Battle of ball's Bluff, Va.1
fought October 21, 1861.
's orders to Col. Baker
.--The following are exact copies of the orders from Gen. Stone
to Col. Baker
, which were found beneath the lining of the latter's hat by Capt. Young
, his aid, after the body had been taken from the field.
Both were deeply stained with Col. Baker
's blood, and one of the bullets, which went through his head, carried away a corner of the first:
The second order which follows, was delivered on the battle-field by Col. Coggswell
, who said to Col. Baker
, in reply to a question what it meant, “All right, go ahead.”
Thereupon Col. Baker
put it in his hat without reading.
An hour afterward he fell:
Dead, one hundred and fifty; wounded, two hundred and fifty; prisoners, five hundred.
Total casualties, nine hundred.
The number of Federal troops engaged was about two thousand one hundred in all. The bodies of the killed were rifled of all valuables by the enemy; the shoulder-straps and buttons were cut from the coats of the officers.
On Sunday evening, Gen. Stone
, being persuaded that no important force of the enemy remained along the upper Potomac, and in obedience to orders from Headquarters, commenced his passage of the river at Harrison's Island
The point of transit was about five miles above Edwards' Ferry, and nearly an equal distance from Leesburg
The island is a low, fertile strip of land, several miles in length, so dividing the river that the Maryland channel
is not a furlong in width, and that on the Virginia
side not more than two hundred feet.
Six companies of the Fifteenth Massachusetts regiment, under Col. Devens
, and two companies of the Twentieth (Tammany) New York, arrived at the river about two A. M. Monday, and commenced to cross.
At sunrise they were all on the Virginia
Before daylight an order came to Colonel Baker
to march the first battalion of the California
regiment to Conrad's Ferry, two miles south of the island, and then, if he heard firing, go to the support of Coggswell
Accordingly, Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar
advanced with the battalion, six hundred and eighty-nine officers and men, and by sunrise had reached the river and proceeded down to the island crossing.
I accompanied the force to arrange for transportation.
Was sent to report for orders to General Stone
Returned, having received command to cross at once.
On my way back I overtook Colonel Baker
, who told me that only the battalion were to cross.
He had no orders for the brigade.
Shortly after General Stone
placed Colonel Baker
in command of all the forces on the Virginia
Our battalion then, at about seven A. M., commenced crossing to the island, and from thence to the further shore.
Meantime we could hear skirmishing shots on the heights, which continued without much intermission through the morning.
Now we began to experience the difficulty which was the chief cause of the terrible scenes which closed the day. No adequate means of transportation had been provided.
It seemed as if the column was expected to walk across on the water-surface.
Nothing but one old scow, capable of holding perhaps forty men, appeared available on either side of the island.
If the Massachusetts
men had had any other boats, they were not visible in the morning.
At length I discovered a large scow in the canal, and two hours were consumed in getting it over into the Maryland channel
It would hold about sixty men. Colonel Baker
, Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar
, Assistant Adjutant-General Harvey
, and myself went with the first load to the island, and there superintended the transit of our men. It was twelve M. before our first company landed at the foot of the bush-covered precipice which rises abruptly over one hundred feet from the river bed on the further side of the river.
Four hours more had elapsed before the last company landed.
Sections of the Second Rhode Island battery, comprising two howitzers, two field smooth-bores, and one rifled gun, went over with us, the men dragging them up the heights with great difficulty and spirit.
All this time irregular fighting was going on above.
It seems that Colonel Devens
had in the morning moved with a small detachment in the direction of Leesburg
, shortly after his forces had crossed, had advanced one mile, there met the enemy's skirmishers in feeble force, and had retired to the brow of the heights.
Before this the quartermaster of the Massachusetts
Fifteenth had gone alone to a point within a mile of the village, had returned, crossed the river, and reported to General Stone
that there were no hostile forces in that region.
But after Colonel Devens
fell back his men were placed in a semicircular clearing, or natural forest opening covering five or six acres, with its base resting on the edge of the heights, and flanked and fronted by forest.
The enemy, becoming bolder, advanced in scattered parties to the edge of these woods, and from ten A. M. till four P. M. kept up a random, annoying fire upon our men. The latter sheltered themselves as well as they could, lying just below the ridge, and awaited reinforcements.
At four, then, our whole force had crossed and ascended, Colonel Baker
and staff with the rest, and the troops were suffering somewhat from the concealed enemy's fire.
Many had dropped and been carried down the hill.
We asked Colonel Baker
what he thought of affairs.
He said that he thought we had a good position; could fall back for shelter behind the ridge.
“Yes,” said we, “but what's in those woods?”
He answered, “I think the enemy are concealed on our right.”
A private had reported that there was no force on the left, but a deep ravine, hidden by the woods.
We then proposed sending skirmishers to make a reconnoissance on the right, and Captain Markoe
, Second Lieutenant Williams
, and myself advanced with Companies A and D of the California
Company A got in front on rising ground, in skirmishing order, Company D following in line.
battalion, to make the story clear, were drawn up on the left of the open field; the Massachusetts
Fifteenth and Tammany
on the right, and the Massachusetts
Twentieth nearer the centre.
took charge of the artillery.
Only four guns were planted in the field, the rifled gun having been hauled up at the wrong place, and being afterward seized by the enemy and spiked.
When our skirmishing companies had reached the edge of the woods, suddenly the enemy, hitherto concealed, rose with a yell and fired a volley, then began fighting in their usual manner: first giving a yell and volley; then loading and firing at will for a few minutes;
then ceasing an equal time; then giving another yell and volley, and so on, pouring a murderous fire into our little band for the space of half an hour.
The whole woods around swarmed with them.
They had no artillery and no cavalry.
Our Rhode-Islanders, except the officers, deserted their guns; but Colonel Baker
, Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar
, Colonel Coggswell
, and Adjutant Harvey
manned the battery, and fired the guns themselves, aided by Company G, First California, led by the gallant Captain Beiral
(The latter was conspicuous for bravery throughout the action; is wounded, but not dangeiously, and is now safe on Maryland
We kept up both a musketry and cannon fire as well as we could, but half the time we could not see the enemy, and his cowardly discharges were thinning our ranks; still most of the men stood firm and acted bravely.
The enemy's volleys and yells increased in loudness, and it was evident that reinforcements were pouring in to his aid. Captain Stewart
, General Stone
's adjutant, came on the field with the cheering statement that General Gorman
would shortly support us. At a quarter to six P. M. we held a council of war, and resolved to stand our ground, General Baker
ordering me to go for reinforcements.
By this time Coggswell
was wounded — Wistar
The enemy were growing more daring, rushing out of the woods, taking some prisoners, and firing hotly.
Just then a rebel officer, riding a white horse, came out of the woods and beckoned to us to come forward.
thought it was General Johnston
, and that the enemy would meet us in open fight.
Part of our column charged, Baker
cheering us on, when a tremendous onset was made by the rebels.
One man rode forward, presented a revolver at Baker
, and fired all its charges at him. Our gallant leader fell, and at the same moment all our lines were driven back by the overwhelming force opposed to them.
But Captain Beiral
, with his company, fought his way back to Colonel Baker
's body, rescued it, brought it along to me, and then a general retreat commenced.
It was sauve qui peut
! I got the Colonel
's body to the island before the worst of the rout, and then, looking to the Virginia
shore, saw such a spectacle as no tongue can describe.
Our entire forces were retreating, tumbling, rolling, leaping down the steep heights; the enemy following them, murdering, and taking prisoners.
left his command, and swam the river on horseback.
, after unavailing bravery, had ordered the retreat himself, but, being wounded, was taken.
The one boat in the Virginia channel
was speedily filled and sunk.
A thousand men thronged the further bank.
Muskets, coats, and every thing were thrown aside, and all were desperately trying to escape.
Hundreds plunged into the rapid current, and the shrieks of the drowning added to the horror of sounds and sights.
The enemy kept up their fire from the cliff above.
All was terror, confusion, and dismay.
A captain of the Fifteenth Massachusetts at one moment charged gallantly up the hill, leading two companies, who still had their arms, against the pursuing foe. A moment later and the same officer, perceiving the hopelessness of the situation, waved a white handkerchief, and surrendered the main body of his command.
Other portions of the column surrendered; but the rebels kept up their fire upon those who tried to cross, and many not drowned in the river were shot in the act of swimming.
Night came on. At eight P. M. all of our band whose fortune it was to return had landed on Harrison Island
, and the fire from the Virginia heights
The rebels took all our guns but one.
When I left they had shouted to us, telling us to come over and take away our dead under a flag of truce; had also mounted our own guns on the heights, and warned us to leave the island in four hours. The cause of this sad havoc was that we had no proper means of transit and retreat.