“Primary” Accounts, Chickens, and Eggs

9 05 2012

Friend Ron Baumgarten of All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac sent me a link to an apparently corroborating account of “rebel barbarities” at Bull Run. While the 8th PA Reserves (37th PAVI) were of course not involved in the battle, they had occasion later in the spring of ’62 to spend some time on the field:

Evan Woodward, Our Campaigns, p. 91 – While here many of us visited the Bull Run battle field, situated about seven miles distant, finding but few occupied houses on the road, most of the inhabitants having left, they believing the stories so freely promulgated in the Southern papers of our monstrosities. Where they remained at home a guard was furnished for their houses and their property protected. Near the battle-field were a number of huts lately occupied by the enemy, and over the door of one was found nailed the cross bones and skull of a human being. Leg bones were also found with the marrow but partially dried up in them, from which finger rings had been sawed off. What singular and refined tastes the chivalry of the South have! It was noticed that while there were quite a number of bibles and tracts left in their cabins, there were no cards to be found, but whether this was to be accounted for by the fact of their being conscientiously opposed to gaming, or considered the cards the most valuable of the two, we cannot say. The field, of course, possessed much interest to all, and the important positions were carefully examined. The bones of men and horses lay scattered about unburied although the enemy laid in the immediate neighborhood for eight months. Near the water courses were found the skeletons of many of the wounded who had crawled to them to quench their thirst.

So, is this an accurate account of what the 8th Reserves (my great-great-uncle’s regiment) saw on the battlefield, or a convenient working in of the testimony before the committee that was common knowledge by 1865, when this regimental history was published? Some primary material is more primary than others. The above is close enough to the JCCW testimony to raise an eyebrow or two. Contemporary correspondence would help firm this up.

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7 responses

9 05 2012
Ron Baumgarten

Glad to bring this to your attention. I always wondered myself whether this story was a fabrication or exaggeration of some sort. But you have a point. It could have been taken from the congressional testimony and used to enhance the story. Like you, I really would like to find some letters to confirm that such objects were found at Manassas. I hope that someone out there may have something to shed some light.

9 05 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Tune in tomorrow…

10 05 2012
Vince

A quick search makes it seem like there are numerous accounts of unburied dead (even photographs), but here’s one specific to the Pennsylvania Reserves:

http://www.lancasteratwar.com/2012/05/rebel-atrocities-at-bull-run-letter.html

10 05 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Vince,

Photographs? I’m unaware of any photographs of dead on the field of Bull Run.

Thanks for the link to the article/letter – I had to use the alternate link, by the way, and am including it here. From what I read, I see that the condition of the graves is described, pointing out that men were buried face down, but no reference to any other abuse of corpses. See today’s post for another account from around the same time.

I’m adding Lancaster at War to my feed reader and likely to the blog roll in the near future.

10 05 2012
Vince

Yeah, I guess it depends how you distinguish abuse and neglect.

I hope you enjoy the blog. Your ethos of a digital history site has definitely influenced what I’m trying to do with the accounts of Lancaster’s Civil War soldiers.

Also, thanks for mentioning that the in-page Google Docs frame didn’t work. It’s touchy, and the way it functions seems to be evolving (e.g., when Google was in the news for bypassing Safari cookies settings earlier this year). What browser were you using?

10 05 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Seems to be working fine now. Let me know if it’s OK to copy that pic from you and post it here…I can’t get the whole picture from Colgate.

10 05 2012
Vince

I used it on my site asserting public domain status for the image, so feel free to reuse the image if you wish to do the same.

(Colgate does instruct the image not to be reused without its permission, but I believe public domain status to trump it.)

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