The late summer and early fall of 1861—the period between First Manassas and Ball’s Bluff—is accurately described in the opening line of a popular song of the period as being “all quiet along the Potomac tonight.”
Things were so quiet, in fact, that one Confederate later wrote, “During this period of three months there was, practically, a suspension of active hostilities between the Confederate army of the Potomac and the Federal army of the Potomac.” Likewise, a diarist in Company C of the 1st Minnesota rather blandly described the entire time between Manassas and the Peninsula campaign of the following spring when he said, “our principal business through the fall and winter of 1861 and 2 was picket duty along the north bank of the Potomac and nothing very remarkable occurred to me or the regiment except the slaughter at Ball’s Bluff.”
The reason for this extended lull, similar to the static period described as “sitzkrieg” or “phony war” during the early days of World War II, was quite simple. Neither side really knew what hit it at Manassas. That battle, on July 21, was the largest battle in which any American army ever had participated. The Confederates, though victorious, were as disorganized and confused and in need of restructuring as were the defeated Union troops. Sensibly, both armies realized this and pulled away from each other in order to regroup.
Read a full excerpt of chapter 1 here.