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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 noon.

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.

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