The Curious Descend on Manassas for Curios
(During the Civil War, two railroads—the Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria—intersected here. Manassas Junction was strategically important to both the Union and the Confederacy as a supply depot and for military transportation. Two of the war's great battles were fought nearby. Diaries, letters, and newspaper articles documented the war's effects on civilians as well as the thousand of soldiers who passed through the junction.)
In the days following the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1961, Union soldiers circulated rumors accusing Confederate soldiers of battlefield atrocities. The charges were were extensive and included bayoneting and executing wounded and defenseless Federals, firing on field hospitals, and mutilating the dead. Later in the war, Southerners accused Union soldiers of similar outrages.
"We heard to-day, from a citizen, that after the battle of ?Bull Run,' some Northern skulls were sold here [Winchester] at $10 apiece; also that many officers had spurs made of our men's bones. I don't know whether to believe these things or not."
—Letter, Col. Robert G. Shaw, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, to his mother, March 14, 1962.
"The barbarities practiced by the rebels at the Battle of Bull's Run are unparalleled. These fiends in human shape have taken bayonets and knives of our wounded and dying soldiers and thrust them into their hearts and left them sticking there, and that some have severed the heads of our dead and amused themselves by kicking them abut as footballs. Such babarities are unworthy of a Christian era. - They are a sample of the boasted chivalry of those worse than fiends."
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer,
July 29, 1961.
Objective witnesses affirmed that relic hunting occured."Strangers poured into Manassas daily to see the ights' and carry off ?relics.' Uniforms, arms, buttons, caps, and even skulls were seized with avidity. These relic mongers might be seen hovering over the fields like carrion crows, carrying off all kinds of trifles."
—" An English Combatant," Battlefields of the South from Bull Run to Fredericksburg,
Northern papers printed these tales and fed a growing public outcry for revenge. The Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, formed in December 1861 after the Ball's Bluff debacle, investigated. Despite the fact that much of the testimony was hearsay or fictitious, in May 1862 the committee upheld the veracity of every horrifying detail.
"The recent report of the congressional committee established beyond a doubt, on the testimony of unimpeachable witnesses that the rebels have committed outrages. ... This conduct of the rebels should spur us in the work of crushing out the rebellion. And let us remember that slavery is the source and fountain of all this evel. No nation except a nation of slaveholders could be guilty of such barbarism."
—The Springfield Republican
, May 3, 1862.
Illustrated newspapers capitalized on the committee's false findings by printing fanciful cartoon depictions of macabre bone ornaments and ghoulish household furnishings fashioned from the bones of Union corpses. The vividly depicted atrocities helped rally Northern abolitionists.