Sunday, July 17, 2011

150 Years Ago Today, July 17, 1861, Part I: Confederates at Blackburn's Ford, Viriginia


Road to Manassas

Hopes Burn Bright

Prior to the first major battle of the Civil War – first Manassas, as it was later known to Confederates, or First Bull Run, as it was would be called by Federals – recruits of both sides were quite naïve about the realities of war. Nearly everyone believed that this would be a war of short duration, that a single battle would resolve the matter, and that what few deaths might result would be quick and glorious. For many young men who had never been away from their farms or home towns, the war was viewed as a “grand adventure” which they would enjoy describing to their grandchildren years into the future. An atmosphere of youthful enthusiasm, bravado, and high spirits pervaded the camps.

This image is inspired by an account taken from the memoirs of Alexander Hunter, who when only a teenager enlisted with the 17th Virginia Infantry. It features members of the regiment (Hunter is at the far left) around a campfire at Blackburn’s Ford on the night of July 17, 1861. The next morning would find these troops involved in a skirmish with Federals that would become a prelude to the First Battle of Manassas.

Hunter recounts some of the early notions of his fellow compatriots: “Imaginative battles were rather of the ‘Iliad’ order – a few rounds, then a rush of cold steel and all was over. It was agreed that Company A should go into action with each man carrying a revolver in his belt and a bowie-knife in his bootleg; it would look decidedly war-like and unique. . . .There was one little fellow, a private named Hunter, who grew meditative as the discussions waxed more thrilling. . .This bowie-knife business might be a very good thing, he thought, for immense fellows. . .but for a sixteen-year-old soldier of ninety-seven pounds fighting weight, it might not prove so very amusing after all.”

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