Manassas Journal Messenger | Batte’s modern impact discussed
Any Civil War buff can can discuss the tactics, events of the day, troop deployments, generalship, or any number of factors that led to the South’s victory at the Battle of Second Manassas from Aug. 28-30, 1862.
John Hennessy, author of the book “Return to Bull Run,” likes to talk about why Second Manassas is important in modern terms.
Hennessy spoke Sunday to a group of about 100 people at the Manassas Battlefield National Park Visitors Center about Gen. Robert E. Lee’s goals in the Battle of Second Manassas, President Lincoln’s eventual dismissal of Gen. George McClellan and the reason it’s important to remember all battles in all wars.
Lincoln and McClellan’s fractious relationship threatened Lincoln’s presidency, Hennessy said.
McClellan spoke publicly against Lincoln’ prosecution of the war, Republicans at the time were making noise about nominating McClellan for president and Lincoln couldn’t get McClellan to fight.
McClellan, in favor of a conservative war, thought Lincoln’s approach of reunification with abolition and the aim of transforming Southern society was wrongheaded, Hennessy said.
Lincoln brought in Gen. John Pope to lead at Second Manassas in the hopes that a Pope victory would relegate McClellan to the sidelines for the remainder of the war.
The victory didn’t occur, but the North’s defeat and McClellan’s continuing assault on Lincoln eventually led to his dismissal.
Hennessy said the effects of McClellan’s firing resound into modern times.
With the exception of McArthur, modern generals don’t defy presidents, at least until they resign their commissions, Hennessy said.
“Never again, in a public forum would military men … debate publicly with the civil authorities over the purpose and nature of war,” Hennessy told his audience.
“It was the final ascension of the civil over the military,” he said.
Lee, on the other hand, was more friendly toward his boss, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, sending frequent letters and keeping Davis informed about the fighting.
Lee’s decision to meet the North at the Second Manassas was politically as well as militarily informed, Hennessy said.
Lee knew that a march north could demoralize a Union that was suffering a social schism that shadowed the one between McClellan and Lincoln.
His facility at keeping his boss happy gained him a certain autonomy known to few generals, Hennessy said.
“He realized that everything that he did had a political ramification,” Hennessy said. “Everything he did was intended to have a political ramification.”
Lee reckoned that a march north — with victories — would give a thrust to the rising Peace Democrat Party in the Union.
“His eyes were not set on the plains of Manassas. His eyes were set north,” Hennessy said.”Lee recognized that the greatest threat to the Union war effort was its division within.”
James Martin, 33, a Gainesville software developer who listened to Hennessy, said he could see modern correlations from the Second Manassas in, “The way that this battle affected how civilians make the decisions of the military strategically.”
Joe Bongiovi, vice president of Rappahannock Valley Civil War Roundtable, attended the lecture.
He said he learned that Second Manassas, McClellan’s decline and Lee’s political astuteness changed the focus of the war.
“As the war went on the ostensible purpose was transformed from simply preserving the Union to freeing the slaves to putting the Union back together the way it should have been,” Bongiovi, 70, said.
Hennessy closed his presentation with a plea for people to remember all battles.
“The greatest gesture we can make toward men and women who have given their lives as a notion is to understand and record what they did and how it happened,” he said.