Report of Brig. Gen. James Longstreet, C. S. Army, of Action at Blackburn’s Ford
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 461-463
SIR: I have the honor to report that in obedience to the orders of the general commanding I took my position at this ford on the 17th instant, my brigade being composed of the First, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Regiments of Virginia Volunteers. My line of defense being quite extended, I threw out a line of skirmishers to the water’s edge, covering my entire front, holding strong reserves in readiness to defend with the bayonet any point that might be violently attacked.
At 11.30 o’clock a.m. on the 18th my pickets reported the enemy advancing upon the ford in heavy columns of infantry and a strong artillery force. At 12 m. the pickets retired without firing. My artillery (two pieces) were placed in convenient position, with orders to retire the moment it was ascertained that our pieces were commanded by those of the enemy. The first shot from his battery discovered the advantage of his position, and our artillery was properly withdrawn. A fire from the artillery of the enemy was kept up about half an hour, when their infantry was advanced to the attack. He made an assault with a column of three or four thousand of his infantry, which, with a comparatively small force of fresh troops, was with some difficulty repelled. A second and more determined attack was made after a few minutes, which was driven back by the skirmishers, and the companies of the reserve thrown in at the most threatened and weakest points. I then sent a staff officer to Colonel Early for one of the reserve regiments of his brigade. Before the arrival of that regiment a third, though not so severe, attack was made and repulsed. Colonel Hays, Seventh Regiment Louisiana Volunteers, came in and promptly took position in time to assist in driving back the enemy the fourth time, when I ordered the advance, and called on Colonel Early for the balance of his brigade. The passage of the stream was so narrow and difficult, however, that I soon found it would be impossible to make a simultaneous movement, and ordered the troops that had succeeded in crossing to return to their positions. A few small parties, under command of Captain Marye, Seventeenth Regiment Virginia Volunteers, who behaved with great gallantry, met parties of the enemy on the other side of the stream with the bayonet, and drove them back. Colonel Early, with the balance of his brigade, Seventh Regiment Virginia Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Williams, and the Twenty-fourth Regiment Virginia Volunteers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hairston, arrived in time to receive the fire of the last attack, but had not been placed in a position where they could fire with effect upon the enemy.
The presence of these regiments probably intimidated the enemy as much as the fire of the troops that met him. Immediately after this attack the enemy’s infantry retired, and his artillery was opened upon us. The battery under Captain Eshleman was called for, and flew into position–four 6-pounders and three rifled guns. The action was thus continued for one hour, when the enemy fell back upon Centreville, some three miles. I am pleased to say that our young artillerists proved themselves equal, if not superior, to the boasted artillerists of the enemy.
Captain Eshleman was severely wounded early in the action. We lost under their artillery six–one killed, five wounded, and one horse wounded; whilst we have reason to believe that the loss of the enemy during the same fire was very much greater. Our loss from the various attacks of the infantry columns was sixty-three killed and wounded. We have no means of learning positively the probable loss of the enemy. Prisoners taken then and since report it from nine hundred to two thousand. These statements were made to myself and members of my staff by the prisoners–the first estimate by a private, the latter by a lieutenant.
I have had command of the brigade so short a time, and have been so busily occupied during that time, that I have been able to make the acquaintance of but few of the officers; I am, therefore, unable to mention them by name, as I would like to do, and must refer you to the detailed reports of the regimental commanders. The officers seemed to spring in a body to my assistance at the only critical moment. To discriminate in such a body may seem a little unjust, yet I feel that I should be doing injustice to my acquaintances were I to fail to mention their names–not that I know them to be more distinguished than some others, but that I know what I owe them. Colonel Moore, First Regiment Virginia Volunteers, severely wounded; Colonel Garland, Eleventh Regiment Virginia Volunteers, and Colonel Corse, Seventeenth Regiment Virginia Volunteers; Lieutenant-Colonels Fry, Funsten, and Munford; Majors Harrison (twice shot and mortally wounded), Brent, and Skinner, displayed more coolness and energy than is usual amongst veterans of the old service. I am particularly indebted to Lieutenant-Colonel Munford and Major Brent, who having a spare moment and seeing my great need of staff officers at a particular juncture, offered their assistance. Surgeons Cullen, Thornhill, and Davis, Assistant Surgeons Murray, Snowden, and Chalmers, were in the heat of the action much oftener than their duties required, and were exceedingly active and energetic. Lieut. F. S. Armistead, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieut. P. T. Manning, aide-de-camp, were very active and gallant in the discharge of their duties. Capt. Thomas Walton and Capt. Macon Thompson, volunteer aids, under their first fire and in their first service, are worthy of their newly-adopted profession. Under a terrific fire these staff officers seemed to take peculiar delight in having occasion to show to those around them their great confidence in our cause and our success.
I inclose the reports of the different commanders, and refer to them for the names of the killed and wounded of their commands.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Col. THOMAS JORDAN,