W. W. Blackford

W. W. Blackford (1831–1905)

W. W. Blackford was a Confederate army officer and civil engineer. A native of Fredericksburg who studied engineering at the University of Virginia, Blackford worked as acting chief engineer for the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. At the start of the American Civil War (1861–1865), he joined the 1st Virginia Cavalry and became an aide-de-camp for its commander, J. E. B. Stuart. He fought with the Confederate cavalry from the Seven Days' Battles in June 1862 until the end of the war, suffering two wounds and being promoted to lieutenant colonel. After the war, Blackford worked for a railroad in Lynchburg, owned and operated a sugar plantation in Louisiana, and was a college professor in Blacksburg. He worked for the railroads again before retiring in 1890. His Civil War letters have been used by historians, and his memoir of the war was published in 1946 with an introduction by Douglas Southall Freeman. Blackford died in Princess Anne County in 1905. MORE...

 

William Willis Blackford was born on March 23, 1831, in Fredericksburg, the second of six sons and third of eight children of William Mathews Blackford and Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford. At age eleven he accompanied his father to Bogotá, New Granada, where his father served for three years as chargé d'affaires. Blackford learned Spanish in Bogotá and excelled in horsemanship. The year after he and his father returned to Virginia in 1845, the family moved to Lynchburg. Blackford continued his education and then worked on railroad construction survey crews for three years, saving enough money to study engineering at the University of Virginia for the academic year 1849–1850.

Blackford worked as a civil engineer during the construction of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and was acting chief engineer when the road was completed. On January 10, 1856, he married Mary Trigg Robertson, of Richmond. Of their four daughters and three sons, two daughters and one son died in infancy. Between his marriage and the outbreak of the Civil War, Blackford and his wife moved to Washington County, where he became a partner with his father-in-law, former governor Wyndham Robertson, in a gypsum-mining operation near Abingdon.

Following John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in October 1859, Blackford organized the Washington Mounted Rifles as part of the county militia and was elected lieutenant. Although opposed to secession, he led his company into Confederate service in July 1861 as part of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Ewell Brown Stuart. Blackford served as Stuart's aide-de-camp and on October 3, 1861, was promoted to captain. In May and June 1862 Blackford was detached to supervise construction of pontoon bridges across the James River, but he rejoined the cavalry before the Seven Days' Battles and rode with Stuart's cavalry in every major engagement of the war except Chancellorsville (1863). One of Stuart's best officers, he was wounded twice and had at least three horses killed under him. On January 19, 1864, Blackford was promoted to major of engineers, and on April 1 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and sent to Petersburg, where, during the nearly ten-month siege of the city, he supervised the digging of shafts and tunnels to detect Union attempts to place subterranean mines under Confederate emplacements. (Union forces succeeded in detonating one such mine in July 1864, leading to the Battle of the Crater.) Blackford surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

After the Civil War ended Blackford worked as chief engineer for the Lynchburg and Danville Railroad. His wife died in 1866, after which he and his children moved to Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where he operated a sugar plantation that his father-in-law had given him. A flood in 1874 destroyed much of the property, and Blackford returned to Virginia. From 1880 to 1882 he was professor of mechanics and drawing at the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (later Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) at Blacksburg, and he also served as superintendent of grounds and buildings and landscaped the campus. Between 1882 and 1890 Blackford worked as a construction engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on its line between Baltimore and Philadelphia and on the construction of a railroad between Lynchburg and Durham, North Carolina. Blackford then retired and moved to Princess Anne County.

A number of Blackford's Civil War letters appeared in Susan Leigh Colston Blackford's Memoirs of Life In and Out of the Army in Virginia During the War Between the States (1894–1896; reprinted 1996 and in abridgement as Letters from Lee's Army, 1947). Douglas Southall Freeman and other historians have found the volume useful. Blackford also composed an account of his Civil War experiences early in the 1890s. It was published as War Years with Jeb Stuart (1946), with an introduction by Freeman. The direct and unembellished style, interesting anecdotes, and vivid descriptions of battlefield scenes make it an outstanding memoir of a Confederate cavalry officer.

During his last two years Blackford worked with the United States Department of Fisheries unsuccessfully experimenting with means of artificially fattening oysters. Blackford died of apoplexy at his home in Princess Anne County on May 1, 1905, and was buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery in Abingdon.

Major Work

  • War Years with Jeb Stuart (1946)
  • Time Line

    • March 23, 1831 - William Willis Blackford is born in Fredericksburg.
    • 1845 - W. W. Blackford and his father, the U.S. government's chargé d'affaires in Bogotá, New Granada, return to Virginia.
    • 1846 - W. W. Blackford moves to Lynchburg with his family.
    • 1849–1850 - W. W. Blackford studies engineering at the University of Virginia.
    • January 10, 1856 - W. W. Blackford marries Mary Trigg Robertson, of Richmond. They will have four daughters and three sons. Two daughters and a son will die in infancy.
    • October 1859 - After John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, W. W. Blackford organizes the Washington Mounted Rifles as part of the county militia and is elected lieutenant.
    • July 1861 - The Washington Mounted Rifles, with W. W. Blackford as lieutenant, becomes part of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, under the command of J. E. B. Stuart.
    • October 3, 1861 - W. W. Blackford, aide-de-camp to J. E. B. Stuart, is promoted to captain.
    • May–June 1862 - W. W. Blackford is briefly detached from duty with the 1st Virginia Cavalry to supervise the construction of pontoon bridges across the James River.
    • January 19, 1864 - W. W. Blackford is promoted to major of engineers in the Confederate army.
    • April 1, 1864 - W. W. Blackford is promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Confederate army and sent to Petersburg, where he serves during the Union siege of the city.
    • 1866 - Mary Trigg Robertson, wife of W. W. Blackford, dies. Blackford moves with his children to Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where he operates a sugar plantation given to him by his father-in-law.
    • 1874 - A flood destroys much of W. W. Blackford's Louisiana sugar plantation and he returns to Virginia.
    • 1880–1882 - W. W. Blackford is employed as a professor of mechanics and drawing at the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College at Blacksburg, also serving as superintendent of grounds and buildings.
    • 1882–1890 - W. W. Blackford works as a construction engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on its line between Baltimore and Philadelphia and on the construction of a railroad between Lynchburg and Durham, North Carolina.
    • 1890 - W. W. Blackford retires and moves to Princess Anne County.
    • 1894–1896 - A number of W. W. Blackford's Civil War letters appear in Susan Leigh Colston Blackford's Memoirs of Life In and Out of the Army in Virginia During the War Between the States.
    • 1903–1905 - W. W. Blackford works with the U.S. Department of Fisheries unsuccessfully experimenting with means of artificially fattening oysters.
    • May 1, 1905 - W. W. Blackford dies of apoplexy at his home in Princess Anne county and is buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery in Abingdon.

    References

    Further Reading
    Gunter, Donald W., "Blackford, William Willis." In Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tarter, and Sandra Goia Treadway, 526–528. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
    Cite This Entry
    • APA Citation:

      Gunter, D. W., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. W. W. Blackford (1831–1905). (2013, August 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Blackford_W_W_1831-1905.

    • MLA Citation:

      Gunter, Donald W. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "W. W. Blackford (1831–1905)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 12 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

    First published: March 25, 2010 | Last modified: August 12, 2013