Bull Run/Manassas Part I
Dates and Eras:
This lesson includes images of items picked up from the field after the battle of First Manassas/Bull Run. Images include: a cartridge, a homemade uniform jacket, a tooth brush, a watch chain, a map and several pipes. The lesson includes and artifact cataloging chart.
It was the spring of 1861. The nation was preparing for war. Men in the North and the South rushed to join the ranks. Their friends and school mates lined up in droves beside them, hardly able to contain their excitement. They were going to fight for honor, for freedom, for adventure, to show their bravery, to impress their family and friends, to stand up to those who threatened their way of life—and most importantly, to show “Johnny Reb” or “Billy Yank” in one glorious battle that they were the superior side. But had they prepared themselves mentally, emotionally, and even physically for the fight that lay ahead?
In the chaos of April and May 1861, both the Federal government and Confederate leaders had their hands full trying to prepare for a military conflict. Rations were tight, housing for the new recruits was insufficient, and transportation was slow and disorganized. This was not what most expected when signing up for service in the army. Young men, some only teenagers, were not used to or prepared for military drills, strict discipline or long, tedious days of marching. The officers, who in some cases, had little to no military experience, had a difficult time gaining respect or obedience from their men.
And time was not in their favor. On July 21, 1861, the first major battle of the war erupted near a stream called Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia. This battle served as a reality check for not only the governments and military leaders of both the North and the South, but also for the common soldier. With nearly 5,000 men killed, wounded or captured, many began to realize that this would not be a conflict that would be settled with a few small exciting battles.
Artifacts from the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run reveal the human side of this story. They tell historians of the personal significance and the impact this battle had on those who actually experienced it.
- How can you use these artifacts to argue that the actual experience of battle was far from the romantic, glorified image that soldiers had before they participated in a battle?
- What can you tell about the person who owned or created each of these artifact?
- Taking mementos or the act of creating reverence and remembrance around certain events is still done today. Provide a modern example of this being done by an individual or a society.
- Have students use the cataloging chart to record information about the pictured artifacts. Instruct them to look critically at the artifacts and determine why and how a specific piece can create a more complete understanding of the battle. Then, hold a class discussion using the suggested questions.
- Have the students gather into groups of 2 or 3 to read the report from Brigadier General Jackson following the Battle of Manassas (follow the link to Jackson’s report on The Civil War Home Page website). With textual evidence from Jackson’s report, have the groups summarize the events concerning the Battle. Have students state one interesting fact they learned from this activity.
- Have students explore the battle through the History Animated website. Then, have them chose to write about the war’s first major battle from either the perspective of an onlooker or a soldier. Discuss ways in which the perspectives would be similar and different.