Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas (First Bull Run, if you’re a Yankee). There is a reenactment at the battlefield that started yesterday and runs through Sunday, if you’re in the area and are interested.
I’ve been to the battlefield and walked both sides of it, North and South. The impression one gets from an initial perspective is one of Northern incompetence, which is hard to dispel by reading the literature. The North was full of pride when they went west over Bull Run Creek. They attacked from one hill towards another, having to cross over a shallow valley where Warrenton Pike runs, with little in the way of cover besides one stone house and a few scattered trees. They had insufficient intelligence on the position and disposition of the Confederate troops, and had barely enough supplies at the soldier level to complete a fight, let alone win it.
The South fared only slightly better, having better leadership, but their average soldier was just as inexperienced as his Yankee counterpart. They also had the mental advantage of defending their homes against invasion, which is what they saw it as, and to a large degree, what it was. We call it the Civil War, but that’s really a misnomer; a Civil War is when two sides vie for control of the same government or territory. A Secession War is when one side merely wants to not be under the control of another. By that definition, both the Revolution and the “Civil” War were wars of secession. The Civil War was only Civil from the Northern perspective, for they wanted to control both North and South, whereas the South wanted to control only themselves and their slaves.
I felt a sense of magnitude as I walked the field at Manassas, not only of the importance of the place in our history, but also of the issues they fought over. They were not fighting over small things, but large things, and not the large things we think of – slavery and liberty. Johnny Reb fought over the large issue of my-homeland-is-being-invaded-by-a-tyrant-who-wants-to-enslave-me, and Billy Yank fought because they-want-to-rebel-against-the-lawful-government-of-this-land. (Except for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he fought over his philosophy.)
Sometimes I wonder if our big issues of the day rise to the same level as their big issues. and if they do, does our unwillingness to take up arms make us more cowardly than they, or more patient?
Time will tell.