Bull Run/Manassas Pt. 2

Uses the diaries of two soldiers to examine the experiences of soldiers during this first battle.

Scan of a diary entry from the Battle of Bull Run

Historical Context

In modern times, how many different ways can information about current events travel to the population? (ex. TV, internet, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, phone, newspapers, snail mail, etc.). How did information about current events travel during the Civil War? Of the means mentioned above only newspapers and letters, in addition to the telegraph, were the only way of relaying news at the time. Today we have the luxury of immediate information. Society runs on fast download speeds, and total information saturation is the norm.

During the Civil War, individuals on the home front had to wait weeks or even months to find out what happened to their loved ones on the battlefields. Today, we can use our phones to record what is going on around us at a given moment and transmit this information almost instantaneously to our friends and family. Civil War soldiers did not have this option, but they experienced the same desire to record and share what was happening in their lives. Soldiers kept journals and diaries to record their experiences.

Featured here are excerpts from two diaries—those of J.T. Petty and J.S. Newman. Use these and the accompanying transcripts to explore the experiences of these two men during the battle of Bull Run/First Manassas.

Resource Info

Dates and Eras1861
ThemesBattles, Soldiers

Suggested Questions

1. What challenges confronted families on the homefront during the war? What effect would receive limited information have on families as they tried to cope with the war?

2. Imagine you are a family member back home and you finally receive a letter from a loved one serving as a soldier during the Civil War. What kinds of things would you want to read about and how would you respond?

3. If Civil War soldiers had access to social media, list 3-4 things they would document and record.

4. What would have been some pros and cons to having access to immediate information during the Civil War? Explain how more information might impact someone’s desire to be a soldier at this time.

5. After reading both diary entries, what are a few differences between the writing styles and word usage between the two?

6. What are the more important issues that each man is writing about? Why do you think each were so different?

7. What are some words or phrases you did not understand during the readings?

8. What generalizations can be made about these two soldiers? How does this change or enhance your perception of a Civil War soldier?

Suggested Activities

1. Instruct students to imagine that they are young soldiers on their way to their first battle and have them write about their experiences. Have students include day to day activities, messages to family, and the battle itself. Students should use the diaries of Petty and Newman for ideas and writing styles.

2. Have students draw a Venn diagram to list the similarities and differences between the two soldier’s diary entries. After completion, have students gather into small groups to discuss their diagrams.

3. Have Students gather into small groups and create a newspaper article about the Battle of Bull Run. They should use the diary entries and photos of the battlefield to demonstrate their ability to read and interpret primary sources. After completion, have groups present to the rest of the class.