The weight of war–a 150th musing on Manassas

From John Hennessy (a Manassas musing on the 150th anniversary of the battle–newly updated with an additional image):

No photograph I have ever seen conveys more vividly the weight of war on those who struggled through it than this one.

This is an image of Lt. Colonel Joseph McLean of the 88th Pennsylvania–his shirt unbuttoned, shoulders slumped, face heavy with sadness or fatigue. Precisely 150 years ago this afternoon–almost to the minute as I write this–McLean fell in the swirl of fighting on Chinn Ridge, at Second Manassas. About most who fell in this war, we know little beyond the official record–little of their life, their being, or their death. But of this man, Lt. Colonel Joseph McLean of the 88th Pennsylvania, we know a good deal.

Compare that image with this one, taken just before the Civil War, newly provided by McLean descendant Tim Perella (I am grateful for his sending it along and helping to share the story of Joseph McLean).

The purpose of war is to inflict hurt and suffering and destruction and death in quantity and intensity enough to compel the other side to yield the effort. Every death sent a pulse of pain through a family, community, and nation that in some way challenged their will to continue.

Back in my Manassas days, the family of Joseph McLean came to the battlefield, bearing his pictures and letters. Mike Andrus took them to the place where “Uncle Joe,” as they called him, fell. The pain from his death lingered still.  It was a tortuous, compelling experience for the family, made more so by the crushing blow McLean’s death was for his wife and family. Continue reading

The Traveling Thornberrys–images at Sudley

From John Hennessy:

Last week we shared what I think is one of the truly iconic, metaphorical images of the war. That same day, photographer George Barnard took several more images. They are generally familiar to people who have spent time with Manassas, but there are a few things that jumped out at me.

Back when I was up to my ears in Manassas stuff, I was startlingly disinterested in historic images, doing little more than glancing at the few wartime images of Manassas then available and blandly accepting conventional wisdom (or traditional captions) about them. But getting ready for various events or tours associated with the 150th thrust me back, and this month for the first time (I blush to say) I took a close look at the newly available hi-res scans of  Barnard’s spring 1862 images. I was immediately struck by the presence of the children in most of the images–clearly kids who had tagged along with the photographer, and whom he had decided to incorporate into his photographs. More interesting is this: they are almost certainly the Thornberry children, who lived just up the hill from Sudley Springs Ford. Samuel was 12 in 1860; his brother Joseph, 7, toddler Annetta,  and Laura, 5. All four appear in the image of the ford at Sudley Springs on Catharpin Run (above), but the boys continued on with Barnard and appear in several other images, both of them very neatly attired in miniature Confederate uniforms.

Here is an image of the Thornberry House (more commonly called “Sudley Post Office,” though it was not used in that function until after the war). For time unending, this had been identified as the obscure Thornton House, which stood a mile or so northeast of Sudley. But some really excellent detective work by long-time (he was there BEFORE I got there in 1981) museum technician Jim Burgess confirmed that it is indeed an image of John and Martha Thornberry’s home (read his analysis of the image here).

And there, standing on the pile of boards in the yard are Samuel and Joseph Thornberry.

A couple of quick things about the Thornberry House. Continue reading

A famous image–and a metaphor for the war

From John Hennessy (writing on Manassas for the first time in this forum):

Over the last fifteen years or so, my forays back into Manassas-related topics have always been unadventurous, relying almost entirely on things I uncovered and learned years ago rather than trying to hunt up (or even keep track of) new material. In the last week, though, I have had occasion to do some work in preparation for the tour I’ll be giving at Manassas this coming Friday as part of the 150th there–a look and walk through of the community of Sudley and its experience during and after First Manassas. This demanded that I not only revisit the material I’d accumulated way back when (it’s hard for me to admit that anything meaningful in my life could have happened nearly thirty years ago, hence the vagary), but also dig into what has become available since then. I’ve learned a good deal, some of it thanks to the seminal work of others.

Above is an image you and I have probably seen a thousand times, but never really took in closely. It shows four children sitting along Catharpin Run at Sudley Springs Ford, with seven Union cavalarymen looming on the far bank. Taken in March 1862, if there is an image that better serves as a metaphor for most white Virginians’ perception of the Civil War in its early months, I haven’t seen it: children facing down looming disaster in the form of Union soldiers.

We’ll write about the children visible in this image (for some of them appear in others taken the same day), but suffice to say that it’s virtually certain that these are the four children of John and Martha Thornberry, who lived just up the hill from the ford. Continue reading