I know, I know: for months I’ve been teasing some of you (well, really only one of you) with obtuse references to the color red and related confusion in accounts of the action on the battlefield of Bull Run. I’ve started this article probably a dozen times without hitting on what I feel is the best way to tackle the subject.
I can see how some folks might find the whole controversy of minor importance. What color uniforms were worn, or not worn, by what units? It’s a question that every writer who has tackled First Bull Run has had to ask. In most cases, they ask it in order to explain how friendly soldiers could be mistaken for the enemy and vice-versa. The specific issue that concerns me is not nearly so sensational – in fact one might argue it’s downright mundane. And it’s been my experience that most chroniclers of the battle have treated it that way. They acknowledge that the inconsitency between the known details and the eyewitness accounts exist, yet seem to ignore it when it comes to evaluating the sources and constructing their narratives. The tendrils of this inconsistency reach deep. If one accepts the truth of what I have to say – and I am certainly not the first to say it – it will color (ha ha) how they process countless accounts of the battle, primary and secondary.
When I can’t quite put my finger on how I want to present something, I tend to put off the writing. It’s a bad habit I must break. I need to learn to write and get my main points “on paper”, so to speak, and go back and massage it later. Therefore I’ve determined to begin to prepare the post on “Red Pants”, as I’ve come to think of it, even though I’m still not sure how I want to do it. As this will feature prominently in my round table program (which I will present in Pittsburgh in a mere 22 days…arghhh!!!), at least I’ll be killing two birds with one stone. I hope to have it here for you within the next week. Let the above illustration of Col. Corcoran, the 69th NY Militia and the 11th NY serve as a taste of things to come.