Page images
PDF
EPUB

140

INVASION OF VIRGINIA.

view. Three flat-boats, filled with troops, were maneuvered as if crossing, and shot and shell were cast into the place where the foe was concealed. This demonstration caused the Confederates to retire, and at twilight Gorman's force returned to camp.

In the mean time, a scouting party of about twenty men had been sent out from Harrison's Island under Captain Philbrick, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts. They ascended the steep bank on the Virginia side, opposite the island, known as Ball's Bluff, which rises about one hundred and fifty feet above the Potomac. Philbrick went a short distance toward Leesburg, when he discovered, as he supposed, a small camp of Confederates, apparently not well guarded. Upon receiving information of this fact, General Stone, who supposed that McCall was near to assist, if necessary, sent orders to Colonel Devens to cross from Harrison's Island with five companies of his regiment, and proceed at dawn to surprise that camp. Colonel Lee was also ordered to cross from the Maryland shore with four companies of his regiment and a four-oared boat, to occupy the island after Devens's departure, and to send one company to the Virginia shore, to take position on the heights there, and cover his return. Two mountain howitzers were also to be sent stealthily up the tow-path of the canal, and carried over to the opposite side of the island, so as to command the Virginia shore. These orders were promptly obeyed. Devens advanced at dawn, but the reported camp could not be found. It proved that other objects had been mistaken for tents. He marched cautiously on to within a mile of Leesburg, without discovering scarcely a trace of a foe. There he halted in a wood, and sent a courier to General Stone for further orders.

Devens had been watched by vigilant Confederates.' Evans and his main force lay on Goose Creek. Riflemen and cavalry were hovering near, and waiting a favorable opportunity to strike Devens. He had a slight skirmish with the former, in which one of his men was killed and nine were wounded, when he fell back in safety and in perfect order toward the bluff, at about eight o'clock in the morning, and halted within a mile of the little band under Colonel Lee. While tarrying in an open field of about eight acres, he received a message from General Stone, directing him to remain there until support could be sent to him. The remainder of Devens's regiment had been brought over by Lieutenant-Colonel Ward. His entire forçe consisted of only six hundred and twenty-five men.

In the mean time, Colonel Baker, who was acting as brigadier-general, in command of the reserves, had been ordered to have the California Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar, at Conrad's Ferry at sunrise, and the remainder of his command ready to move early. In order to divert attention from Devens's movement, Colonel Gorman was directed to send two companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, Colonel Dana, across the river at Edwards's Ferry, under cover of Ricketts's cannon, to make a recon

1" An English Combatant" in the Confederate service, in a volume entitled Battle-fields of the South, from Bull"Run to Gettysburg (page S0), says that there were several Marylanders in Evans's camp who were employed as spies. Among these was a wealthy young farmer named Elijah White, who resided near Poolesville. He belonged to a company of Confederato cavalry, and often crossed the Potomac by swimming his horse, and gathered valuable information for the insurgents. He sometimes went even to Baltimore, where he held conference with the secessionists, and always returned with assurances that ninety-nine of every hundred of the Marylanders were rebels.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

COLONEL BAKER AND HIS TROOPS.

141

noissance toward Leesburg; and a party of the Van Alen cavalry, led by Major Mix, were ordered to scour the country in the direction of that town, and after gaining all possible information concerning its topography, and the position of the Confederates, to hasten back to the cover of the Minnesota skirmishers. These movements were well performed. The scouts came suddenly upon a Mississippi regiment, when shots were exchanged without much harm to either party.

At a little past noon, Devens and his band were assailed by Confederates under Colonels Jenifer and Hunton, in the woods that skirted the open field in which they had halted. Infantry attacked the main body on their left, and cavalry fell upon the skirmishers in front. His men stood their ground firmly; but, being pressed by overwhelming numbers, and re-enforcements not arriving, they fell back about sixty paces, to foil an attempt to flank them. This was accomplished, and they took a position about half a mile in front of Colonel Lee.

In the mean time Colonel Baker had been pressing forward from Conrad's Terry, to the relief of the assailed troops. Ranking Devens, he had been ordered to Harrison's Island to take the chief command, with full discretionary powers to re-enforce the party on the Virginia shore, or to withdraw all of the troops to the Maryland shore. He was cautioned to be careful with the artillery under his control, and not to become engaged with greatly superior numbers.

When Baker found that Devens had been attacked, he decided to reenforce him. It was an unfortunate decision, under the circumstances, and yet it then seemed to be the only proper one. The task was a 'most difficult and perilous one. The river had been made full by recent rains, and the currents in the channels on each side were very swift. The means for transportation were entirely inadequate. There had been

There had been no expectation of such movement, and no provision had been made for it. There was only one scow, or flat-boat, for the service, between the Maryland shore and Harrison's Island, and at first only two skiffs and a Francis metallic life-boat were on the opposite side. To these were soon added one scow; and these four little vessels composed the entire means of transportation of several hundred troops and munitions of war.

McClellan had not ordered more than a “demonstration” by a small portion of Stone's troops, in conjunction with those of McCall; but Stone, to whom the chief had not intimated his object in ordering “heavy reconnoissances in all directions” in that vicinity, and who knew that there were forty thousand troops within easy call of his position, naturally considered that they were to complete the expulsion of the Confederates from the Potomac. He therefore made what disposition he might to assist in the

[graphic]

E. D. BAKER.

142

BATTLE OF BALL'S BLUFF.

а

movement, in conjunction with McCall, and, as he supposed, with the division of General Smith, known to be within supporting distance. He was ignorant of the very important fact that, on the previous evening, General McClellan had ordered McCall to fall back from Drainesville. It was so. At the very time when Baker was preparing to pass over the reserves in force, McCall, by order of McClellan, was marching back to his camp near the Chain Bridge, and Smith was without orders to do any thing in particular, thus making the peril that threatened the Nationals at Ball's Bluff much greater for want of this support.

Colonel Baker, like General Stone, was ignorant of this damaging movement, and was pressing on in high spirits, with the most wearisome and perplexing toil in slowly passing his troops in three scows, when, hearing the sound of battle on the Virginia shore, he hastened over in a small skiff, leaving instructions to forward the artillery as quickly as possible. His California regiment had already crossed and joined Devens and Lee. A rifled 6-pounder of Bunting's Rhode Island Battery, under Lieutenant Bramhall, followed them. Two howitzers under Lieutenant French were already there; and, just before Baker reached the Bluff, a detachment of Cogswell's Tammany Regiment had climbed the winding path leading up from the river. Baker now took command of all the forces on the Bluff, numbering nineteen hundred. These were immediately formed in battle order, and awaited attack.

The ground on which the Nationals were compelled to give battle was unfavorable for them. It was an open field, surrounded on three sides by a dense forest, and terminating on the fourth at the brow of the high bluff at the river. With their backs to the stream, the Union forces were prepared for the contest, which was begun at three o'clock in the afternoon, by General Evans, who hurled the Eighteenth Mississippi, under Colonel Burt, upon Baker's left flank, and the commands of Jenifer and Hunton upon his front.“ These came from the woods, that swarmed with Confederates, and were received with the most determined spirit. The battle instantly became general and severe. Colonel Featherston, with the Seventeenth Mississippi, joined in the fray. Bramhall and French soon brought their heavy guns to bear, and were doing good execution, when both officers were borne wounded away, and their pieces were hauled to the rear, to prevent their falling into the hands of their foe. A greater calamity speedily followed. The gallant Baker was seen here and there in the thickest of the fight, encouraging his men by words and deeds, and when the battle had lasted nearly two hours he fell dead, pierced with many bullets."

1

1

1 .

1 See page 135.

? The current was so strong and deep that it could be navigated by the scows only by dragging them up the Maryland shore above the island, and letting them tloat diagonally across the stream until they touched the island. The royage from the latter to the Virginia sbore was accomplished in the same way. The operation was very slow, and the passage of the few troops occupied about threw hours.

3 Baker's entire force consisted of the California Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar, 570; the New York Tanmany Regiment, Colonel Milton Cogswell, 360; and portions of the Fifteenth Massachusetts, Colonel Dorens. 653 and of the Twentieth, Colonel Lee, 319-total, 1,901.

4 The attacking troops were Evans's brigade, composed of the Eighth Virginis, and Thirteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Mississippi.

6 Colonel Baker was probably killed instantly. Eye-witnesses say that a tall, red-haired man appeared emerging from the smoke, ard approaching to within five feet of the commander, fired into his body the contents of a self-cocking revolver.pistol. At the same moment a bullet entered his skull behind his ear, and a

[blocks in formation]

The immediate command now devolved upon Colonel Lee, but Cogswell, his superior, soon took the control of affairs. Seeing the desperate situation of the troops, with an overwhelming force on their front and flanks, and a deep and turbulent river in their rear, Cogswell ordered them to move to the left, and attempt to cut their way through to Edwards's Ferry, about three miles distant, where they might receive the aid of the force there under General Stone. This movement was about to take place, when the Tammany Regiment, deceived by the beckoning of a Confederate officer, whom they mistook for a National one, dashed off on a charge in the direction indicated by the deceiver, carrying with them the rest of the line. Then a destructive fire at close distance was poured upon the whole column by the Thirteenth Mississippi Regiment, Colonel William Barksdale, which advanced from the direction of the ferry. Cogswell's plan was frustrated, and he gave orders for his whole force to retire immediately to Harrison's Island, and thence to the Maryland shore.

That retreat almost instantly became a rout. Down the steep declivity the Nationals hurried, in wild disorder, to reach the boats, while the Confederates, who had followed them up to the brow of the bluff with ball and bayonet, fired into the straggling mass below with murderous effect. The fugitives huddled on the shore, formed in some order at first, and kept up the hopeless fight for a time, while endeavoring to cross the flood to Harrison's Island. Only one large flatboat was there, and that, with an over-load of wounded and others, at the beginning of its

OPEN FIELD first voyage, was riddled with bullets, and sunk. The smaller vessels had disappeared in the gloom, and there was no means of escape for the Unionists but by swimming. This was attempted by some. Seve

Woods ral of them were shot in the water,' and others, swept away by the current in the darkness, were drowned. A little more than one irth of the whole of Cogswell's

[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

MAP OF THE BATTLE OF BALL'S BLUFF.

13 MISS

slng from a Mississippi Yager wounded his arm and made a terrible opening in his side. Captain Beirel, of the California regiment, who was close by Baker, caught the slayer of his friend by the throat, just as he was stooping to seize the colonel's sword, and with his pistol blew out his brains. Baker haul enjoined many of his California regiment that if he should fall in battle, not to let the Confederates get possession of his body. Beirei, the avenger, and the brave leader of company G of that regiment, acting upon these instructions, raised the precious burden in his arms and bore it away amid a shower of bullets, and delivered it to Major Young, who conveyed it safely to the river and took it across.

1 Pollard says (1. 151) that after the Nationals had surrendered, " the Confederates kept up their fire upon those who tried to cross, and many not drowned in the river were shot in the act of swimming."

2 The gallant Captain Beirel was among the last who left the shore and swam across the river. He was compelled to drop his sword midway, in order to save his life. Many of the men, before they surrendered, threw their arms into the river. Bramhall's gun had been spiked and completely disabled. It was brought to the bluff and tumbled over, with the intention of having it go into the river.

144

DISASTER AT BALL'S BLUFF.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

command, including himself and Colonel Lee, were made prisoners, and marched off to Leesburg, whilst Colonel Devens escaped on his horse, that swam across the turbulent Potomac. A few were saved from captivity by stealing along under the banks, and making their way to Gorman's camp below.

While the contest was raging at Ball's Bluff, General Stone, who was at Edwards's Ferry with about seven thousand troops, had been sending over the remainder of Gorman's brigade to co-operate with Baker, all the while unsuspicious of the perilous condition of the troops of that commander.

had received information from time to time that Baker was perfectly able to hold his position, if not to advance; and, believing that he would repulse and drive his assailants, he was prepared to push Colonel Gorman forward to strike the retreating forces on their flank. He felt anxious,

however, and at four o'clock BANKS'S IIEAD-QUARTERS AT EDWARDS'S FERRY.

telegraphed to General Banks for a brigade of his division, to place on the Maryland shore, in support of the troops on Harrison's Island and the severely pressed combatants on Ball's Bluff,

A little while afterward, the sad news of Baker's death was received, and Stone hastened forward to take command in person. On his way he was met by some of the fugitives, with the tale that the Confederates were ten thousand strong, and that all was lost. Still ignorant of the position of McCall, he left orders to hold Harrison's Island, and then hastened back to Edwards's Ferry, to secure the safety of the twenty-five hundred troops that he

had sent across the river. There he was joined by General Banks, a ()ct. 22,

at three o'clock in the morning, who took the chief command.

Orders arrived at about the same time, from General McClellan, to hold the Island and the Virginia shore at all hazards, and intimating that re-enforcements would be sent.”

So ended the BATTLE OF BALL’s BLUFF, in disaster to the National ar In the camps of the Unionists, in the vicinity of the battle, on that gloomy night of the 21st of October, there was darkness and woe, while the little

[graphic]

1861.

aims.

1 Stone had kept McClellan advised of the progress of affairs at Ball's Bluff during the afternoon, and the latter commander, toward evening, ordered General Banks to send one brigade to the support of the troops on Ilarrison's Island, and to move with the other two to Seneca Mills, ready to support General Stone, at Edwards's Ferry.-See McClellan's Report, page 34.

* Reports of General Charles P. Stone and his subordinates, October 25th, 1861, and of General N. G. Evans, tho Confederate commander, October 25th, 1861. The latter report was, in several respects, marred by mis. representations. It represented the Confederate force at only 1,709, omitting to state the fact that there was a strong reserve of Mississippi troops, with six guns, posted so as to repel any troops that might approach from Edwards's Ferry. From the best information since obtained, it is agreed that Evans's force numbered 4,000. His report also claimed that, with his small force of 1,700, eight thousand Nationals were fought and beaten, and that the Confederates killed and captured a greater number than their whole force engaged. It also declared that long-range cannon were fired upon the Confederates from the Maryland side of the river, when there were nu heavy guns there at the time of the battle.

3 This is called the Battle of Leesburg by Confederate writers.

« PreviousContinue »