21 July, 1861

Today the Union and Confederate armies met outside Manassas, Virginia, in a battle that some in the south would come to call “The Great Skedaddle” owing to the way Union troops ran all the way back to Washington, DC. Their retreat was complicated by fleeing civilians, many of whom had come out as spectators, treating war like a grand circus.

US schoolchildren learn about First Manassas as “the first battle of the Civil War,” which ignores the fact that between the outbreak of hostilities with the attack on Fort Sumter and the clash at Manassas in July, there were scuffles at Alexandria, Sewell’s Point, Aquia Creek, Fairfax Court House, Philippi, Big Bethel, and Blackburn’s Ford, all in Virginia; Camp Jackson near Saint Louis, Booneville, and Carthage in Missouri; and Hoke’s Run, Rich Mountain, and Corrick’s Ford, all of which were in the newly-created state of West Virginia.

Certainly the clash at Manassas Junction was the largest battle to date, though, and represented the first attempt of the US to take Richmond (which had only been declared the capital of the Confederacy on the 29th of May). “On to Richmond!” would become a rallying cry later in the war, but it took four long, long years for the Union army to get there.

Manassas is also the first time the irritating habit of referring to a battle by two different names, depending on whether you lived North or South, reared its contentious head. Northerners preferred to call the battles after bodies of water near by, and hence called it the battle of Bull Run for the small creek the Union army crossed that kicked off the hostilities. Southerners named battles for nearby towns, and so they called it the battle of Manassas. The Southern name, in this case, is the one that stuck, which raises interesting points about the way this war is remembered vice other wars; normally to the victor go the spoils and those spoils generally include naming rights.

Published in: on 21 July, 2011 at 08:38  Leave a Comment  
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