Senator Jim at Bull Run

30 11 2006

jim_lane.jpgFirst, here’s that Jim Lane image to which I referred in a previous post, Kansas at First Bull Run.  Thanks to reader Pat Jones for providing the link to Miller’s Paranormal Research.  No, I have no idea why Lane’s picture appears on a paranormal research website.  Maybe because his hair appears to defy gravity.  Is that top-hat-hair?  What was he thinking?  Why didn’t his peeps do a better job tending to his image?  You’ll never see a picture of John Edwards or Mitt Romney with such a tousled do.  But this picture does go a long way to explain the haircut on the mayor of Munchkin Land.  An homage to Dorothy Gale’s home state, perhaps?

As I was looking through my library for references to Lane at the battle – remember, I had the notion at the back of my noggin that he was there, but couldn’t remember how I knew that or if I was right – I found that Lane’s name does not appear in the indexes of any of the standard histories of the battle I have read.  It is not in Johnston, Hanson, Beatie, Davis, Bearss, Hennessy, McDonald, Rafuse, or Detzer (note to self: write a post summarizing these books).  While he had no specific recollection of Lane at Bull Run, an email from Ethan Rafuse reminded me of a John Hennessy article that appeared in an issue of Civil War Times Illustrated in 2001 titled War Watchers at Bull Run and available online here.  That article reminded me of another that appeared in Civil War History in 1998, The View from the Top of the Knoll; Capt. John C. Tidball’s Memoir of the First Battle of Bull Run, by Eugene C. Tidball (this article would be incorporated in a biography by the same author, “No Disgrace to My Country”: The Life of John C. Tidball).  The Hennessy article is not footnoted, but Capt. Tidball’s account appears to be the basis for some of it.   So, it would appear on the surface that the Tidball account of Lane’s presence is uncorroborated.  What follows has been cobbled from these sources.

Col. Dixon Miles’ division was deployed in reserve and to cover Blackburn’s Ford.  Tidball and his four gun Battery A, 2nd US Artillery were stationed on a knoll just west of Centreville, part of Blenker’s brigade of Miles’ division.  Centreville is situated on a ridge known generally as the Centreville Ridge, and the area of the knoll has been referred to as the Heights of Centreville.  On July 21st, this area five miles from the battlefield became a collection point for non-military personell who sallied forth from Washington for various reasons.  It was here that Tidball observed a group of civilians that included senators Wilson (MA), Wade (OH) and Lane.  Tidball observed that all of them were “full of the ‘On to Richmond’ fervor”.  The senators expressed some disappointment at the limited view, and Tidball urged patience.

But Old Jim was fiery, he said he must have a hand in it himself.  His friends not wishing to go so far as that tried to convince him that he could do no good in the fight without a gun.  “O, never mind that,” he said, “I can easily find a musket on the field.  I have been there before and know that guns are easily found where fighting is going on.  I have been there before and know what it is.”  He had been a colonel of an Indiana regiment during the Mexican War, and this was the old fire sparking again.  Nothing could hold him back, and off the party started down the slope and over the fields in the direction of the firing.  I saw nothing more of them until late in the afternoon.

The trio reached a point that provided a good view of the battlefield, on a ridge about a mile east of the Stone Bridge on the Warrenton Turnpike.  Today this overlook is a large and deep quarry.  Not many civilians made it this far, and the senators joined a group which included some reporters, Ohio judge Daniel McCook, and a New Jersey politician named John Taylor.  During the day this group probably never grew to more than 50 people.

What Lane did after reaching this point is not clear.  Tidball did not see Lane again until the retreat.  By this time Tidball had advanced to another knoll, this one overlooking the Cub Run valley – he had been moving to the Stone Bridge, only to be ordered to clear the road, choked with retreating Union troops, by Col. William T. Sherman.  After establishing his position, he saw the three senators scurrying up the slope towards him:

Lane was the first to pass me; he was mounted barebacked on an old flea-bitten gray horse with rusty harness on, taken probably from some of the huxter wagons that had crowded to the front.  Across the harness lay his coat, and on it was a musket which, sure enough, he had found, and for ought I know may have done some various deeds with it before starting back in the panic.  He was long, slender and hay-seed looking.  His long legs kept kicking far back to the rear to urge his old beast to greater speed, and so he sped on.

That’s about all I’ve learned about Lane at Bull Run.  I’ll have to track down the account of Taylor that Hennessy also used in his article.  I’ve read an address given by Lloyd Lewis about Lane before the Kansas State Historical Society in 1939, The Man the Historians Forgot, available here.  I’ve also viewed an 1897 biography by John Speer, Life of General James. H. Lane, available here. These don’t mention Lane at the battle.  Let me know if any of you out there have anything more on Lane at BR1.  I think Lane is a fascinating character, and wonder if any modern biography may be in the works.

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5 responses

4 04 2007
Bryce Benedict

I believe the photo was taken while “General” Lane was on an expedition in Missouri in October 1861. Notice the similarity to this etching from Harper’s Weekly:
His facial hair is unusual—probably from not shaving while on the march. Lane’s hair is pretty unkempt in most photos; I suspect this may have been deliberate on his part to cultivate an image.

Pelican is coming our with a new biography by Robert Collins. The best existing biography is the out of print The Political Career of James H. Lane, by Wendell Holmes Stephenson (1930). I did not note any reference in it to Lane at Bull Run.

Bryce Benedict
Topeka KS


21 03 2009
So far I’ve managed to hold off… « Bull Runnings

[…] he wrote a vivid and influential account of his experiences there – you can read some of it here.  Later his battery would become part of the First Horse Artillery […]


12 04 2012
Mint In the Box! « Bull Runnings

[…] somehow, sinister in appearance. With his head on straight, he doesn’t look any crazier than Senator Jim Lane of Kansas. In All His Assassinistic Glory! Mint In The Box! Did You Know? A Teaching Tool! Share […]


7 02 2013
Jim Lane

just finished collins’ book. He didn’t say anything about Bull Run. Is it possible that it was a different James Lane, as I think there may have been a confederate General by that name? However, the Kansas Lane was in the Mex-American war also.


7 02 2013
Harry Smeltzer

Hello, Mr. Lane (wow, you have the same name! Any relation?),

The accounts are clear that this is Senator James Lane of Kansas. I haven’t read the Collins book, so can’t comment on it.


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