As the secession of the South proceeds, Eugene Blackford is teaching school in the small village of Clayton, Alabama, not far from Eufaula. He is opposed to both secession and slavery, but nevertheless takes command of a local volunteer company.
Clayton Ala. 11th March, 1861
My Dear Brother [Launcelot M. Blackford]
There is a tremendous state of excitement here--now the tenor of Lincoln’s inaugural is considered a vast deal here more warlike than I can understand, and consequently everyone fears that there has already been a fight at Pickens, before which fortress the Clayton Company is encamped--every day one expects to receive a list of killed and wounded--but I for one feel well assured, from the letters of my correspondents in Ft. Barrancas, that there will be no fight, if there should be any one so rash as to attempt the destruction of Pickens, “be assured,” says my correspondent, “that there will not be one of us left to tell the tale.” How do you like the idea of Virginia forming one of the Confederate States? I am totally opposed to it, and would have enough to tell you upon the subject to fill a dozen sheets, but I will spare you. I am near enough to Montgomery to see how the wind blows in that quarter, and to see what change Virginia would have among politicians who strive to break down the Old Government in order that they themselves might come into office.
I am strongly in favor of Virginia forming a new Confederacy with the Border States, our natural allies, for I can never persuade myself that these people down here are our “natural allies” in spite of all the papers tell us. How long, think you, would Virginia stay in a Confederacy, whose almost avowed purpose is to reopen the Slave Trade? I have hardly seen one man since I have been here who has expressed him self as opposed to the measure, upon any other grounds than expediency, and very few who opposed it even on those grounds. Most people are openly in favor of it and regard it as one of the peculiar blessings to be showered upon us by the new government. I wish I could have more confidence in the Yancy gov. than I have. I have not seen enough to make me regard it in the light that I might do. I look upon the Southern Congress in very much the same manner as we used to do the grand Southern Conventions that used to assemble some years ago. Certainly there is one act that they have passed that does not suit me at all and will be likely to remind us constantly that there is such a body--namely, the new postal law, whereby I be obliged to pay 10 cents on every “single” letter I send to Virginia. But I shall not reprove them if they will only take them directly, and not keep them on the road for 10 or 15 days as they do now. I yesterday received a supply of the Richmond Whig, dated December 14th, 1860.
I have actually been so much occupied since I wrote the other sheets of this letter, that I was unable to finish it until this time having been interrupted. I was last night elected by acclamation Captain of the “Barbour Greys” a military company which has recently been organized here. I am one of the youngest men in it, the younger men having gone off with the other company from this village, which is now in Ft. Barrancas, Fla. I declared my intention of resigning and coming home to Va. in case of a fight, and was elected on those conditions, there was no dissenting voice. My company consists of the best men in the place, and I devote myself most assiduously to their instruction. I drill them every night for an hour and a half--besides which I require my officers to study the tactics and recite to me. So you see I am bringing them up in the way they should go. After a while I will not find it necessary to drill as often as every night. I have now about 50 men, but we will have more every day--there will be no lack of applicants. The appointment of musicians is in the power of the captain, & accordingly I have been besieged with applicants for Bass & Kettle drummer &c. I decided however very soon between them, as it appeared that but one of them knew anything about the business.
I have been in better spirits lately as a general rule--which is owing I suppose to the beautiful weather which we have here, and to the opening of spring for it is as far advanced here as it is with us in Virginia at Mayday. Still I have the blues awfully sometimes--the old yearning after home will never leave me. I have had enough of living in a seceded state, as have multitudes of others, who however still pretend tho’ fear to be much attached to the new dynasty. After my first drill a man came up to me and shook hands. He was a good looking but rough specimen, but had withal a very honest countenance. He grasped my hand in a grip like a vise, and said that he had just learned that I was a Virginian (he lives two miles in the country)--that he was from that state himself, but had come out many years ago. He seemed as much attached to the Old Dominion as ever, said there neither was nor could be any place better than Va., nor any people better than the Virginians. He said his heart warmed towards me--and offered his services for any thing he could do for me. I mention this little incident to show you the spirit that pervades us poor exiles from home. The papers come with regularity and are read eagerly. The Herald, as long as it is from the date of publication, gives me the latest news. What a paper it is! If you see any naval news be sure and send it--as I have an acquaintance here who has a son in the Levant and is very anxious to hear from him. I had intended to write much more but time is wanting. In great haste.
Your affectionate brother,
By mid-summer Blackford’s company has been sent to Virginia, where it becomes part of the 5th Alabama. Their first big battle takes place at Manassas Junction, just outside of Washington, D.C. Eugene describes his first experience in battle to his father.
Bivouac Camp of the Advanced Guard
on the railroad near Union Mills
22nd July 1861
My Dear Father,
We are very much fatigued and jaded by our late movements. I must relieve your anxiety by telling you that I am alive and well. I was in the great battle of yesterday, tho’ our regiment arrived too late to take any considerable part in the action. But I will go back and let you know what I have been doing since this day a week.
Last Monday the enemy advanced their lines considerably and caused our pickets to fall back some two miles. We were up all Tuesday night expecting to march down to the battery to defend it. At 8 o'clock Wednesday the advance guard of the enemy appeared, and we went out to give battle. We all took our positions behind our entrenchments, and remained there some time while parties of our men were skirmishing in front, at last they were driven in, and the firing commenced upon our line. The enemy, having minié muskets, could fire upon us long before we could think of returning the compliment, and so we had to take it coolly. No wound was sustained by our men (in my company) except one pretty badly wounded. The balls make a very loud singing noise when they pass near you, and at first caused me to duck my head, but I soon became used to it. I never expected to be alarmed or excited in battle, but really it is a very different affair from what I thought it. I never was cooler in my life, and have ever since been very much pleased therefore, as I shall have no trouble hereafter.
Just as we were about to make our fire general, news was brought that the S.C.s had retreated from Fairfax C. H. and thus had exposed our flank. Of course there was nothing to be done but to retreat. This we barely had time to do, the enemy (A) was almost in sight of the Xroads when we passed from down B to C at double quick—had we been 20 minutes later, we would have been cut off utterly. As I said before, we marched quick time for twenty miles to this place, my company being deployed as skirmishers on the side next to the enemy. The part was one of honor and implied trust, but it was at a great cost, as the country was awfully rough, and we suffered very much.
Ever since we have been here at work making batteries to defend the passage of Bull Run. I have a ford to defend and have thrown up a very nice battery for about 50 yards. We worked with arms by our sides expecting an attack at any moment from the yankees who were about two miles off. Yesterday morning about day light word was brought that the enemy was advancing on all sides, and that we must be ready to advance to the support of any point that might be seriously threatened. We had an alarm about 8 o’clock and set out immediately but were ordered back before we had proceeded far, before the order was countermanded and we stood some 8 hours in the sun on the road awaiting further orders. Since 7 in the morning heavy cannonading has been heard on all sides, mingled with a perfect roar of musketry—at 11 o’clock we set off at double quick to reinforce our men at Mitchell’s ford and so after crossing a dozen creeks, in the same creek a dozen times, we came upon the enemy. While retreating they had been informed of our coming and had set off double quick so we had our march of three miles for nothing.
We then came right about and set off to reinforce our men in the great battle (not yet named) about ten miles from us—this distance we marched at double time and came on the field about 5 o'clock, too late as I said to do much service, but early enough to smell a little gunpowder and receive a little of the enemy's fire. We went over the battlefield several miles in extent. T’was truly awful, an immense cloud of smoke and dust hung over the whole country, and the flashing of the artillery was incessant tho’ none of the balls struck my company. One bomb burst a little above me, and killed and wounded several. This was our only loss. Had we been an hour earlier, many would not have lived to tell of it.
I shan’t attempt to describe the appearance of the field, it was literally covered with bodies, and for five miles before reaching it I saw men limping off, more or less wounded. We met wagon loads of bodies coming off to Manassas, where they are now piled in heaps. While we were looking over the field, an order came for us to go back to our batteries ten miles off, and defend them from the enemy who were advancing upon them, so we had to go back, tired as we were, to our holes, where we arrived half dead at 12 o'clock last night, having marched 26 miles heavily loaded. We have no protection against the rain which has been falling all day. I have no blanket, not having seen my baggage since leaving Fairfax; I never was so dirty before in my life and besides I have scurvy in my mouth, not having anything but hard bread and intensely salty meat to eat, and not enough of that. I do not however complain, nor do my men, tho’ I never thought that such hardships were to be endured. We have our meat in the blaze, and eat it on our bread. A continual firing is now going on around us.
Your affectionate son,