July 21, 1861: First Battle of Bull Run shows war is no piece of cake, hints of hell to come

July 21, 2016

Only after the Civil War did Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman become famous for telling military academy graduates that “War is hell.”

In the summer of 1861, both Unionists and Confederates expected a short fight to settle what would come to be known as the American Civil War.  South Carolina fired on the Union Ft. Sumter in April.  But the first major action did not sully history until July.  Confederate forces and Union forces massed for a battle near Manassas, Virginia, at a little creek called Bull Run.

Spectators came out from Washington, D.C., bringing the family and picnic lunches, expecting a great drama to unfold — but they were surprised by the actual carnage.  What did they expect?

This battle gave rise to the famous, true story of farmer Wilmer McLean.  His house backed up on what would become the battlefield.  His summer kitchen took a cannonball.  Hoping to avoid further entanglement in the war, McLean moved his family and his farming farther south, to the unlikely-named town of Appomattox Courthouse.

There, in 1865, Gen. U.S. Grant’s entourage asked to borrow McLean’s parlor, for the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee.  McLean was able to say, with some high accuracy, that the war began in his back yard, and ended in his front room.

Details from the Library of Congress; teachers, you should have LOC sites bookmarked:

The First Battle of Bull Run

Bull Run, 1st battle of, map from LOC

Battle field of Bull Run, Va. July 21st 1861, Showing the positions of both armies at 4 o’clock, P.M.,
Map Collections: Military Battles and Campaigns

On July 21, 1861, a dry summer Sunday, Union and Confederate troops clashed outside Manassas, Virginia, in the first major engagement of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run.

Union General Irvin McDowell hoped to march his men across a small stream called Bull Run in the vicinity of Manassas, Virginia, which was well-guarded by a force of Confederates under General P. G. T. Beauregard. McDowell needed to find a way across the stream and through the Southern line that stretched for over six miles along the banks of Bull Run.

McDowell launched a small diversionary attack at the Stone Bridge while marching the bulk of his force north around the Confederates’ left flank. The march was slow, but McDowell’s army crossed the stream near Sudley Church and began to march south behind the Confederate line. Some of Beauregard’s troops, recognizing that the attack at Stone Bridge was just a diversion, fell back just in time to meet McDowell’s oncoming force.

First Battle of Bull Run- Bull Run, Virginia

Bull Run, Va. Matthews' or the Stone House. Library of Congress image. George N. Barnard, photographer, March 1862. Selected Civil War Photographs

Bull Run, Va. Matthews’ or the Stone House. Library of Congress image. George N. Barnard, photographer, March 1862. Selected Civil War Photographs

 

Cub Run, Va. View with destroyed bridge. Library of Congress image.

Cub Run, Va. View with destroyed bridge. George N. Barnard, photographer, March 1862. Library of Congress image, Selected Civil War Photographs

These photographs of First Bull Run were not made at the time of the battle on July 21, 1861; the photographers had to wait until the Confederate Army evacuated Centreville and Manassas in March 1862. Their views of various landmarks of the previous summer are displayed here according to the direction of the Federal advance, a long-flanking movement along Sudley’s Ford.

When Beauregard learned of the attack, he sent reinforcements to aid the small group of Southerners, but they were unable to hold back the oncoming tide of Union troops. As more Union soldiers joined the fray, the Southerners were slowly pushed back past the Stone House and up Henry Hill.

The battle raged for several hours around the home of Mrs. Judith Henry on top of Henry Hill, with each side taking control of the hill more than once. Slowly, more and more Southern men poured onto the field to support the Confederate defense, and Beauregard’s men pushed the Northerners back.

At this point in the battle, Confederate General Barnard Bee attempted to rally his weary men by pointing to Brigadier General Thomas Jackson, who proudly stood his ground in the face of the Union assault. Bee cried, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” From that moment on, Thomas Jackson was known as “Stonewall” Jackson.

As the day wore on, the strength of McDowell’s troops was sapped by the continuous arrival of fresh Southern reinforcements. Eventually, the stubborn Confederates proved more than a match for McDowell’s men, and the Northerners began to retreat across Bull Run.

The Union pullout began as an orderly movement. However, when the bridge over Cub Run was destroyed, cutting off the major route of retreat, it degenerated into a rout. The narrow roads and fords, clogged by the many carts, wagons, and buggies full of people who had driven out from Washington, D.C., to see the spectacle, hampered the withdrawal of the Union Army. The Southerners tried to launch a pursuit, but were too tired and disorganized from the day’s fighting to be effective.

The morning of July 22 found most of the soldiers of the Union Army on their way back to Washington or already there. It was more than a year before the Northerners attempted once again to cross the small stream outside of Manassas named Bull Run.

Beauregard Bull Run Quick Step
Beauregard Bull Run Quick Step
J. A. Rosenberger, music,
1862.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Tourists in Virginia today enjoy the sights, probably-sunny days and air-conditioned restaurants. It may be difficult to remember why Sherman later told military cadets that “war is hell.”

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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War is no piece of cake: First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861

July 21, 2012

Only after the Civil War did Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman become famous for telling military academy graduates that “War is hell.”

In the summer of 1861, both Unionists and Confederates expected a short fight to settle what would come to be known as the American Civil War.  South Carolina fired on the Union Ft. Sumter in April.  But the first major action did not sully history until July.  Confederate forces and Union forces massed for a battle near Manassas, Virginia, at a little creek called Bull Run.

Spectators came out from Washington, D.C., bringing the family and picnic lunches, expecting a great drama to unfold — but they were surprised by the actual carnage.  What did they expect?

This battle gave rise to the famous story of farmer Wilmer McLean.  His house backed up on what would become the battlefield.  His summer kitchen took a cannonball.  Hoping to avoid further entanglement in the war, McLean moved his family and his farming farther south, to the unlikely-named town of Appomattox Court.

There, in 1865, Gen. U.S. Grant’s entourage asked to borrow McLean’s parlor, for the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee.  McLean was able to say, with some high accuracy, that the war began in his back yard, and ended in his front room.

Details from the Library of Congress:

The First Battle of Bull Run

Bull Run, 1st battle of, map from LOC

Battle field of Bull Run, Va. July 21st 1861, Showing the positions of both armies at 4 o’clock, P.M.,
Map Collections: Military Battles and Campaigns

On July 21, 1861, a dry summer Sunday, Union and Confederate troops clashed outside Manassas, Virginia, in the first major engagement of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run.

Union General Irvin McDowell hoped to march his men across a small stream called Bull Run in the vicinity of Manassas, Virginia, which was well-guarded by a force of Confederates under General P. G. T. Beauregard. McDowell needed to find a way across the stream and through the Southern line that stretched for over six miles along the banks of Bull Run.

McDowell launched a small diversionary attack at the Stone Bridge while marching the bulk of his force north around the Confederates’ left flank. The march was slow, but McDowell’s army crossed the stream near Sudley Church and began to march south behind the Confederate line. Some of Beauregard’s troops, recognizing that the attack at Stone Bridge was just a diversion, fell back just in time to meet McDowell’s oncoming force.

First Battle of Bull Run- Bull Run, Virginia

View of the Stone House
Matthews’ or the Stone House

Ruins of Cub Run Bridge
Cub Run, with Destroyed Bridge
George N. Barnard, photographer,
March 1862.
Selected Civil War Photographs

These photographs of First Bull Run were not made at the time of the battle on July 21, 1861; the photographers had to wait until the Confederate Army evacuated Centreville and Manassas in March 1862. Their views of various landmarks of the previous summer are displayed here according to the direction of the Federal advance, a long-flanking movement along Sudley’s Ford.

When Beauregard learned of the attack, he sent reinforcements to aid the small group of Southerners, but they were unable to hold back the oncoming tide of Union troops. As more Union soldiers joined the fray, the Southerners were slowly pushed back past the Stone House and up Henry Hill.

The battle raged for several hours around the home of Mrs. Judith Henry on top of Henry Hill, with each side taking control of the hill more than once. Slowly, more and more Southern men poured onto the field to support the Confederate defense, and Beauregard’s men pushed the Northerners back.

At this point in the battle, Confederate General Barnard Bee attempted to rally his weary men by pointing to Brigadier General Thomas Jackson, who proudly stood his ground in the face of the Union assault. Bee cried, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” From that moment on, Thomas Jackson was known as “Stonewall” Jackson.

As the day wore on, the strength of McDowell’s troops was sapped by the continuous arrival of fresh Southern reinforcements. Eventually, the stubborn Confederates proved more than a match for McDowell’s men, and the Northerners began to retreat across Bull Run.

The Union pullout began as an orderly movement. However, when the bridge over Cub Run was destroyed, cutting off the major route of retreat, it degenerated into a rout. The narrow roads and fords, clogged by the many carts, wagons, and buggies full of people who had driven out from Washington, D.C., to see the spectacle, hampered the withdrawal of the Union Army. The Southerners tried to launch a pursuit, but were too tired and disorganized from the day’s fighting to be effective.

The morning of July 22 found most of the soldiers of the Union Army on their way back to Washington or already there. It was more than a year before the Northerners attempted once again to cross the small stream outside of Manassas named Bull Run.

Beauregard Bull Run Quick Step
Beauregard Bull Run Quick Step
J. A. Rosenberger, music,
1862.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920


“John Brown’s Body” becoming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: Managing expectations of a nation during a civil war

November 27, 2011

Our textbooks and curriculum guides too often fail to make clear the links between the bloody conflicts in the Kansas Territory and the Civil War, between the conflicts engaged in by men like John Brown in Kansas, and later at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and the conflicts of the Civil War.

We might make the history more vivid and clear with the use of Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” an epic war song based closely on a folk tune favored by Union troops of the time, conscripted specifically because of that affinity by Howe to serve the greater action of repurposing the war from merely saving the Union to freeing people from bondage.  It’s a study in propaganda earlier than we usually think of it.

Prof. R. Blakeslee Gilpin’s essay explaining those links, and exposing the substantial and usually hidden role Julia Ward Howe’s husband played in Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, appears in the New York Times’s coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  As identified at the NYT website, Gilpin is a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina, and the author of a book on the issue, John Brown Still Lives!: America’s Long Reckoning With Violence, Equality, and Change.

Early lyric sheet for "Battle Hymn of the Republic," by Julia Ward Howe, Library of Congress via New York Times

An early lyric sheet for "Battle Hymn of the Republic," by Julia Ward Howe, Library of Congress via New York Times

Most of my students claim not to know the song, “John Brown’s Body,” and an astonishing number of the students say they don’t know “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  It’s a chance to bore them — or instruct them, if the planets and stars align — using a bit of music (a teacher should be able to find a copy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version of the “The Battle Hymn” with little difficulty; it appears in the hymnals of most Protestant sects, so you can get a copy of the lyrics; you’ll have to do a search to find a good copy of  “John Brown’s Body,” though; I’ve not found one I like to use in class).

It might be a short lesson, an adjunct to a lesson, or a project for a student with some choir training.

Gilpin wrote:

Even if Howe’s song spoke to a different understanding of the war, her efforts to transform “John Brown’s Body” into a national patriotic text meant that, much like Brown’s afterlife, people would end up using and abusing “Battle Hymn” as they saw fit. What Howe observed in that Union camp outside of Washington in 1861 was just the beginning of a war of clashing agendas and endlessly obscured meanings. To be sure, those north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line knew that the developing war was being fought over slavery – its brutal realities, its political volatility and especially its uncertain future – but even in its opening months, commentary about the war was already cloaked in the bland language of preserving the Union or defending states’ rights. Assessing the war itself, Howe later wrote that “its cruel fangs fastened upon the very heart of Boston and took from us our best and bravest.”

For Howe and generations of Americans, the cruelty of war demanded a providential overseer. Despite her urge to celebrate noble-hearted men like Brown, “Battle Hymn” helped to take responsibility for the Civil War out of the brutal and clumsy hands of ordinary mortals. To be sure, Brown his death would help to make his nation holy and especially to make all men free, but his radical extremism was frightening to most Americans. Soon enough, the Civil War would be transformed by songs like Howe’s into a conflict of necessity and destiny – a providential trial by fire. That narrative, of a harrowing but essential national adolescence, would eventually be at the expense of those Brown had died for, and whose fate the war was being fought to settle.

More links and a couple of original documents can be found at the NYT site — I would encourage all U.S. history teachers to subscribe to the paper’s coverage of the sesquicentennial of the war.


Gettysburg Address – again, “No casino, please”

November 21, 2011

Yet another version of readings of the Gettysburg Address — this time by actors, historians, and a winner of the Medal of Honor, in a campaign to prevent the construction of a casino next door to the battlefield monuments:


Springfield, Illinois area residents recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

November 20, 2011

A short feature put together by the Springfield State Journal-Register:


November 19th, 1863: Mr. Lincoln at Gettysburg

November 19, 2011

A mostly encore post about today’s anniversary of Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg.

Prior to 2007, this was the only known photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg, on the day of his address - Library of Congress

148 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln redefined the Declaration of Independence and the goals of the American Civil War, in a less-than-two-minute speech dedicating part of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a cemetery and final resting place for soldiers who died in the fierce battle fought there the previous July 1 through 3.

Now in 2011, we’re in the “150th anniversary” years of the Civil War.  Maybe some will look back to the time our nation worked hard to tear itself asunder, and learn lessons that might help us keep from doing that in the 21st century.  Some might find inspiration, or aspiration, in Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg.

Interesting news for 2007: More photos from the Library of Congress collection may contain images of Lincoln. The photo above, detail from a much larger photo, had been thought for years to be the only image of Lincoln from that day. The lore is that photographers, taking a break from former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Everett’ s more than two-hour oration, had expected Lincoln to go on for at least an hour. His short speech caught them totally off-guard, focusing their cameras or taking a break. Lincoln finished before any photographer got a lens open to capture images.

Images of people in these photos are very small, and difficult to identify. Lincoln was not identified at all until 1952:

The plate lay unidentified in the Archives for some fifty-five years until in 1952, Josephine Cobb, Chief of the Still Pictures Branch, recognized Lincoln in the center of the detail, head bared and probably seated. To the immediate left (Lincoln’s right) is Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, and to the far right (beyond the limits of the detail) is Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noontime, just after Lincoln arrived at the site and before Edward Everett’s arrival, and some three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address.

On-line, the Abraham Lincoln Blog covered the discovery that two more photographic plates from the 1863 speech at Gettysburg may contain images of Lincoln in his trademark stove-pipe hat. Wander over to the story at the USA Today site, and you can see just how tiny are these detail images in relation to the photographs themselves. These images are tiny parts of photos of the crowd at Gettysburg. (The story ran in USA Today last Thursday or Friday — you may be able to find a copy of that paper buried in the returns pile at your local Kwikee Mart.) Digital technologies, and these suspected finds of Lincoln, should prompt a review of every image from Gettysburg that day.

To the complaints of students, I have required my junior U.S. history students to memorize the Gettysburg Address (though, not yet in this school year). In Irving I found a couple of students who had memorized it for an elementary teacher years earlier, and who still could recite it. Others protested, until they learned the speech. This little act of memorization appears to me to instill confidence in the students that they can master history, once they get it done.

To that end, I discovered a good, ten-minute piece on the address in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” (in Episode 5). On DVD, it’s a good piece for classroom use, short enough for a bell ringer or warm-up, detailed enough for a deeper study, and well done, including the full text of the address itself performed by Sam Waterson.

Embedded video from CNN VideoIn 1863 Edward Everett, the former Massachusetts senator and U.S. secretary of state, was regarded as the greatest orator of the time. A man of infinite grace, and a historian with some sense of events and what the nation was going through, Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day after their speeches:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Interesting note: P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula notes that the Gettysburg Address was delivered “seven score and four years ago.” Of course, that will never happen again. I’ll wager he was the first to notice that odd juxtaposition on the opening line.

Do you have a favorite performance of this address you’d commend for internet bloggers?  Let us know where to find it, in comments.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Chamblee54 for reminding us about the anniversary, today.

Resources for students and teachers:


Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation: Free lesson plans from the Bill of Rights Institute!

February 12, 2011

A little history bauble for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, today:

From Presidents and the Constitution, a great resource from the Bill of Rights Institute, a lesson plan on Lincoln and the Constitutional issues around the Emancipation Proclamation.  It’s very good, I think — and free (maybe only for a while?).

Presidents and the Constitution, Bill of Rights Institute

Presidents and the Constitution, Bill of Rights Institute

This Presidents and the Constitution focuses on Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. Though he had always hated slavery, President Lincoln did not believe the Constitution gave him the authority to bring it to an end—until it became necessary to free the slaves in order to save the Union. With the Emancipation Proclamation, which he viewed as an essential wartime measure to cripple the Confederacy’s ability to fight, Lincoln took the first step toward abolition of slavery in the United States.

If you teach social studies, you probably know about the Bill of Rights Institute already — subscribe for lesson plans, news updates, and news about seminars.  They do good work, and the provide great resources.


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