Out, Damn’d Spot! Out, I Say!

13 05 2008

When it comes to First Bull Run, historians and other chroniclers of the battle have a lot in common with Lady MacBeth: they tend to see red where there is no red, or at least it’s not where they think it is.

I’m making my way through Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army (see here).The first four chapters, while they have lots of really good information, were a real chore to read.  They remind me of George Rable’s Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which also contains lots of good stuff but could have been just as, if not more, effective in about half or two thirds the length.  Perhaps Glatthaar grew so enamored of the anecdotes he turned up he was loathe to part with them, with the result being that the relative importance of the various points being made is blunted.  Anyone frustrated with the seemingly excessive “stuff” that infuses Russell Beatie’s books should be similarly irked with the first four chapters of General Lee’s Army.  They should be, anyway.

But let’s get back to The Scottish Play, and how it applies to Glatthaar’s book.  In chapter six, the narrative framework of the story of Lee’s army – actually, the forerunners of Lee’s army – gets us to First Bull Run.  On page 55 the author writes:

Men of the 13th Virginia jumped off the train [at Manassas Junction on July 21] and raced to the sound of gunfire.  A private reported that “the dust was so thick that we could not see a man five paces immediately in front of us.”  Choking on dirt and craving water to soothe parched mouths, they eagerly rushed onward nevertheless.  Stragglers and wounded called out to them to “pick off the red pants [11th New York Infantry (Zouaves) and 14th New York Infantry], that they had injured us more than any other part of the enemy.”  But to their great dismay, they never got the chance.  By the time they reached the main battlefield, their comrades had swept the field.  The only Yankees in red pants they met were prisoners of war.

And they were also only members of the 14th Brooklyn.  As discussed several times on Bull Runnings (most notably here), the 11th New York Fire Zouaves were not wearing red pants at Bull Run.  Most of their Zouave pants had worn to tatters by then, and the majority of the men sported standard issue blue trousers.  In addition, the 11th New York Zouave uniform consisted of gray jackets, gray pants and red firemen’s shirts.  Not red pants.  They never wore ‘em.

It’s difficult to tell from the footnoting method (one note at the end of a long paragraph with a number of cites for the whole paragraph) whether Glatthaar used a participant’s identification of the regiments, or if he interpreted the description to apply to the 11th and 14th NY himself.  I really, really hate these footnotes.  But I’m willing to forgive them and the glacial pace of the first four chapters – and a disappointing, dismissive, pedestrian description of Joseph E. Johnston – because, like I said, there’s a lot of good stuff in General Lee’s Army.








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