Page images




pearing on the left the pursuit on the same process had to be repeated to reach right was checked. Colonel Devens then the Virginia side, the distance, indeed, rejoined Colonel Lee on the Bluff, pre- being less, but the current more violent. sently returning to his advanced posi- Three-quarters of an hour were thus tion. At about ten o'clock in the fore- consumed in the trip to the island, a noon Lieutenant Howe brought back trial to the patience of a commander eaword that Colonel Baker would shortly ger for action, which Colonel Baker felt arrive and take command. The remain- acutely. Discovering another scow in der of Colonel Devens' regiment brought the canal a short distance above, he over by Lieutenant-Colonel Ward gave ordered it to be brought down, and him in all at this time a force of 625 called for axes to construct a rast. The

“At about 12 o'clock," continues axes were not to be had. In fact the Colonel Devens, “it was reported to me very slender provision made for passing a force was gathering on my left, and the stream, showed that the military auabout half-past 12 o'clock a strong attack thorities up to this time could have enwas made on my left by a body of in- tertained no idea of crossing the river in fantry concealed in the woods, and upon force. It was impossible that so careful the skirmishers in front by a body of a commander as General McClellan could cavalry. The fire of the enemy was have meditated such a project with such resolutely returned by the regiment, a force. In fact he appears to have had which maintained its ground with entire no such intentions. As he tells us in his determination. Reinforcements not yet report, My despatch,”—the one adhaving arrived, and the attempt of the dressed by his adjutant to General Stone enemy to outflank us being very vigor- already cited, — " did not contemplate ous, I directed the regiment to retire the making an attack upon the enemy about sixty paces into an open space in or the crossing the river in force by any the wood, and prepared to receive any portion of General Stone's command ; ; attack that might be made, while I called and not anticipating such movement, I in my skirmishers. When this was done had, upon the 20th, directed Major-GenI returned to the Bluff, where Colonel eral McCall to return with his division Baker had already arrived. This was on the forenoon of the 21st from Dranesat a quarter-past two P. M."

ville to the camp from which he had adHaving fully acquainted himself with vanced, provided the reconnoissance inthe designs of General Stone, Colonel trusted to him should have been then Baker had hastened to his regiment at completed.” A similar caution on the Conrad's Ferry and sending orders to part of General Stone was still more deexpedite the remainder of his brigade, sirable. Thus it happened that the prebegan the work of crossing the river cipitation of one commander was renwith the troops at hand. Here was the dered doubly hazardous by the prudence fatal deficiency of the movement in the of another. At the very moment Collack of means of transportation. To onel Baker, under order of General cross the river in face of the enemy Stone, was leading his troops into their there were two scows or flatboats run- perilous position, General McClellan ning between the Virginia shore and to was retiring from a forward movement Harrison's Island, and on the other side which might, if it had been continued, but one. Owing to the current it was have rescued the former from their necessary first to haul the boats up on perils. the Maryland shore and then descending While Colonel Baker was engaged in with the stream strike the opposite land- his active efforts for crossing his troops, ing. The island being thus gained, the at about 11 o'clock, hearing the sound of


firing on the Virginia shore, he immedi- ensued, and was maintained for some ately crossed in a small skiff to the is- time by the 15th Massachusetts unsupland, leaving instructions to forward the ported, and finding he would be outartillery with all dispatch. From the flanked, Colonel Devens retired a short island he hastened to the Virginia shore, distance and took up a position near the where his California regiment, having wood, half a mile in front of Colonel Lee, crossed by the single scow, doing duty where he remained until two o'clock, in this part of the river, had reinforced when he again fell back, with the apthe Massachusetts troops of Lee and proval of Colonel Baker, and took his Devens. Lieutenant Bramhall soon fol- place with the portions of the 20th Maslowed with a rifled 6-pounder of the sachusetts and 1st California which had Rhode Island battery which he had con- arrived. Colonel Baker now formed his siderable difficulty in bringing up the line, and waited the attack of the enemy, bank. This, with two howitzers consti- which came upon him with great vigor tuted the artillery in the field. A de- about three P. m., and was well met by tachment of Colonel Coggswell's Tammany our troops, who, though pitched against regiment succeeded in crossing from the much superior numbers, three to one, island and was joined to the reinforce- maintained their ground under a most ments, making the number of troops on destructive fire of the enemy. Colonel the Virginia shore in all less than eight- Coggswell reached the field amid the een hundred.

heaviest fire, and came gallantly into acOn his arrival on what was now tion, with a yell which wavered the enemarked out as the field of battle, Col- my's line. Lieutenant Bramhall, of Buntonel Baker taking the command, ar- ings's battery, had succeeded, after exranged the troops in position for the im- traordinary exertions and labor, in bringminent contest. The ground held by ing up a piece of the Rhode Island batColonel Lee, and to which Colonel Dev- tery, and Lieutenant French his two ens had retreated, was an open field of howitzers ; but both officers, after wellabout six acres in extent, extending from directed firing, were soon borne away the bluff on the river bank and closely wounded, and the pieces were hauled to hemmed in on the front and on the sides the rear, so that they might not fall into by a dense forest. In this area the en- the enemy's hands. At four P. M. Colgagement was to be fought with an un-onel Baker fell at the head of his colknown enemy, thronging from the coun- umn, pierced by a number of bullets, try beyond without interruption to their while cheering his men, and by his own communications and amply protected on example sustaining the obstinate resistthe spot by the cover of the woods. A ance they were making. The command worse position for the Union troops could then devolved upon Colonel Lee, who hardly have been contrived than the one prepared to commence throwing out thus occupied by them, on the summit forces to the rear, but it was soon found of a bluff one hundred or more feet in that Colonel Coggswell was the senior in height, with a precipitous path to a rapid rank, and he, taking the command, orriver, on which the only means of re- dered preparation to be made for marchceiving reinforcements or conducting a ing to the left, and cutting a way through retreat was a single flat-boat capable of to Edwards' Ferry. But just as the first holding not more than sixty men. dispositions were being effected, a rebel

“ Between twelve and one P. M.,” to officer rode rapidly in front and beckoned resume the narrative of General Stone, the Tammany regiment toward the ene“the enemy appeared in force in front my. It is not clear whether or not the of Colonel Devens, and a sharp skirmish Tammany men supposed this one of our




[ocr errors]


officers; but they responded with a o'clock, was questioned as to Colonel
yell and charged forward, carrying with Baker's position, he informed me that
them in their advance the rest of the the Colonel, when he left, seemed to feel
line, which soon received a destructive perfectly secure, and could doubtless
fire from the enemy at close distance. hold his position in case he should not
The men were quickly recalled, but their advance. The same statement was made
new position frustrated the movement by another messenger half an hour later,
designed, and Colonel Coggswell gave and I watched anxiously for a sign of
the necessary order to retire. The ene- advance on the right, in order to push
my pursued to the edge of the bluff over forward General Gorman. It was, as
the landing place, and poured in a heavy had been explained to Colonel Baker,
fire as our men were endeavoring to impracticable to throw General Gor-
cross to the island. The retreat was man's brigade directly to the right, by
rapid, but according to orders. The reason of the battery in the woods, be-
men formed near the river, maintaining tween which we had never been able to
for nearly half an hour the hopeless con- reconnoitre. At four P. M. or thereabouts,
test rather than surrender. The smaller I telegraphed to General Banks for a
boats had disappeared, no one knew brigade of his division, intending it to oc-
where. The largest boat, rapidly and cupy the ground on this side of the river
too heavily loaded, swamped some fif- near Harrison's Island, which would be
teen feet from the shore, and nothing abandoned in case of a rapid advance,
was left to our soldiers but to swim, sur- and shortly after, as the fire slackened,
render, or die. With a devotion worthy a messenger was waited for on whose
of the cause they were serving, officers tidings should be given orders either for
and men, while quarter was being offered the advance of General Gorman to cut
to such as would lay down their arms, off the retreat of the enemy, or for the
stripped themselves of their swords and disposition for the night in the position
muskets, and hurled them out into the then held. At five P. M. Captain Candy
river to prevent their falling into the arrived from the field and announced the
hands of the foe, and saved themselves melancholy tidings of Colonel Baker's
as they could by swimming, floating on death, but with no intelligence of any
logs, and concealing themselves in the further disaster. I immediately apprised
bushes of the forest, and to make their General Banks of Colonel Baker's death,
way up and down the river bank to the and I rode quickly to the right to assume
place of crossing. The instances of per- command. Before arriving opposite the
sonal gallantry of the highest order were island, men who had crossed the river
so many that it would be unjust to detail plainly gave evidence of the disaster,
particular cases. Officers displayed for and on reaching the same I was satisfied
their men, and men for their officers, of it by the conduct of the men then
that beautiful devotion which is only to landing in boats.
be found among true soldiers.

“The reports made to me were that While these scenes were being en- the enemy's force was ten thousand men. acted on the right, I was preparing on This I considered, as it proved to be, an the left for a rapid push forward to the exaggeration. Orders were then given road by which the enemy would retreat to hold the island, and establish a patrol if driven, and entirely unsuspicious of on the tow-path from opposite the island the perilous condition of our troops. to the line of pickets near the Monocacy, The additional artillery had already and I returned to the left to secure the been sent, and when the messenger, who troops there from disaster, and make did not leave the field until after three preparations for moving them as rapidly


of the enemy.

as possible. Orders arrived from Gen- tle, General McClellan arrived at the eral McClellan to hold the Island Vir- scene of operations, and after ascertainginia shore at Edwards' Ferry at all ing that the enemy were strengthening risks, indicating at the same time that themselves at Leesburg, and that our reinforcements would be sent, and imme- means of crossing and recrossing were diately additional means of intrenching very insufficient, withdrew his forces were forwarded, and General Gorman from the Virginia side.* was furnished with particular directions The report of the Confederate Gento hold out against any and every force eral N. G. Evans, commanding the 7th

brigade, completes the story of this en“During that.time, General Hamilton gagement. “On Saturday night, the with his brigade was on the march from 19th of October," he writes, “about seven Darnestown. Before I left to go to the o'clock P. M. the enemy commenced a right I issued orders to intercept him, heavy cannonading from three batterand instructed him to repair to Conrad's ies, one playing on my intrenchment, Ferry, where orders awaited him to so (known as Fort Evans,) one on the Lees. dispose of his force as to give protec- burg turnpike, and one on Edwards' Fertion to Harrison's Island and protect the ry. Heavy firing was also heard in the diline of the river. At three A. M. Major- rection of Dranesville. At twelve o'clock General Banks arrived and took com- at night I ordered my entire brigade to mand.”

the burnt bridge on the turnpike. The While the battle was in progress the enemy had been reported as approachCollowing order from General Stone dat- ing from Dranesville in large force. Taked ten minutes before noon of that day, ing a strong position on the north side of found, like the one already cited, on the Goose Creek, I awaited his approach. person of Colonel Baker, was, it is stat- Reconnoitering the turnpike on Sunday ed, delivered to him on the field by Col- morning, the courier of General McCall onel Coggswell: "I am informed that was captured, bearing dispatches to Genthe force of the enemy is about four eral Meade, to examine the roads leadthousand, all told. If you can push ing to Leesburg. From this prisoner I them, you may do so as far as to have a learned the position of the enemy near strong position near Leesburg, if you can Dranesville. During Sunday the enemy keep them before you, avoiding their kept up a deliberate fire, without any batteries. If they pass Leesburg and effect. Early on Monday morning, the take the Gum Springs road, you will not 21st instant, I heard the firing of my follow far, but seize the first good posi- pickets at Big Spring, who had discovertion to cover that road. Their design is ed that, at an unguarded point, the eneto draw us on, if they are obliged to re- my had effected a crossing, in force of treat, as far as Goose Creek, where they five companies, and was advancing on can be reinforced from Manassas, and Leesburg. Captain Duff, of the 17th have a strong position. Report fre- regiment, immediately attacked bim, drivquently, so that when they are pushed, ing him back, with several killed and Gorman can come up on their flank.” wounded. On observing the movements Asking its purport and having been an- of the enemy from Fort Evans, at six swered by Colonel Coggswell, “ All right, A. M., I found that he had effected a go ahead,” Colonel Baker put the order crossing both at Edwards' Ferry and in his hat without reading it..

Ball's Bluff, and I made preparations to On the 22d, the day following the bat- meet him in both positions, and imme

* Report of General Stone to General McClellan, October 28, 1861.

* General McClellan to the Secretary of War, Novem. ber 1, 1861.



diately ordered four companies of in- with his batteries on both sides of the fantry (two of the 18th, one of the 17th, river. and one of the 13th), and a cavalry force "At about six o'clock P. M., I saw that to relieve Captain Duff, the whole force my command had driven the enemy near under the immediate command of Lieu- the banks of the Potomac ; I ordered my tenant-Colonel W. H. Jenifer, who was entire force to charge and drive him into directed to hold his position till the ene- the river. The charge was immediately my made further demonstration of his made by the whole command, and the design of attack. This force soon became forces of the enemy were completely warmly engaged with the enemy, and routed, and cried out for quarter along drove him back for some distance in the his whole line. In this charge the enemy woods.

was driven back at the point of the bay. “At about ten o'clock I became con- onet, and many killed by this formidable vinced that the main point of attack would weapon. In the precipitate retreat of be at Ball's Bluff, and ordered Colonel Hun- the enemy on the bluffs of the river, ton, with his regiment—the 8th Virginia many of his troops rushed into the water Volunteers — to repair immediately to and were drowned ; while many others, the support of Colonel Jenifer. I direct- in overloading the boats, sunk them, and ed Colonel Hunton to form line of battle shared the same fate. The rout now immediately in the rear of Colonel Jeni- about seven o'clock-became complete, fer's command, and to drive the enemy and the enemy commenced throwing his to the river ; that I would support his arms into the river. During this action, right with artillery. About twenty min- I held Colonel Wm. Barksdale, with nine ules past twelve o'clock M., Colonel companies of his regiment, the 13th MisHunton united his command with that of sissippi, and six pieces of artillery as a Colonel Jenifer, and both commands soon reserve, as well as to keep up a demonbecame hatly engaged with the enemy stration against the force of the enemy at in his strong position in the woods. Edwards' Ferry. At eight o'clock P. M., Watching carefully the action, I saw the the enemy surrendered his forces at Ball's enemy was constantly being reinforced, Bluff, and the prisoners were marched to and at half-past two o'clock P. M., or- Leesburg. I then ordered my brigade dered Colonel Burt to march his regi-(with the exception of the 13th regiment ment—the 18th Mississippi-and attack Mississippi, who remained in front of the left flank of the enemy, while Col- Edwards' Ferry) to retire to the town of onels Hunton and Jenifer attacked him Leesburg and rest for the night. On in front. On arriving at his position, Tuesday morning I was informed by Colonel Burt was received with a tre- Colonel Barksdale that the enemy was mendous fire from the enemy, concealed still in considerable force at Edwards' in a ravine, and was compelled to divide Ferry. I directed him to make a thohis regiment to stop the flank movement rough reconnoissance of the position and of the enemy. At this time—about three strength of the enemy and attack him. o'clock-finding the enemy was in large At two o'clock P. m. he gallantly attacked force, I ordered Colonel Featherston, with a much superior force in their intrenchhis regiment—the 17th Mississippi-to ments, driving them to the bank of the repair, at double quick, to the support of river, killing thirty or forty and woundColonel Burt, where he arrived in twen- ing a considerable number. About sunty minutes, and the action became gen- down, the enemy being strongly reineral along my whole line, and was very forced, and stationed in rifle pits, Colhot and brisk for more than two hours, onel Barksdale wisely retired with his the enemy keeping up a constant fire regiment to Fort Evans, leaving a guard

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »