As many people believed The American Civil War (1861-1865) would be over quickly, its earliest battles were not taken particularly seriously by civilians. Indeed, at the battle of Manassas/Bull Run, on July 21st 1861, a warm Sunday afternoon, a few hundred people, some of them senators and their wives and families, arrived with picnics to spectate from the sidelines. According to sources, they would “stay far enough away you wouldn’t see any blood” and conceded that there was “going to be some casualties but there [was] supposed to be”.
At around 4pm on the day of the battle, Union generals called a retreat after the Confederates brought in reinforcements. The Union soldiers ran for their lives past a group of senators enjoying late afternoon lunch. One Henry Wilson, who was amongst the gentlemen, had his buggy destroyed by a Confederate shell while he distributed sandwiches and was forced to flee the scene on a stray mule, whilst his companions, sensing defeat, attempted to prevent the soldiers’s escape from the battlefield.
Greatly sobered by the Union Army’s defeat, the senators relayed their eye witness accounts to Abraham Lincoln upon their return to Washington with the dawning realisation [sic] that the war was going to be no picnic!