Report of Col. Jubal A. Early, Twenty-fourth Virginia Infantry, of Action at Blackburn’s Ford
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 463-465
HDQRS. SIXTH BRIGADE, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
July 31, 1861
COLONEL: I submit the following report of the operations of my brigade on the 18th instant in the engagement at Blackburn’s Ford on Ball Run, in which our troops were commanded by Brigadier-General Longstreet:
In the morning of that day I marched with my brigade, composed of the Seventh Virginia Volunteers, Colonel Kemper’s regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Williams; the Seventh Louisiana Volunteers, commanded by Col. Harry T. Hays; six companies of the Twenty-fourth Virginia Volunteers, my own, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hairston, and three pieces of artillery from the Washington Battalion of New Orleans, under the command of Lieutenant Squires, to Camp Walker, from whence it was moved by direction of General Beauregard into the road leading from Camp Walker to the gate in front of McLean’s farm, where it remained until about 12 o’clock, at which time a large cloud of dust was observed on the high ridge north of Blackburn’s Ford, at which General Longstreet’s brigade was stationed. This cloud of dust proved to be produced by the enemy’s columns moving in that direction, and in a few minutes the cannonading was commenced by the enemy, directed first upon General Bonham’s position at Mitchell’s Ford and subsequently upon the farm-house of McLean and the hospital in his barn, over which was floating the hospital flag.
As soon as the cannonading commenced my brigade was moved by order of the general to the cover of the pines to the left of the road leading from McLean’s house to Blackburn’s Ford, where it was joined by two more pieces of artillery from the Washington Battery, under Captain Eshleman. At this position it remained for the purpose of supporting either General Bonham at Mitchell’s Ford, General Longstreet at Blackburn’s Ford, or General Jones at McLean’s Ford, as occasion might require. After the first cannonading had ceased, and General Beauregard with his staff had passed towards Mitchell’s Ford, a fire of musketry began at Blackburn’s Ford, which became very animated, and was continued for some time, when one of General Longstreet’s aides came to inform me that he had repulsed the enemy’s charge, but desired re-enforcements. I immediately put my whole brigade in motion, including the five pieces of artillery, to which, by his own request, was joined Lieutenant Garnett, of the same battery, with two pieces that had been sent to the rear by General Longstreet before the action commenced.
After my column was put in motion I received an order from General Beauregard to support General Longstreet with two regiments and two pieces of artillery. I therefore proceeded with the Seventh Louisiana Regiment and Seventh Virginia Regiment and two pieces of artillery under charge of Captain Eshleman, to the support of General Longstreet. Upon arriving at Blackburn’s Ford I found the greater part of General Longstreet’s command under cover on the banks of the stream engaged with the enemy, who were under cover on the hill-sides on the opposite banks. Colonel Hays’ regiment, which was in advance, was then placed on the banks of the stream under cover to the right and left of the ford, relieving the Seventeenth Virginia Regiment, under Colonel Corse. This regiment proceeded to its position under quite a brisk fire of musketry.
The Seventh Virginia Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Williams, as it arrived, was formed to the right of the ford under a heavy fire of musketry from the enemy, evidently directed at the regiment. It was momentarily thrown into confusion by this fire, and discharged many of its own guns over a portion of our own troops in front; fortunately, however, doing them no damage, as I believe. The regiment was soon rallied, and proceeded to the banks of the stream, relieving the First Virginia Regiment. The two pieces of artillery under Captain Eshleman, which followed the Seventh Virginia Regiment, were moved down in the open field on the right of the road, so as to be concealed from view of the enemy’s artillery by the timber on the banks of the stream, where they opened a fire upon the enemy on the opposite side, directed only by the sound of their musketry. As soon as the Seventh Virginia Regiment advanced to the banks of the stream, as above stated, I sent back for the companies of the Twenty-fourth Regiment and the remainder of the pieces of artillery, and they were brought up; the companies of the Twenty-fourth were placed in position in good order to the left of the ford in a space not occupied by Colonel Hays’ regiment, and the remaining guns of the Washington Artillery (five in number) were unlimbered on a line with the first two pieces and to the right of the road. A scattering fire of musketry was kept up for some time, but the enemy finally ceased firing, and evidently retired to the hills, where their artillery guns were placed, having no doubt observed the position of our pieces of artillery, for a fire was soon commenced on them by the enemy’s artillery, which was responded to by ours, and the cannonading was continued for a considerable time with great briskness on both sides, the balls and shells from the enemy’s battery being directed with considerable accuracy upon ours, but the enemy finally ceased firing, and did not renew the attack with musketry. During all this firing, when the balls and shells were passing over the heads of the men on the banks of the stream, they remained at their posts, coolly awaiting the renewal of the attack with musketry.
The affair closed late in the afternoon, and about dusk General Longstreet, by direction of General Beauregard, retired with the two regiments of his brigade that had been engaged in the early part of the action to the pines from which I had gone to re-enforce him, leaving my brigade on the ground for the night.
When I first arrived on the ground I joined General Longstreet, being actively engaged in the thickest of the fire in directing and encouraging the men under his command, and I am satisfied he contributed very largely to the repulse of the enemy by his own personal exertions.
The officers and men belonging to the Washington Battery behaved very handsomely indeed under a well-directed and galling fire of the enemy, displaying great coolness and skill in the management of their pieces. The regiments of my brigade came for the first time under fire, and while one regiment was thrown for a few minutes into confusion, without retiring it rallied under fire on the same ground, and took the position assigned it and retained it. Some parties sent across the stream after the close of the fight reported about forty of the enemy found dead on the ground occupied by their infantry during the fight. We were not able to examine the ground occupied by their battery and the regiments of infantry supporting it, because it was evident that a large force was in the neighborhood, and the whole of next day the men were engaged in throwing up embankments to strengthen our position, which was on ground lower than that occupied by the enemy. About one hundred muskets were picked up on the hill-sides, with a large number of hats and other articles. From all indications the enemy’s loss must have been much larger than our own. The ranks of the Seventh and Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiments were much thinned by sickness, and the whole number of my brigade did not exceed fifteen hundred men. I have already furnished Brigadier-General Longstreet with a list of the killed and wounded. Capt. Fleming Gardner, my aide and acting assistant adjutant-general, and Capt. George E. Dennis, assistant commissary to the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, who acted as aide during the engagement, discharged their duties to my entire satisfaction.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. A. EARLY,
Colonel, Comdg. Sixth Brigade, First Corps, Army of Potomac
Col. THOMAS JORDAN,
A. A. Gen., First Corps, Army of Potomac