Poetry for the American Civil War Sesquicentennial
"The March Into Virginia, Ending in the First Manassas"
by Herman Melville, July 1861
|Herman Melville in 1861. Photo courtesy of Rodney |
To every just or larger end,
Whence should come the trust and cheer?
Youth must its ignorant impulse lend--
Age finds place in the rear.
All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,
The champions and enthusiasts of the state:
Turbid ardors and vain joys
Not barrenly abate--
Stimulants to the power mature,
Preparatives of fate.
Who here forecasteth the event?
What heart but spurns at precedent
And warnings of the wise,
Contemned foreclosures of surprise?
The banners play, the bugles call,
The air is blue and prodigal.
No berrying party, pleasure-wooed,
No picnic party in the May,
Ever went less loth than they
Into that leafy neighborhood.
In Bacchic glee they file toward Fate,
Expectancy, and glad surmise
Of battle's unknown mysteries.
All they feel is this: 't is glory,
A rapture sharp, though transitory,
Yet lasting in belaureled story.
So they gayly go to fight,
Chatting left and laughing right.
But some who this blithe mood present,
As on in lightsome files they fare,
Shall die experienced ere three days are spent--
Perish, enlightened by the vollied glare;
Or shame survive, and, like to adamant,
The throe of Second Manassas share.
First Battle of Bull Run (Union name)
aka First Battle of Manassas (Confederate name)
July 21, 1861
On July 16, 1861, the untried Union army under Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell marched from Washington against the equally green Confederate army, which was arrayed behind Bull Run beyond Centreville.
On July 21, McDowell crossed at Sudley Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill. Late in the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements (one brigade arriving by rail from the Shenandoah Valley) extended and broke the Union right flank.
The Federal retreat rapidly deteriorated into a rout. Although victorious, Confederate forces were too disorganized to pursue. Confederate Gen. Bee and Col. Bartow were killed.
Confederate Thomas J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre “Stonewall.” By July 22, the shattered Union army reached the safety of Washington. This battle convinced the Lincoln administration that the war would be a long and costly affair. McDowell was relieved of command of the Union army and replaced by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who set about reorganizing and training the troops.
For more maps, history articles and additional information on this and other Civil War battles visit the Civil War Trust website.