By Jodi Frederiksen
The Battle of First Manassas, fought on July 21, 1861, was the first major battle of the Civil War. Many of the experiences of soldiers on that day are lost to history. However, when Major Robert Harris donated these field glasses to the museum in 1893, he wrote of his experience:
April 2d 1893
Fort McRee, Pensacola Harbor
The History of the field glasses which I sent is as follows: At the first battle of Manassas in the afternoon, when the fight was over, Gen’l Beauregard ordered me to connect Gen’l Elzey’s command across Stone Bridge so as to enable him to go towards Cub Run and intercept the retreating Federals. He instructed me to hurry back so that he could send me with another command across Bull Run to form a V with Gen’l Elzey. On my way back I saw an officer in blue, in the woods and called to him to come out. He did so. I told him to hurry up as I had to go back to the General. At this time I saw some of our men going towards the Lewis House and turned the officer over to them. As he bade me good bye he pulled off these field glasses and handed them to me remarking that they might do me some good but that they would be of no further service to him.
Harris carried these field glasses throughout the War, serving under generals Beauregard, Jackson, Maury, and Ewell.
The identity of the Union officer and consequences of his surrender remain unknown. Perhaps like many, he believed that the Civil War would come to a quick conclusion, and that his time as a prisoner of war would be short lived. In both the North and the South, mortality rates in prisoner of war camps were as high as 30%. Prisoner exchanges between the North and South were in effect until August 1863, when the South refused to exchange black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts regiment captured at Fort Wagner, and President Lincoln suspended exchanges. We will likely never know if the Yankee from whom these field glasses were captured survived the war, was exchanged and fought another day, or died in a prisoner of war camp, far from home.