The Third Michigan Infantry, organized at Grand Rapids, Michigan, and accepted into state service on May 21, 1861, was mustered into federal service on June 10 and left for the seat of the war.
These big officers keep caged in Washington week after week at Government expense. And 50,000 men to watch them. The whole pile of them are a curse to the country. This war is not got up for fighting, but for the purpose of making officers of old favorites. If we do come to war, many a poor fellow will be sacrificed to the folly and ignorance of these mushroom Generals.
Finally, a hesitant Brigadier General Irvin McDowell who had no real field experience, moved his Union Army of the Potomac westward for what would become the first major clash of the Civil War. One of the Third's soldiers, a George Vanderpool of Muskegon serving in Company H, summed up the regiment's initial experience:
...at 3 o’clock p.m., we joined the Briggade (sic) consisting of the Michigan 2nd, 3rd & Mass 1st & the New York 12th Regiments, all under [the] command of Colonel Richardson of Detroit; we crossed the Chain Bridge into Virginia at 4 p.m. and marched in the direction of Mannases (sic) Junction via Vienna, Fair Fax, Bull-Run; we reached Vienna at 8 p.m., where we joined General McDowell’s Army; lay down in the open field
It began as a reconnaissance in force towards Blackburn's Ford along Bull Run:
Our regiment had the lead that day and after letting one company of cavalry and six small field cannons pass ahead of us, the brass band struck up Dixie. And the four regiments of us followed as it was only about one mile to the Run. We soon got to about eighty rods of it; they opened on us and the very first shell struck right behind our brass band. They got out of there in a hurry and we didn’t see anything of them any more for a week.
[We] soon found out that the cavalry had “struck ile.” They dash back faster than they went.
It was delightful to lie there in the hot sun, while the cannon balls were flying & whistling over our heads. The first ball struck about four feet from the men on our right. Soon the enemy’s cannon ceased firing. We laid there in suspence, not knowing what would be the next orders. All the boys were perfectly cool & picked berries, cracked jokes about the war, etc. Soon were were told to advance into the woods and thicket to find the enemy.
Fall in boys, is the order of our gallant Colonel McConnell, as he dashes up on his beautiful charger. Falling in, the order, double quick, is given, and down through the streets of Centerville we go, and cross Bull Run creek at Blackburn’s Ford, where we smell the enemy’s powder for the first time . . . We get behind a battery to support it, and lie down to watch the rebel shells burst in the woods beyond. Nothing is accomplished by this battle, but to find out the position of the enemy . . . Thus ends our first day’s fight, the battle of Blackburn’s ford.
Having had their first taste of what was to come, for the next three days the men of the Third would prepare themselves for battle.
Quoted selections are from Britten, David G. Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Courage without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Xlibris 2004. A free e-edition is available on Scribd