Blackburn's Ford Skirmish

July 18th 2:00 -3:00 pm


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The Massachusetts men now began to pull back for the edge of the woods overlooking the rebels below. The heavy return fire from the Confederates about the ford and the general lack of cohesion in the murky ambiance of the woods convinced the officers of the 1st Massachusetts to sound recall. The New York regiment as it moved into position was met with a terrible volley of musketry from from the concealed foe in the woods. Much of the regiment skedaddled but a smaller protion of them continued forward.Their officers told the men to lie down and return fire. The green troops willingly obliged but having never practiced this position of loading and firing greatly compromised their rate of fire and accuracy. The advance of the 12th New York now stalled as they traded fire with the enemy hidden within the treeeline. The remaining companies of the 1st Massachusetts were moving up in support their comrades who held a positon behind a small dip in the terrain and were trading shots with the enemy.To their left, groups of men from the 12th New York were hastily breaking for the safety of the rear.

Gen James LongstreetLongstreet, with a cigar clenched between his teeth,calmly rode back and forth behind his men encouraging them to hold the line and stand firm. Some men broke from the ranks but Longstreet stopped them again and again and made them return to the firing line, at times with the flat of his sword. Longstreet now seeing this confusion and partial withdrawl by the Yankees ordered portions of the 1st Va. and the 17th Va. to counter attack across the stream. The Confederates glady did so yelling and screaming wildly as they splashed across the shallow waters of the ford. They scooped up a few prisoners as they scoured the woods and advanced to engage the remaining Federal troops. One heavy set Reb met up with another rather large Yank and the two got into a fist fight and wrestling match.The two men finally wound up along the bank of the stream all wet and covered in muck. The proud rebel brought his prisoner back and presented him to Longstreet,who congratulated him and suggested he go back for another.

The canister fire of Ayres's two guns had done significant damge to the rebels, but one cannon soon ran out of ammunition and had to pull back, and the other had most of it's horses killed so it had to be left in position til it could be recovered by hand or with a fresh team of horses. Jubal Early's men, fearing they would miss out on all the fun, began to shoot wildly as they approached the front. Longstreet, caught between the lines, threw himself to the ground to avoid getting hit. Some men to the front were hit before Longsteet stopped the firing. Fearing another attack by the Federals, Longstreet broke off the counter attack recalled the troops from the opposite side of the stream. Early's re-enforcements, the 7th Va. would replace the 1st Va. while the 7th La. would replace the 17th Va. with the 24 Va. taking position on their left. The 11th Va would remain in their original position.

Richarson asked permission of Tyler to charge the ford again with his three remaining regiments. Tyler having seen the shameful withdrawl of the 12th New York now ordered Richardson to withdraw his men and take position near the Butler house behind the artillery. Despte the fact that Shermans Brigade had arrived fom Centreville and were taking positon in the woods across from the Butler farm, Tyler knew he had exceeded his orders and declared the fight over. The action at Blackburn's Ford ended when the guns of the Washington artillery wheeled into position and unlimbered. This triggered an artillery duel which finally tapered off around 5:15. Tyler would withdraw his force back to Centreville as darkness descended upon the battlefield.

This initial engagement at Blackburn's Ford, later declared a light skirmish by later standards, felt like a real battle to many of it's participants. It's result would have profound influence on the leaders and men in both armies. Casualties were light despite the amount of lead that flew from both sides. Richarson lost eighty-three men and Longstreet seventy. These total were combinations of killed, wounded and missing

**For more detailed information of Blackburn's Ford consult David Detzer's book excellent book DONNEYBROOK and Bradley Gottfried's comprehensive study The Maps of First Bull Run (Manassas)

I am most grateful for their research in the completion of these illustrations.


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