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EVE OF THE CONFLICT

Stone Church, Centreville, Virginia.—Past this little stone church on the night of July 20, 1861, and long into the morning of the twenty-first marched lines of hurrying troops. Their blue uniforms were new, their muskets bright and polished, and though some faces were pale their spirits were elated, for after their short training they were going to take part, for the first time, in the great game of war. It was the first move of the citizen soldier of the North toward actual conflict. Not one knew exactly what lay before him. The men were mostly from New England and the Middle States. They had left desk and shop and farm and forge, and with the thought in their minds that the war would last for three months the majority had been mustered in. Only the very wise and farseeing had prophesied the immensity of the struggle, and these were regarded as extremists. Their ideas were laughed at. So on they went in long lines down the road in the darkness of the night, chattering, laughing and talking carelessly, hardly realizing in the contagion of their patriotic ardor the grim meaning of real war. The battle had been well planned, but who had had the experience, even among the leaders, to be sure of the details and the absolute carrying out of orders? With the exception of the veterans of the Mexican War, who were regulars, there was not one who had ever maneuvered a thousand men in the field. A lesson lay before them and it was soon to come. The surprising battle that opened early in the morning, and whose results spread such consternation through the North, was really the result of popular clamor. The press and the politicians demanded action, and throughout the South the same confident and reckless spirit prevailed, the same urging to see something done.

Centreville

 

 

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