The war’s first large land battle began with both sides confident of quick victory. But as one Union participant remembered in 1865, few things in wartime are really as they first appear.

About a mile beyond was the little village of Fairfax Court House, which we entered as was becoming great conquerors, with flaunting banners and serried columns, while the bands played patriotic airs for the edification of the few secesh who remained….The deserted rebel camps in the vicinity were thoroughly ransacked for hard-tack, bacon, &c and little clouds of smoke in various quarters indicated where hives of bees were suffering “martyrdom at the stake,” their stores of sweets proving their ruin. But sometimes the bees had their minute of revenge, for we saw more than one fellow with honey dripping from his hands, making across the fields with strides more vigorous than elegant followed by clouds of the vicious little insects….

Not the least interesting of the capture was a rebel mail bag…filled with those inordinate boastings and conceits with which the rebels plumed themselves until Yankee steel had taught them to respect Yankee valor….Well, those were the days when each party misjudged the other; while they looked upon us as arrant cowards, we were equally confident that the campaign which we had inaugurated was to end in the defeat of the rebel armies, the capture of Richmond, and the complete overthrow of the Confederate Government.

 

Private Martin A. Haynes, 2nd New Hampshire Infantry, Burnside’s Brigade, in Voices of the Civil War: First Manassas

Originally published in the February 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here