First Bull Run Author casts doubt on "mass exodus" from Bull Run, 1861

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Bonny Blue Flag

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On CSPAN-3 this afternoon, author David Detzer talked about his book, "Donnybrook, The Battle of Bull Run, 1861".

He stated that after the battle, Union troops walked back to D.C., Detzer did not mention any kind of "mass exodus" by the troops. He did not site any source material.

For 3 days prior to the battle, the soldiers marched, sat and slept their way to Bull Run. It took that long to go the 30 miles because of large numbers of men, wagons, equipment, supplies, etc, all going to the same area.

Since 2:00 AM on the day of the battle, the soldiers had marched, and by 4:00 PM that same day, few had eaten or drank anything since breakfast, and had very little sleep. They left Bull Run at about 4 PM and walked the 30 miles until the afternoon of the next day to return to Washington. Detzer made it sound like it was a peaceful and orderly retreat. No mention of the town folks who had come to see the battle.

Detzer described some of the troops as having new shoes which hurt their feet and caused blisters, so the shoes were removed. But the soldier's feet were too swollen to put the shoes back on, so they walked back to D.C. in the dark and barefoot, stubbing their feet on rocks, wagons, etc. The wounded who could walk went with them. All soldiers were begging for water.

The citizens of D.C. saw the troops returning and were horrified to see the men exhausted, all of them had bleeding feet, all were covered with smoke, dirt, the walking wounded, etc.

Was Dr. Mary Walker at Bull Run? Dr. Walker was in her late 20's at the time of the battle. According to Detzer, one soldier wrote of seeing a "matronly in style" woman driving an ambulance alone into the battle. Detzer says there is no proof that Dr. Walker was at Bull Run. I wonder.

```````````````````````````````````````````
Question:

-Was there a mass exodus away from Bull Run? Or perhaps the "mass exodus" we have all read about is one of few incidents that have been blown out of proportion. Or Detzer didnt think it worth mentioning.

-Was Dr. Mary Walker at Bull Run or at the edges of the battlefield, applying her trade?

--BBF
 

brass napoleon

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As some have told the story, you would think the Union soldiers ran the 30 miles all the way back to Washington. That wouldn't have been humanly possible. My understanding is that some soldiers fled the battlefield in panic, and some left in an orderly fashion. But once out of range of the enemy's guns virtually all of them would have walked the rest of the way.

P.S. - Even walking 30 miles in 24 hours, after the exertions of the previous days, was quite a feat of endurance, especially at that stage of the war when they were still "tenderfoots".
 

dvrmte

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On CSPAN-3 this afternoon, author David Detzer talked about his book, "Donnybrook, The Battle of Bull Run, 1861".

He stated that after the battle, Union troops walked back to D.C., Detzer did not mention any kind of "mass exodus" by the troops. He did not site any source material.

For 3 days prior to the battle, the soldiers marched, sat and slept their way to Bull Run. It took that long to go the 30 miles because of large numbers of men, wagons, equipment, supplies, etc, all going to the same area.

Since 2:00 AM on the day of the battle, the soldiers had marched, and by 4:00 PM that same day, few had eaten or drank anything since breakfast, and had very little sleep. They left Bull Run at about 4 PM and walked the 30 miles until the afternoon of the next day to return to Washington. Detzer made it sound like it was a peaceful and orderly retreat. No mention of the town folks who had come to see the battle.

Detzer described some of the troops as having new shoes which hurt their feet and caused blisters, so the shoes were removed. But the soldier's feet were too swollen to put the shoes back on, so they walked back to D.C. in the dark and barefoot, stubbing their feet on rocks, wagons, etc. The wounded who could walk went with them. All soldiers were begging for water.

The citizens of D.C. saw the troops returning and were horrified to see the men exhausted, all of them had bleeding feet, all were covered with smoke, dirt, the walking wounded, etc.

Was Dr. Mary Walker at Bull Run? Dr. Walker was in her late 20's at the time of the battle. According to Detzer, one soldier wrote of seeing a "matronly in style" woman driving an ambulance alone into the battle. Detzer says there is no proof that Dr. Walker was at Bull Run. I wonder.

```````````````````````````````````````````
Question:

-Was there a mass exodus away from Bull Run? Or perhaps the "mass exodus" we have all read about is one of few incidents that have been blown out of proportion. Or Detzer didnt think it worth mentioning.

-Was Dr. Mary Walker at Bull Run or at the edges of the battlefield, applying her trade?

--BBF
Just checked some letters and diary entries, all I read indicated mass confusion for the most part, especially until they got to Centerville.
 
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brass napoleon

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Here's the account of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, one of the last to leave the battlefield:

I cannot explain the causes for w^hat fol-
lowed. The woods and roads were soon filled with
fleeino: men and our brio;ade was ordered to the front
♦o cover the retreat, which it was now evident could
not be stopped. Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Whea-
ton who, on the fall of Colonel Slocum, had assumed
command, posted the regiment to the left of our first
position and behind a fence. The field was soon
clear of troops, excepting our brigade, all of which
except the Second Rhode Island, were posted farther
back from the brow of the hill. The rebels came on
in splendid order, pushing two light field guns to the
front with them. We received their fire and held
them in check until the brigade had taken up their
march, Avhen we followed— the last to leave the field.
The rebels followed us for a short distance, shelling
our rear, and then we pursued our march unmo-
lested, until we reached the vicinity of the bridge
that crosses Cub Run. Here a rebel battery opened
upon us from a corner of the woods and the stam-
pede commenced. The l)ridge was soon rendered
impassible by the teams that obstructed it, and we
here lost five of the guns belonging to our battery.
Many men were killed and wounded at this point,
and a panic seemed to seize upon every one. In my
opinion (looking at the matter from a more safe
standpoint than I occupied that day) a few deter-
mined men might have captured the rebel guns and
the crossing been effected in safety. As our regi-
ment was now broken, I looked for a place to cross
the stream, not daring to try the bridge. I jumped
into the run and holding my gun above my head
struggled across with the water up to my waist.
After crossing, the regiment gradually formed again,
and we continued our march to Centrcville where
we found Blenker's troops ■ posted across the road to
protect the retreat. We passed through their ranks,
and entered our old grounds, " Bush Camp," suppos-
ing the retreat to be at an end.

Tired, hungry and wet, we laid down, only to be
awakened about eleven o'clock that night to resume
the march towards Washington, in the midst of a
rain storm. The regiment filed out of camp and
marched to Fairfax Court House, in good order and
rested in the streets. Crowds of soldiers were hur-
rying by and the streets were blocked with trains.
After halting a few minutes we started again and
soon, in the darkness, rain and crowd, became
broken up to some extent. Of the horrors of that
night, I can give you no adequate idea. I suffered
untold horrors from thirst and fatigue, but struggled
on, clinging to my gun and cartridge box. Many
times I sat down in the mud determined to go no
further, and willing to die to end my misery. But
soon a friend would pass and urge me to make
another effort, and I would stagger on a mile further.
At daylight we could see the spires of Washington,
and a welcome sight it was. About eight o'clock I
reached Fort Runyon, near Long Bridge, and giving
my gun to !iii officer, who was collecting them, I
entered a tent and was soon asleep. Towards noon
I awoke and, with my company, endeavored to
cross Long Bridge, but fell exhausted before reach-
ing the Washington side. My officers kindly placed
me in an army wagon and I was carried to camp,
where, after rest and proper care, I soon recovered
and went on duty.
Source: http://www.archive.org/stream/firstcampaignofs00rhod/firstcampaignofs00rhod_djvu.txt
 

Bonny Blue Flag

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Brass, excellent documentation. Thank you so much for the research.

It appears, by Rhode's account, there was an initial flight from the field, then pockets of confusion and panic along the way back to D.C. Tough place to be.

Thanks again.

--BBF
 
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The Iron Duke

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I tend to agree with Bama. The issue here seems to be the correct label for what happened: confusion, mass exodus, rout, retreat, etc.
 

brass napoleon

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Brass, excellent documentation. Thank you so much for the research.

It appears, by Rhode's account, there was an initial flight from the field, then pockets of confusion and panic along the way back to D.C. Tough place to be.

Thanks again.

--BBF
Yes, I think that's probably a good synopsis, Bonny. They weren't a mob (once they got clear of the battlefield) but they certainly weren't a disciplined, professional army either. On the other hand, they weren't a disciplined, professional army on the way to Mannassas either. Making them into a disciplined, professional army would be McClellan's contribution to the war effort - still months away at this point.
 

MissJudith

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Whatever it was, it was NOT an orderly retreat... I think we are dealing with semantics and very possible some revisionist history in the making. I am skeptical.
Well said, Bama 46. Usually the losers are the revisionists. Why such an effort by the winners to further revise history is their favor. You won.....get over it.
 
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kholland

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I've heard and read for years it was a rout. And whether the union troops ran or walked back when they reached DC it looked that way and felt that way. And with the dignitaries and "spectators" getting mixed up in the columns it probably wasn't too organized.

Just got this from the library and like this guy's style. He tells the story simply and throws in modern terminology to describe some of the goings on.
 

The Iron Duke

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And with the dignitaries and "spectators" getting mixed up in the columns it probably wasn't too organized.
One politician, Alfred Ely, was captured by the Confederates and spent time in Libby Prison. If the retreat were so orderly then how does a Congressman end up a prisoner? I am still skeptical.
 

dvrmte

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Samuel J. English was a Corporal in Company D of the Second Rhode Island Volunteers.

This is a portion of a letter by him:


"The R.I. regiments, the New York 71st and the New Hampshire 2nd were drawn into a line to cover the retreat, but an officer galloped wildly into the column crying the enemy is upon us, and off they started like a flock of sheep every man for himself and the devil take the hindermost; while the rebels' shot and shell fell like rain among our exhausted troops.

As we gained the cover of the woods the stampede became even more frightful, for the baggage wagons and ambulances became entangled with the artillery and rendered the scene even more dreadful than the battle, while the plunging of the horses broke the lines of our infantry, and prevented any successful formation out of the question. The rebels being so badly cut up supposed we had gone beyond the woods to form for a fresh attack and shelled the woods for full two hours, supposing we were there, thus saving the greater part of our forces, for if they had begun an immediate attack, nothing in heaven's name could have saved us.

As we neared the bridge the rebels opened a very destructive fire upon us, mowing down our men like grass, and caused even greater confusion than before. Our artillery and baggage wagons became fouled with each other, completely blocking the bridge, while the bomb shells bursting on the bridge made it "rather unhealthy" to be around. As I crossed on my hands and knees, Capt. Smith who was crossing by my side at the same time was struck by a round shot at the same time and completely cut in two. After I crossed I started up the hill as fast as my legs could carry and passed through Centreville and continued on to Fairfax where we arrived about 10 o'clock halting about 15 minutes, then kept on to Washington where we arrived about 2 o'clock Monday noon more dead than alive, having been on our feet 36 hours without a mouthful to eat, and traveled a distance of 60 miles without twenty minutes halt.
The last five miles of that march was perfect misery, none of us having scarcely strength to put one foot before the other, but I tell you the cheers we rec'd going through the streets of Washington seemed to put new life into the men for they rallied and marched to our camps and every man dropped on the ground and in one moment the greater part of them were asleep. Our loss is estimated at 1,000, but I think it greater, the rebels lost from three to five thousand."
 
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