Bull Run (War Song)
DESCRIPTION: "Away down in Belden Green... The whole earth shook in a quiver; Every devil had done his best To outrun the rest To get back to Washington to shelter." After the Union defeat, Abe Lincoln laments the cost of the battle
EARLIEST DATE: 1917 (Cox)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar battle
July 21, 1861 - First battle of Bull Run/Manasses fought between the Union army of McDowell and the Confederates under J. E. Johnston and Beauregard
FOUND IN: US(Ap)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 68, "Bull Run"; 69, "War Song" (2 texts, the latter perhaps mixed with "The Happy Land of Canaan")
cf. "The Battle of Bull Run" [Laws A9] (subject: the battle of Bull Run) and references there
NOTES [566 words]: As the song says, the First Battle of Bull Run ended in a Union rout. This was, however, an oddly minor result. The Union army was made up mostly of volunteers called up for only ninety days of service; they were greener than grass, and not really able to fight, but the politicians forced Irvin McDowell to lead his troops into battle before their enlistments expired (McDonald, p. 19; McPherson, pp. 334-335, 339).
The Confederates, equally green, had the advantage of being on the defensive, and so were able to hold on. The Union army retreated, and the retreat became a rout, with soldiers streaming back to Washington. But the Confederates, as disorganized by victory as the Union troops were by defeat (and badly disposed; Beauregard's staff was so bad that more than half his troops were acting in response to orders Beauregard had thought meant something else), were unable to pursue (Freeman, volume I, pp. 72-78, with documentation on pp. 57-58 of the staff errors and a map on p. 47 showing how most of Beauregard's troops were improperly disposed for the defensive battle he actually fought. For more about this battle and its outcome, see "The Battle of Bull Run" [Laws A9]).
Cox 68, which he titles "Bull Run," never mentions that battle, but since the Federal troops are routed and run back to Washington, it definitely sounds like First Bull Run.
Cox does not recognize the second of these texts, which he calls "War Song," as the same as the first. It seems clear to me, however, that they are.
The confusion comes in the first line. Cox's "Bull Run" begins
Away down in Beldon Green, where the like was never seen
The whole earth shook in a quiver.
The "War Song" starts
Down in Bowling Green, such a sight was never seen,
The earth all stood in a quiver.
The temptation, of course, is to associate the latter piece with a battle of Bowling Green (Kentucky). But there was no battle of Bowling Green (see the lack of an entry in Boatner, p. 76; Phisterer lists two engagements there in early 1862, but the first, on p. 93, involved only a single company and the second, on p. 94, is the unopposed Federal occupation of the town). In 1861, the Confederate forces of Leonidas Polk moved into that part of Kentucky, and Albert Sidney Johnston had his headquarters there in late 1861 and early 1862 (Boatner, p. 440), but Johnston's position was weak (McPherson, p. 397) and he retreated without battle after Fort Donelson fell; he would soon have to give up Nashville, Tennessee as well (McPherson, p. 402).
Braxton Bragg's 1862 invasion of Kentucky never moved as far west as Bowling Green, although Union troops passed through the town as they chased him (see the map on p. 521 of McPherson). After that, except for a few minor cavalry raids, the Confederates never came close to Kentucky.
The only reasonable supposition is that "Bowling Green" is an error for the "Belden Green" of "Bull Run," or perhaps that "Bowling Green" refers not to a town but to an actual bowling green.
Additional support for this hypothesis comes in the chorus to Cox 69, which says that "The Black Horse cavalry a-coming." Union soldiers at First Bull Run did in fact refer to an attack by a "Black Horse Cavalry" (McDonald, p. 170).
I will admit to having no idea where "Belden Green" might be. After studying the maps in McDonald, I can find no feature of the Bull Run area with a similar name. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.2
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Freeman: Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee's Lieutenants, 3 volumes, Scribners, 1942-1945
- McDonald, JoAnna M. McDonald, We Shall Meet Again: The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) July 18-21, 1861, Oxford, 1999
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (The Oxford History of the United States: The Civil War Era), Oxford, 1988
- Phisterer: Frederick Phisterer, Campaigns of the Civil War: Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States, 1883 (I use the 2002 Castle Books reprint)
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