Research Naming Battlefields

Lubliner

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On numerous occasions we have been drilled into the belief that the south says Manassas and the north says Bull Run. This is a decision made somewhere in the annals of history I was never satisfied with. I finally found out why, and would welcome a documented background of how this decision was made.
I recently looked up Lynchburg Va. on wikipedia. This was my P.O.B., and it had a very bad reputation for the first 50 years and more. Read here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynchburg,_Virginia

Next I went to the Bibliography at the very bottom and found a book 'Annals of the Lynchburg Home Guards' which can be read here:
https://archive.org/details/05697937.3163.emory.edu/page/n1/mode/2up

This book was a consolidated account put together by Charles M. Blackford and published in 1891 to give honor to the men of Lynchburg that responded to the John Brown Raid on October 16th, 1859, by forming a company of home guards in November of that same year. Blackford was born a year after the war, and his introduction has some fitting statements for the purpose of his 'Annals'. Speaking of relics and books and artifacts he points out on page 6:
"All these things link us to the glorious past, and teach the new generation to emulate the virtues of that which is passing away. Such being there use, how priceless do they become, and how imperative the duty to rescue them from the destroying hand of time and change."
A valid point of emulating passions of union and harmony among people believing in a cause, but being an unworthy cause none the less, we can still learn from it. [Spoiler Alert: He is heavily southern biased and not easily digested with his use of it].

When I was in early elementary school on the Virginia Peninsula where I was raised, I learned about 'Bull Run'. That was it, the title of the stream, the title to the battle, and the seed of knowledge that stayed with me to this very day. I found Blackford commenting that the Lynchburg Home Guards were called to the field on April 23rf, 1861, and fought from Bull Run to Appomattox. When this book was published a new generation had already come forth to fill the quota for the Lynchburg Home Guards, not a one of them a battle hero or participant in the great affair of the civil war.

Now being told consistently by historians in the present day that Bull Run is a Union phrase and Manassas is a southern phrase, I am suddenly aware that some juxtaposition has been contrived to claim a usage more familiar and easier to spell, speak and remember. If this forced history is accurate, and Blackford is a case in point where it is not, what are the origins to this claim, and when was the actual 'vote' that it would be qualified this way.
Thanks.
Lubliner.
 

Zack

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On page 559 of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, DH Hill wrote about the double naming convention. I have no idea what inspired him to write about it or where he gathered his evidence from, but I bet this piece ranks decently high in the origins of the assumed wisdom of naming conventions. I’m not sure how much say the average soldier had in naming a battle so his North v South upbringing explanation seems a little suspect to me. Also most soldiers on both sides were farmers.
(https://www.google.com/books/edition/Battles_and_Leaders_of_the_Civil_War/VERLAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq= So many battlefields of the Civil War bear double names that we cannot believe the duplication has been accidental.)


So many battlefields of the Civil War bear double names that we cannot believe the duplication has been accidental. It is the unusual which impresses. The troops of the North came mainly from cities, towns, and villages, and were, therefore, impressed by some natural object near the scene of the conflict and named the battle from it. The soldiers from the South were chiefly from the country and were, therefore, impressed by some artificial object near the field of action. In one section the naming has been after the handiwork of God; in the other section it has been after the handiwork of man. Thus, the first passage of arms is called the battle of Bull Run at the North,---the name of a little stream. At the South it takes the name of Manassas, from a railroad station. The second battle on the same ground is called the Second Bull Run by the North, and the Second Manassas by the South. Stone's defeat is the battle of Ball's Bluff With the Federals, and the battle of Leesburg with the Confederates. The battle called by General Grant, Pittsburg Landing, a natural object, was named Shiloh, after a church, by his antagonist. Rosecrans called his first great fight with Bragg, the battle of Stone River, while Bragg named it after Murfreesboro, a village. So McClellan's battle of the Chickahominy, a little river, was with Lee the battle of Cold Harbor, a tavern. The Federals speak of the battle of Pea Ridge, of the Ozark range of mountains, and the Confederates call it after Elk Horn, a country inn. The Union soldiers called the bloody battle three days after South Mountain from the little stream, Antietam, and the Southern troops named it after the village of Sharpsburg. Many instances might be given of this double naming by the opposing forces. According to the same law of the unusual, the war-songs of a people have generally been written. The bards who followed the banners of the feudal lords, sang of their exploits, and stimulated them and their retainers to deeds of high emprise, wore no armor and carried no swords. So, too, the impassioned orators, who roused our ancestors in 1776 with the thrilling cry, "Liberty or Death," never once put themselves in the way of a death by lead or steel, by musket-ball or bayonet stab. The noisy speakers of 1861, who fired the Northern heart and who fired the Southern heart, never did any other kind of firing.
 

Zack

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Since I don’t really agree with DH Hill’s reasoning, I might as well offer an alternative theory (based on nothing but guesswork).

Assuming for a moment that the North naming battles after rivers and the South after towns is generally true, this aligns with the naming conventions applied to the armies. Generally speaking, the North named its armies after rivers and the South after states or regions. There are exceptions (the short-lived confederate army of the Potomac and the northern army of northeastern Virginia - though I’ve read that this wasn’t an official name just a convention used by historians since at the time it was more often called simply the department of northeastern Virginia).

This makes sense when compared to (again speaking very broadly) the various strategies. The North generally speaking was focused on rivers (as pathways in the west and obstacles in the east) and the south on holding its claimed territories (states and regions). Again - and I cannot emphasize this enough - this is speaking in the absolute broadest terms.

Continuing that line of reasoning, I think it makes sense that the North would trend toward rivers and the South toward towns when naming battles. Exceptions occur, such as the fierce effort to defend Pittsburgh Landing thereby granting its name to the battle as a whole in Union eyes.

The real question, which you’ve already asked, is who decides the names of battles and when? The press? The generals? The soldiers? All of the above and then some?

One vote in favor of the North/South divide comes from the flags. Don Troiani has two wonderful paintings of the flag of the 8th Georgia. This flag included both “Manassas” and “Sharpsburg” as battle names.

By contrast, the flag of the Sixth Wisconsin (http://www.secondwi.com/wisconsincivilwarflags/flags_part_1.htm) renders it as “Bull Run” and “Antietam” respectively.
BEA20B40-C8AC-4644-B1BC-F15A3647F889.jpeg

The 8th Virginia seems to use Manassas and Sharpsburg
4EA65AFE-7710-4964-9BDA-7C60026314B6.jpeg

From here (https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/flags-antietam) we find the 12th Georgia with Sharpsburg:
9C3A0920-39E1-4A0E-8129-589DC28F133A.jpeg

Honestly - if you want a canvas of how the soldiers named the battles, besides looking at letters and diaries, I’d say check the flags.
 

Lubliner

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I was mainly concerned about the soldiers' perspective where they had their own way of calling the battle, and not what the actual naming specifies as north or south. As I had stated, I would always say Bull Run, and Sharpsburg, and give no thought to which side I would be 'drafted' into by using the terminology I was first exposed to. This gave me a certain confounding for using my own natural name given to a battle, where I would be identified as one side or the other. I think it would be a more appropriate rule of thumb to do away with established precedents such as claiming names like this. It identifies nothing but a proclivity to possess a popular accounting, and of a simple choosing, such as I say Civil War, not War Between the States. This should not reflect upon my personal admonition nor choice of sides. Thanks for the thread and flags, @Zack.
Lubliner.
 

John S. Carter

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Joined
Mar 15, 2017
On numerous occasions we have been drilled into the belief that the south says Manassas and the north says Bull Run. This is a decision made somewhere in the annals of history I was never satisfied with. I finally found out why, and would welcome a documented background of how this decision was made.
I recently looked up Lynchburg Va. on wikipedia. This was my P.O.B., and it had a very bad reputation for the first 50 years and more. Read here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynchburg,_Virginia

Next I went to the Bibliography at the very bottom and found a book 'Annals of the Lynchburg Home Guards' which can be read here:
https://archive.org/details/05697937.3163.emory.edu/page/n1/mode/2up

This book was a consolidated account put together by Charles M. Blackford and published in 1891 to give honor to the men of Lynchburg that responded to the John Brown Raid on October 16th, 1859, by forming a company of home guards in November of that same year. Blackford was born a year after the war, and his introduction has some fitting statements for the purpose of his 'Annals'. Speaking of relics and books and artifacts he points out on page 6:
"All these things link us to the glorious past, and teach the new generation to emulate the virtues of that which is passing away. Such being there use, how priceless do they become, and how imperative the duty to rescue them from the destroying hand of time and change."
A valid point of emulating passions of union and harmony among people believing in a cause, but being an unworthy cause none the less, we can still learn from it. [Spoiler Alert: He is heavily southern biased and not easily digested with his use of it].

When I was in early elementary school on the Virginia Peninsula where I was raised, I learned about 'Bull Run'. That was it, the title of the stream, the title to the battle, and the seed of knowledge that stayed with me to this very day. I found Blackford commenting that the Lynchburg Home Guards were called to the field on April 23rf, 1861, and fought from Bull Run to Appomattox. When this book was published a new generation had already come forth to fill the quota for the Lynchburg Home Guards, not a one of them a battle hero or participant in the great affair of the civil war.

Now being told consistently by historians in the present day that Bull Run is a Union phrase and Manassas is a southern phrase, I am suddenly aware that some juxtaposition has been contrived to claim a usage more familiar and easier to spell, speak and remember. If this forced history is accurate, and Blackford is a case in point where it is not, what are the origins to this claim, and when was the actual 'vote' that it would be qualified this way.
Thanks.
Lubliner.
When I was younger , my parents purchased a set of World Book or the Britannica in 1954. The Civil War was under the War Between the Sates, if I do remember correctly .This was their Southern publication . I wonder if the Northern edition had Civil War as the lead. I do not even know if the still are published . I shall accept any corrections.
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2011
I heard Bull Run almost always in Alabama as a kid in the late 1950s-60s. A new kid in school said Manassas and War Between the States. He was from somewhere far off, Georgia or South Carolina maybe.
Good thread.
The choices for battle names a person uses does not matter to me. Look at all the European war and battle names !
 

Carronade

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Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Officially, according to the US Army, there is both a Bull Run and Manassas. The Bull Run Campaign (and battle) was in 1861 and the Manassas Campaign (and battle) was in 1862.

Ryan

I've had that habit myself, calling the first one Bull Run and the second Second Manassas. A bit contradictory, but it felt right to me. Didn't realize it was official!
 

Zack

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Location
Los Angeles, California
I have read where second Manassas was called The Battle Groveton.

This raises the interesting point that soldiers sometimes named portions of a battle they fought in differently from the rest of the battle. Though the Battle of Groveton (also known as the Battle of Brawner's Farm) on August 28 was technically part of the larger Second Manassas / Bull Run battle, the soldiers who fought there identify it by a separate name. Perhaps because those soldiers belonged to the famed Iron Brigade and Stonewall Brigade, it has echoed down through history. Even still, the American Battlefield Trust includes articles about Groveton / Brawner's Farm under Second Manassas / Bull Run as just the first part of that battle. By contrast, though occurring on the same day as part of the same campaign, Thoroughfare Gap gets its own page.

Lance Heredegen, an historian of the Iron Brigade, prefers "Groveton" to "Brawner's Farm" because the latter name did not become prominent until after the war, and most of the soldiers who fought that day on both sides called it "Groveton."

All that being said, outside of as an interesting piece of trivia I don't think the "Manassas meaning you're southern and Bull Run meaning you're northern" carries much weight anymore. I'm not sure anyone spitefully refers to a battle one way or the other to show allegiance. I'm not even sure the soldiers at the time would have felt that naming convention denotes loyalty. I think it was just widely observed as an interesting piece of trivia and nothing more.

Names for the war as a whole, however, carry substantially more weight. Choosing to call it "The War Between the States," "The War of Northern Aggression," "The War of Southern Independence," "The Second American Revolution," "War for the Union,"
"War of the Rebellion," etc. does in fact betray loyalties. I doubt you'd find a Unionist calling it the "War of Northern Aggression."

That's why I stick to "American Civil War." Nice and neutral. In addition, a lot of the above listed names were not prominently used until after the war.
 

Grant's Tomb

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Apr 4, 2020
Also the last battle Joe Johnston was in command of what would become the Army of Northern Virginia on the Peninsula. Seven Pines which the Confederates referred it to and Fair Oaks that the Union troops called it
 

rpkennedy

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Carlisle, PA
I've had that habit myself, calling the first one Bull Run and the second Second Manassas. A bit contradictory, but it felt right to me. Didn't realize it was official!

I didn't realize it either until I was doing some research into some WWI and WWII units whose history goes back to the Civil War and earlier. There were a couple units that had "Bull Run" and "Manassas" battle honors and I had to ask a military historian what the difference was. It made sense after I heard the explanation but had never really thought about it before.

Ryan
 

Cycom

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Since I don’t really agree with DH Hill’s reasoning, I might as well offer an alternative theory (based on nothing but guesswork).

Assuming for a moment that the North naming battles after rivers and the South after towns is generally true, this aligns with the naming conventions applied to the armies. Generally speaking, the North named its armies after rivers and the South after states or regions. There are exceptions (the short-lived confederate army of the Potomac and the northern army of northeastern Virginia - though I’ve read that this wasn’t an official name just a convention used by historians since at the time it was more often called simply the department of northeastern Virginia).

This makes sense when compared to (again speaking very broadly) the various strategies. The North generally speaking was focused on rivers (as pathways in the west and obstacles in the east) and the south on holding its claimed territories (states and regions). Again - and I cannot emphasize this enough - this is speaking in the absolute broadest terms.

Continuing that line of reasoning, I think it makes sense that the North would trend toward rivers and the South toward towns when naming battles. Exceptions occur, such as the fierce effort to defend Pittsburgh Landing thereby granting its name to the battle as a whole in Union eyes.

The real question, which you’ve already asked, is who decides the names of battles and when? The press? The generals? The soldiers? All of the above and then some?

One vote in favor of the North/South divide comes from the flags. Don Troiani has two wonderful paintings of the flag of the 8th Georgia. This flag included both “Manassas” and “Sharpsburg” as battle names.

By contrast, the flag of the Sixth Wisconsin (http://www.secondwi.com/wisconsincivilwarflags/flags_part_1.htm) renders it as “Bull Run” and “Antietam” respectively.
View attachment 398355

The 8th Virginia seems to use Manassas and Sharpsburg
View attachment 398356

From here (https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/flags-antietam) we find the 12th Georgia with Sharpsburg:
View attachment 398357

Honestly - if you want a canvas of how the soldiers named the battles, besides looking at letters and diaries, I’d say check the flags.
Even Cold Harbor on that Wisconsin flag. Certainly throws a wrench into the whole North/South naming conventions, at least when it comes to how soldiers viewed the battles they were in.

Excellent thread.
 

Zack

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The Badgers also noted "Laurel Hill" and "Spottsylvania" as separate battles. Today, Laurel Hill is considered part of Spotsylvania. But for the men of the 6th Wisconsin it probably felt very much like two distinct battles - they fought at Laurel Hill May 8 through May 12 and then marched over to support the Mule Shoe assault later on May 12.
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
On numerous occasions we have been drilled into the belief that the south says Manassas and the north says Bull Run. This is a decision made somewhere in the annals of history I was never satisfied with. I finally found out why, and would welcome a documented background of how this decision was made.
I recently looked up Lynchburg Va. on wikipedia. This was my P.O.B., and it had a very bad reputation for the first 50 years and more. Read here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynchburg,_Virginia

Next I went to the Bibliography at the very bottom and found a book 'Annals of the Lynchburg Home Guards' which can be read here:
https://archive.org/details/05697937.3163.emory.edu/page/n1/mode/2up

This book was a consolidated account put together by Charles M. Blackford and published in 1891 to give honor to the men of Lynchburg that responded to the John Brown Raid on October 16th, 1859, by forming a company of home guards in November of that same year. Blackford was born a year after the war, and his introduction has some fitting statements for the purpose of his 'Annals'. Speaking of relics and books and artifacts he points out on page 6:
"All these things link us to the glorious past, and teach the new generation to emulate the virtues of that which is passing away. Such being there use, how priceless do they become, and how imperative the duty to rescue them from the destroying hand of time and change."
A valid point of emulating passions of union and harmony among people believing in a cause, but being an unworthy cause none the less, we can still learn from it. [Spoiler Alert: He is heavily southern biased and not easily digested with his use of it].

When I was in early elementary school on the Virginia Peninsula where I was raised, I learned about 'Bull Run'. That was it, the title of the stream, the title to the battle, and the seed of knowledge that stayed with me to this very day. I found Blackford commenting that the Lynchburg Home Guards were called to the field on April 23rf, 1861, and fought from Bull Run to Appomattox. When this book was published a new generation had already come forth to fill the quota for the Lynchburg Home Guards, not a one of them a battle hero or participant in the great affair of the civil war.

Now being told consistently by historians in the present day that Bull Run is a Union phrase and Manassas is a southern phrase, I am suddenly aware that some juxtaposition has been contrived to claim a usage more familiar and easier to spell, speak and remember. If this forced history is accurate, and Blackford is a case in point where it is not, what are the origins to this claim, and when was the actual 'vote' that it would be qualified this way.
Thanks.
Lubliner.
Interesting topic. Can’t wait to read the replies
 
Joined
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Location
Spotsylvania Virginia
The Badgers also noted "Laurel Hill" and "Spottsylvania" as separate battles. Today, Laurel Hill is considered part of Spotsylvania. But for the men of the 6th Wisconsin it probably felt very much like two distinct battles - they fought at Laurel Hill May 8 through May 12 and then marched over to support the Mule Shoe assault later on May 12.
Same with Tally’s Mill and Spotsylvania. Tally’s Mill was Fought on the Union right flank on May 10 ‘64 as part of the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse yet its know as Tally’s Mill by well respected authors such as Rea.
 

James N.

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On numerous occasions we have been drilled into the belief that the south says Manassas and the north says Bull Run. This is a decision made somewhere in the annals of history I was never satisfied with. I finally found out why, and would welcome a documented background of how this decision was made... Now being told consistently by historians in the present day that Bull Run is a Union phrase and Manassas is a southern phrase, I am suddenly aware that some juxtaposition has been contrived to claim a usage more familiar and easier to spell, speak and remember.
I'll add that in more recent times where there might be a dispute the NPS uses the names given by the VICTORS in any particular Civil War battle for the "official" name of a battlefield park, such as Manassas instead of Bull Run, Antietam instead of Sharpsburg, and Pea Ridge instead of Elkhorn Tavern.
 
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James N.

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This raises the interesting point that soldiers sometimes named portions of a battle they fought in differently from the rest of the battle. Though the Battle of Groveton (also known as the Battle of Brawner's Farm) on August 28 was technically part of the larger Second Manassas / Bull Run battle, the soldiers who fought there identify it by a separate name. Perhaps because those soldiers belonged to the famed Iron Brigade and Stonewall Brigade, it has echoed down through history. Even still, the American Battlefield Trust includes articles about Groveton / Brawner's Farm under Second Manassas / Bull Run as just the first part of that battle. By contrast, though occurring on the same day as part of the same campaign, Thoroughfare Gap gets its own page.

Lance Heredegen, an historian of the Iron Brigade, prefers "Groveton" to "Brawner's Farm" because the latter name did not become prominent until after the war, and most of the soldiers who fought that day on both sides called it "Groveton."
My understanding is that Brawner's Farm and Groveton are actually two different engagements, the first (Brawner's) occurring on Aug. 28 as the "run-up" and the second (Groveton) being the "other" Federal name for Second Manassas Aug. 29-30. Brawner's Farm was outside the Federal lines during the main battle and was where Jackson's divisions (including the Stonewall Brigade) had "ambushed" the Federal divisions of King (including the Iron Brigade) and Doubleday. Groveton was a tiny hamlet that wound up on the Federal far left flank behind Porter's Fifth Corps assaulting Jackson's line at the Unfinished Railroad. Although both were on the Warrenton Turnpike they were a distance apart from each other.
 
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