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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Fighting begins in Virginia

Well, all right, continues. Alexandria, VA, was captured on 24 April as part of the US’s effort to establish a safe zone around Washington, DC. There wasn’t much of a fight but there were two casualties.

At any rate, today the fighting at Sewell’s Point, Virginia began. Sewell’s Point guards the mouth of the harbor at Hampton Roads and more importantly, it offered a vantage from which artillery could be fired at US-occupied Fort Monroe. Naturally the Confederates began setting up guns there, and equally naturally the occupants of the fort sent a war-ship and an armed tug over to see what the hell was going on. The captain of the USS Monticello, the warship, took exception to the construction of breastworks and artillery emplacements and opened fire. The Confederates, after a startled pause, opened fire right back. There were no casualties during the two-day battle, and eventually Monticello limped back to Fort Monroe with several holes in her sides, the tug trailing behind.

Published in: on 18 May, 2011 at 11:24  Leave a Comment  
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