George W. Dyer
July 21, 1861
George Dyer, of Calais, was serving in Washington D. C. as an Assistant Quartermaster General for Maine regiments in the summer of 1861.
He had a close look at the Civil War's Battle of First Bull Run, also called First Manassas, and shared his views in a letter to Governor Israel Washburn. In straight-forward fashion, Dyers reports that, "Matters here in most horrible confusion."
The battle fell far short of expectations for the North. The two armies – Union and Confederate – were new to fighting, but each believed that the other would be defeated quickly. It was the Union Army, however, that broke and ran.
Afterward, Dyer tried to get supplies to Maine regiments. In addition to locating and assessing the condition of the regiments, he reports on the leadership displayed by the officers Gov. Washburn appointed.
"None of field or staff killed," Dyers writes of Maine's officer corps, "Allen, Buxton and Hunkins stand by the wounded and are prisoners. Hamlin, Banks and Warren ran away most disgracefully and are here."
Benjamin Buxton, Seth Hunkins, and William Allen – regimental surgeons – remained with the wounded on the battlefield; and were captured.
Most units suffered from inexperienced commanders, and almost all of the soldiers had no concept of what real combat was like. Any romantic notions of war had not prepared them for the sight of dead and dying men all around them. And, absent clear orders in the noise, smoke, and confusion, many of the soldiers panicked.
Even experienced commanders, such as Colonel Oliver Otis Howard, of Leeds, were unable to rally terrified men. "In fact as regards the whole of Howard’s Brigade, they were panic stricken, and lost about everything except muskets, and a large part of these," Dyer writes.
He does not mention the hundreds of civilians – men, women and children – who traveled from Washington to watch the battle, imagining it would be a colorful spectacle. They fled in panic along with the troops.
(The"Hon. F. A. Pike," to whom Dyer directed that return mail be sent, was Frederick A. Pike, U. S. Congressman from Maine, 1861 – 1869.)
A year later, in August of 1862, the Armies would again meet on the same battlefield.
- On a map locate Manassas or "Manassas Junction." How far is it from the District of Columbia?
- Why might the regiments have been so unprepared for a real battle?