Forgotten Battle of Blackburn Ford Is Recognized
By Julio C. Zangroniz October '01 issue
MANASSAS BATTLEFIELD, Va. - Mother Nature smiled
kindly on a hardy group of history buffs who gathered at the
Bull Run River to honor the actions of some of the men who opened
the armed conflict some 140 years before.
On what had been a dreary, rainy July day, dozens of men, women
and children gathered at this spot in the Old Dominion state
to mark the very spot where the Battle of Blackburn Ford took
place on July 18, 1861. As if by Divine intercession, the day's
dreary prospects and near-constant precipitation stopped and
the leaden skies lightened visibly, to shed an almost ethereal
light on the group perched atop the southern bank of the stream.
Bugler Richard Bergren officially started the proceedings as
he blew "Assembly" and three members of the Col. Harry
W. Gilmor Camp color guard of the Maryland Sons of Confederate
Veterans carried the standards towards the crowd.
Mark Trbovich, a member of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table
who has lived near the river for over 17 years, led the Pledge
of Allegiance and offered thanks to the many who contributed
to the effort to give formal recognition to the clash that saw
American blood soak Virginia soil for the first time.
The clash at Blackburn Ford was overshadowed completely by the
maelstrom of what would come to be called the First Battle of
Manassas/Bull Run three days later.
"We are honoring the men who fought for their causes,"
declared Trbovich as he stood in front of the two new roadside
markers at the top of the bank. A short while later, he and
other dignitaries cut a symbolic ribbon to "unveil"
the signs. The markers commemorate the deeds of about 6,000
men on both sides that would leave 15 killed and 53 wounded
for the Confederacy, and 19 dead and over 60 missing or wounded
for the Union.
"A lot of good men died here," said Trbovich, who
explained that since there was nothing to remember their sacrifices,
he took up the cause to memorialize the spot, which is just
down the river from his own backyard.
Blackburn Ford is roughly on the Fairfax and Prince William
County line, just off Route 28, where a small parking lot marks
an entrance to the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail.
Trbovich and many other historians consider the struggle on
that spot highly significant, because "it gave them [the
then-inexperienced Confederates] confidence during the Battle
of First Manassas three days later." And that confidence
- that they could beat the Federals - translated into victory
three days later, he noted.
Mitch Bowman, executive director of the Richmond-based Virginia
Civil War Trails, noted during the dedication ceremony that
Blackburn Ford constitutes "the 210th site we've been able
to interpret across the Commonwealth of Virginia that had never
been interpreted onsite before."
Such results, which Bowman credited to the cooperation of dedicated
individuals like Trbovich, account for many being "shocked
that we're not a state agency."
From now on, said Bowman, "people from around the world
will trickle to this site to find out what happened here."
Michael Miller, Historian for the City of Alexandria, Va., referred
to the hallowed ground next to the Bull Run river as "the
place where five companies of mostly Alexandria boys received
their baptism of fire
where the flower of our youth laid
down their lives for Southern principles."
A member of the Fairfax Chapter of the United Daughters of the
Confederacy, Grace Walthall Turner Karish, read excerpts from
the diary writings of a family member, Ryland Walthall of Co.
G, 1st Virginia Infantry. The unit dis-tinguished itself in
the Battle of Blackburn Ford as it suffered the heaviest losses
of any Confederate unit that day. Walthall described the flying
bullets as three men died shortly after the firing began around
Trbovich, who worked about two years on behalf of the Blackburn
Ford project, said he has set his sights on "a commemoration
of the Battle of Bull Run Bridge on Aug. 27, 1862, near Clifton
and the old railroad bridge. It's a labor of love, a lot of
fun. I love these signs," he declared.