"Here's Your Mule," Part Six - Soiled Armor
Your standard American History textbook will tell you that after First Bull Run, the Union realized the War was going to be a bit trickier than they’d thought, and began preparing more substantially. The South, on the other hand, felt validated in their assessment of the Yanks and suffered from overconfidence.
Both are partly true, but the pragmatic oversimplification necessary in any high school history course creates false clarities. Nothing's ever as straightforward as we teach it, or as unequivocal as the teenage mind demands. History involves too many people and groups thereof, and people are messy and weird.
In an effort to spotlight some of that complication, I supplement the basics of Bull Run with two short video clips involving a very different military situation. I'm going to argue that First Bull Run, its unfolding, and its results, shaped the Civil War more dramatically and for far longer than its strategic importance or body count suggested.
Clip the First:
OK, quiz time. In this excerpt, who does the Black Knight represent?
*BUUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ* Time's up!
The answer is... 'The South'.
The vanity and honor culture of the South was pretty much unbearable long before First Bull Run, but their routing of the North after such build-up and so many supposed disadvantages reinforced the conviction of many Secesh that they simply could not, would not, should not lose - ever ever ever ever.
They didn't quit when behind. They didn't quit when outnumbered. They didn't quit when outgunned, outspent, outsupplied, or outlasted. Because THEY BELIEVED.
There's something to be said for that sort of conviction. Lesson #1 in talking to a member of the opposite sex (or, you know... whoever you happen to be into) for the first time is "be confident." You don't need to be cocky, but if you approach them worried you're going to look like an idiot, or say the wrong thing, or otherwise tank... guess what?
How many books would never have been written, temples never have been built, or blogs never posted if their creators let doubt win the day? (I, for one, am simply brimming with insecurity and self-loathing. Surely you've wondered about the constant overcompensating?) You can't let uncertainty shape ALL of your choices.
But some refuse to let doubt shape ANY of their choices. You know those folks who try out for American Idol or other talent-based exploitations, who suck horribly but audition over and over and over and over and over, passionately proclaiming without irony that the world MUST HEAR THEIR SONG?
As they're dragged away in handcuffs, proclaiming they ARE the next American Idol, they still believe.
Those motivational posters about noteworthy peeps in history who failed a half-zillion times before doing something memorable? They believed.
Those momma monkeys who keep fighting the tiger even after they're clearly losing so much blood they can't possibly -
Well, you get the idea.
Here's the problem with that kind of enemy: they don't give up. I mean, I'm a big fan of all that 'hold on tight to your dreams' stuff, but there's a time to make like Elsa and let it go.
But not the South.
There's a parallel of this in the 20th century - Japan in World War II. We'd fire-bombed Tokyo, killing something like 100,000 men, women, and children, and with such intensity that 'fire tornados' became a thing, incinerating thousands more. Their rivers were clogged with charred corpses, but leadership still believed. Defeat was not an option, even when defeated.
Germany took a pretty severe beating before Hitler's suicide opened the door to surrender, leaving Japan alone in the fight - but they couldn't let themselves accept the inevitable. WE DROPPED AN ATOMIC BOMB ON THEM, and they were still, like "I dunno - seems to me we can still make this work."
In order to end the war, Japan had to be destroyed in ways previously unconceived - ways still debated three-quarters of a century later.
Like the Black Knight, the South couldn't be "defeated". They had to be absolutely ruined, crippled, maimed by the North - played here by Arthur, King of the Britains.
THAT shaped the course of the Civil War. THAT shaped a large part of the country for a century AFTER the war. In case you haven't followed the news lately, there are some still fighting parts of this war - albeit with rhetoric and political maneuvering in the name of tradition and faith.
"It's only a flesh wound."
Clip the Second:
Here's Quiz Number Two. Ready?
In this clip, who does King Arthur represent?
*BUUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ* Time's up!
The answer is... 'The North'.
(Seriously, I like, JUST said that. Why would it change? If you missed that despite my having just said it, congratulations - you're my students.)
If Bull Run left the South feeling confirmed in their invulnerability, it left the North soiling their armor at rabbits. Yes, the President and co. dug in for a real war, but the psychological impact of blowing a 'sure thing' - so much so that they skulked back to Washington in terror and shame - didn't fade quickly. Add to this the grand delusions of General George B. McClellan, who led Union troops through much of the first part of the war - and we have a problem.
McClellan was so very good at so many things, but initiative was not one of them. When forced to fight, he would - apparently pretty well. When left up to him, however, the North was never quite ready.
This is ironic, because that was one of the things McClellan was best at - training, organizing, preparing. Heck, he couldn't get enough of it. But when he had 100,000 men he was sure the enemy had 150,000 (when in reality it was more like 70,000). When he had positioning, surprise, and the technological edge, he was sure they had managed something to thwart him before he'd even begun.
You'd think this would mean less bloodshed, but in reality it protracted the conflict unnecessarily for months - maybe years. It drove Lincoln crazy, despite his calm veneer - at one point he wrote to McClellan asking if perhaps he could borrow the army for a time, seeing as how he wasn't using it for anything.
McClellan was eventually replaced by less capable but more willing men, who did horrible things bravely but badly. Better McClellan had taken the initiative so at least horrible things could have been done well, and quickly.
The name we'll eventually remember as saving the Union was not McClellan, but Grant - Ulysses S., to be precise. We'll skip over to him next time.
RELATED POST: "Here's Your Mule," Part One - North vs. South
RELATED POST: "Here's Your Mule," Part Two - Slavery & Sinners
RELATED POST: "Here's Your Mule," Part Three - That Sure Was Sumter
RELATED POST: "Here's Your Mule," Part Four - On To Richmond!
RELATED POST: "Here's Your Mule," Part Five - Bull Run Goes South
RELATED POST: "Here's Your Mule," Part Seven - Grant Me This