Antietam or Sharpsburg? Manassas or Bull Run? For many Americans, what you call a Civil War battle has nearly everything to do with where you or your Civil War-era ancestors grew up.
Northern soldiers, far more likely to hail from cities or urbanized areas, are believed to have been impressed with the geography of the south, including its mountains, valleys and abundant rivers and streams. In unfamiliar territory, they named many of their battles after these natural features. For Confederate troops, familiar with the rural, natural terrain, towns and buildings were more memorable, and in the south many of the same battles were referred to after the man-made structures nearby.
In all, there are more than a dozen Civil War battles (large and small) that often go by dual names. Here’s a look at some of the most famous examples.
Those reading northern newspaper accounts of the first major battle of the war heard of the Union defeat at Bull Run (a nearby stream), while those in the south celebrated their victory at Manassas (the local railroad station). In March 1862, the Union won a victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge (a nearby town) against Confederates fighting at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern (a two-story structure that had been used as a trading post, mail stop, restaurant and inn in the years before the war). Today, the brutal April 1862 battle fought in southwestern Tennessee is most commonly known by its Confederate name, Shiloh (a small log church located on the battlefield) rather than the name Union commander Ulysses S. Grant used, Pittsburg Landing (his location on the Tennessee River). And the deadliest day in American history, September 17, 1862, is alternately known in the south as the Battle of Sharpsburg (the local Maryland village that witnessed much of the fighting) or as the Battle of Antietam in the north (thanks to its proximity to a nearby river).