Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Bare Necessities

Early in 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Eggleston Johnston had overall command of the newly assembled southern force in the Shenandoah Valley. Days before the first major battle of the Civil War, Johnston’s troops successfully eluded Union Major General Robert Patterson’s forces to join Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard near Manassas Virginia. Lt. General Winfield Scott had ordered Patterson to keep Johnston away from Beauregard so that Union Brigadier General Irvin McDowell’s green and as yet undisciplined troops could attack Beauregard’s unsupported, equally green men.

Zouave uniformThe Confederates earned a hard fought victory that day which saw casualties which would shock the citizens of both nations. On those fields, five regiments from Virginia and their commander would earn their immortal name as, after the victory, many recalled Confederate General Barnard Bee saying, "Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians".

Even the newest of Civil War enthusiasts finds familiar the stories of the valorous efforts of the Virginians on those fields. Jackson’s timely arrival, marching his troops to the battlefield over an old farmer’s lane, formally christened the bloodiest war in United States history. But days earlier, less dramatic factors played a small role in allowing Jackson’s men to join their comrades on the fields near Bull Run.

Many of General Patterson’s men had enlisted for only 3 months. All but a few believed 90 days a sufficient amount of time for the powerful North to subdue the pesky southern rebels. Despite resources that would eventually prove overwhelming, this early in the conflict, organizational and logistical concerns proved fatal as the Northern government had no efficient system for linking the men who fought with the crucial supplies they needed.

In his book entitled "Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War" Lieutenant Colonel G.F.R. Henderson writes about the impact of such seemingly minor problems. Although General Patterson tended towards more cautious approach to war, some of his men had ideas of their own. Henderson notes, as Johnston slipped away, "Even in that day of raw soldiers and inexperienced leaders his (Patterson’s) troops had an unenviable reputation. They enlisted for three months, and their term of service was nearly up. Their commander had no influence with them; and, turning a deaf ear to his appeals, they stubbornly refused to remain with the colours even for a few days over their term of service."

Up until this point, nothing of this story stands as remarkable. The new soldiers hardly had acclimated themselves to the discipline and expectations of an army fighting brutal war. But Henderson continued by offering some of the factors contributing to the men’s dissatisfaction. "They were possibly disgusted with the treatment they had received from the Government. The men had received no pay. Many were without shoes, and others, according to their general, were ‘without pants!’ ‘They cannot march,’ he adds, ‘and, unless a paymaster goes with them, they will be indecently clad and have just cause of complaint.’

Had he known, perhaps General Bee would have altered his famous declaration, "There stands Jackson like a stonewall! And there stand Patterson’s men, hiding behind one."

Respectfully,

Randy

Please visit my primary site at www.brotherswar.com.

All original material Copyright © 2006. All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

GettysBLOG said...

Hilarious now, but very serious then.

Still, Jackson's Foot Cavalry vs. Patterson's Long Johns...thanks for the guffaw.