Lt. William Willis Blackford, AAG, 1st Virginia Cavalry, On the Battle

4 11 2015

Aug. 6th, 1861
Headquarters Fairfax C.H.

Dear Uncle John,

I have been intending to write to you for several days but have been kept very busy by my new duties as Adjutant of our Regiment. We have been here now since the second day after the battle of Manassas and from present appearances we will be here for some time longer. We had a hard time of it for two days before and two days after the battle. We made a march of about 80 miles during Friday and Saturday, from near Winchester to the battlefield, starting about the middle of the day and reaching Piedmont at eleven o’clock that night. We bivouacked in an orchard, gave our horses ½ doz. ears of corn, and ourselves nothing to eat; started at three the next morning in a hard rain, wet, cold & hungry and halted to [find] & breakfast at nine. Reached the battlefield at sundown, and had a good nights rest in the broom sedge under clumps of pine branches. The morning of the 21st we were up bright and early and scouted in advance of the lines for one hour or two, ran into an infantry scouting party of the enemy who ran away from us, and we from them – hearing the firing on our left becoming hot we fell back to the rear, where we listened with purest interest to the engagement as it thickened towards nine o’clock. Here we remained until about the middle of the day when an aid came at full gallop towards us with orders for ½ of the regiment to go to the right & ½ to the left. Our Col. (J. E. B. Stuart) went to the left with ½ of the men & I with him. This proved to be the main point of attack – not long after taking our position in rear of this hottest part of the fighting we were ordered to the front to charge the N.Y. Fire Zouaves who were about taking one of our batteries. We dashed through a skirt of woods and came upon their flanks as they were marching in column by fours, and before they could form and present bayonets we were into them like lightning. We were in column by fours in passing through the woods and they were about 100 yds. beyond as soon as the head of our column emerged from the woods the Colonel brought the rear around front into line so we went through like a wedge shooting them armed with our pistols. Those in front of us we swept off in a few seconds. Hot times on right & left poured a terrific fire upon our flanks, we lost in about one minute 9 men killed, 24 wounded & 20 horses killed. The horses were so thick on the ground, I could hardly keep my horse from falling over their bodies. It was very dangerous to attempt to leap over them as they were floundering like chickens when their heads are cut off, and it was very hard to avoid them. As we wheeled to return, a battery opened on us with grape and killed some of the horses some distance in the woods. [In writing I and my horse wasn’t hurt at all.] I was detached by the Col. in the afternoon, where we were in the pursuit with 10 men & captured 80 men and a four horse wagon & team loaded with ammunition, every man of them, with the exception of perhaps a dozen I found around a house full of wounded, had his musket in his hand and many of them side arms. I got ten pistols and any quantity of Bowie knives from them two of the pistols, large sized Navy, I have now & will keep and have my name engraved on when I get home, with the date & leave them to Wyndham in my will. There is a P.O. here now. Please write to me. Love to all cousin Meats Family.

Your aff. Nephew,

Wm. W. Blackford

P.S. Excuse my making you pay postage but change can’t be had here. (See over)

Direct to Lt. W. W. Blackford

Care of Col. J. E. B. Stuart

1st Regt Va Cavalry

Fairfax CH.

Transcription and images from auction site Museum Quality Americana

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Contributed by John Hennessy


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2 responses

4 11 2015
Jens C. Falster

Great letter with much information by a direct participant, describing events in real time. !st Lt.. William Willis Blackford, 30 years old.apparently became AAAG to Stuart on the morning of the battle, when previous AAAG, 1st Lt. William Taylor returned to command his old Co. D, “The Clarke Cavalry” in the absence of Capt.Joseph F. Hardesty, who had resigned, effective that day. Blackford’s original middle name was Wilberforce, but he changed it to Willis out of respect to kinsmen of that name. Blackford was part of Stuart’s squadron on the far left of the line. Marylander Maj. Robert Swann commanded the other squadron on the right flank. The exact composition of these squadrons has thus far eluded me. I know Swann commanded Co L, “The Washington Mtd Rifles,” under Capt William E. Jones,which seems to have been the largest company present at circa 100 sabres, and probably at least part of Co I, “The Harrisburg Cavalry,” under Capt Thomas Layton Yancy, and perhaps also Co E, “The Valley Rangers,” under Capt William Patrick. Stuart’s squadron was composed of at least part of Co A,, “The Newtown Troop”, Capt James Henry Drake, Co B, “The Berkeley Troop,” Capt James Blair Hodge, and Co H, “The Loudoun Light Horse,” Capt. Richard Welby Carter. I believe other companies were present on the field, and even took casualties, but apparently were not directly attached to either squardron during the fight; it is all rather obscure for me. If anyone can add to or otherwise correct my information, it would be much appreciated.

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4 11 2015
Harry Smeltzer

Jens, for extensive OOB of the 1st VA Cav, along with citations, see here: http://firstbullrun.co.uk/Shenandoah/Unassigned/1st-virginia-cavalry.html

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