They gathered for a picnic.
They brought opera glasses for a better look. They brought food to eat.
Spectators preparing to watch what they expected to be a quick, bloodless rout.
They came to be entertained.
Instead, July 21, 1861, the folks and families expecting a festival atmosphere witnessed then fled from the carnage of war.
At the First Battle of Bull Run also known as the Battle of First Manassas, 28,000 Union soldiers clashed with 32,000 Confederate soldiers.
Spectators witnessed the violence of 2,800-plus Union dead, injured, missing and captured, and 1,900-plus Confederate casualties.
They witnessed an early battle in the American Civil War.
A war those spectators and many others in the Union and the Confederacy expected to be brief and mostly bloodless.
But instead lasted four long years and led to tens of thousands of deaths on both sides. Tens of thousands of deaths that include combatants and civilians alike.
They came for entertainment. They fled for safety in horror, with only an inkling of the violent nightmare still to come.
Now, people talk about "civil war" on social media. Many people most likely mention "civil war" while munching hamburgers or half watching television or visiting with friends and family they love but some of whom would take a different side if, indeed, the country devolved into another "civil war."
They talk of "civil war" as if they were talking about the Georgia-Florida game. Arguably, many talk about "civil war" with less solemnity than the Georgia-Florida game.
They talk and tweet and post about "civil war" as casually as people preparing for a good spot to picnic while waiting for a battle.
We live in a culture where people fume about wearing masks or running low on toilet paper. A culture that can suggest "civil war" without imagining the demands and deprivations such a war would bring.
And the losses on all sides.
The losses of property, limbs, lives. On all sides. People we know. People we love. Our fellow Americans, violently, irrevocably, dead. Gone.
So do not propose a "civil war." Do not spur on people suggesting a "civil war." Do not buy into the concept of language and actions so divisive that "civil war" can ever become an option.
A "civil war" would be no picnic. Our own American history teaches us that.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.