Friday, July 22

War is no picnic

I know that those of you in the 21st Century are commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and this weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as the First Battle of Manassas.

Did you know that
Washington, D.C.'s elite, including congressmen and their families, expecting an easy Union victory, came to picnic and watch the battle on Sunday, July 21, 1861? When the Union army was driven back, the roads back to Washington were blocked by panicked civilians attempting to flee in their carriages.

Yes, a Picnic.

While bringing food along was a necessity since fast food hadn't been invented yet (unless you were on a running horse), the idea of going to war simply to watch it for entertainment is barbaric.

Henry House Mathew Brady/U.S. National Archives
Eight hundred and forty-seven men and one woman (Judith Henry, an elderly widow and invalid, who was unable and unwilling to leave her bedroom in the nearby (right) Henry House) died while others munched on cucumber sandwiches.

According to London Times correspondent William Howard Russell:
“On the hill beside me there was a crowd of civilians on horseback, and in all sorts of vehicles, with a few of the fairer, if not gentler sex .... The spectators were all excited, and a lady with an opera glass who was near me was quite beside herself when an unusually heavy discharge roused the current of her blood —‘That is splendid, Oh my! Is not that first rate? I guess we will be in Richmond to-morrow.’”

Sightseers at war. It gives new meaning to William Shakespeare's famous line,
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1, 270–275
At least people learned from that experience. I have found no more reports of people picnicking during battle for the duration of the Civil War.


  1. Itis only modern notions that lead to the view of war as barbaric. Conflict is a normal part of the human condition and has been throughout history.

    1. Maybe by some, by not by all. And watching it as entertainment is barbaric.