Road to Manassas
Hopes Burn Bright
In later years, Confederate veterans would call it First Manassas, and Federals would call it First Bull Run; both are referring to the first major battle of the Civil War. Prior to this battle, recruits of both sides were quite naive 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 before 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."
View the next painting in the series: Road to Bull Run
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August 22, 2009