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150 Years of Bull Run

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War. This battle – a decisive rout in favor of the Confederacy–was the first sign to many in the North that the South was capable of standing up to the Union on the battlefield, and was the first indication that the war would be more than a month-long stroll to Richmond.

At The American Interest we’ve been following the Civil War on The Long Recall daily Civil War blog. Check back tomorrow for the surprising Northern reaction to the Union defeat.

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  • Richard F. Miller


    To gauge the full impact of this disaster, I thought I would share some research in connection with my current project. As you may recall, Rhode Island’s Governor William Sprague (the “Boy Governor,” to some) had been on the field at Bull Run and was delegated command during several points of the battle–especially in rallying troops that were wavering under the final Southern assault.

    He returned to Rhode Island shell shocked, and addressed the legislature at a special session. Here are some excerpts from his speech:

    “When the action of this body was first taken the State and the country felt that the war would, from the necessities of the case, be of short duration…..

    [Here he provided a brief description of the battle and then drew several conclusion.]

    “The war will, of necessity, be a long one. We have been in error as to the strength of the enemy, and as to the long and persistent course which has been pursued by the South, tending towards this point. While we have been occupied in our business they have been creating revolution. We were under the impression that they were lacking in all the resources which go to raise and maintain armies; whereas, in almost every particular, we have found them superior to ourselves.”

    [He added:]

    “The probabilities are that in no case on the record of the world’s history has an army been called into the field possessing so little knowledge of the strength and position of the enemy; and, such being the case, it was impossible for any troops in the position ours found themselves to have sustained themselves for any length of time.”

    How traumatic this was can be sensed in the remark of Rhode Island state senator Elisha Potter, who recalled shortly afterwards:

    “I could not help thinking that if that address had been made three weeks ago, the Governor himself would have been denounced as a secessionist, notwithstanding all he had done and risked in defence of the Union.”

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