were already shot down at this point, and without the horses the guns could not be brought off, so they were lost.

The Course of the Battle
I'll link to the article in the wikipedia for further study of the battle, .here

Southern Belle Spy Story
Now this other link is to a blogger with some very interesting information about a spy story connected with the troop movements leading to the battle. It is about a lady who had social connections with important people around Washington who sent word to warn General Beauregard about the impending move by the federal army. He shows evidence found in her possesion of a message in cipher. Only upon getting caught did the northern authorities realize she was a southern spy--but after all Maryland, D.C. and Virginia were all territories where slavery was legal.

This blogger lives right there in that area and will undoubtedly be there this weekend. He is an example of the type who have a strong pro-Northern point of view, in the posts, but that doesn't necessarily make his information wrong or anything like that, just partisan. Pretty much all the blogs have some POV or other, so we may as well just see it, recognize it, and get used to it. The pervasiveness of the spin just shows that the subject is still important.

What is Scheduled in Manassas

This link is to another site devoted to the commemorations at Manassas, so today and this weekend is a big day for them. They get a second chance next year when the Second Battle of Manassas comes up for its 150th Anniversary--or, Bull Run, if you prefer.


  1. Very interesting post, civil wars continue to influence peoples pov even decades or hundreds of years afterwards, similar hear in Ireland with the Irish Civil War.

  2. Yep I was thinking of that. Everyone is not equally angry though and it is safe to say most of these words, most of the time.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Very interesting!


  4. You know I tried once to buy a small Dutch dictionary in Brussels once, about 150 years after a civil war, and the shopkeeper seemed annoyed. I got le Figaro also.