Author Explores Myths, Legends of Historic Battle
Author John Hennessy explored well known myths and legends of the battle. Do you know which statements are myths and which are legends?
The first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) was a “combination of Pearl Harbor and the Super bowl,” explained speaker, author and historian John Hennessy to a standing room only audience on Sunday.
Invited to speak on the first Battle of Bull Run by the Manassas Museum, Hennessy explored well known myths and legends of the battle. Do you know which statements are myths and which are legends?
On the morning of July 21, 1861 the roads of Washington DC bustled with men and women hailing carriages, mounting bikes and lacing their hiking boots for a jaunt out west. The first, and presumably only, battle of the Civil War was about to begin in a small town 40 miles west of the city, and no one planned on missing it.
Myth or legend? This is a legend. Both the North and South expected a single victory would end the Civil War. Several years after the first Battle of Bull Run the nation’s optimism was slowly replaced with the grim reality of a long, drawn out war.
Hundreds of spectators witnessed the battle that day.
Myth or Legend? This is a myth. While many civilians ventured west on the morning of July 21, 1861, the majority of them “picnicked” in Centreville where Union camps were located. These men and women did not visually witness the battle. About 50 civilians were physically present at the Manassas battle including Congressman Alfred Ely, Senator and Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War Benjamin Wade, Governor of Rhode Island William Sprague and London Times Reporter William H. Russell.
One general by the name of Thomas Jackson left a lasting impression when Confederate General Barnard Bee shouted, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!"Historians believe Jackson’s courage and perseverance earned him the nickname Stonewall Jackson.
Myth or Legend? This is most likely a legend, although some historians believe Bee’s statement was intended to belittle the general, as in “Look at Jackson standing there like a damn stone wall!” Hennessy researched written accounts from the closest Alabamian soldiers fighting next to General Jackson at the time. He concluded that there is “no evidence to support” a derogatory intent behind this remark.
As the late afternoon hours closed in on the troops, Union officers and soldiers admitted defeat as the marched back to their camps in Centreville. The relatively orderly retreat quickly turned chaotic when panic-stricken civilians pushed their way past soldiers to escape the scene unscathed.
Myth or Legend? This is a myth. The Union retreat was chaotic due to a covered wagon overturned in the middle of the bridge, blocking the retreat path. It was the wagon, not spectators that created panic among soldiers and officers.
Civilians caused such a distraction throughout that day that they played an integral role in the Union’s defeat at the first Battle of Bull Run.
Myth or Legend? This is a myth. Many historical accounts of Bull Run overemphasize the role spectators played during the battle, most likely as a result of newspaper articles and political narratives from those civilians present at the battle.
At the conclusion of his presentation John Hennessy autographed copies of his highly acclaimed book, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas. "
Hennessy is a former historian at Manassas Battlefield and currently serves as the Chief Historian (Chief of Interpretation) at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.