Was the First Battle of Bull Run Really ‘The Picnic Battle’?


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#3
I haven't seen anything that refuted the idea and there seems to be plenty of evidence that there were spectators.

Among the notables in this crowd were senators Ben Wade of Ohio, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, Jim Lane of Kansas, Lafayette Foster of Connecticut, congressmen Alfred Ely of New York and Elihu Washburne of Illinois, as well as soon-to-be-legendary photographer Mathew Brady....
Congressman Ely who strayed too close to Bull Run and became a prisoner of the 8th South Carolina Infantry. Alone among all the politicians clamoring, “On to Richmond!,” Ely was successful; he spent the next five months residing at Libby Prison.
https://www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/spectators-witness-history-manassas
 
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#5
Everything I have read concerning the First Bull Run battle seems to point to the picnic story. Knowing the mindset at that time I could see it happening. The nearness of Washington to Centerville, the attitude of the well to do and politicians that the Union Army was a professional one and the Confederate Army was not as professional. this all point to not only bad thinking, but it also allowed dangerous and stupid ideas to become manifest. Hence lets picnic and watch the war end. You can also read of the retreat being a mess because of all of the buggies and wreckage of war clogging the retreat route f.
 

Cavalry Charger

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#6
I was surprised when reading my young Captain's letters to find there were 'picnics' prepared and ladies invited along to view Confederate (enemy) encampments from a distance during the later part of the war (early '64). I'm guessing such picnics were for Officers only. It seems the novelty of such things didn't wear off after First Bull Run, but there was no expectation of seeing any fighting. More an opportunity to see the enemy first hand from a safe distance. This would also have been an opportunity for the men to vary the routine of army life, and create a social aspect which was now lacking. Not sure if there was any hope attached with regard to impressing the ladies, but one Officer who imbibed a little too much wine at the picnic and fell off his horse on the way back probably failed to retain it.
 

7thWisconsin

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#7
Yes. They were naive enough to believe that they were going to see a pageant of drill and maneuver, with occasional smoke and low casualties. They just didn't think either side was seriously committed to bloodshed. Hard to believe, but for Americans in 1861, the last war was 15 years ago, and a very long way from them (Mexico). The last battle near Washington was in 1814, and a minor affair. Don't you just want to say "Is this not what you came for?"
 

WJC

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#8
It seems the author is quibbling over irrelevant distinctions She agrees that "civilians did go out to watch it" and reports that "onlookers did bring food and even picnic baskets to watch the battle." She agrees politicians were present. including "dozens of members of Congress". And she quotes US Army Captain John Tidball as writng that he saw a “throng of sightseers” near his position. Tidball later described a crowd of men (and a few enterprising saleswomen who brought “pies and other edibles” to sell) eager to watch the battle. “It was Sunday and everybody seemed to have taken a general holiday; that is all the male population,”
There seems to have been as Ms. Eschner admits, a picnic atmosphere among the spectators. All she seems to object to is calling it a "picnic battle".
 

WJC

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#9
Everything I have read concerning the First Bull Run battle seems to point to the picnic story. Knowing the mindset at that time I could see it happening. The nearness of Washington to Centerville, the attitude of the well to do and politicians that the Union Army was a professional one and the Confederate Army was not as professional. this all point to not only bad thinking, but it also allowed dangerous and stupid ideas to become manifest. Hence lets picnic and watch the war end. You can also read of the retreat being a mess because of all of the buggies and wreckage of war clogging the retreat route f.
The author agrees with that description, but disagrees with calling it the "picnic battle".
Much ado about nothing....
 

Patrick H

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#11
I saw it on my Smithsonian newsletter and immediately balked at a small introductory statement. That statement said that 1st Bull Run was the first land battle of the war. I posted a number of land battles that preceded it and gave dates for them. As of a moment ago, my post (a half a day old now and still under advisement) had not been revealed to the general public on their newsletter.

That's just my fussiness at work.
As to the question of whether this was a picnic battle, frankly, I have no doubt.
 

Greg Taylor

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#13
I seem to remember reading that the "spectators" did not actually witness the fighting but rather merely saw smoke rising from behind ridges and hillsides blocking their view and heard the report of rifle and artillery fire. They most certainly did, however, hinder the Union retreat by clogging up the roads back toward Washington.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#14
This entire topic was my ' Killer Angels ' introduction to the war, thank you Chellers. Had an uncle captured as one of the spectators- died later in Richmond, a political prisoner. One of the men in his carriage had so many self-excusatory explanations on why he was there, you can't piece together exactly what happened. That guy was a Congressman who seemed amazed anyone would dare capture him, much less conduct a battle while he was nearby.

It does seem clear no one had an idea what a ' battle ' entailed- seems to have been some idea patriotic fervor would preclude any bloodshed. It was extremely bizarre. like holding a ' ball ', someone was holding a ' battle ' so let's go watch.

bull run pic.JPG

Seems extreme- we all know newspapers of the era! Still, Congress was thought poorly of for being there.

bull run civ1.JPG

bull run civ2.JPG


bull run civ3.JPG

Most accounts of civilians caught up in the shambles read like this.

bull run civ4.JPG

Those civilians who stayed put threw their doors open to wounded- like Gettysburg, homes became hospitals.
 
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#15
The First Battle of Bull Run was perhaps the first major battle in that nasty shooting war between two rival governments, the USA and the CSA, and when that particular battle took place, it was in very close proximity to capitol of the USA (I wouldn't say that Fort Sumter was a major battle). We're all familiar with the outcome of that battle. The question is, why didn't the Confederates go on to conquer Washington, D.C. ?? The War Between the States could have been won right then and there, right at the very outset, instead of dragging on and on as it did. It was suggested by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston that the CSA was unable to take the District of Columbia on account of "supply problems." Just imagine how the course of history would have changed if the Confederacy had went on to take the District of Columbia after routing the Union Army at Bull Run.
 



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