to reenforce 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 reenforce.
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.
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.1
The Rebels by whom they were assailed comprised the 8th Virginia, 13th, 17th, and 18th Mississippi, forming the brigade of Gen. Evans
.2 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 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