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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter II - The Battle of Bull Run


WHEN the North addressed herself to her task, her own capital was still threatened by the rebels. Two or three miles (lowil the Potomac, and full in view of Washington, lies the old-fashioned decaying Virginian town of Alexandria, where the unfortunate Braddock had landed his troops a century before. The Confederate flag floated over Alexandria.. A rebel force was marching on Harper's Ferry, forty miles from Washington; and as the Government works there could not be defended, they were burned. Preparations were being made to seize Arlington Heights, from which Washington could be easily shelled. At Manassas Junction, thirty miles away, a rebel army lay encamped. It seemed to many foreign observers that the North might lay aside all thought of attack, and be well pleased if she succeeded in the defence of what was still left to her.

But the Northern people, never doubting either their right or their strength, put their hand boldly to the work. The first thing to he done was to shut the rebels in so that no help could reach them from the world outside. They could grow food enough, but they were a people who could make little. They needed from Europe supplies of arms and ammunition, of clothing, of medicine. They needed money, which they could only get by sending away their cotton. To stop their intercourse with Europe was to inflict a blow which would itself prove almost fatal. Four days after the fall of Fort Sumpter, Mr. Lincoln announced the blockade of all the rebel ports. It was a little time after till he had ships enough to make the blockade effective. But in a few weeks this was done, and every rebel port was closed. The grasp thus established was never relaxed. So long as the war lasted, the South obtained foreign supplies only from vessels which carried on the desperate trade of blockade- running.

Virginia completed her secession on the 23rd April. Next morning Federal troops seized and fortified Alexandria and the Arlington heights. In the western portions of Virginia the people were so little in favour of secession that they wished to establish themselves as a separate State—loyal to the Union. With no very serious trouble the rebel forces were driven out of this region, and Western Virginia was restored to the Union. Desperate attempts were made by the disloyal Governor of Missouri to carry his State out of the Union, against the wish of a majority of the people. It was found possible to defeat the efforts of the secessionists and retain Missouri. Throughout the war this State was grievously wasted by Southern raids, but she held fast her loyalty.

Thus at the opening of the war substantial advantages had been gained by the North. They were not, however, of a sufficiently brilliant character fully to satisfy the expectations of the excited people. A great battle must be won. Government, unwisely yielding to the pressure, ordered their imperfectly disciplined troops to advance and attack the rebels in their Position at Manassas Junction.

General Beauregard lay at Manassas with a rebel force variously estimated at from 30,000 to 40,000 men. In front of his position ran the little stream of Bull Run, in a narrow, wooded valley—the ground rising on either side into "bluffs," crowned with frequent patches of dense wood. General M'Doweil moved to attack him, with an army about equal in strength. July 21, It was early Sunday morning when the army set out (1861) from its quarters at Centreville. The march was not over ten miles, but the day was hot, and the men not yet inured to hardship. It was ten o'clock when the battle fairly opened. From the heights on the northern bank of the stream the Federal artillery played upon the enemy. The Southern line stretched well-nigh ten miles. M'Dowell hoped by striking with an overwhelming force at a point on the enemy's right, to roll back his entire line in confusion. heavy masses of infantry forded the stream and began the attack. The Southerners fought bravely and skilfully, but at the point of attack they were inferior in number, and they were driven back. The battle spread away far among the woods, and soon every copse held its group of slain and wounded men. By three o'clock the Federals reckoned the battle as good as won. The enemy, though still lighting, was falling back. But at that hour a railway train ran close up to the field of battle with 15,000 Southerners fresh and eager for the fray. This new force was hurried into action. The wearied Federals could not endure the vehemence of the attack. They broke and fled down the hill-side. With inexperienced troops a measured and orderly retreat is impossible. Defeat is quickly followed by panic. The men who had fought so bravely all the day now hurried in wild confusion from the field. The road was choked with a tangled mass of baggage-waggons, artillery, soldiers and civilians frenzied by fear, and cavalry riding wildly through the quaking mob. But the Southerners attempted no pursuit, and the panic passed away. Scarcely an attempt, however, was made to stop the flight. Order was not restored till the worn-out men made their way back to Washington.

This was the first great battle of the war, and its results were of prodigious importance. By the sanguine men of the South it was hailed as decisive of their final success. President Davis counted upon the immediate recognition of the Confederacy by the great powers of Europe as now certain. The newspapers accepted it as a settled truth that "one Southerner was equal to ve Yankees." Intrigues began for the succession to the presidential chair—six years hence. A controversy arose among the States as to the location of the Capital. The success of the Confederacy was regarded as a thing beyond doubt. Enlistment languished. It was scarcely worth while to undergo the inconvenience of fighting for a cause which was already triumphant.

The defeat at Manassas taught the people of the North that the task they had undertaken was a heavier task than they supposed. But it did not shake their steady purpose to perform it. On the day after the battle—while the routed army was swarming into Washington—Congress voted five hundred millions of dollars, and called for half a million of volunteers. A few (lays later, Congress unanimously resolved that the suppression of the rebellion was a sacred duty, from the performance of which no disaster should discourage; to which they pledged the employment of every resource, national and individual. "Having chosen our course" said Mr. Lincoln, "without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts." The spirit of the North rose as the greatness of the enterprise became apparent. No thought was there of any other issue from the national agony than the overthrow of the national foe. The youth of the country crowded into the ranks. The patriotic impulse possessed rich and poor alike. The sons of wealthy men shouldered a musket side by side -with the penniless children of toil. Once, by some accident, the money which should have paid a New England regiment failed to arrive in time. A private in the regiment gave his cheque for a hundred thousand dollars, and the men were paid. The Christian churches yielded an earnest support to the war. In some western churches the men enlisted almost without exception. Occasionally their ministers accompanied them. Sabbath-school teachers and members of young men's Christian associations were remarkable for the eagerness with which they obeyed the call of their country. It was no longer a short war and an easy victory which the North anticipated. The gigantic character of the struggle was at length recognized; and the North, chastened, but undismayed, made preparations for a contest on the issue of which her existence depended.


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