Friday, July 22, 2011

150 Years Ago: The Aftermath of Bull Run

Bull Run 1stImage via Wikipedia

Monday, July 22, 1861.  George Templeton Strong declared in his diary, "Today will be known as BLACK MONDAY.  We are utterly and disgracefully routed, beaten, whipped by secessionists."

Union General Irvin McDowell's army had been routed by the Confederates at Bull Run.  The rout met up with the mother of all traffic jams at the bridge over Cub Run, and suddenly the rout had become a panic.  The army practically sprinted back to Washington.  The citizens there were astonished to see this tired, beaten rabble stream back into the city, and feared that a Confederate invasion was imminent.

And the casualties were staggering -- 450-500 killed, 1100 wounded, and a staggering 1500-1800 missing.  The hospitals were quickly filled to overflowing.

The bars were full too.  Walt Whitman wrote in Memoranda During the War,
As afternoon pass'd, and evening came, the streets, the bar-rooms, knots everywhere, listeners, questioners, terrible yarns, bugaboo, mask'd batteries, our regiment all cut up, &c. -- stories and storytellers, windy, bragging, vain centres of street-crowds. Resolution, manliness, seem to have abandon'd Washington. The principle hotel, Willard's, is full of shoulder-straps -- thick, crush'd, creeping with shoulder-straps. (I see them, and must have a word with them. There you are shoulder-straps! -- but where are your companies? Where are your men? Incompetents! never tell me of chances of battle, of getting stray'd, and the like. I think this is your work, this retreat, after all. Sneak, blow, put on airs, there in Willard's sumptuous parlors and bar-rooms, or anywhere -- no explanation will save you. Bull Run is your work; had you been half or one-tenth worthy your men, this would never have happen'd.)

Horace Greeley, whose editorials and "Forward to Richmond" headlines in the New York Herald had helped bring this battle on, was beside himself with grief.  In a few days he would write to Lincoln, "If it is best for the country and for mankind that we make peace with the Rebels at once and on their own terms, do not shrink even from that."

Confederate President Jefferson Davis finished work early on July 21st.  He then chartered a train to Manassas Junction, arriving while the battle was raging.  Coming up from the rear, he encountered the remnants of used up units, stragglers, malingerers, and concluded that the battle was lost.  But he finally met up with his generals, Johnston and Beauregard, and discovered the true magnitude of the victory.  He urged a vigorous pursuit.  Johnston still had a few fresh troops, but nothing ever came of it.

The Confederate army was badly disorganized, and their casualties were staggering too -- 400 killed, 1600 wounded, some mortally, including Barnard Bee, who died on July 22.  He was the one who had given Thomas Jackson the appellation "Stonewall."

There was some controversy about what Bee said, and whether he meant it in a complimentary manner.  One witness claimed that Bee was complaining about Jackson not engaging his men in battle.  "Look at Jackson standing there like a damned stone wall."  Or did he realize that Jackson was forming the final line that must be held.  "Look!  There is Jackson standing like a stone wall!  Rally behind the Virginians!"  Whatever the accurate quote or the meaning behind the quote, the name stuck to Jackson and Bee was not around to settle the controversy.

The Confederate army rounded up a whole horde of prisoners, some 1200, including a U.S. congressman, and collected all manner of equipment that had been abandoned by the Union soldiers in their flight.

This decisive battle would not decide the war.  Far from it.  The North would redouble its efforts.

Lincoln met with General-in-Chief Winfield Scott and his cabinet through the night of July 21-22.  They sent wires to General George McClellan in the mountains of western Virginia first telling him to move his army into the Shenandoah Valley, then to stay where he was and await reinforcements, then telling McClellan to report to Washington.

The day after the battle, July 22, Lincoln signed a bill for the enlistment of 500,000 three-year volunteers, then three days later signed another bill for 500,000 more.  McClellan would soon take command of a new army of these three-year volunteers, the Army of the Potomac.

In the South, the mood was jubilant, with many thinking that independence was just around the corner.  In the coming weeks though, many would wonder why the Confederate army had not finished up the victory and driven on to Washington.  Fingers would be pointed at each of the principals, Johnston, Beauregard, and Davis, and the controversy would swirl for many years.  Each man wrote a postwar memoir that kept the issue alive. 
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