Question of the Week: 7/22-7/28/19

Union General McDowell had protested that his troops were “green,” but others pressured him to fight before the 90-day enlistments expired.

In your opinion, should the First Battle of Bull Run have been fought or delayed?

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12 Responses to Question of the Week: 7/22-7/28/19

  1. Douglas Pauly says:

    Well, as Lincoln said, “they are green too”. Don’t know what waiting would have accomplished. How LONG of a wait would have been necessary to satisfy McDowell that his troops were sufficiently trained? The loss of the 90-day enlistees in his army was a real concern to him and his political masters, and those political masters were demanding action in the way of an advance on Richmond to end the war once and for all. So McDowell was truly between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’. With that said, the Union’s forces did have some short-termed success, but it all turned on them for various reasons, and the route was on. I reckon the Confederates at the end of that day could say “Our green troops were better than their green troops!”..

  2. Mike Maxwell says:

    As long as Rose Greenhow remained active in Washington, with any number of willing informers, her information (passed to Beauregard’s aide, Thomas Jordan) was going to have significant impact. And the false claim that “one battle will win the war” proved to be just that… didn’t matter if the battle was fought a month earlier, or a month later. And as for “expiring enlistments,” in Illinois special “re-enlistments for the war” were conducted beginning of June 1861 to avoid that problem; no reason the same could not have been done by McDowell (coordinated by President Lincoln with State Governors.)

    • Douglas Pauly says:

      In May of 1861 Lincoln called for volunteer troops to serve 3 years. But many of the troops McDowell had for Bull Run 1 were considered militia, and they were limited to 3 months service in any year. So that loomed large within the apparatus McDowell had to work with. The 75,000 that Lincoln called up was also the maximum he could call on at any one time.

  3. Rhea Cole says:

    Bull Run was a tactical victory for the South & a strategic victory for the North. I think the importance of Bull Run was the reaction of each side. The victory validated the oft repeated Southern delusion that the Yankees could not & would not fight. The Northern response was profound shock & a grim determination to prosecute the war to the bitter end. Invaluable months were lost in self congratulations & complacency that fatally hindered the Southern war effort. Whatever the tactical arguments about green 90 day units, the decision to fight at Bull Run was a rock in a pond that rippled throughout the war.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Are you saying that the federal forces did not fight at First Bull Run? Because Sullivan Ballou & I would disagree.

      • Rhea Cole says:

        I said nothing of the sort. What was significant was the after action conclusions drawn by each side. A prime example was the vital part that flag signalizing had played in the Southern victory. Porter Alexander had been among the first cohort trained by Albert Meyer. Instead of recognizing the profound meaning of the signalizing at Bull Run, Southern generals remained oblivious to what a game changer it was. Instead of becoming the Albert Meyer of the Confederacy, Alexander went back to the artillery.
        In Tennessee & Georgia, Southern signalists were in a Cub Scouts V Apple contest that gave Union generals a war winning advantage. Every evening when Sherman returned to his HQ, a stack of “contrabands” ( intercepted messages ) awaited his perusal. His reading of Johnston’s signal traffic was an Enigma level advantage for him.
        As I learned a long time ago, it isn’t what happens, it is what you do with it that counts. Bull Run is a perfect example of how true that really is.

      • Meg Groeling says:

        Rhea–well said. I think First Bull Run is a fascinating battle, and I especially like “tactical victory” vs. “strategic victory.” Wish you lived in CA so we could have a porch sit!

      • Rhea Cole says:

        We live on our screen porch here in Murfreesboro TN, you are welcome anytime. Dont bother ringing the front porch bell, we can’t hear it, just come around. Don’t worry, the city Dwelling chickens wont bother you.

  4. John Pryor says:

    I doubt that the serious, West Point leadership of the South bought the newspaper evaluation of the Battle. And the North spent most of the next year in the East training an army that basically did not move.

  5. Don Smith says:

    If large portions of McDowell’s army was about to go home…what choice did he have, but to fight?

    • John Foskett says:

      A pretty compelling point. Plus, as pointed out above and paraphrasing Lincoln, the Confederate opposition was equally inexperienced and untrained. If anything, McDowell had it better in that regard, since he at least had some Regular infantry and several Regular batteries.

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