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by the middle of October, Gen. Mc- | pelled an advance of our lines-the
Clellan found himself at the head of fully 150,000 men—an army superior in numbers, in intelligence, and in the essential quality of its material, to any ever led into battle by Napoleon, and by far the largest and most effective which had ever been seen on this continent. It was not only far better drilled and fitted for service than that with which Gen. McDowell had advanced to Centerville and Bull Run, but it was better constituted, in that its members-not one of them a conscript-had enlisted for a term of years, after all sixty-day hallucinations had been dispelled, and with a full knowledge that they were to encounter the hardships, the perils and the privations of protracted and inexorable war.
Gen. McClellan held his first grand parade at the close of September, when 70,000 men of all arms were assembled, maneuvered, and reviewed; a larger army than had ever before been concentrated on any field in America. Apprehensions were expressed that the Rebels would improve this opportunity to attack some portion of our lines; but they were not strong enough to warrant such a venture. Still, regiment after regiment, battery after battery, was poured from the North into Washington, and thence distributed to the several camps assigned them on either side of the Potomac, until the mere bulk of our quiescent forces, the necessity for ground whereon to station them, com
light troops covering the Rebel front retiring whenever pressed. Lewinsville was reöccupied by our army on the 9th, Vienna on the 16th, and Fairfax Court House on the 17th of October; the Confederates recoiling without firing a shot to Centerville and Manassas. On the 16th, Gen. Geary, under orders from Gen. Banks, in Maryland, advanced to and captured Bolivar Hights, overlooking Harper's Ferry. Leesburg, the capital of Loudoun county, Va., was mistakenly reported evacuated by the Confederates on the 17th; Gen. McCall, with a considerable Union force, moving up the right bank of the Potomac to Dranesville, whence his scouts were pushed forward to Goose Creek, four miles from Leesburg. On the 19th and 20th, McCall made two reconnoissances in the direction of Leesburg, encountering no enemy, and being assured by those he met that the Rebels had abandoned that town some days before. Thus advised, Gen. McClellan, on the 20th, directed the following dispatch to be sent to Gen. Stone, at Poolesville, Md., where he was watching and guarding the line of the Potomac from the Maryland side of the river:
"Received October 20, 1861, from Camp Griffin. "Gen. McClellan desires me to inform you
that Gen. McCall occupied Dranesville yesterday, and is still there; will send out heavy
reconnoissances to-day in all directions from that point. The General desires that you to see if keep a good lookout on Leesburg, this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on
DEVENS CROSSES AT BALL'S BLUFF.
"BRIG.-GEN. STONE, Poolesville."
your part would have the effect to move pursue them as far as he deems prudent, and them. A. V. COLBURN, will destroy the camp, if practicable, before "Ass't Adjt. General. returning. He will make all the observations possible on the country; will, under all circumstances, keep his command well in hand, and not sacrifice them to any supposed advantage of rapid pursuit.
Gen. Stone at once ordered Col. Devens, of the 15th Massachusetts, to transfer two flat-boats from the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, opposite Harrison's Island, to the river at that point, and therewith to ferry over his regiment to the island; which was promptly done. About dark, in obedience to a verbal order, Devens sent Capt. Philbrick, with fifteen or twenty men, across to the Virginia shore, which he ascertained was not picketed by the enemy, and ascended the steep bank known as BALL's Bluff, which here rises about one hundred and fifty feet to the level of the adjacent country. Pushing out a small distance from the Bluff, Philbrick returned and reported that he had discovered a small camp of the enemy, which did not appear to be well guarded. This report was sent by Col. Devens to Gen. Stone, who thereupon issued the following order :
"HEAD-QUARTERS CORPS OF OBSERVATION, POOLESVILLE, Oct. 20, 1861-101 P. M.
"SPECIAL ORDER No.
"Col. Devens will land opposite Harrison's Island, with five companies of his regiment, and proceed to surprise the camp of the enemy discovered by Capt. Philbrick in the direction of Leesburg. The landing and march will be effected with silence and rapidity.
"Col. Lee, 20th Massachusetts volunteers, will, immediately after Col. Devens's departure, occupy Harrison's Island with four companies of his regiment, and will cause the four-oared boat to be taken across the island to the point of departure of Col. Devens. One company will be thrown across to occupy the hights on the Virginia shore, after Col. Devens's departure, to cover his return.
"Two mountain howitzers will be taken
silently up the tow-path, and carried to the opposite side of the island, under the orders
of Col. Lee.
"Col. Devens will attack the camp of the enemy at daybreak, and, having routed, will
Having accomplished this duty, Col. Devens will return to his present position, unless he shall see one on the Virginia side, hold until reenforced, and one which can be near the river, which he can undoubtedly successfully held against largely superior numbers. In such case, he will hold on and report.
'CHAS. P. STONE, Brig.-General."
"Great care will be used by Col. Devens to prevent any unnecessary injury of private property; and any officer or soldier straggling from the command, for curiosity or
plunder, will be instantly shot.
"CHAS. P. STONE, Brig.-General.”
menced crossing his force a little Col. Devens accordingly comafter midnight, and had his five companies formed on the top of the bluff so soon as it was light enough to find his way thither. Col. Lee likewise crossed about a hundred men, and took position this side of him. Scouts, dispatched right and left, returned and reported that they could find no enemy. Advancing, so soon as it was light, to the supposed Rebel camp reported to him the night before, Col. D. found it no camp at all, but an optical illusion, created by moonlight glimmering through a row of trees and presenting the appearance of a row of tents. Having advanced to within a mile of Leesburg without discovering a trace of an enemy, Col. D. halted in a wood, unperceived, as he supposed, by any foe, sent a messenger to Gen. Stone, and awaited further orders.
At 7 A. M., a body of riflemen appeared on his right, but fell back when approached; when Rebel cavalry became visible on the road to Leesburg. Col. Devens hereupon,
A. Path by which the Rebels tried to enter the open field. B. Flank movement attempted by the Rebels; defeated by the California Regiment.
unsupported, he fell back again nearly to the edge of the bluff, where he was soon after reënforced, as he had been promised, by the California regiment, Col. E. D. Baker,' who, being the ranking officer, assumed
command having received from Gen. Stone an order to support Col. Devens, or withdraw his force to the Maryland shore, at his discretion. It seems that Col. Baker had doubts, on reaching the river, whether
U. S. Senator from Oregon; formerly in Congress from Illinois, and a Colonel in the Mexican War.
RESULTS OF OUR DISCOMFITURE.
to reënforce or withdraw Col. Devens's men; but, hearing that the enemy were already upon Col. D., he decided that he had no choice but to reënforce.
The main current of the Potomac passes Harrison's Island on the Maryland side, where three flat-boats or scows, with a joint capacity of 125 persons, were used by our men; while only a life-boat and two small skiffs, together carrying from 25 to 30 men, were employed on the Virginia side of the island. Finally, one of the scows or flat-boats was taken around to that side. But the crossing of the river, here quite rapid, was still difficult and tedious; while it does not seem that competent persons had been detailed to supervise and effect it. A narrow, winding path led up from the immediate brink of the river to the open field on which our troops were formed, with the enemy swarming in the woods belting that field on three sides, within musket-shot. Col. Baker reached it between 1 and 2 o'clock, P. M. His entire force consisted of the New York Tammany regiment, Col. Milton Cogswell, the California regiment, Lieut.-Col. Wistar, and portions of the 15th Massachusetts, Col. Devens, and 20th, Col. Lee -in all, 1,900 men. The Rebels by whom they were assailed comprised the 8th Virginia, 13th, 17th, and 18th Mississippi, forming the brigade of Gen. Evans. Col. Baker had barely completed the formation of his men, when his right was heavily assailed by the enemy; the attack gradually proceeding to the center and left, and
8 California regiment, 570; Tammany, 360; 15th Massachusetts, 653; 20th Massachusetts, 318: total, 1,901.
9 Gen. Evans's official report states his forces
the struggle thus continuing for two hours with desperate energy on both sides, but with far greater loss on ours, because of the uncovered position of our men. Col. Baker insisted on exposing himself with the most reckless bravery, and fell, shot through the head, a little before 5 o'clock. As our men, falling fast, began to waver, and some portions of the line to give way, in view of this calamity, Col. Cogswell, who succeeded to the command, resolved to charge the enemy on his left, and cut his way through to Edwards's Ferry, two or three miles, where Gen. Stone was known to be in force; but, upon attempting this movement, it was met by a fresh Mississippi regiment advancing from the direction of the Ferry, under whose destructive fire our decimated, discouraged troops gave way, and retreated in disorder down the bluff, just as darkness was drawing on. The triumphant Rebels now advanced from all sides to the bluff, and fired with impunity on the disorderly, straggling mass below. Meantime, the flat-boat on that side of the island, being overloaded, was soon riddled and sunk; the life-boat and skiffs were upset and lost; and the work of unresisted slaughter went on. Some were shot on the bank; others while attempting to swim to the island; while a number were carried down by the current and drowned. A few escaped in the darkness, by stealing along the bank of the river unobserved, and finally reached our lines in safety. But our actual loss by that bloody disaster
in the engagement at 1,709; which evidently does not include the 13th Mississippi, with six guns, held in reserve, and so posted as to repel aid to our side from Edwards's Ferry.
was not less than 1,000 men; of whom nearly 300 were killed outright, and more than 500, including the wounded, taken prisoners.10
Meantime, Gen. Stone had directed Gen. Gorman to throw across the
river at Edwards's Ferry a small force, which made a cautious reconnois sance for about three miles on the road to Leesburg, when, coming suddenly upon a Mississippi regiment, it exchanged volleys and returned. Gen. Gorman's entire brigade was thrown over at this point during the day; but, as it did not advance, its mere presence on the Virginia side of the Potomac, so far from the scene of actual combat, subserved no purpose. After the disaster was complete, Gen. Stone, about 10 P. M., arrived on the ground from which our ill-starred advance was made; as did Gen. Banks at 3 next morning, and Gen. McClellan on the evening of that day. But it was now too late. No relief was sent while relief could have availed. Even McCall retired from Dranesville southward on the day of the fatal fight.
Col. Baker has been widely blamed for rashness in this conflict, and even for disregard of orders-it would seem most unjustly. The following orders, found in his hat after his death, deeply stained with his life-blood, are all the foundation for this charge:
"EDWARDS'S FERRY, Oct. 21st, 1861.
“COL. E. D. BAKER, Commander of brigade: "COLONEL: In case of heavy firing in front of Harrison's Island, you will advance the California regiment of your brigade, or retire the regiments under Cols. Lee and Devens, now on the [almost rendered il
10 Gen. Evans, in his report, claims 710 prisoners, including wounded, and guesses that we had "1,300 killed, wounded, and drowned." He thus makes our loss exceed by over 100 all our force engaged in the battle! He reports his
"HEAD-QUARTERS CORPS OF OBSERVATION, "EDWARDS'S FERRY, Oct. 22d, 11.50. "E. D. BAKER, Commanding brigade: "COLONEL: I am informed that the force of the enemy is about 4,000, all told. you can push them, you may do so as far as to have a strong position near Leesburg, if you can keep them before you, avoiding take the Gum Spring road, you will not foltheir batteries. If they pass Leesburg and low far, but seize the first good position to cover that road.
"Their desire is to draw us on, if they are obliged to retreat, as far as Goose Creek, where they can be reënforced from Manassas, and have a strong position.
Report frequently, so that, when they are pushed, Gorman can come up on their flank. Yours, respectfully and truly, "CHARLES P. STONE,
Brig.-General Commanding.” How Stone expected Baker to push' 4,000 men with 1,900, in an advanced and unsupported position, where the 4,000 might at any moment be increased to 10,000 or to 20,000, is not obvious. And why was not Gorman sent forward to come up on their flank, at any rate; without waiting for 1,900 men to 'push' 4,000 beyond Leesburg to a good point for covering that place?
As to Col. Baker's reading or not reading this dispatch, it must be considered that he was at that moment engaged with a superior force, and
own loss at 155 only, including Col. E. R. Burt, 18th Mississippi, killed. Gen. Evans says he had no cannon in the fight-which is true; for his artillery was where it could serve him best-by blocking the road from Edwards's Ferry.