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"Question on naming a battle.." Topic

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Korvessa10 May 2021 6:16 p.m. PST

I know that on many occasions the South had a different name for the same battle as the North. For example:
Bull Run – Manassas
Antietam – Sharpsburg

Basically, the South naming it after a nearby town and the North a river.

Is there aa prevailing theory as to why this was?

T Corret Supporting Member of TMP10 May 2021 8:34 p.m. PST

Well, the rebs were in Sharpsburg, and the Union was crossing the Antietam. Something similar happened in other battles.

jdpintex10 May 2021 9:39 p.m. PST

They didn't agree on anything else, why would you expect them to agree on the name of a battlefield?

Cerdic10 May 2021 10:28 p.m. PST

I don't think this was confined to the ACW. The French, for example, remember Napoleon's defeat at Mont St Jean…

GurKhan11 May 2021 12:59 a.m. PST

On St Crispin's Day 1415, the English and French heralds met together to discuss the recent passage of arms, and agreed to name it after the nearest castle, that of Azincourt.

For some reason this custom seems to have gone out of fashion. Perhaps the two sides in the North American unpleasantness of the 1860s should have employed heralds.

PzGeneral11 May 2021 4:05 a.m. PST

I read once that Southerners were mainly from the country, so cities were a big deal to them and that Northerners were mainly from cities, so being in the country (where there are rivers) was a big deal to them.

Could all be Bull Hockey, but I read it somewhere…..

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP11 May 2021 7:21 a.m. PST

PzGeneral -- that is the oft-repeated reason. I don't have any idea if it is true or not. I would also surmise that generals and politicians -- not farm hands and chimney sweeps -- named battles, and I would think that they would not be in awe of towns or natural geographic features.

Personal logo John the Greater Supporting Member of TMP11 May 2021 9:19 a.m. PST

It seems a bit random. Why isn't Fredericksburg the "Battle of Rappahannock" in the North? Why do both sides use "the Battle of Monocacy" when there is a perfectly good town nearby for the Rebels to use?

It's just one of those things.

Personal logo ACWBill Supporting Member of TMP11 May 2021 9:36 a.m. PST

I usually address the battle by the name the winner preferred.

IE Manassas instead of Bull Run. As the Confederates were forced to leave Maryland after the battle, Antietam rather than Sharpsburg. Just my preference but there is some historical relevance to this practice.

Consul Paulus11 May 2021 11:10 a.m. PST

A note in James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" (Chapter 11, note 7) points out that there are cases where the Union came to adopt the Confederate name (for example, Shiloh instead of Pittsburg Landing).

The act of naming battles starts with the official reports of the commanding generals recording where they were when the fighting began. In an era before satellite mapping of the earth meant you could state your location as a sequence of numbers, it makes sense to refer a geographical feature that others would know – the choice of a town or a river is a matter of custom rather than rules.

rmaker11 May 2021 4:36 p.m. PST

I don't think this was confined to the ACW. The French, for example, remember Napoleon's defeat at Mont St Jean

The French even find alternate names for other people's battles. Both the Austrians and the Prussians refer to the decisive battle of the 1866 war as "Koniggratz", but the French insist that it was Sadowa.

Bill N11 May 2021 4:54 p.m. PST

There was a Confederate Battle of Bull Run. It was fought IIRC between elements of Tyler's division and Longstreet's Brigade on July 18, 1861 at Blackburn's Ford.

My theory is that there wasn't a system to it. Each side started out by referring to actions as "The Battle at X". Sometimes they picked the same feature to designate the action. Sometimes not.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP11 May 2021 7:09 p.m. PST

I agree, I think there was no system. Just depended on circumstance for each side is my guess.

I also think a lot of Union soldiers were from rural areas, probably the majority, even though there were urban areas that supplied some famous units. The whole country was mostly agricultural at this time, was it not?

Zephyr111 May 2021 9:00 p.m. PST

I think it comes down to the maps used, and what was printed on them, and finally the person naming the battle's preference (most likely picking the name that sounded most 'kewl' to them… ;-)

Bill N12 May 2021 6:57 a.m. PST

That is correct Tortorella. The idea that the ACW was fought between a rural agrarian south and an urban industrial north is a myth. It is projecting developments in the later 19th century backwards onto the ACW. Most people in the 1860 U.S., in the north as well as the south, lived in rural areas. Much of the industry that existed in the U.S. was also located in rural areas.

keyhat12 May 2021 2:33 p.m. PST

One interesting element has been overlooked in this discussion. The naming of battles using rivers or towns was pre-dated by the naming of the armies involved.
The principle Union armies after 1861 were largely named after rivers, e.g., The Army of the Potomac, The Army of the Tennessee, The Army of the Cumberland, The Army of the James.
The principle armies of the Confederacy, after 1861, were largely named after manmade geographic landmarks, The Army of Northern Virginia, The Army of Tennessee, The Army of the West.
It seems likely that both sides were following a pre-existent precedent that the North often chose towns and the Confederates often chose near-by streams or rivers for their battle designations.

donlowry14 May 2021 9:36 a.m. PST

It seems likely that both sides were following a pre-existent precedent …

Seems likely. What was the common practice in Europe at the time?

Korvessa14 May 2021 10:19 a.m. PST

I think you said that backwards in your sentence.
(I don't know how to do quotes)

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP14 May 2021 2:18 p.m. PST

I love teh idea that there was a common practice in Europe.

OK, it was 50 years earlier, but, to this day, when Rod Steiger is beaten by Christopher Plummer the film may be called Waterloo (Wellington's HQ and easier for the English speaking world). However the French still call it Mt St Jean and insist they won it anyway. The Prussians call it La Belle Alliance after the local alehouse and what a magnificent piece of luck was that name. But no. LBA is rarely mentioned, due to a couple of subsequent fallings out with the Prussians. But if they had not turned up late on June 18th….?

HMS Exeter14 May 2021 7:45 p.m. PST

I wonder if it had to do with the headline of the first news report to hit the streets for each side.

Major Battle in Virginia
Dateline Manassas Junction
Wilbur Wittelsnot

donlowry15 May 2021 8:56 a.m. PST

Good point, Exeter.

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