Beauregard had shifted his head quarters to the residence of Wilmer McClean's farm on the morning of the 18th. A barn and a stable were selected as a military field hospital and the traditional yellow flag was hung to note that distinction. He was convinced that the Federal army would take the most direct route from Centreville to Manassas Junction, not the Warrenton pike over the stone bridge several miles to the left.The General believed that McDowell's goal would be the rail connection at Manassas Junction, and the road from Centreville across Mitchell's Ford was the shortst way there. Beauregard's had placed Bonham, his largest brigade, after their exhausting retreat from Fairfax C.H They had re-occupied the trenches and earthworks they themselves had dug a few weeks earlier.When word arrived of the Yankee advance on Wednesday July 17, Longstreet was ordered to move his brigade camped at the railroad staion and proceed to Blackburn's Ford several miles distant. When he arrived his first order was to send about a hundred men to wade across the stream and take position in the woods as pickets to await the predicted arrival of enemy troops. He placed part of his brigade near the stream and the rest he stationed a few hundred yards back as a reserve.

The bank of Bull Run oppositie his right wing was forty feet high. The men it was said had to crane their necks to see over it.The road that crossed the ford here ran through a narrow notch in the bluff. If the yankess got past the skirmish line and reached this edge, they would have the advantage of looking and firing straight down into the Confederate position. Longstreet's men decided it would be prudent of them to pull together some makeshift breastworks. Self preservation is a powerful motivator and it wasn't long before some logs and felled trees were in place. Their unsheathed bayonets dug into the soft yellow dirt to create a rudimentary trench. Why Beauregard, an excellent engineer, had not ordered sturdy entrenchments built here to is puzzling and almost proved hazardous.

Gen TylerIsrael B RicharsonGen. Tyler's Division occupied Centreville early on the morning of the 18th of July. Col. Israel B.Richardson's Brigade led the column proceeded by a light infantry battalion, deployed as skirnishers, under the command of Captain Robert Brethschneider. Two 20lb rifled guns, Battery G, 1st US Artillery, under the command of a Lt. Benjamin followed in support of the column. Centreville was now devoid of defenders with the withdrawl of Cocke's rebels the night before. When inquiries were made as to the rebels where abouts, the local residents were quick to say that "they cold not have gotten too far." Tyler was under orders not to bring on an engagement but he was curious as to the enemy's where abouts and continued his march beyond the town on the Centreville Manassas Road. Tyler asked Richardson to accompany him on a little reconnaissance toward Mitchell's Ford about 2 miles south. Captain Brethschneider's men advanced ina skirmish line folowed by 3 Co's of the 1st Massachusetts Reg't, a small detatchment of cavalry and Lt. Benjamin's section of artillery. When Tyler got close enough to get a view of Mitchell's Ford he saw that it was definitely defended by an enemy force that he estimated to be about a brigade (Bonham).He decided to be cautious and shift his attention to an inconsequential farm lane that led to another ford on the left named Blackburn's. To Tylers surprise it seemed as if no troops were in position to defend this ford and was struck just how empty it appeared. The sight intrigued him and he turned to Richardson and ordered him to send back for a battery of cannon and the rest of his brigade. They would soon find out that Longstreet's Brigade was there in force with a well hidden skirmish line defending his front. His men

Blackburn's Ford Skirmish

July 18th Noon

Click here to view close up cropped images of this print

Pickets from the 7th SC beat a hasty retreat as the Federal column comes abreast of the Pierce Butler Farm. Gen. Tyler, though reminded by a McDowell staff member not to trigger a battle, ordered Lt. Benjamin to bring his 2 long range 20 lb rifled guns forward. They unlimbered in an meadow just below the Butler Farm and promply began to shell Capt. Delaware Kemper's outdated and short-range six pound pieces just north of Mitchell's Ford. Kemper's guns replied but the rounds fell short of their targets. The Captain wisely ordered his guns to limber up and get back across the ford. With Kemper in retreat Lt. Benjamin now turned his attention to the two small guns that had just arrived and unlimbered at Blackburn's Ford. The long range 20 lb rifled guns now began to shell the area about the ford. When the Confederates did not reveal themselves sufficiently for Gen Tyler to access their strength he ordered Capt. Brethscheinder's light Battalion to probe the woods. Another battery under Capt. Ayers is ordered forward and wheel into the field and drop trail next to Lt Benjamin. As the Yankee skirmishers entered the woods lining the banks of the Bull Run they were met by the rifle fire of Longstreets pickets deployed in the woods north of the ford. Gunshots echoed under the shadowy canopy of the trees as powder smoke drifted through the trees.The sound of a bullet wizzing by them was an unfamiliar sound and unerving to a raw recruit.Staing only long enough to confirm that they had met the enemy, th men of the Battalion came tumbling back out of the smoke and gloom of the woodlots. Gen. Tyler now advanced 3 companies of the 1st Massachusetts, ironically all dressed in gray uniforms. Military dress had yet to become standardized and units wore the uniforms that they had worn as state militia units.

*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.


Back buttonNextPage

Stars&Bars graphic, TDD Inc. 34 Crest Rd. Rowayton CT. (203)-866-1096,