previous next

[37] and it was my intention, as soon as the troops should be fixed in their positions, to propose to Gen. Tyler to make a reconnoissance of the enemy's position at Blackburn's Ford.

It should be borne in mind that the plan of the campaign had been to turn the position of Manassas by the left — that is to say, that from Fairfax Court House and Centreville we were to make a flank movement towards Sangster's and Fairfax station, and thence to Wolf Run Shoals, or in that direction. In my interview with the commanding general, just referred to, he said nothing to indicate any change of plan, but on the contrary, his remarks carried the impression that he was more than ever confirmed in his plan, and spoke of the advance on Centreville as a “demonstration.”

In proposing, therefore, to reconnoitre the enemy's position at Blackburn's Ford, it was not with the slightest idea that this point would be attacked. But a reconnoissance would be the carrying out of a “demonstration.”

While I was awaiting Captain Alexander I encountered Matthias C. Mitchell, who was secured as a guide. Representing himself as a Union man and a resident of that vicinity, I was engaged questioning him when intelligence was received that Gen. Tyler had sent back for artillery and infantry, and that the enemy was in sight before him. Riding to the front I joined Gen. Tyler and Col. Richardson. Proceeding with them a short distance further, we emerged from the woods, and found ourselves at the point at which the road commences its descent to Blackburn's Ford. The run makes here a curve or bow towards us, which the road bisects. The slopes from us towards it were gentle and mostly open. On the other side, the banks of the run rise more abruptly, and are wooded down to the very edge of the run. Higher up a cleared spot could be seen here and there, and still higher-higher than our own point of view, and only visible from its gently sloping towards us — the elevated plateau, comparatively open, in which Manassas Junction is situated. Although, owing to the thickness of the wood, little could be seen along the edge of the run, it was quite evident, from such glimpses as we could obtain, that the enemy was in force behind us.

I represented to Gen. Tyler that this point was the enemy's strong position, on the direct road to Manassas Junction; that it was no part of the plan to assail it. I did not, however, object to a “demonstration,” believing that it would favor what I supposed still to be the commanding general's plan of campaign. The two 20-pounders of Parrott's had been ordered up. They were opened upon the enemy's position, firing in various directions, without our being able to perceive the degree of effect they produced. We had fired perhaps a dozen rounds, when we were answered by a rapid discharge from a battery apparently close down to the run, and at the crossing of the road. The 20-pounders continued their fire, directing at this battery, and Ayres's battery was brought up and stationed on the left. The enemy's batteries soon ceased answering. After ours had continued playing for about half an hour, I thought it a useless expenditure of ammunition, and so stated to you, (who arrived on the spot shortly before this,) and presume that Gen. Tyler concurred in this opinion, as the firing soon ceased. I supposed that this would be the end of the affair, but perceiving the troops filing down towards the run, I thought it necessary to impress Gen. Tyler with the fact that it was no part of the commanding general's plan to bring on a serious engagement. I directed Capt. Alexander (Engineers) to state this fact to him, which he did in writing, having stated the same verbally before. At the same time, I directed Lieut. Houston to accompany the troops and make such observations of the enemy's position as he could. I remained on the heights, observing as well as I could the movements of the enemy's forces. The affair becoming more serious than I expected, I was about to go down to the front, when our troops retired, and I returned to Centreville with yourself, to report to Gen. McDowell. It is proper to observe that, before our artillery practice commenced, movements of troops were observed on the road leading from Manassas to Blackburn's Ford. As the road presented itself to the eye, those not very familiar with the locality might feel some doubt — judging merely by the eye-whether these troops were advancing to, or retiring from Blackburn's Ford. The impression seemed to be quite common among us that they were retiring. I was perfectly sure that they were columns moving up to meet us from Manassas.

At my interview with the commanding general that evening, he informed me that he had convinced himself that the nature of the country to the left or southward of Manassas was unfit for the operations of a large army; that he had determined to move by the right, turning the enemy's left; that the provision trains were just coming in, and that the troops would require the next day to cook their provisions for another march.

I told him I would endeavor, the next day, to obtain such information as would enable him to decide on his future movement.

The next most prominent crossing of Bull Run, above Blackburn's Ford, is the stone bridge of the Warrenton turnpike. Such a point could scarcely be neglected by the enemy. Information from various quarters gave good cause for believing that it was guarded by several thousand men — that at least four cannon were stationed to play upon it and the ford not far below, and moreover that the bridge was mined, and extensive abatis obstructed the road on the opposite shore.

Two or three miles above the Warrenton Bridge is a ford laid down on our maps as Sudley's Springs. Reliable information justified the belief that the ford was good, that it was unfortified,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Daniel Tyler (6)
B. S. Alexander (2)
Sangster (1)
J. B. Richardson (1)
Parrott (1)
Matthias C. Mitchell (1)
Irwin McDowell (1)
D. C. Houston (1)
R. B. Ayres (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: