First Bull Run "Our Homes!" John Opie (5th Virginia) at Manassas

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Andy Cardinal

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Feb 27, 2017

John N. Opie (1844-1906) served with the 5th Virginia of the Stonewall Brigade at Manassas. Here is an excerpt of his experience of the battle:

"The reveille aroused us early on that fateful morning, and we ate a hasty breakfast, and, while yet eating, heard the slow and funereal booming of a distant cannon. It was 'Long Tom,' a Federal rifle cannon, sounding the death knell of many a gallant soldier who fell that day. The long roll sounded, and we fell into ranks; and, the regiments having formed into line, great bolts of white cotton were brought out, which the officers tore into strips, and we tied a piece around our hats and another to our left arms.

"Falstaff's recruits, Bull Calf, Wart, Feeble, Mouldy, and the rest of his crew, never cut such a ridiculous figure as did we. We presented the appearance of so many lunatics. The men looked at each other, then up and down the line, and raised one loud and general shout of laughter. Comments were numerous. One fellow said, 'I feel like a fool,' whereupon a comrade observed, 'I suppose, then, you feel quite natural.' Another swore that we would frighten the Yankees to death before we could get a shot at them. I really think our very appearance, when we made the final charge, did help to confuse them. After we were thus decorated, we were given the watchword in a whisper, for fear the enemy, who was two miles off, might hear it. It was 'Our Homes.' The next thing was the signal. When you met any one, and were in doubt as to who he was, you were to throw your right hand across your left breast and shout, 'Our Homes!' holding your gun in your left hand. They, however, failed to tell us that, while we were going through this Masonic performance, we thus gave the other fellow an opportunity to blow our brains out, if we had any!

"Now you laugh and look incredulous, and, it may be, shake your head, reader; but this is a solemn fact. I often wonder if such a comedy was ever before or since enacted under such dramatic and tragic conditions. The fact is, our generals were as green as gourds in June. We destroyed on that morning cotton enough to make shirts for half the army, but cotton was king that day at least.

"I will here relate how I used the signal and watchword during the course of the battle. When our men fell back from the Henry house, I was busily engaged in firing through the fence; the noise and confusion being great, I did not perceive it, but, presently discovering that I was alone with the dead and wounded, I descended the hill like Ney did at Mont St. Jean, by myself, but very rapidly. To my right was one of our batteries, in front of which I ran in my eagerness to get with our people, when a cannon was discharged. Still running, I threw my right hand across my left breast and shouted, 'Our Homes!' Another gun was fired; I repeated the signal and shouted the watchword; yet another gun went off; and, still running at the top of my speed, I continuously beat upon my breast, shouting, 'Our Homes! Our Homes! Our Homes!'

"When I passed the battery I halted and asked a powder-begrimed officer what in the devil they meant by shooting at me. To which he replied, 'We are not shooting at you, you ****ed fool, we are shooting at the Yankees.' As I agreed with the officer that I was a D. F., I did not resent his observation, but asked him where the brigade went. He pointed to a piece of timber and I gladly departed."

From A Rebel Cavalryman with Lee, Stuart, and Jackson pp. 26-29
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