Why Does the Civil War Battle of July 21, 1861 Have Two Names?

Grew up in New York – learned it was called the Battle of Bull Run.
Went to College in Virginia - God help you if you call it anything other than the Battle of Manassas.

Why the persistent difference? It’s not like one is pejorative – they’re both geographical descriptors of where the battle took place, both of which I believe are reasonably accurate ways to describe the site.

I think the Union named battles after rivers and such, and the Confederacy named them after nearest towns.

Most Civil War battles have two different names because the two sides used different systems for battle names, with the Confederates naming the battles after the nearest town and the Union using the nearest body of water. For example, Sharpsburg vs. Antietam, Shiloh vs. Pittsburg Landing, etc.

No doubt in VA they wanted you to use the Confederate name for the battle, as Bull Run is one of the few battles where both names entered common knowledge.

I found a cite:

In general, when battles had different names in the North and South, the South tended to name battles after the nearest town the battle took place, while the North tended to name battles after a geographical feature near the battle. So you get Bull Run (river)/Manassas(town), Antietam (river)/Sharpsburg (town), Shiloh (church)/Pittsburg Landing (town)/Seven Pines(landmark)/Fair Oaks (town)

I heard that the Union named battles after Duran Duran songs.

No, that’s the Union of the Snake. :smiley:

Thank you Johnny L.A. and everyone. I have long wondered this… ignorance fought.

Civil War? Oh - you mean the War of Northern Aggression. I agree with Shelby Foote.

Getting beyond the rivers vs towns issue, the general principle is that the winning side gets to name the battle. Which in cases like this can lead to dual naming; the Confederates won the battle and the Union won the war so both can assert naming rights.

That doesn’t quite work for the Battle of Gettysburg.

The identity of names and the difference in names is largely a matter of happenstance. After all the generals and newspaper people did not consult about the name. Bull Run (One and Two) had a lot to do with the prominent landmark for each side. In BR I the Rebel headquarters were at Manassas Junction and that is where the reinforcements from western VA detrained to join the fight. Thus the Rebels named the fight the Battle of Manassas. For the Federals the stream was the obvious landmark so the fight became the Battle of Bull Run. They just had a different perspective depending on where they were standing.

A similar thing happened in Belgium in 1815. Blucher, the Prussian commander, wanted to name the fight that finally took Napoleon out of the picture the Battle of La Belle Alliance after a tavern on the field and because the name would served to commemorate the Prussian-Anglo-Dutch alliance. The Duke of Wellington chose to name the fight for the town some four of five miles away where his headquarters were set up and because the name Waterloo came more easily to an English speaker. Had Napoleon won it probably would have been the Battle of Mont St. Jean for the farm and town just behind the British-Dutch position.

Further south that battle is still known as the Battle of Bull Run. Maybe it’s the catchier name or maybe that was what was used in textbooks more often.

I’ve noticed that not too far from Nashville (thirty miles or so) we have a battlefield that is usually referred to as Stones River. So we have drifted away from calling it the Battle of Murfreesboro.

If any of you have a different experience with that one, please speak up.

Another reason the Confederacy usually named after towns was that’s where the train stations were. The Civil War was one of the first major wars (the first in the U.S.) where armies were mainly supplied and often re-enforced by train, and in the early days of the war the southern railroads were mostly in Confederate hands -and in fact some of the great battles- Chattanooga and Atlanta for example) were fought over control of railroads. (Bridgeport, Alabama- in the northeast corner where GA/TN/AL come together- was despised for generations because it was largely pro-Union and their depot was one of the most vital to the Union forces.)

How so?

Gettysburg was more or less an accident (the location I should specify- obviously a major battle was bound to happen somewhere twixt there and D.C.). Confederate troops entered the city looking for shoes and encountered the Union troops; neither army had any idea how close they were to the other until then and consequently neither had fortified any positions for control of water or railroads or constructed any other any other battlefield preparation and infrastructure*. Taking or holding the town wasn’t either side’s real objective, whereas with Atlanta and Chattanooga and Harper’s Ferry and other battles that were called the same thing by both sides the name of the place was very much the objective of both sides.

In some places water and town had the same name- Chickamauga for instance is the name of the stream and the town (said to mean “river of death” though to quote Shelby Foote ‘God knows what the hell it really means’). The fighting was far more over the water and in fact a moment of that battle emphasizes how important water was: one Union cavalry regiment and some infantry were forced to surrender because of dehydration when they were cut off from water by Forrest and blocked from retreat by terrain and troop movements behind whose identity they weren’t certain about*. While it had nothing to do with the ultimate Southern victory (that being Longstreet filling the gap through backassward luck of timing) it reminds that while “an army travels on its stomach” in the best of times it don’t travel at all when the bladder’s empty.

*Two of the things you don’t think about but were done on the eve of every battle as much as possible were the digging of latrines. It may sound trivial, but it certainly wasn’t if you lived there: tens of thousands of men put out a LOT of doo-doo, and you want to control it as much as possible. (Even in peacetime some places actually failed when the amount of sewage in a small place [such as 200 free people and slaves on a plantation or 5,000 in a small city] was so large that it soaked into the water supply, and while these people didn’t know about the germ theory of disease they knew that an enormous amount of waste caused disease [miasma and all that].)
In addition to latrines, when there was relative certainty a major battle was imminent- sieges for instance- details also set to work digging graves before the first shot was ever fired so that they could get as many people into the ground as soon as possible after the battle. There are reports of gravediggers working on both sides at Chattanooga for several days before the major battles began in late November.
None were dug before the battle at Gettysburg and with the southern retreat cleanup was by all accounts a bitch. When Lincoln gave the G’burg Address that fall there were still horse remains on the battlefields and human remains were still being found as the foliage fell. (If you want to imagine what Hell must smell like, think of how the town of Gettysburg and its outlying areas for many miles must have smelled on July 4 when there was rotting flesh everywhere [not just the bodies but the amputated limbs, dead horses, etc.] and the gunpowder lingering and the excrement and urine left behind by 200,000 soldiers and camp followers and their horses and mules over the course of 3 days in July.)

**One of the things you don’t often think about regarding battles at this time is that most hostilities stopped at night time for the simple reason that the armies couldn’t see who or what they were shooting at; this was the case at both Gettysburg and Chickamauga- furious hostilities and men falling dead in piles on both sides and then almost like a ‘quitting time’ whistle and both retire to camps until the next morning. Many Union and Confederate soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

I wonder how Gettysburg would have turned out had Pickett’s Charge been made under cover of darkness.

Maybe my ignorance needs to be fought- is there a body of water called Ghettysburg? Or does it have another name? I’ve always heard it as Ghettysburg and never anything else.

It might have been a disaster.:smiley:

Others have pointed out that the Union named battles after towns. Gettysburg is a town.

I pointed out that some battles got two names because the Confederates won the battle but the Union won the war and both sides claimed the victor’s privilege of naming the battle. But the Union won the Battle of Gettysburg so that battle only has one name.

Others actually said that the Confederacy named battles after towns, and the Union after rivers.