Battles And Campaigns - 1861

    Battle of Ball's Bluff  "Union Disaster"  October 21, 1861

Sen. Edward D. Baker of Oregon, a handsome man with a fondness for reciting poetry, vigorously supported the war against the Southern traitors. He was an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln, who named his second son for Baker. While retaining his Senate seat, Baker obtained a commission as colonel in the Union army, but he was no warrior.

On October 21, 1861, Colonel Baker moved his 1,700-man brigade across the Potomac River from Maryland to Virginia to attack the Confederate force camped near the town of Leesburg. The crossing was slow, for the three small boats could accommodate a total of 25 men at a time. On the Virginia side was a 100-foot-high bank called Ball's Bluff that could be scaled only by a narrow cow path. Baker had not scouted the enemy, and had put his command in a position that offered no retreat should things go wrong. Nevertheless, he was confident, singing out quotations from Sir Walter Scott as he climbed the bank.

At the top of the bluff the Union troops found themselves on open ground confronted by four regiments of Mississippians and Virginians concealed in the woods on still higher ground. The Confederates had the Union troops in a situation that reminded the Mississippi boys of a down-home turkey-shoot. The Rebs laid down a galling fire that kept the Yankees disorganized. Just as Baker realized the disaster he had created, he was instantly killed by a sharpshooter's bullet through the brain. Then, with a Rebel Yell, the gray lines charged, and the panic-stricken blue troops rolled, leaped, and tumbled over the cliff onto the heads and bayonets of those below. The screeching men in gray fired down on the Union soldiers as they scrambled into and quickly capsized their three boats. Many drowned, and those who could swim tried for the other side of the river, the water boiling from the bullets fired at them. The rest either surrendered or tried to hide. Union losses included more than 200 killed and wounded, with more than 700 captured. Confederate losses were negligible.

Fascinating Fact: Captured Union soldiers included a grandson of Paul Revere, a son of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and a nephew of James Russell Lowell.


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