Advanced Search | Text Only

Product Cover

A Single Grand Victory:
The First Campaign and Battle of Manassas

by Rafuse, Ethan S.
Publisher: Scholarly Resources
Retail Price: $60.00
Issue: Fall 2002
ISBN: 0842028757

First blood

Comprehensive study investigates climactic battle

By July 1861, Americans impatientlyawaited the first momentous battle ofa civil war that was only three monthsold. In the opening passages of A SingleGrand Victory, Ethan S. Rafuse, professorof history at the United StatesMilitary Academy at West Point, notes thatalthough divided on numerous issues, mostAmericans, whether living in the North orthe newly established Confederacy, agreedthat a single climactic battle would producea decisive victory that would persuade theopposition to abandon its war objectivesand settle the conflict.

Although a few minor military clasheshad already transpired since Confederateforces won the surrender of Fort Sumter,this greatly anticipated climatic battle ultimatelyoccurred in Virginia in mid-summer1861. Staged within a small geographicalarea that separated Washington, D.C., fromRichmond, a grand campaign unfolded inthe third week of July. By nightfall, July 21,the armed forces of the Confederate Statesof America claimed victory on the banks ofBull Run near Manassas Junction. In a day ofchaotic and bitter combat, the butcher's billlisted more than 800 soldiers killed in actionand another 2,700 wounded. To the surpriseof citizens on both sides, the anticipatedresultła rapid withdrawal of hostilities by adefeated enemyłdid not occur. Instead, theUnited States' forces would recover from thebrief setback, and a brutal war would continueto consume manpower and resourcesfor four more years, resulting in a cost of over625,000 American lives.

In this highly readable, judicious, andcomprehensive battle narrative, Rafuse providesa sophisticated study of First Manassas.The book incorporates the author'sfamiliarity with battle literature and thebattlefield and offers insights supported byrecent military, political, and cultural scholarship.Rafuse capably analyzes important factorsthat influenced the decision of PresidentLincoln, against the advice of his militarycounsel, to issue orders that advancedUnited States military forces on a questionableoffensive towards Manassas. He examinescompeting Union and Confederate warpolicies and provides insight into the politicalcontext behind the unfolding battlefielddrama. Supported by a solid foundationof socio-political history, the author ablynarrates the critical events and associatedoperational and tactical decisions thatmolded the Bull Run/Manassas campaign,the shockingly brutal face of battle, and theresulting outcome, which saw the victoriousConfederate army unable to mount effectivepursuit because it was, as Confederate GeneralJoseph E. Johnston concluded severalyears later, more disorganized by victorythan that of the United States by defeat.Rafuse observes that in the initial aftermathof First Manassas, Southern confi-dence and morale soared. One Confederatenewspaper reported Yankee armies wouldnever again advance beyond cannon shotof Washington. Another heralded thebreakdown of the Yankee race, and theirunfitness for empire and asserted theSouth could now take the scepter of powerand adapt to its new destiny. The authorsoundly argues, however, that these emotionalSouthern pronouncements provedshort-lived, and collapsed entirely under agrudging awareness that in spite of havinginflicted a humiliating defeat, it was clearthe determination of Lincoln and the Northto preserve the Union remained remarkably strong. In theweeks that followed, the resolve of the North manifesteditself in the presence of thousands of new soldiersłenlisted for three years of war servicełthat swelled theranks of United States armies east and west.

Ethan Rafuse has produced a sound overview of thefirst major battle of the Civil War, providing an excitingnarrative of significant events that foretold a fiery trialto come. The unresolved legacy of First Manassas leftthe combatants grappling with the political, social, andmilitary complexities of total war; and as National andConfederate armies contested increasingly bloodier killingfieldsłnone of which would become A Single GrandVictoryłan entire generation of Americans experienceda level of applied violence far uglier than they could haveever foreseen.

Stacy D. Allen, an18-year veteran of theNational Park Service,currently serves aschief park ranger atShiloh National MilitaryPark in Tennesseeand Mississippi. Hisessay on the early warexperiences of GeneralLewis Wallace, appearsin Grant's Lieutenants:From Cairo to Vicksburg(2001), edited by StevenE. Woodworth.

Allen, Stacy D., review of A Single Grand Victory:
The First Campaign and Battle of Manassas
, by Rafuse, Ethan S., Civil War Book Review, (Fall 2002).