How First Bull Run was REALLY Lost

4 03 2010

Well, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hit the shelves day before yesterday.  By most accounts it’s a big hit, and may even be made into a movie (unlike some folks, I don’t see Johnny Depp as Abe – maybe John Wilkes Booth).  Anyway, seeing the book in Barnes and Noble today reminded me that there’s an, umm, interesting account of the fighting at Bull Run, and what turned the tide for the Confederacy.  An enlisted man in a Massachusetts regiment wrote home to his wife after the battle, in a letter residing in the Harvard University Archives (where it “has long been mistaken for a work of epistolary fiction”):

We had [the Confederates] whipped at the start.  Blessed with greater numbers, we drove south up Henry House Hill, and into a group of trees at its peak.  What a sight to see them scatter like mice!  To see our ranks spread half a mile wide!  Th hear the cracking of gunpowder from all directions!

“Let us chase them all the way to Georgia!” cried Colonel Hunter, to the delight of the men.

As we neared the top of the hill, the rebels covered their retreat by firing on us.  The gun smoke grew so thick that one could scarcely see ten yards into the trees where they hid.  From behind this curtain of smoke suddenly came a chorus of wild yells.  The voices of twenty or thirty men, growing louder by the moment.  “First Ranks!  Fix bayonets!” ordered the colonel.  As they did, a small band of Confederates emerged from the smoke, running toward us as fast as any men have ever run.  Even from a distance, I could see their strange, wild eyes.  There was not a rifle, or a pistol, or a sword among them.

Our first ranks began to fire, yet their rifles seemed to have no effect.  Melissa, I swear until my grave that I saw bullets strike these men in their chests.  In their limbs and faces. Yet they continued to charge as if they had not been hit at all!  The rebels smashed into our ranks and tore men apart all in front of my eyes.  I do not mean to suggest that they ran them through with bayonets, or fired on them with revolvers.  I mean to say that these rebels–these thirty unarmed men–tore one hundred men to pieces with nothing more than their bare hands.  I saw arms pulled off.  Heads twisted backward.  I saw blood pour from the throats and bellies of men gutted by mere fingertips; a boy grasping at the holes where his eyes had been a moment before.  A private three yards in front of me had his rifle plucked away.  I was close enough to feel his blood on my face as its stock was used to smash his skull in.  Close enough to taste his death on my tongue.

Our lines broke.  I am not ashamed to say that I dropped my rifle and ran with the others, Melissa.  The rebels gave chase, overtaking and savaging men on either side of me as we retreated.  Their screams following me down the hill.

Well, there you have it.  As if we needed any more proof of the evil that was the so-called Confederacy.  Just for fun,though, care to take a stab at the factual accuracy of the account, with the exception of bloodsucking assistance?

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9 responses

5 03 2010
Chris Evans

Would one of the factual errors be that Col. Hunter commanded the 3rd U.S. Cavalry at Bull Run and was not command of any Massachusetts infantry at Bull Run?

5 03 2010
Chris Evans

I was in error. Hunter did command infantry at Bull Run but I think he was wounded before he ever reached Henry House Hill.

5 03 2010
Harry Smeltzer

You are correct, Chris. Hunter was wounded on Matthews Hill. In addition, there were no Massachusetts regiments in Hunter’s division. Of course, just because the writer was from Massachusetts doesn’t mean he was in a MA unit. Or perhaps he was in the 11th or 5th MA of Franklin’s brigade in Heintzelman’s division. They made it to Ricketts’s line on Henry Hill. Seems to me that the most likely suspect for the Vampire Regiment is the 33rd VA up by Griffin’s guns.

5 03 2010
Chris Evans

Interesting. I didn’t think there were any Massachusetts regiments in Hunter’s outfit. I also think Hunter wasn’t a Colonel at Bull Run but a Brigadier General of Volunteers.

5 03 2010
Harry Smeltzer

No, Hunter was still a colonel at this time.

12 02 2011

Let’s assume that Merrow is from a Massachusetts regiment. Following your timeline of battle, the 11th MA recaptured the guns of Rickett’s and Griffon’s Batteries from 4th and 27th Va during the back and forth on Henry House Hill, at approx. 1430. The advance at this point could be the reference for “chas[ing] them all the way to Georgia.” If Merrow was part of the 11th MA and was present at this point it wouldn’t it be more likely that the “vampire regiment” came from 5th Va, 4th Al, 7th Ga or Hampton’s Legion that retook the guns from the Mass boys shortly thereafter?

5 03 2010
The Abraham Lincoln Observer

Harry: I love the way you toss off “… with the exception of blood-sucking assistance … ” and then you guys get into an esoteric (to me, anyway) discussion of David Hunter’s real rank and where, exactly, he was wounded. Where else, except in Civil War historiography, would people know this stuff? And where else would it matter this much? Seriously, I’m impressed.

6 03 2010
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Mike. I think.

7 03 2010
Chris Evans

I just like knowing trivia about Military history. I thought in the post that Col. Hunter and his actions at Bull Run were about the only historical inaccuracy ,besides the vampires, that I could see. I know quite a bit of trivia about the Presidents, like Lincoln. But I think some Lincoln scholars would know more trivia about him than I even do.

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