The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861

The Early Morning of War: Bull Run, 1861

by Edward G. Longacre

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When Union and Confederate forces squared off along Bull Run on July 21, 1861, the Federals expected this first major military campaign would bring an early end to the Civil War. But when Confederate troops launched a strong counterattack, both sides realized the war would be longer and costlier than anticipated. First Bull Run, or First Manassas, set the stage for four years of bloody conflict that forever changed the political, social, and economic fabric of the nation. It also introduced the commanders, tactics, and weaponry that would define the American way of war through the turn of the twentieth century.

This crucial campaign receives its most complete and comprehensive treatment in Edward G. Longacre’s The Early Morning of War. A magisterial work by a veteran historian, The Early Morning of War blends narrative and analysis to convey the full scope of the campaign of First Bull Run—its drama and suspense as well as its practical and tactical underpinnings and ramifications. Also woven throughout are biographical sketches detailing the backgrounds and personalities of the leading commanders and other actors in the unfolding conflict.

Longacre has combed previously unpublished primary sources, including correspondence, diaries, and memoirs of more than four hundred participants and observers, from ranking commanders to common soldiers and civilians affected by the fighting. In weighing all the evidence, Longacre finds correctives to long-held theories about campaign strategy and battle tactics and questions sacrosanct beliefs—such as whether the Manassas Gap Railroad was essential to the Confederate victory. Longacre shears away the myths and persuasively examines the long-term repercussions of the Union’s defeat at Bull Run, while analyzing whether the Confederates really had a chance of ending the war in July 1861 by seizing Washington, D.C.

Brilliant moves, avoidable blunders, accidents, historical forces, personal foibles: all are within Longacre’s compass in this deftly written work that is sure to become the standard history of the first, critical campaign of the Civil War.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806147604
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 10/22/2014
Series: Campaigns and Commanders Series , #46
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 682
Sales rank: 905,153
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

Edward G. Longacre is a retired U.S. Department of Defense Historian and the author of numerous articles and books on the Civil War and U.S. military history, including The Cavalry at Gettysburg, winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award, and Gentleman and Soldier: A Biography of Wade Hampton III, recipient of the Douglas Southall Freeman History Award.

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The Early Morning of War

Bull Run, 1861

By Edward G. Longacre


Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4760-4



Gustave Toutant Beauregard had a penchant for exactitude, one befitting his carefully cultivated image as a military aristocrat. On March 1, 1861, the day he accepted a commission in the newly organized Provisional Army of the Confederate States of America, Brevet Major Beauregard bade farewell to Colonel Joseph G. Totten, his mentor and superior in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In his letter the Louisiana Creole made no attempt to explain what motivated him to leave the army in which he had served for twenty-three years; he intended merely to square himself officially with his old employer. The meticulous officer declared that he had closed out his accounts with the corps and had come out ahead. Upon submitting his last voucher to the Paymaster's Department, Beauregard had discovered that the army owed him one cent, presumably in reimbursement for professional expenses paid out of his own pocket. Magnanimously, he foreswore any attempt to collect the debt.

Beauregard could afford to be generous. A few days before he wrote Totten, he had traded his rather lowly rank in the engineers for a brigadier generalship in the Confederate forces. The salary that came with his new position would be paid in currency printed by a nation that had only begun to raise the revenue to support a war that almost every Southerner considered imminent. Even so, Beauregard was confident of his ability to meet his financial obligations, including the cost of outfitting his person in a well-tailored uniform: a tunic of gray broadcloth, blue pantaloons, a gilt-spangled kepi, and a pair of English riding boots. The ensemble went far toward making him appear what he had long considered himself to be—a soldier of presence and distinction.

Physically, he appeared to fit his idealized self-image. Though his physique and stature were less than impressive—he stood five feet, seven inches tall and weighed something less than 150 pounds—he had the mien and bearing of a patrician. Not quite forty-three, his darkly handsome features were highlighted by an olive complexion suggestive of his European ancestry. Pierre G. T. Beauregard (as a teenager he would drop his first name) had been born on a sugar plantation in the countryside south of New Orleans, the son of second-generation Americans who traced their French and Italian lineage to the thirteenth century. Dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a jutting chin were framed by a neatly cropped mustache and a jaunty tuft of beard. His physical appearance was complemented by a soft, lightly accented voice that helped relieve the formal and sometimes reserved manner he displayed to intimates and strangers alike.

Beauregard was not lacking in those social graces that helped promote an officer's career. That he had risen no higher than captain in the U.S. Army he attributed to fossilized personnel policies rather than personal inadequacy. He was a stranger to self-doubt, to fears of failure and incapacity; once he made a decision, he knew instinctively that it was the correct one. Having devoured volumes of military history since early youth, he saw himself as a latter-day Napoleon, the soldier he admired above all others. He could not believe that the great captain ever doubted the efficacy of his strategy, even in the aftermath of Leipzig and Waterloo, where conditions beyond his control had denied him victory but not glory.

While still in his teens, Beauregard bent his intellect and energy toward preparing for a military career. His parents initially disapproved of his chosen profession, but the young man was a model of determination. When he failed to maneuver his son toward more genteel pursuits, in the spring of 1834 Jacques Toutant-Beauregard played his social and political connections to secure him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy.

Given his strong will and rigid self-discipline, it is not surprising that from the outset of his West Point career Cadet Beauregard excelled in the classroom and on the drill plain. Throughout his four years on the Hudson River, he indulged his long-held interest in the military campaigns of Napoleon. To some extent he did so through the writings of Baron Antoine Henri Jomini, the Corsican's most industrious chronicler and interpreter. Historians, including Beauregard's principal biographer, T. Harry Williams, believe that at West Point Beauregard immersed himself in those Jominian concepts of strategy and tactics advocated by Dennis Hart Mahan, the academy's professor of military and civil engineering.

Yet the extent of Beauregard's academic exposure to Jomini is difficult to gauge. Although West Point was the country's leading military institution, essentially it was an engineering school. In the realm of general military science, it emphasized small-unit tactics. During the Louisianan's cadetship, the curriculum did not offer courses in military history or strategy, and its library contained no English translations of Jomini's works. This deficiency would have posed no obstacle to Beauregard, who was so fluent in French that during his last two years at West Point, he served as a teaching assistant in that discipline. Thus, he could have committed to memory most of the maxims that Jomini articulated through repeated references to Napoleon's campaigns. Some historians contend, however, that the baron's influence on Beauregard was acquired not at West Point but during postgraduate professional study.

The Creole's native intelligence, his aptitude for engineering and higher mathematics, and the avidity with which he devoured those texts unavailable to his classmates ensured academic achievement. His academy career was a triumph. At the close of his fourth-class (that is, his first) year of study, he ranked fourth among fifty-seven students. Not only did he perform well in the classroom, his deportment and behavior were exemplary. During his first two years, Beauregard was assessed, respectively, eleven and three demerits for infractions of the academy's many, arcane, and often arbitrarily applied rules of conduct, well short of the number (two hundred) that subjected a violator to immediate dismissal. During his second- and first-class years, he acquired not one black mark, a record of iron-willed conformity that nearly equaled that of a famous predecessor, Robert Edward Lee of Virginia, Class of 1829. Though not a single demerit had been lodged against his name during his cadetship, Lee, upon graduation, had ranked no higher than G. T. Beauregard nine years later.

As his paucity of demerits suggests, Beauregard permitted himself little time for recreation and none for carousing at Benny Havens's Tavern, a celebrated den of cadet debauchery in nearby Highland Falls. Yet he excelled in the few physical exercises offered at the academy and was especially proficient at horsemanship. Although he made numerous acquaintances among the cadet corps, he formed no intimate associations. He considered himself intellectually and professionally superior to his peers and rarely sought them out except when needing someone to quiz him on his textbook knowledge. T. Harry Williams suggests that "probably nobody at the Academy really knew him." This observation could apply to the extent of Beauregard's military career.

Irvin McDowell, of Scotch-Irish ancestry, was born on October 14, 1818, in Columbus, Ohio. In his youth his family emigrated to France; there he attended the College of Troyes (a civilian institution, not a military school). Returning to the Buckeye State, where his father, Selden McDowell, was elected mayor of Columbus, the fifteen-year-old sought and obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. There his early education, especially his grasp of French and mathematics, served him well in the classroom while the culture he had assimilated on the Continent helped him socially.

Because McDowell later acquired a reserved disposition, he has come down through history as cold and aloof. Yet at West Point he was anything but pallid and dull. Some historians pronounce him a mediocre student, but they fail to understand that his relatively low class ranking upon graduating (23rd of 45 cadets in the Class of 1838) was in large measure the product of a boisterous personality. One's standing on the conduct roll had a direct bearing on one's academic ranking, and McDowell received a substantial number of demerits, including 177 in his third-class year and 190 in his graduation year. Most of his transgressions were of a routine nature, but they were various: late at dinner or roll call, failure to close ranks while on the parade ground, absent from reveille, reading after lights out, loitering in areas of the campus off limits to underclassmen. That he earned many of those black marks for visiting in other cadets' rooms after hours and for joining in such pranks as hurling snowballs at the windows of his barracks suggests an outgoing nature and a frolicsome spirit. And the fact that in his first-class year he ranked 190 out of 218 cadets on the conduct roll hints at a propensity to take risks that has gone undetected or overlooked by scholars.

Upon leaving the academy, Second Lieutenant McDowell was assigned to the 1st U.S. Artillery, the service arm to which most mid-class graduates were posted (standout performers such as Lee and Beauregard gained commissions in the army's most elite branches, the topographical and construction engineers). McDowell's first posting was to the Maine frontier during America's "disputed territory" standoff with Canadian authorities. After two years of desultory service on the northern border, he was returned to West Point as an assistant instructor of artillery. The assignment indicates that although his scholastic scores may have been low, his tactical acumen was of a high order. In addition to his academic duties, in November 1841 he was appointed adjutant of the academy. In this role he not only kept the institution's administrative files but also maintained a seat on its academic board, the body that set the curriculum, conducted semiannual examinations, and by ranking the cadets' progress in every subject determined their class standing.

Adjutant McDowell did not confine himself to the rather sterile social scene of the academy. On several occasions he took leave to visit friends and army colleagues who had settled in upstate New York. He also made the acquaintance of a high-ranking officer who was to have a major influence on both his career and his personal life: Brigadier General John Ellis Wool, a distinguished veteran of the War of 1812 and former inspector general of the army. From their first meeting McDowell struck Wool as an officer of talent and merit. Over time he won the general's trust, confidence, and it would appear, his friendship. Through him McDowell was introduced to a friend of the Wool family, Helen Burden of Troy, New York. Love blossomed, and the couple married in November 1844. Over the next several years, they reared two sons and two daughters. Most of the children were healthy and led normal lives, but the fragile constitution of the eldest son resulted in his early death, "a blow," McDowell wrote, "to which I never shall become reconciled."

When Lieutenant Beauregard left his academic surroundings to begin active duty, he immediately impressed his superiors. Thanks to the patronage of Colonel Totten and other leading lights of his branch of service, he gained choice assignments that took him from Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island, the social capital of New England, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, where he could work amid familiar venues, visit his family, and enjoy the cosmopolitan attractions of New Orleans.

At first he enjoyed the life of an engineer officer, and he appreciated the prestige that his corps commanded within the army. His pay was not munificent, but it permitted him to take a wife, Marie Laure Villere, the sister of an old friend and the favorite daughter of one of south Louisiana's most prominent Creole families. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage and started a family that would include two handsome sons. Despite or perhaps because of his now-settled existence, Beauregard soon discovered that peacetime soldiering had limited allure. Providentially, an opportunity for more-active service, and perhaps for battle laurels and promotion, came his way.

In May 1846 diplomatic and military tensions between the United States and Mexico—simmering for years and recently raked into flame by the announced intent of the Republic of Texas, formerly a Mexican possession, to seek admission to the American Union—erupted into a shooting war. Even before the initial clash of arms, First Lieutenant Beauregard applied for a position with Brevet Brigadier General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation, then preparing to cross the Rio Grande to confront the larger but less capable forces of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Beauregard was furiously disappointed when his application was pigeonholed. Not until November did orders send him to Tampico, a supply base on the eastern coast of the invaded country. The port's defenses needed improving, providing the lieutenant with his first wartime duty. He entered upon it with characteristic energy, but almost incessant labor under a tropical sun took a physical toll that made him question for perhaps the first time whether he could endure the hardships his profession entailed.

In March 1847 he was rescued from his undesirable situation when assigned to accompany an expeditionary force into the Mexican interior under Major General Winfield Scott. Though sixty years old, Scott, the Republic's beau ideal of a soldier, was at the height of his mental and physical powers. Beauregard's first stint of combat service began at Veracruz, a fortified stronghold on the Gulf coast 150 miles below Tampico, which Scott successfully besieged. Never one to slight his own accomplishments, Beauregard believed that he made a critical contribution to this victory by choosing positions for three of the five artillery batteries that pounded the garrison into submission on March 29. He also took pride in successfully arguing against an exposed position for a sixth battery recommended by a colleague. Characteristically, the lieutenant was chagrined when Colonel Totten, in his report of the siege, failed to single out his work. Instead the Creole was included in an omnibus commendation along with other members of the engineering staff, including Captain R. E. Lee. In the 1850s, when he penned a memoir of his war service, Beauregard's resentment had not subsided. "Without wishing to detract one iota from the reputation of my brother officers," he wrote, "have I not the right, if not to complain, at any rate to feel surprised and pained at his [Totten's] lack of memory in this instance? ... For I had done more than my legitimate duty, not only in selecting the positions of those batteries, but especially in condemning one which I had received orders to mark out!"

By April 2, when Scott's army departed Veracruz for the enemy interior via the so-called National Highway, Beauregard was attached to the staff of Major General Robert Patterson. An Irish-born resident of Philadelphia, Patterson had risen through the ranks of the Pennsylvania militia and the Regular infantry and now commanded a division of volunteers in Scott's vanguard. On April 12 Patterson's force reached Cerro Gordo, a mountain stronghold that concealed several batteries of heavy artillery. Beauregard conducted a reconnaissance of the position that convinced him of the desirability of an indirect attack. His opinion flew in the face of head-on assault tactics that another of Scott's division commanders, Brigadier General David E. Twiggs, strongly advocated. Beauregard's articulate and well-reasoned defense of his view persuaded Patterson, Twiggs's senior, to defer the direct assault, which would have inflicted heavy casualties, until Scott himself reached the scene, took charge, and approved the change of plan.

Hoping to avoid a bloodbath, the commanding general devised a turning movement of the enemy's left flank. In advance of that operation, Beauregard conducted a second reconnaissance that carried him as far as Santa Anna's outer lines. He discovered a hill, Atalaya, that rose a quarter mile behind the enemy's position. He decided that its capture would turn the entire Mexican position, but he could not persuade General Twiggs, who had charge of the mission, to adopt his suggestion. One reason was that halfway through the mission, Beauregard was felled by the malaria-like condition he had contracted at Veracruz. Captain Lee stood in for him; his avid promotion of Beauregard's idea gained its acceptance and enabled Scott to strike Cerro Gordo from the rear and gain a major victory.

From Cerro Gordo, Scott's little army followed the fleeing enemy toward the City of Mexico. One result was the August 20 battle of Contreras. There Beauregard distinguished himself by guiding a portion of Brigadier General Persifor F. Smith's brigade (including a volunteer regiment under one of Beauregard's former engineer colleagues, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston) in an attack that routed the Mexicans and drove them inside their fortified capital. Sent to Scott's field headquarters to report the triumph, Beauregard was warmly received by his commander, who exclaimed, "Young man, if I were not on horseback, I would embrace you!"


Excerpted from The Early Morning of War by Edward G. Longacre. Copyright © 2014 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Prologue: Portents,
1. The Great Creole and the Obscure Ohioan,
2. The Fretful Virginian and the Hesitant Irishman,
3. Awaiting the Invader,
4. Green and Green Alike,
5. Escaping the Deathtrap,
6. Freezing for a Fight,
7. A Victory Unexploited,
8. "Civilized White Men" on the March,
9. A Bungled Skirmish,
10. Dueling Offensives,
11. "Strange Music" Begins,
12. "We Are in for It!",
13. Victory Assured?,
14. Attack and Counterattack,
15. McDowell's Last Stand,
16. A Stunted Pursuit,
17. The Fruits of Victory and Defeat,
Appendix: The Antagonists,

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