Blackford at Yorktown

by Fred Ray on June 16, 2016 · 0 comments

Johnston’s army arrived on the Virginia Peninsula and established a line at the Warwick River to block McClellan’s advance. Blackford and his men scrambled to adjust to the novelty of a continuous contact with the Federals.

On April 22nd Blackford wrote his parents from “Curtain to Redoubt No. ‘4’ near Yorktown, Va.”, first apologizing for his irregular correspondence.

I have no baggage whatsoever, having but what little I had in my hand-trunk some three weeks ago, of course therefore I am on the [illegible] for paper & envelopes, as well as for many of the other little conveniences. But my chief reason for my apparent neglect, that is for not writing as often as when in winter quarters is that I am very seldom in one position long enough to write, or dry enough when there to be able to handle paper. Ever since leaving Winter Qrs. I have been incessantly active, scarcely ever sleeping two nights in the same place; I am obliged to devote what little leisure I have to sleep, which is of prime necessity with me.

Nor were things exactly quiet there.

Ever since we have been in this position now more than two weeks the enemy has been throwing shell among us from his gunboats and from some land batteries, besides this his sharp shooters have annoyed us very much from a neighboring orchard. This latter became intolerable and one night about 10 days ago two regiments sallied out and drove the enemy from their position, and cut down the trees, returning with no loss and many blankets, haversacks, canteens &c. which the Yankees threw away in their flight. The next day t’was found that cutting the trees afforded them even better cover than before and the annoyance continued thro’ the day. The 24th Va. was therefore ordered to cut the trees to pieces the next night, which they executed gallantly, driving the enemy’s pickets at a double quick but unfortunately they had a captain badly wounded who personally engaged two Yankees who were asleep in a rifle pit and were behind the rest, pretending to be Confederates one of them put his rifle against the Capt’s heart & fired, mortally wounding him. I witnessed this from my post on the parapet of No. 4, being at the time in command of a battalion of our Regt. then on duty there. Just before dark in the same evening a feint attack was made just on our left in plain view by two regts. and a battery, our men advanced behind a line of skirmishers, who cowed the Yankee pickets and occupied a position favorable for the artillery which opened on the enemy with vigor.

The huge shells from the Yankee gunboats were terrifying but fortunately that deadly. His men, he wrote,

Camp Pope Publishing

…. will not keep away from the cooking fires, where they are getting their dinners, in spite of the bombs which burst every two or three minutes about our work. It has been several days since they have injured any one, tho’ the escapes are wonderful. Those shells which come very near us almost invariably fail to burst. The screaming of the shell sent from the heavy guns of the gunboats is awful, we commence hearing it at the distance of a mile & a half, and by the time it reaches us the noise is indescribable. We are now posted immediately in [the] rear of the field where Cornwallis surrendered, the monument in honor of that event is now in the ground in front of us between our lines & those of the enemy, but plainly in sight.

Their living conditions were harsh as well.

A very cold wind generally accompanied by rain has been blowing incessantly since we have been on this Peninsula, and as we have no tents and but little firewood, our men suffer very much but there are no complaints—or at least none are made by my men tho’ we have but two small spiders and one camp kettle to the whole company. There is a detail cooking from daybreak until late at night. Of course the bread is execrable—I had rather have a good meal of wholesome food served as a gentleman’s dinner should be than anything else which promotes comfort. I am however very well satisfied with my bread & salt pork, tho’ I pine for some coffee in the morning. I am thankful that it is not sea biscuits which are my particular abomination.

Little Mac, meanwhile, continued his buildup and began to deploy his heavy siege guns.

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The Army Moves South

by Fred Ray on June 9, 2016 · 0 comments

After an uneventful winter on the Potomac front the Confederates abruptly pulled back to the line of the Rappahannock on March 9, which completely unhinged McClellan’s strategy of landing at Urbanna to outflank them. Blackford describes the move, which makes it clear that the Confederates had much to learn about moving an army.

His company was out on picket and had to join the column after dark. His account of the march is Blackford at his descriptive best, including his sour assessment of the performance of his superior officers.

We marched 10 miles by 3 in the morning, when we halted almost broken down under our heavy loads, and without fire or supper (I had had no dinner) I laid down to sleep. We were en route again at day break Monday no time being given to cook breakfast, because they said the enemy’s cavalry was close behind, and away we went thro’ a pouring rain and deep mud to a bivouac beyond Cedar Run, where we had some fresh beef, but no bread or salt. This was a terrible day, and I saw much suffering among the men from hunger & fatigue; many would lie down by the roadside to die as they affirmed, and really they looked like it. Of course we anticipated a rest until morning, but judge of our chagrin when the long rolls beat at 11½ o’clock and by midnight the whole division was en route.

Owing to the darkness, and to our ignorance of the roads day found us not more than 3 miles from our Bivouac of the previous night. We having been all the time on our feet, stumbling over creeks & bushes. It was very cold but no fires could be made, as we were not long enough in one place to kindle them. The column was not halted until 5 o’clock in the evening, at which time the men worn out with fatigue, cold & hunger could not be urged forward any further by their officers. My men had nothing to eat from Sunday morning to Monday evening except a few morsels which some of them found at noon Monday. Tuesday evening the commissary wagons were sent for and a ration of hard crackers and salt meat was served out. I thought that I had never eaten anything so good. I can’t describe my indignation when I think of the abominable mismanagement & selfishness of our officers, who being mounted go ahead and obtain their meals regularly and never once bestow a thought upon the starving troops behind. Our commissary stores were sent 2 days march ahead, tho’ they well knew that our ration was about exhausted before we set out from camp.

Wednesday morning we marched to the Rappahannock River and Bivouacked on its southern bank until Sunday the 10th inst. The men encamped in a swampy meadow covered with large stones and it rained furiously for two days every man of us wet to the skin, and were not able to lie down or keep up our fire. About 27,000 men were encamped around us – not a tent being among them except for the field officers. Still I hardly heard a murmur in my company, tho’ many of them suffered awfully. The 1st Maryland was next to us not more than 50 yards, but most of my acquaintances & friends were absent on furlough. Of all the trials to which we are subject, being forced to be inactive during rainy weather is the greatest. I felt as it if I would have given its weight in silver for a cup of coffee, but there was not a grain in our division so I was fain to content myself with crackers & meat.

Johnston kept moving, however, continuing south.

Monday the 17th we came as far as Brandy Station, Wednesday to Culpeper C.H. – only 3 miles. Here 3 Divisions marched and occupied the whole day passing thro’ the village. Each Regt. went thro’ in two ranks, with colors flying and bands playing and consequently we were forced to Bivouac just beyond the village. Thursday we marched 13 miles to Rapidan River thro’ the most beautiful country I ever saw – dotted everywhere with handsome country houses. The scene around Rapidan Station where we halted was the most lovely that we saw. My men were perfectly charmed & many expressed their intention of coming there to live when the “wars are over.”

Friday we marched to our present Bivouac 6 miles from Orange C.H. near the Rapidan River where we now are lying – totally ignorant of what our final destination will be.

It was to be Yorktown, where McClellan was assembling a vast host for a push on Richmond.

Reminder: for a limited time I am keeping the book’s prepublication price as an introductory offer, after which it will go up to full retail. So if you want a copy, now is the time.

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Blackford Takes a Look at His Superiors

by Fred Ray May 8, 2016

Blackford’s pithy observations were not limited to the generals. He also was not shy about criticizing his immediate superiors, such as the recently elected Colonel Jones (who was in fact 49 years old) or the other Colonel Jones of the 12th Alabama. This letter to his mother, written on February 20th, 1862, also details the […]

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Lincoln at Fort Stevens—Could A Rifle Have Hit Him?

by Fred Ray May 3, 2016

British shooter Michael Yardley participated in a Discovery Channel special for their Unsolved History series, “The Plots to Kill Lincoln.” One of these plots was the shot taken at him by a Confederate sharpshooter at Fort Stevens on July 11 or 12, 1864 during Jubal Early’s raid. The question was if it was realistic to […]

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Blackford Evaluates His Generals

by Fred Ray May 2, 2016

On December 7, 1861, Blackford wrote his father a rather pessimistic letter about the state of Confederate leadership. He is at his pithy best here when he evaluates his division commander, Earl Van Dorn. By the way our Maj. Gen. [Van Dorn] is a sad example of what effect too rapid a rise in the […]

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Harriet Tubman on the $20

by Fred Ray April 27, 2016

As you’ve probably heard, Harriet Tubman is slated to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. This has led to a sort-of debate. I say sort-of, since the issue was decided by the Washington bureaucrats and not the people, whom no one thought to ask. Liberals have hailed the inclusion of a black woman, while […]

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Eugene Blackford letter excerpt November 21, 1861

by Fred Ray April 11, 2016

The excitement of battle quickly died down, to be followed by the unending drudgery of drill, picket, and fatigue details of all sorts. Blackford was taken ill and went home to recuperate, then returned, still very weak, when he heard a battle might be imminent. There was an action at Ball’s Bluff on October 20th […]

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