Lincoln’s Heavy Burden, War Begins in Deadly Earnest

July 15, 1861/2011
Volume 2, Issue 30 (40 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Lincoln’s Heavy Burden

Abraham Lincoln, May 16, 1861, Mathew Brady's studio

Abraham Lincoln, May 16, 1861, Mathew Brady’s studio

July 18, 1861. Lincoln confided to his old friend Robert L. Wilson just how desperate he felt given the daunting challenges he faced as President and the daily pressure from countless office seekers.

He told him that “all the troubles and anxieties” of his life “had not equaled those which intervened between this time and the fall of Sumter,” a period of only three months. (Those troubles included, among many others, the death of his mother when he was nine; the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge; and the death of a young son.)

Moreover, Lincoln “said he had then been President five months, and was surprized [sic] anybody would want the office. . . . said he was so badgered with applications for appointments that he thought sometimes that the only way that he [could] escape from them would be to take a rope and hang himself, on one of the trees on the lawn south of the President’s House. . . .”

— Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council

SOURCE
Philip Kunhardt, Lincoln, An Illustrated Biography, p. 154.


The War Begins in Earnest — Deadly Earnest

Confederate General Pierre T. Beauregard

Confederate General Pierre T. Beauregard

July 21, 1861. It was widely assumed that the war would be brief, and in the North, there was considerable pressure to get the war underway. The cry was, “Forward to Richmond!” The result was probably a premature engagement at Bull Run, a stream near Manassas, Virginia, about 25 miles southwest of Washington, where Confederate General Pierre T. Beauregard‘s forces blocked the Union’s approach to the Confederate capital of Richmond.

On July 21, Union forces commanded by General Irvin McDowell implemented Lincoln’s plan to attack the rail junction near Manassas, Virginia. It was a Sunday morning, and people rode out from Washington in carriages with wine and picnic lunches to watch the battle. Lincoln followed developments through the day from the telegraph office of

General Irvin McDowell

General Irvin McDowell

the War Department, and the early news was good — Union forces were pushing the Confederates back.

But Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson‘s brigade, “standing like a stone wall,” famously held fast. Confederate reinforcements arrived, the Union troops pulled back, and as they did so, they were shattered by an attack by “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops and a cavalry charge led by a man who would become another Confederate hero — Colonel J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart.

At first, the Union’s withdrawal was orderly, but soon most of the Union forces were in chaotic retreat. The civilian spectators and Union soldiers jammed the roads headed back towards Washington; an overturned artillery caisson on a narrow bridge created a

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" J. Jackson

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall”
J. Jackson

bottleneck, inciting even greater panic.

Fortunately for the Union, the Confederate forces were too disorganized to follow up on their victory.

The Confederate victory at Bull Run meant that an attack on Washington was a real possibility. Union forces moved quickly to strengthen the capital’s defenses. Most importantly the North now realized that it was engaged in a real war, and that the ninety-day volunteers, whose term of service was about to expire, would clearly be inadequate. A real army — large, trained, disciplined, well-supplied, and well-armed — would be required.

The very next day Congress authorized the raising of a half-million troops enlisting for up to three years.

Confederate Colonel J.E.B. Stuart

Confederate Colonel J.E.B. Stuart

Ironically, some Southerners drew the opposite conclusion — that the war would soon be over.

Bull Run was the first major land battle of the war. The people who had ridden out from Washington in carriages with picnic lunches to watch the battle witnessed not chivalry, but carnage, and a Union defeat. Casualty estimates varied, but totaled about 850 dead, more than 2,500 wounded, and many more missing.

— Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council

Sketch showing the position of Cap. F.B. Schaeffer's comd. on July the 21st, 1861 / L. Frémaux, Cap. Co. A, 8th La. Vols., Camp Pickens, Manassas, Augt. 24th, 1861. Library of Congress (Click on map to see larger.)

Sketch showing the position of Cap. F.B. Schaeffer’s comd. on July the 21st, 1861 / L. Frémaux, Cap. Co. A, 8th La. Vols., Camp Pickens, Manassas, Augt. 24th, 1861. Library of Congress (Click on map to see larger.)

SOURCES AND INTERESTING LINKS:

Bishop, Chris, and Ian Drury, 1400 Days: The US Civil War Day by Day, pp. 38, 37

Civil War Maps

First Battle of Bull Run

The Battle of Bull Run — The Volunteers Face the Fire

The First Battle of Bull Run, 1861

Battle of Bull Run App (yes, an app!)

5 Comments

Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1861

5 responses to “Lincoln’s Heavy Burden, War Begins in Deadly Earnest

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  4. Pingback: First Black Regiments & 2nd Bull Run | Vermont Humanities

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