N.Y. Crowds React to News of First Battle of Bull Run
After fifteen hours of fighting on July 21, 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) was a resounding Confederate victory, with nearly 3,000 casualties inflicted on the Union army and its retreat turned into a rout. For a long time, however, the outcome of the battle was uncertain. It commenced with the Federal advance at 4:00 a.m., and throughout the morning and into the afternoon it looked like the Union army was gaining the upper hand.
This confusion caused some Northern papers to rush news to their anxious readers incorrectly claiming a Union victory. Emblazoned on the front page of the New York Herald’s July 22 issue were four bold headlines declaring:
A Great Battle.
Brilliant Union Victory!
Capture of Bull’s Run Batteries.
The Rebels Routed and Driven Back to Manassas.
In fact, during the evening of the 21st as the battle was winding down, the New York Herald printed an extra edition declaring a Union victory at Bull Run. As part of its full coverage on July 22 the Herald included an interesting story proudly telling how eagerly its extra edition had been received the night before. Though the news of a victory turned out to be false, it is still interesting to read how that initial news was devoured by the New York City public.
Here is that article, published by the New York Herald (New York, New York) in its July 22, 1861, issue:
The Great Battle.
The Reception of the News in the City.
Before the Herald’s extra, announcing the brilliant Union victory at Bull’s Run, was ready for issue last night, crowds collected about the office, as if feeling the news by instinct. The types flew into shape, the immense presses rattled off the sheets, the newsboys seized them on the run, and in an instant the crowd was apprised of the great victory, and cheer upon cheer rent the very air.
Off flew the newsboys with their extras towards up town. “Extra Herald—great battle at Manassas Junction.” “Don’t see it,” shouted skeptical crowds. “But it’s the Herald,” replies the boy, and with a growl and a curse for the sensation extras, the papers are bought, and off go the boys again.
Then come most extraordinary scenes. Crowds of strangers simultaneously collect around the purchasers of papers, who mount stoops, boxes, steps, anything, and begin to read the news. Then came the cheers again—steady, continued, triumphant.
In an hour the news seemed to be known to the remotest limit of the city. Conductors carried up extras on the cars, and forgot to collect fares in the excitement. The passengers read and cheered and forgot to pay. The newsboys ran as if pursued by fate, and raised the prices of the extras as they increased their distance from the office. Windows popped up, and often the inquiry, “Is it the Herald?” The purchase was made and bed deserted for a read. Servants along the Fifth avenue were roused and sent skirmishing after the newsboys. Everywhere bustle and stir—everywhere excitement—everywhere pride and exultation at the victory.
That was the first feeling. Then came anxious doubts, fears, anxieties. The loss had been immense on both sides. The New York regiments were in the thickest of the fight. From nearly every other house a New York soldier had been sent. To the inmates of every other house the news of the immense loss carried a sharp pain. Who is killed? Who is wounded? Was my husband, my father, my son, my brother there? God knows. The cold stars look down upon the pale upturned faces of the dead, and they can tell, perhaps. There is no help for it. We must wait for tomorrow’s paper. How many eyes never closed last night! How many pillows were wet with tears! How many prayers, and hopes, and fears!
“Hurrah!” we are in the streets again. “Hurrah!” Let us hope, while there is room for hope, that they are not our friends who are dead. “Hurrah!” We shall know tomorrow, and until then we must hope.
What if we do find their names in the black list? It was a great victory. They died nobly. No, they fell nobly, but true patriots never die! You whose friends are saved, forget your joy in sorrow for the brave. You, whose friends are lost, remember they died for their country and their God. With that country and that God leave them. They sacrificed their lives for the right, so you sacrifice your grief.
Thus our scenes follow the extras; away from the office; into the streets now alive with excitement; into the homes of the rich and the poor, the high and the humble. They all rejoice in a common victory; they mourn a common loss; they have a common joy and a common consolation.
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