Fifty years ago (fifty years ago tomorrow, to be precise), my mom and dad drove my brother and me from our home in Baltimore MD to Culpepper County, Virginia, about sixty miles away, for a centennial reenactment of the first Battle of Bull Run, which took place 150 years ago today. About 2000 reenactors restaged the first great battle of the war for about 70,000 spectators. It was an awfully hot day, about 100 degrees, and my dad declined to pay $4 each for grandstand seating, preferring to maneuver for a slice of shade. Northern newspapers criticized the event: “90 minutes of profuse feigned violence in scorching heat”, ludicrous restaging”, “a grisly pantomine” and a general chiding for staging such pageants while the scars of the war remained unhealed and great issues remained before the nation. True, true, very true. Nonetheless, we loved it!
My dad, Clem Malanowski, took these pictures. I believe his ambitions exceeded his equipment and his skill, but I like some of these shots quite a bit: the troop in the top photo, with the unfurled Stars and Bars and their gallant brigadier with his sword and the lovely crinolined ladies on the right (God, think of the sweat!); my brother Matt and me (wearing a Confederate cavalry hat with the left brim dashingly upturned, plus a canteen on a strap), posing with a Yankee reenactor; the spectators, who even from the back look all abuzz (the men’s straw hat industry has been clobbered by the universal appeal of the baseball cap); a rebel artilleryman, ramrodding something into the barrel of his Parrot gun; and the rather bulky statue of General Thomas Jackson, standing like a stone wall at the battle where he earned his name, in a cape that he doubtless did not wear during the battle 150 years ago today.
People may not realize, but many institutions and groups made special efforts to mark the centennial, not the least of which was Life magazine, which, with its visual eclat and dexterity, was still at its peak as an American institution. Life published a six part history of the war, the highlights of which were a series of fourteen full-page or double=page paintings of battles, which to my eight year-old mind, were some of the most stunning images I had ever seen. For the first Battle of Bull Run, the editors chose Stanley Meltzoff, an artist known primarily for his painting of fish and sport fishing. Meltzoff decided to depict the scene where a stampeded Union army ran into the gaggle of spectators who had come down to watch the splendid battle, resulting in clogged chaos on the Warrenton Turnpike. Meltzoff brilliantly assembled in one scene a group of individuals who in all likelihood did not run into one another, and created a thought-provoking, emotionally moving painting. From left, by the cannon: Alfred Waud, the noted Civil War artist, works at his sketch pad; a vivandiere mourns a dead soldier, while behind her another stands with a pistol, just to the right of William Howard Russell, the famous war correspondent of the London Times, looking through binoculars; at center, photographer Matthew Brady, in a white duster, who has lost his camera but found a sword, walks between two Zouaves; a drunken officer, reported to have been wearing two hats, is above a despondent young picnicker; at right, in the carrriage, Judge Daniel McCook, transporting the body of his son Charles, an 18 year-old private in an Ohio regiment. The 63 year-old judge had ridden with several congressmen to join the fight; by happenstance he met up Charles, who met his death later that day. here shown .