Lessons of the Battle of Bull Run

As most students know, one of the first significant major battles of the Civil War was fought at Manassas in Virginia. It consisted of a clash between two utterly green armies who were led by equally green officers who for the most part relied upon memories of past conflicts between the United States and Mexico when mapping strategies.

The First and Second Battles of Manassas - more popularly called the Battles of Bull Run - are just a few of the significant Civil War sites in this section of Virginia. A student of American History would benefit from visiting these locales. They can get a sense of what the nation's people were facing more than 150 years ago.

Today we have a tendency to look past the events of that period or romanticize them. But they were the opening phases of what would be the bloodiest war in the history of this nation. And one thing that stands out from the experience at Bull Run is the fact that every time the nation has gone to war it has had to relearn the fact that wars are much easier to start than to stop. And that they are rarely - if ever - short; they usually last until one of the protagonists is utterly destroyed or incapable of competing further.

Lessons of the Battle of Bull Run
Battle of Manassas: Troops that fought at Bull Run. Source: Elson (2)

That is what people on both sides learned at the First Battle of Bull Run. People dressed in their best clothes - the 19th century version of a wardrobe from Forever 21 - to journey gaily from Washington, DC and Richmond, VA to watch the battle. Their behavior was like that of fans who'd bought tickets to a rock concert with a Groupon. And they were surprised when they found themselves in the middle of a real conflict in which soldiers were killing one another.

Commanders who had learned theory and strategy from prior battles in settings that had no similarity whatever to what they encountered here were made aware that new techniques were needed. The lesson learned that day had to be relearned again by future generations, from the Argonne to Pearl Harbor to Vietnam and the Sinai Desert. Mankind always has to relearn the basic fact that war cannot be viewed in the same light as a sports contest.

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From Lessons of the Battle of Bull Run to Manassas

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