Report of Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler, Connecticut Militia, of Action at Blackburn’s Ford
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 310-312
HDQRS. FIRST DIV. DEP’T NORTHEASTERN VIRGINIA,
Washington City, July 27, 1861
SIR: On the 18th instant you ordered me to take my division, with the two 20-pounder rifled guns, and move against Centreville, to carry that position. My division moved from its encampment at 7 a.m. At 9 a.m. Richardson’s brigade reached Centreville, and found that the enemy had retreated the night before – one division on the Warrenton turnpike in the direction of Gainesville, and the other, and by far the largest division, towards Blackburn’s Ford, on Bull Run. Finding that Richardson’s brigade had turned towards the latter point and halted, for the convenience of obtaining water, I took a squadron of cavalry and two light companies from Richardson’s brigade, with Colonel Richardson, to make a reconnaissance, and in feeling our way carefully we soon found ourselves overlooking the strong position of the enemy, situated at Blackburn’s Ford, on Bull Run. A moment’s observation discovered a battery on the opposite bank, but no great body of troops, although the usual pickets and small detachments showed themselves on the left of the position.
Suspecting from the natural strength which I saw the position to possess that the enemy must be in force, and desiring to ascertain the extent of that force and the position of his batteries, I ordered up the two rifled guns, Ayres’ battery, and Richardson’s entire brigade, and subsequently Sherman’s brigade in reserve, to be ready for any contingency. As soon as the rifled guns came up I ordered them into battery on the crest of the hill, nearly a mile from a single battery which we could see placed on the opposite side of the run. Ten or a dozen shots were fired, one of them seeming to take effect on a large body of cavalry, who evidently thought themselves out of range.
The battery we had discovered on our arrival fired six shots and discontinued fire. Finding that our battery did not provoke the enemy to discover his force and his batteries, I ordered Colonel Richardson to advance his brigade and to throw out skirmishers to scour the thick woods with which the whole bottom of Bull Run was covered. This order was skillfully executed, and the skirmishers came out of the wood into the road and close to the ford without provoking any considerable fire from the enemy.
Desiring to make a further attempt to effect the object of the movement, and discovering an opening low down on the bottom of the stream where a couple of howitzers could be put into battery, I ordered Captain Ayres to detach a section, post it himself on the ground I pointed out to him, and sent a squadron of cavalry to support this movement.
The moment Captain Ayres opened his fire the enemy replied with volleys, which showed that the whole bottom was filled with troops, and that he had batteries established in different positions to sweep all the approaches by the road leading to Blackburn’s Ford. Captain Ayres maintained himself most gallantly, and after firing away all his canister shot and some spherical case with terrible effect, as we afterwards learned, withdrew his pieces safely and rejoined his battery. This attack on Captain Ayres accomplished the object I desired, as it showed that the enemy was in force and disclosed the position of his batteries, and had I been at hand the movement would have ended here; but Colonel Richardson having previously given an order for the Twelfth New York to deploy into line and advance into the woods, in an attempt to execute this order the regiment broke, with the exception of two companies, A and I, who stood their ground gallantly, and was only rallied in the woods some mile and a half in the rear. The fire which the regiment encountered was severe, but no excuse for the disorganization it produced.
Having satisfied myself that the enemy was in force, and also as to the position of his batteries, I ordered Colonel Richardson to withdraw his brigade, which was skillfully though unwillingly accomplished, as he requested permission with the First Massachusetts and Second and Third Michigan Regiments to charge the enemy and drive him out. It is but justice to these regiments to say that they stood firm, maneuvered well, and I have no doubt would have backed up manfully the proposition of their gallant commander. After the infantry had been withdrawn, I directed Captain Ayres and Lieutenant Benjamin, who commanded the two 20-pounders, to open their fire both on the battery which enfiladed the road leading to the ford and on the battery which we had discovered in the bottom of Bull Run, which we knew to be surrounded by a large body of men. This fire was continued from 3.15 until 4 o’clock, firing 415 shots. The fire was answered from the enemy’s batteries, gun for gun, but was discontinued the moment we ceased firing.
The concentrated position of the enemy, and the fact that the elevation of our battery and the range were both favorable, induce the belief that the enemy suffered severely from our fire, and this belief is confirmed by the fact that the ensuing day, until 12 m., ambulances were seen coming and going from and to Manassas, two miles distant.
In closing this report, it gives me great pleasure to call to your attention the gallant conduct of Colonel Richardson; Captain Brethschneider, who commanded the skirmishers; Captain Ayres; Lieutenant Lorain, who, I regret to say, was wounded; Lieutenants Dresser, Lyford, and Fuller, attached to Ayres’ battery, and Lieutenants Benjamin and Babbitt, in charge of the two 20-pounder rifled guns, all of whom displayed great coolness, energy, and skill in the discharge of their official duties. Herewith you will find a list of casualties.(*)
With great respect, your obedient servant
Commanding Department of Northeastern Virginia
For the nature of my instructions see copy herewith, marked A.
I. McD., B. G.
HDQRS. DEPARTMENT NORTHEASTERN VIRGINIA,
Between Germantown and Centreville, July 18, 1861–8.15 a.m.
GENERAL: I have information which leads me to believe you will find no force at Centreville, and will meet with no resistance in getting there.
Observe well the roads to Bull Run and to Warrenton. Do not bring on an engagement, but keep up the impression that we are moving on Manassas.
I go to Heintzelman’s to arrange about the plan we have talked over.
Very respectfully, &c.,