Research Paper: Manassas -- How the Skirmish

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[. . .] ] [21: Bradley M. Gottfried, The Maps of First Bull Run: An Atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball's Bluff, June-October 1861 (New York, NY: Savas Beatie LLC, 2009), 20.] [22: Craig L. Symonds, Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography (New York, NY W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1992), 250.] [23: Woodworth, 47.] [24: Davis, 62.] [25: Ibid., 145-6.] [26: Ibid., 95.]

On July 18, 1861, McDowell wanted reconnaissance of the Confederate forces, so he ordered a division commander named Brigadier General Daniel Tyler to: find a point in Bull Run Creek at which the Union forces could ford across; explore the Confederate defenses along Bull Run; find the Confederates' left flank; and maintain the appearance of heading for Manassas.[footnoteRef:27] On July 18, 1861, Union forces under Tyler arrived at Centreville, found it unoccupied by Confederates, then marched southeast to Mitchell's Ford and ultimately to Blackburn's Ford.[footnoteRef:28] Tyler looked across the stream at Blackburn's Ford and failed to see a Confederate brigade led by Brigadier General James Longstreet hidden in the woods.[footnoteRef:29] After firing howitzers on the guns of the Alexandria Artillery and the Washington Artillery, which Tyler could see across Blackburn's Ford, and seeing no effect, Tyler ordered Colonel Israel B. Richardson and part of the brigade to move forward.[footnoteRef:30] Richardson's attempt to cross at Blackburn's Ford was met with fire by the 1st, 11th and 17th Virginia Infantry regiments of Longstreet's brigade.[footnoteRef:31] Tyler ordered the howitzers moved closer to the action, along with cavalry, and Tyler sent the rest of Richardson's brigade toward Blackburn's Ford.[footnoteRef:32] An additional Confederate brigade under Colonel Jubal Early arrived, reinforced Washington Artillery and kept heavy fire directed at the Union forces as they retreated.[footnoteRef:33] Richardson's Union brigade, the 12th New York Infantry, met heavy fire and retreated hurriedly, panicking the Union line.[footnoteRef:34] Tyler had not been ordered to fight a full-scale battle; consequently, Tyler ended the Skirmish, which the Confederate forces deemed a victory in that they prevented the Union Forces from crossing Bull Run Creek.[footnoteRef:35] [27: Detzer, 95-96.] [28: Ibid., 182.] [29: Davis, 113-115.] [30: Ibid.] [31: Ibid., 116-121.] [32: Ibid., 113-115.] [33: Longstreet, 39.] [34: Symonds, 121.] [35: Longstreet, 42.]

Clearly, the Union had suffered a humiliating defeat. In Union General McDowell's own estimation, the defeat at Blackburn's Ford was an utter rout, resulting in Union soldiers and spectators shoving against each other in panicked retreat.[footnoteRef:36] The defeat was psychologically devastating to the Union, ultimately leading to so debilitating a defeat at First Manassas that even Horace Greeley, the widely-read editor of the New York Tribune and abolitionist who had previously chided Lincoln to press the war effort, now publicly pressed for a speedy peace with the Confederacy.[footnoteRef:37] [36: Ward, et al., 67.] [37: Ibid., 70.]

II. The Skirmish at Blackburn's Ford altered the Union Army's battle plans

As the war's commencement, the Union Army had far superior numbers, factories, weapons, ammunition, food and other supplies/materiel;[footnoteRef:38] consequently, the Union's initial plans involved a frontal attack on Confederate forces.[footnoteRef:39] Even the Skirmish at Blackburn's Ford was intended to be a frontal attack. The Union Army force, led by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, intended to launch a frontal attack on the Confederate Army of the Potomac, a force of approximately 22,000 men, led by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, at Manassas, an important railway junction.[footnoteRef:40] Most of the Confederate forces were massed near Bull Run but also had detachments north of Bull Run Creek who were observing the Union Forces.[footnoteRef:41] [38: Ibid., 130.] [39: Ibid., 91.] [40: Davis, 31.] [41: Detzer, 98.]

When McDowell left Washington, the Confederate detachments retreated and joined the main Confederate Forces.[footnoteRef:42] Beauregard expected to be attacked either on the 18th or 19th near Mitchell's Ford and continued to request reinforcements from Joseph E. Johnston's forces in the Shenandoah Valley.[footnoteRef:43] Beauregard anticipated that the Union Forces would cross Bull Run Creek only at one or more of 7 fords and/or bridges due to Bull Run's steep banks and other impenetrable approaches; consequently, on July 17, 1861, Beauregard ordered Confederate forces to abandon Centreville and conceal themselves behind the wooded positions near the 7 fords of Bull Run Creek, increasing the Confederacy's possibility of victory.[footnoteRef:44] Even Blackburn's Ford required a fording force to descend the banks, cross the Creek, and then climb the opposite banks.[footnoteRef:45] The Union Army forces reached Fairfax Courthouse on July 17, 1861.[footnoteRef:46] On July 18, 1861, McDowell wanted reconnaissance of the Confederate forces, so he ordered a division commander named Brigadier General Daniel Tyler to: find a point in Bull Run Creek at which the Union forces could ford across; explore the Confederate defenses along Bull Run; find the Confederates' left flank; and maintain the appearance of heading for Manassas.[footnoteRef:47] [42: Reasoner, 309.] [43: Gottfried, 20.] [44: Davis, 62.] [45: Ibid., 145-6.] [46: Ibid., 95.] [47: Detzer, 95-96.]

On July 18, 1861, Union forces under Tyler arrived at Centreville, found it unoccupied by Confederates, then marched southeast to Mitchell's Ford and ultimately to Blackburn's Ford.[footnoteRef:48] Tyler looked across the stream at Blackburn's Ford and failed to see a Confederate brigade led by Brigadier General James Longstreet hidden in the woods.[footnoteRef:49] After firing howitzers on the guns of the Alexandria Artillery and the Washington Artillery, which Tyler could see across Blackburn's Ford, and seeing no effect, Tyler ordered Colonel Israel B. Richardson and part of the brigade to move forward.[footnoteRef:50] Richardson's attempt to cross at Blackburn's Ford was met with fire by the 1st, 11th and 17th Virginia Infantry regiments of Longstreet's brigade.[footnoteRef:51] Tyler ordered the howitzers moved closer to the action, along with cavalry, and Tyler sent the rest of Richardson's brigade toward Blackburn's Ford.[footnoteRef:52] An additional Confederate brigade under Colonel Jubal Early arrived, reinforced Washington Artillery and kept heavy fire directed at the Union forces as they retreated.[footnoteRef:53] Richardson's Union brigade, the 12th New York Infantry, met heavy fire and retreated hurriedly, panicking the Union line.[footnoteRef:54] Tyler had not been ordered to fight a full-scale battle; consequently, Tyler ended the Skirmish, which the Confederate forces deemed a victory in that they prevented the Union Forces from crossing Bull Run Creek.[footnoteRef:55] [48: Ibid., 182.] [49: Davis, 113-115.] [50: Ibid.] [51: Ibid., 116-121.] [52: Ibid., 113-115.] [53: Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 35.] [54: Symonds, 121.] [55: Longstreet, 42.]

Due to the failure of the reconnaissance mission at Blackburn's Ford, McDowell decided against a frontal assault and opted to cross Bull Run Creek farther upstream, beyond the Confederate left flank.[footnoteRef:56] Though McDowell decided against using the Union's far superior forces to frontally attack Confederate forces, First Manassas was initially working for the Union as McDowell had planned.[footnoteRef:57] In fact, some Union soldiers were advised that the battle was won and began to collect battlefield souvenirs from downed Confederate soldiers.[footnoteRef:58] However, the roundabout way in which the Union attacked, coupled with the determined efforts of Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson (who earned the nickname "Stonewall" for his efforts), allowed the Confederacy to regroup, reinforce and counterattack, ultimately resulting in the infamous rout of Union forces at First Manassas[footnoteRef:59] [56: Davis, 153.] [57: Ward, et al., 65.] [58: Ibid., 66.] [59: Ibid., 67.]

III. The Skirmish at Blackburn's Ford encouraged the Confederate Army

Prior to the Skirmish at Blackburn's Ford, the Confederate Army, a far smaller army than that fielded by the Union, and primarily peopled with volunteer, poorly-equipped farmers.[footnoteRef:60] These difficulties were not lost on at least some Southern leaders. Unfazed by the Confederate public fantasy of a quick and possibly peaceful secession, Texas Governor Sam Houston vainly attempted to dissuade Texas from seceding, stating, [60: Ibid., 68.]

"Let me tell you what is coming…Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet…You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence…But I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of States Rights, the North is determined to preserve the Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction…they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche."[footnoteRef:61] [61: Ibid., 27.]

In addition, the Confederacy reportedly had a "shaky start": Jefferson Davis appointed one man from each of the initial 7 seceding states to his cabinet but most of these cabinet members had opposed secession and 3 of them were foreign-born; the first cabinet meeting occurred in a hotel room; sheets of paper were pinned to doors indicating the offices of the President and each cabinet member; the Secretary of the Treasurer had to buy his own desk and chair; and a New York firm was hired to make the Confederacy's new currency.[footnoteRef:62] In sum, the Confederacy's birth and its first months of life did not inspire confidence. [62: Ibid.,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Manassas -- How the Skirmish.  (2012, July 23).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/manassas-skirmish/5016207

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"Manassas -- How the Skirmish."  23 July 2012.  Web.  26 June 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/manassas-skirmish/5016207>.

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"Manassas -- How the Skirmish."  Essaytown.com.  July 23, 2012.  Accessed June 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/manassas-skirmish/5016207.