Cleveland, Tenn., remembers Bull Run with lights, lecture

Cleveland, Tenn., remembers Bull Run with lights, lecture

July 21st, 2011 by By Paul Leach/Correspondent in News


What: The Battle of Bull Run

Where: Humanities Lecture Hall, Cleveland State Community College, Cleveland, Tenn.

When: 6 p.m. today

Admission: Free

What: Confederate Illumination Re-enactment

Where: Bradley County Courthouse Plaza, Cleveland, Tenn.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Cleveland is observing the 150th anniversary of a Confederate rally that left downtown illuminated with lanterns in support of the Southern cause.

The celebration occurred on July 24, 1861, three days after the Confederate victory at Bull Run in Virginia -- also known as First Manassas -- the first major battle of the American Civil War.

"It's hard to put ourselves in the places of residents of that time," said Melissa Woody, vice president of the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This sesquicentennial commemoration is an amazing opportunity for us to do just that."

The Confederate victory at Bull Run served as a rallying cry for local troops, said Bryan Reed, president of the Bradley County Historical and Genealogy Society, who will introduce the event's re-enactment.

In 1861, Confederate supporters gathered at the courthouse and delivered speeches in the light and heat of a bonfire, Reed said. The U.S. national flag, raised by Union supporters on a 90-foot pole only three months earlier, came down about that time.

No records exist of the speeches delivered at Cleveland's courthouse during the event, but Reed said the re-enactment takes its cues from a number of known Confederate speeches given in the wake of Bull Run. The first waves of Cleveland volunteers appeared in newly formed Confederate regiments shortly thereafter, according to Reed.

Evidence of the Confederate celebration is sparse, said Reed, citing J.S. Hurlbert's 1866 work "History of the Rebellion in Bradley County" as a primary source. The book was thorough in identifying Confederate sympathizers, Reed said, and along with Melba Murray's "Bradley Divided" helped event organizers identify the homes and businesses that lit their windows in support of the Confederacy.

For those interested in learning more about the Battle of Bull Run, Neil Greenwood will offer a public lecture at Cleveland State Community College tonight.

"The battle was -- to use 20th-century terminology -- a 'wake-up call' for the North," Greenwood said.

The abrupt defeat of the Union army in northern Virginia on July 21, 1861, proved to have little strategic value. However, it helped President Abraham Lincoln and others around the country -- both North and South -- understand for the first time how long and costly the war would be, Greenwood said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at