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[188]

Gen. Stone commenced the passage of the river on the 20th of October. A force of five companies of Massachusetts troops, commanded by Col. Devins, effected a crossing at Edwards' Ferry, and, a few hours thereafter, Col. Baker, who took command of all the Federal forces on the Virginia side, having been ordered by Stone to push the Confederates from Leesburg and hold the place, crossed the river at Conrad's Ferry, a little south of Harrison's Island, and on the direct road to Leesburg. Gen. Stone had ordered seven thousand five hundred men to co-operate in the movement. Baker's brigade, including the advanced companies under Devins, was two thousand three hundred strong, and he was rapidly reinforced until nearly the entire number designated by Stone had been thrown across the river.

Meanwhile Gen. Evans, who had taken a position at Goose Creek, awaited the approach of the enemy. The Federals had crossed the Potomac at different points, at Edwards' Ferry which was just above the mouth of Goose Creek, and at Conrad's Ferry, where a steep bank (Ball's Bluff) hung over the water. Finding that no advance from Edwards' Ferry was attempted, Gen. Evans ordered the 17th and 18th Mississippi regiments to move rapidly to the support of the 8th Virginia and some Mississippi companies, which held the approaches to Leesburg, and had already become hotly engaged with the main body of the enemy advancing from Ball's Bluff.

“ If the enemy won't come to us we must go to them,” exclaimed Evans, as he put the two Mississippi regiments in motion, which began a race of two miles to turn the tide of battle. The Federals who had occupied Ball's Bluff had advanced towards the wooded plain between the river and Leesburg, and held a semicircular line of battle, supported by four howitzers. Evans' order was, “to make the business short.” As the fire of musketry became hot and general — for the Confederates had no opportunity to use their artillery — the Federals gave way, and fell back towards the bluff. Col. Baker urged his men to rally, and brought his disordered lines to a momentary stand. Gen. Evans, seizing the critical moment, ordered a charge. Virginians and Mississippians together rushed forward, making a resistless onset upon the Federal lines. A private sprang to the front, and advancing within eight feet of Col. Baker, fired five chambers of his revolver at him, piercing his head at the first shot, and striking him with nearly every ball. He fell dead. His terrified command gave way in utter rout, and fled towards the river. A portion, numbering several hundred men, attempted to make good their retreat by a flank movement to Edwards' Ferry, and were taken prisoners. But the bulk of the fugitives madly ran to the very verge of Ball's Bluff; and now ensued a scene of unutterable horrour, as these men were driven over the bluff on to the bayonets of their friends, thirty feet below.

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