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Ball's Bluff and the arrest of General Stone.

Richard B. Irwin, Lieut.-Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General, U. S. V.
About 1 o'clock on the morning of the 9th of February, 1862, General Charles P. Stone, a native of Massachusetts, a graduate with honors of the United States Military Academy, a distinguished officer of the ordnance corps during the Mexican war, colonel of the 14th regular infantry, and brigadier-general of volunteers, commanding a division of ten thousand men in the Army of the Potomac, was arrested in Washington, by the commander of the provost guard, and sent, in custody of a lieutenant and two policemen, to Fort Lafayette, in New York harbor. There, and at Fort Hamilton, he was kept in close and solitary confinement, his pockets being emptied and his letters examined, until the 16th of August, when, after the lapse of 189 days, he was set at liberty, under the peremptory requirements of an act of Congress, approved July 17th, 1862, forbidding the detention of any officer or soldier more than thirty days without charges.

It will be observed that he was held for a fresh period of thirty days before this law was allowed to operate, and it is also worth remarking that a law as old as the Government, known as the Articles of War, the fundamental law of the army of the United States, contained substantially the same provision, the only essential difference being that the new law, in effect, lengthened the time for preferring charges from eight days to thirty.

Though promptly and often asked for, and repeatedly promised, no statement of the charges was ever furnished to General Stone. In truth, no charges were ever preferred against him. No cause for his arrest has ever been shown. It has even been disputed upon whose initiative it was ordered. The vague and loose “evidence,” and the floating suspicions engendered by it, that formed the groundwork for his arrest, never admitted of being condensed into an accusation, simply because there was nothing in them to condense. The real cause must be sought for amid the tangled mesh of a net-work of circumstances, such as is occasionally the despair of men who read history by the light of human sympathy.

Before trying to trace its threads, it may be well to recall how for weeks the safety, not only of Washington but of the President and his cabinet, had depended mainly upon the loyalty, the prudence, and the vigilance of Colonel Stone and his District of Columbia volunteers.1 Well might Mr. Lincoln exclaim, with his smile, “Oh! I could never believe General Stone would be disloyal!”

In the autumn of 1861 Stone's division, comprising the brigades of Gorman, Lander, and Baker,2 was observing the ferries or fords of the Potomac in front of Poolesville. On the 20th of October, McCall's division being at Dranesville, General McClellan telegraphed to General Stone directing [124]

Map of the Upper Potomac.

him to keep a good lookout on Leesburg to see if the operations of McCall should have the effect of driving the enemy away, adding, “perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.” This slight demonstration resulted in the battle of Ball's Bluff.

On the morning of the 21st of October General Stone gave Colonel Baker discretionary authority to retire the small detachment then at Ball's Bluff, or to send over his brigade to support it. Colonel Baker at once, without further information, without visiting the Virginia shore, and without organizing the boat service, gave the order to cross. Early in the afternoon he crossed himself and posted his command. In support of this movement, and to hold the enemy's attention, Stone sent Gorman's brigade across at Edwards Ferry, where the principal force of the enemy had been seen.

The Confederate Commander, General Evans,3 early discovering both movements and having the advantage of a shorter line, concealed moreover, by the nature of the ground gradually withdrew all his force, save one regiment, from Gorman's front, concentrated it against Baker, and about 3 o'clock attacked with vigor. Each side numbered about seventeen hundred; our troops had three light guns, soon disabled, the Confederates none; but their men moved to the attack from commanding ground, well covered by trees and bushes, while ours, badly posted and badly arranged, were held to the bluff without room to retire, or means of retreat.

We find the opening events described as follows, by Colonel Charles [125] Devens, commanding the 15th Massachusetts Regiment, afterwards major-general of volunteers, and, under President Hayes, attorney-general of the United States:

About 12 o'clock Sunday night, October 20th, I crossed the Potomac by your [Stone's] order from Harrison's Island to the Virginia shore with five companies, numbering about 300 men, of my regiment, with the intention of taking a rebel camp, reported by scouts to be situated at the distance of about a mile from the river, of destroying the same, of observing the country around, and of returning to the river, or of waiting and reporting if I thought myself able to remain for reenforcements, or if I found a position capable of being defended against a largely superior force. Having only three boats, which together conveyed about thirty men, it was nearly 4 o'clock when all the force was transferred to the opposite shore. We passed down the river about sixty rods by a path discovered by the scouts, and then up the bluff known as Ball's Bluff, where we found an open field surrounded by woods. At this point we halted until daybreak, being joined here by a company of one hundred men from the 20th Massachusetts, accompanied by Colonel Lee, who were to protect our return.

At daybreak we pushed forward our reconnoissance toward Leesburg to the distance of about a mile from the river, to a spot supposed to be the site of the rebel encampment, but found on passing through the woods that the scouts had been deceived by a line of trees on the brow of the slope, the opening through which presented, in an uncertain light, somewhat the appearance of a line of tents. Leaving the detachment in the woods, I proceeded with Captain Philbrick and two or three scouts across the slope and along the other line of it, observing Leesburg, which was in full view, and the country about it, as carefully as possible, and seeing but four tents of the enemy. My force being well concealed by the woods, and having no reason to believe my presence was discovered, and no large number of the enemy's tents being in sight, I determined not to return at once, but to report to yourself, which I did, by directing Quartermaster Howe to repair at once to Edwards Ferry to state these facts, and to say that in my opinion I could remain until I was reenforced.

The means of transportation between the island and the Virginia shore had been strengthened, I knew, at daybreak, by a large boat, which would convey 60 or 70 men at once, and as the boat could cross and recross every ten minutes, I had no reason to suppose there would be any difficulty in sending over 500 men in an hour, as it was known there were two large boats between the island and the Maryland shore, which would convey to the island all the troops that could be conveyed from it to the Virginia shore.

Mr. Howe left me with his instructions at about 6:30 A. M.. . . . I was rejoined at 8 A. M. by Quartermaster Howe, who reported to me that I was to remain where I was, and would be reenforced, and that Lieutenant-Colonel Ward would proceed to Smart's Mill4 with the remainder of the regiment, that a communication should be kept up between us, and that 10 cavalry would report to me for the purpose of reconnoitering. For some reason they never appeared or reported to me, but I have since learned they came as far as the bluff.5 If they had reported to me, they could have rendered excellent service. I directed Quartermaster Howe to return at once and report the skirmish that had taken place. . . .

At about 10 o'clock Quartermaster Howe returned and stated that he had reported the skirmish of the morning, and that Colonel Baker would shortly arrive with his brigade and take command. Between 9 and 11 o'clock I was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Ward with the remainder of my regiment, making in all, a force of 625 men, with 28 officers, from my regiment, as reported to me by the adjutant, many of the men of the regiment being at this time on other duty.

About 12 o'clock it was reported to me a force was gathering on my left, and about 12:30 o'clock a strong attack was made on my left by a body of infantry concealed in the woods, and [126] upon the skirmishers in front by a body of cavalry. The fire of the enemy was resolutely returned by the regiment, which maintained its ground with entire determination. Reenforcements not yet having arrived, and the attempts of the enemy to outflank us being very vigorous, I directed the regiment to retire about 60 paces into an open space in the wood, and prepare to receive any attack that might be made, while I called in my skirmishers. When this was done I returned to the bluff, where Colonel Baker had already arrived. This was at 2:15 P. M. He directed me to form my regiment at the right of the position he proposed to occupy, which was done by eight companies, the center and left being composed of a detachment of the 20th Massachusetts, numbering about 300 men, under command of Colonel Lee. A battalion of the California Regiment, numbering about 600 men, Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar commanding; 2 howitzers, commanded by Lieutenant French, and a 6-pounder, commanded by Lieutenant Bramhall, were planted in front, supported by Company D, Captain Studley, and Company F, Captain Sloan, of the 15th Massachusetts.

Himself remaining with Gorman at Edwards Ferry to direct the crossing there, General Stone placed Colonel E. D. Baker, of the 71st Pennsylvania Regiment (also called the “1st California,” in compliment to Colonel Baker), in command of the movement by Harrison's Island and Ball's Bluff, under the following orders:

headquarters Corps or observation, Edwards Ferry, October 21st--11: 50.--Colonel E. D. Baker, Commanding Brigade. Colonel: I am informed that the force of the enemy is about 4000, all told. If 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 their batteries. If they pass Leesburg and take the Gun Spring road you will not follow far, but seize the first good position to cover that road. Their design is to draw us on, if they are obliged to retreat, as far as Goose Creek, where they can be reinforced from Manassas and have a strong position. Report

the opposing forces at Ball's Bluff, Va.--October 21ST, 1861.

Union Forces: Colonel Edward D. Baker6 (k); Colonel Milton Cogswell (w and c): 15th Mass., Col. Charles Devens; 20th Mass., Col. William R. Lee (c); 42d New York (called Tammany regiment ), Col. Milton Cogswell; 71st Pa. (also called 1st California), Lieut-Col. Isaac J. Wistar (w). Artillery: B, 1st R. I. (one gun), Lieut. Walter M. Bramhall (w); I, 1st U. S. (two guns), Lieut. Frank S. French.

Confederate Forces: Brigadier-General Nathan G. Evans: 17th Miss., Col. W. S. Featherston; 18th Miss., Col. E. R. Burt (m w), Lieut.-Col. Thomas M. Griffin; 8th Va., Col. Eppa Hunton; Co. D, 13th Miss., Capt. L. D. Fletcher; Va. Cavalry (3 co's), Col. Walter H. Jenifer.

The Confederate loss was 33 killed, 115 wounded, and 1 missing = 149.

The casualties in the Union forces were 49 killed, 158 wounded, and 714 captured or missing = 921. [127] frequently, so that when they are pushed, Gorman [at Edwards Ferry] can come in on their flank. Yours respectfully and truly, Chas. P. Stone, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

headquarters Corps of observation. Edwards Ferry, October 21st, 1861.--Colonel E. D. Baker, Commanding 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 Colonels Lee and Devens upon the Virginia side of the river, at your discretion, assuming command on arrival. Very respectfully, Colonel, your most obedient servant, Chas. P. Stone, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Captain Francis J. Young, assistant quartermaster of Colonel Baker's staff, says that as soon as the latter order had been received

Colonel Baker immediately sent for three regiments and a squadron of cavalry from his brigade and for Colonel Cogswell and the rest of his Tammany regiment.

Proceeding to the crossing at Harrison's Island, we found the means of transportation to consist of two flat-boats of the capacity of 25 to 40 men, and a small skiff, which would carry but 3 or 4 men. The river was swollen and the current rapid, and there was much labor and delay in making use of the boats. Another flat-boat was found in the canal one mile distant, and, being towed down to the crossing, was with much difficulty got into the Potomac.7 Colonel Baker immediately crossed with me and as many men as could be got into the boats to the island, and reaching the opposite side of the island found one flat-boat and a small metallic boat. He crossed to the Virginia shore without delay with Adjutant-General Harvey, sending me back with an order for Colonel Cogswell to bring over the artillery.

It was now 2 o'clock P. M., and Colonel Cogswell coming over from the Maryland side with 2 pieces of artillery, horses, and men, we carried with us the 2 howitzers of the Rhode Island Battery and crossed to the Virginia side. The bank is of a miry clay, and the heights almost precipitous, with fallen trees and rocks, making it very difficult to get up the artillery. Arriving by circuitous routes on the summit, we found an open field of six acres, covered with wild grass, scrub oak, and locust trees, and forming a segment of a circle, the arc of which was surrounded with trees. Colonel Baker apprised Colonel Devens that he had been placed in command, and learned that the 15th Massachusetts, after having advanced for a mile in the direction of Leesburg, had been attacked and fallen back to the position which they then occupied, just in the edge of the woods on the right. The other forces were lying under the brow of the hill; and with the exception of an occasional rifle shot all was quiet, and no sight of an enemy. The 2 howitzers and 1 piece of artillery were drawn by the men out into the open field, pointing to the woods in front, the artillery horses not being brought up the steep.

Occurrences at Harrison's Island and at the bluff, during the arrival of reenforcements, are described by Colonel Milton Cogswell, of the “Tammany” or 42d New York regiment, whose report is dated New York, September 22d, 1862, after his return from captivity. At 2 o'clock on the 21st he received orders to cross the Potomac at Harrison's Island:

“ Arrived at the landing opposite Harrison's Island, I found the greatest confusion existing. No one seemed to be in charge, nor any one superintending the passage of the troops, and no order was maintained in their crossing. The eight companies of my regiment on picket were rapidly concentrated at the crossing, and I moved with one company of my regiment and two pieces of artillery belonging to the 6th New York Battery to the island, leaving verbal orders with Major Bowe, who remained in charge, to push the remainder of my regiment on as soon as possible. I immediately crossed the island to make the passage of the second branch of the river, and there found still greater confusion existing than at the first landing. . . .

I ascended the bluff (about 70 feet high) and reported myself to Colonel Baker. I found [128]

The Cliff at Ball's Bluff. From a photograph.

him near the bluff, on the edge of an open field of about 8 or 10 acres extent, trapezoidal in form, the acute angle being on the left front, the shortest parallel side near the edge of the bluff, and along this line was the 1st California Regiment, while the 15th Massachusetts Regiment was formed in line in the open woods, forming the right-hand boundary of the field, its line being nearly perpendicular to that of the California regiment Two mountain howitzers, under Lieutenant French, of the United States artillery, were posted in front of the angle formed by these two regiments. A deep ravine, having its mouth on the left of the point where we landed, extended along the left of the open field and wound around in front of it, forming nearly a semicircle, bounded by wooded hills commanding the whole open space. Some companies of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment were posted in reserve behind the line of the California regiment.

Colonel Baker welcomed me on the field, seemed in good spirits, and very confident of a successful day. He requested me to look at his line of battle, and with him I passed along the whole front. He asked my opinion of his disposition of troops, and I told him frankly that I deemed them very defective, as the wooded hills beyond the ravine commanded the whole so perfectly, that should they be occupied by the enemy he would be destroyed, and I advised an immediate advance of the whole force to occupy the hills, which were not then occupied by the enemy. I told him that the whole action must be on our left, and that we must occupy those hills. No attention was apparently paid to this advice, and Colonel Baker ordered me to take charge of the artillery, but without any definite instructions as to its service. About twenty minutes afterward the hills on the left front to which I had called attention were occupied by the enemy's skirmishers, who immediately opened a sharp fire on our left. I immediately directed the artillery to open fire on those skirmishers, but soon perceived that the fire was ineffectual, as the enemy was under cover of the trees, shooting down the artillerists at easy musket range.8 Soon Lieutenant Bramhall and nearly all the artillerymen had been shot [129] down, and the pieces were worked for a time by Colonel Baker in person, his assistant adjutant-general (Captain Harvey), Captain Stewart, assistant adjutant-general of the division, a few other officers, and myself.

Leaving the pieces, as I saw the whole strength of the enemy was being thrown on the left, I proceeded to the extreme left, where I found Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar had been badly wounded, and that the left wing, without a commander, was becoming disorganized. I then ordered Captain Markoe, of the 1st California Regiment, to move his company to the left, and hold the hill at all hazards. Captain Markoe moved as directed, engaged the enemy's skirmishers, and held his ground for some time, but could gain no advantage over the enemy. About half an hour afterward Colonel Baker came from the right of the line and passed in front of the line of skirmishers, when he was instantly killed by the fire of the enemy's sharp-shooters.

By this time the hills on the left front were fully occupied by the enemy. Two companies of my regiment, under Captain Alden, arrived on the field, cheering most heartily, and with this fresh force we pushed the enemy some fifty yards back, but they had now obtained too strong possession of the hills to be dislodged. An unequal contest was maintained for about half an hour, when Captain Harvey, assistant adjutant-general, reported to me that Colonel Baker having been killed, I was in command of the: field, and that a council of war was being held by the remaining colonels. I repaired to the point occupied by Colonels Lee and Devens, and found that they had decided on making a retreat. I informed them I was in command of the field; that a retreat across the river was impossible, and the only movement to be made was to cut our way through to Edwards Ferry,

Colonel Edward D. Baker. From a photograph.

and that a column of attack must be at once formed for that purpose. At the same time I directed Captain Harvey, assistant adjutant-general, to form the whole force into column of attack, faced to the left.

Having given these orders, I proceeded to the front, and finding our lines pressed severely, I ordered an advance of the whole force on the right of the enemy's line. I was followed by the remnants of my two companies and a portion of the California regiment, but, for some reasons unknown to me, was not joined by either the 15th or the 20th Massachusetts regiments. We were overpowered and forced back to our original position, and again driven from that position to the river-bank by overwhelming numbers. On the river-bank I found the whole force in a state of great disorder. As I arrived, two companies of my own regiment [42d New York], under Captains Gerety and O'Meara, landed from the large boat. I ordered these fresh companies up the bluff, and they instantly ascended and deployed as skirmishers to cover the passage to the island, while I took about a dozen men and moved to the left to check a heavy fire of the enemy which had opened on us from the mouth of the ravine near. We were almost immediately surrounded and captured. This took place shortly after dark.



Colonel Devens thus describes the closing events as observed by him:

The action commenced about 3 P. M., and at about 4 P. M. I was ordered to detach two companies from the left of my regiment to the support of the left of the line, and to draw in, proportionately, the right flank, which was done, Companies G and H, Captains Forehand and Philbrick, being detached for that purpose. By this time it had become painfully evident, by the volume and rapidity of the enemy's fire and the persistency of his attacks, that he was in much larger force than we. The two howitzers were silent and the 6-pounder also. Their commanders came from the field wounded.

Soon after, I was called from the right of my regiment, there being at this time a comparative cessation of the enemy's fire, to the center of the line, and learned for the first time that Colonel Baker had been killed and that Lieutenant-Colonel Ward, of the 15th Massachusetts, had been carried from the field severely wounded. Colonel Lee supposing it his duty to take command, I reported myself ready to execute his orders. He expressed his opinion that the only thing to be done was to retreat to the river, and that the battle was utterly lost. It soon appeared that Colonel Cogswell was entitled to the command, who expressed his determination to make the attempt to cut our way to Edwards Ferry, and ordered me, as a preliminary movement, to form the 15th Regiment in line toward the left. The 15th Regiment accordingly moved across from the right to the left of the original line. Two or three companies of the Tammany [42d New York] Regiment, just then arrived, formed also on his left. While endeavoring to make the necessary dispositions to retreat, confusion was created by the appearance of an officer of the enemy's force in front of the Tammany Regiment, who called on them to charge on the enemy, who were now in strong force along the wood occupied formerly by the 15th Massachusetts during the former portion of the action. The detachment of the Tammany Regiment, probably mistaking this for an order from their own officers, rushed forward to the charge, and the 15th Massachusetts, supposing that an order had been given for the advance of the whole line, rushed with eagerness, but was promptly recalled by their officers, who had received no such order. The detachment of the Tammany Regiment was received with a shower of bullets, and suffered severely. In the disturbance caused by their repulse the line was broken, but was promptly re-formed.

After this, however, although several volleys were given and returned and the troops fought vigorously, it seemed impossible to preserve the order necessary for a combined military movement, and Colonel Cogswell reluctantly gave the order to retreat to the river-bank. The troops descended the bluff, and reached the bank of the river, where there is a narrow plateau between the river and the ascent of the bluff, both the plateau and the bluff being heavily wooded. As I descended upon this plateau, in company with Colonel Cogswell, I saw the large boat, upon which we depended as the means of crossing the river, swamped by the number of men who rushed upon it.

For the purpose of retarding as much as possible the approach of the enemy, by direction of Colonel Cogswell I ordered the 15th Regiment to deploy as skirmishers over the bank of the river, which order was executed, and several volleys were given and returned between them and others of our forces and the enemy, who were now pressing upon us in great numbers and forcing down furious volleys on this plateau and into the river to prevent any escape. It was impossible longer to continue to resist, and I should have had no doubt, if we had been contending with the troops of a foreign nation, in justice to the lives of men, it would have been our duty to surrender; I had no hesitation in advising men to escape as they could, ordering them in all cases to throw their arms into the river rather than give them up to the enemy. This order was generally obeyed, although several of the men swam the river with their muskets on their backs, and others have returned to camp, bringing with them their muskets, who had remained on the Virginia shore for two nights rather than to part with their weapons in order to facilitate their escape. Having passed up along the line of that portion of the river occupied by my regiment, I returned to the lower end of it, and at dark myself swam the river by the aid of three of the soldiers of my regiment.


The final effect of not looking after the boat service was seen in the presence of the fifteen companies at Harrison's Island on their way to the scene of action at the moment of defeat. This error, like the others, was the result of Colonel Baker's inexperience. No one has ever sought to blame him. The whole load was at once thrown upon General Stone, though not, indeed, by those who knew the facts and were capable of judging.

With the light we have to-day, it would, indeed, be easy to admit that, even with forces outnumbering the enemy as four to one, to cross a rapid river in a few boats at two points practically four miles apart, climb a steep bank, and thence advance against an enemy centrally posted within two miles of either landing, is too delicate an operation to be undertaken by inexperienced troops, without that knowledge of individual qualities which can only be gained by the test of actual warfare, and, moreover, without a positive command or an object adequate to the risk.

If we are to judge by the light of ‘61, then it must be remembered that General Stone supposed himself to be carrying out the wishes of his commanding general10 in regard to dislodging the enemy from Leesburg, that the scouting parties found no large force of Confederates, that he had no reason to apprehend any one of the negligences and ignorances which followed, that the main body of the Confederates seemed to be in Gorman's front; finally, that he believed McCall to be still reconnoitering beyond Dranesville.11

It was thus that General McClellan, no less just than generous to his sub-ordinates, judged in vindicating Stone from reproach, and retaining him in command when self-interest would in any case have suggested his retirement, and duty would have demanded it if he were to blame.12 So, too, judged the leading officers who took part in the battle, including those who suffered wounds and long imprisonment.

But with the cry of grief that went up all over the land at the untimely death of the brave and eloquent Baker, who had left the Senate to take the field, was mingled the cry of rage of a few men among his personal followers. They filled the public ear with misrepresentations, to which Stone and his officers, restrained by discipline, were unable to reply.13 [132]

General Stone asked his commanding general for a court of inquiry; it was refused as unnecessary and inexpedient.

Congress met and promptly called on the Executive for information and an investigation. Both requests were denied as contrary to the public interests, but the demand being repeated, the President so far yielded as to promise an immediate inquiry. This was not enough to satisfy Congress, which appointed the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, and began the investigation for itself, and in a mood which may be inferred from the denunciation of the affair, in advance, as “the most atrocious military murder in history.”

In the meantime, a series of incidents had taken place of a character tending to give point to the vague suspicions entertained against General Stone. in some quarters. In September, two alleged fugitive slaves were returned to their master under General Stone's orders, by a subaltern of the 20th Massachusetts regiment of his division. Not knowing, or perhaps ignoring, the fact that General Stone's action was in exact accord with the orders, and was sustained by the approval of his superiors, including the President, as well

John A. Andrew, War-Governor of Massachusetts. From a photograph.

as in conformity with the policy of the Government, as then declared by Congress Governor Andrew, upon the first information received, wrote a letter to the regimental commander, reprimanding the lieutenant.

A warm correspondence followed, in which, on the one hand, Governor Andrew maintained the correctness of his own action, and severely criticised General Stone's, while, on the other hand, General McClellan and General Stone protested against the governor's course as an unwarranted interference with the discipline of the armies of the United States.

Governor Andrew sent the correspondence to Senator Sumner, who laid it before the Senate, and denounced Stone in unmeasured terms.

Stung to the quick, Stone instantly replied in a letter to Mr. Sumner, for which I need seek no better description or criticism than is contained in Mr. [133] Lincoln's remark, after reading the letter and patiently hearing the whole story, while it was still hot: “I don't know that I should have written such a letter; but if I had wanted to, I think, under the circumstances,--under the circumstances, mind you,--I would have had a right to do so.” 14

These circumstances, imperfectly known or understood, have caused many to suppose that Mr. Sumner was in some way the originator of General Stone's arrest; it is, however, as certain as any fact can be upon negative evidence, that Mr. Sumner had nothing whatever to do with the subsequent proceedings.

The Committee on the Conduct of the War proceeded to investigate Ball's Bluff by the methods common to nearly all similar bodies. Witnesses were summoned and examined without order; there was no cross-examination; the accused was not confronted with the witnesses nor told their names, nor the charge upon Which he had been already tried, condemned, and sentenced before he was even allowed to appear. No one was responsible. Of many important details there was no record. The secrets of a committee may not be divulged even to the authority from which its existence is derived. On behalf of the committee, the responsibility has been sought to be avoided. It cannot avail. General McClellan's statement is explicit, that Mr. Stanton informed him, when ordering the arrest, that he did so “at the solicitation of the committee.” General McClellan was one of the most truthful of men. Mr. Stanton, unfriendly as he had then become, did not deny it; but he explicitly denied the authorship of the arrest. On the part of the committee no such explicit denial was ever made. As a matter of fact, some, at least, of its members hailed the arrest with demonstrations of delight. In April, in the Senate, the committee vehemently opposed a resolution calling on the President for the evidence taken before the committee. The chairman, Mr. Wade, admitted that the committee had done something, and had suggested something, but his language, elsewhere so violent, was guarded when he came to tell what this was. A sub-committee laid the evidence, which the Senate was not to be allowed to see, before the President and his cabinet, and “left it pretty much to them,” in Mr. Wade's words. The resolution was supported by Mr. Sumner, and was passed against the opposition of the committee. Nine days later the President declined to lay the evidence before the Senate in a message, which, as Mr. Blaine points out, bears marks of having been written in the War Office; but the fact that the information withhe ld consisted of the evidence taken by its own committee was not revealed to the Senate.

Mr. Stanton's order for Stone's arrest was issued on the 28th of January. It was not executed until the morning of the 9th of February. What happened in the interval has never been told. It is soon done. General McClellan asked that General Stone might be heard in his defense. The committee assented, and General Stone was examined on the 31st. Meantime, the [134] execution of the order was informally suspended in deference to General McClellan's express statement to the Secretary, that he did not see how any charges could be framed on the testimony.15

In a few days the missing link was supplied by a surprising occurrence. A refugee came into General W. W. Burns's lines from Leesburg, with a vague and utterly groundless story of mysterious flags of truce and of how much the Confederates thought of their friend Stone.16 General McClellan was now placed in a cruel dilemma. He had either to show the refugee's story to the Secretary, or withhold it. The course he chose was that which seemed to him his duty. Mr. Stanton instantly renewed the order, and Stone's ruin was accomplished.

Not only were no charges ever preferred, but no acknowledgment of error was ever made, unless Stone's retention in the service and his restoration to duty, long subsequently, and under secret surveillance, be so considered. General McClellan in vain applied for him. General Hooker's first act on taking command was to ask for him as chief-of-staff. At last, in May, 1863, upon the earnest request of General Banks, commanding the Department of the Gulf, Stone was ordered to report to him. He arrived during the siege of Port Hudson, and rendered valuable service, though without assignment. Immediately afterward, General Banks appointed him chief-of-staff, in which capacity he served until April 16th, 1864, when, coincidently with the disaster on the Red River, but under orders previously issued at Washington, he was deprived of his commission as brigadier-general, and ordered to “report by letter” as colonel of the 14th infantry. In the following August, Lieutenant-General Grant assigned him to the command of a brigade in the Fifth Army Corps. A month later, worn out at last by the strain of the unmerited suffering he had so long endured in silence, he resigned.

And thus it was that this most gallant, accomplished, and faithful soldier was, upon no charges, without a hearing, upon “evidence” on which no humane or fair-minded man would punish a pet terrier, condemned not merely to long and rigorous imprisonment, but to a punishment so much worse than death that in all ages men have sought death because they have lacked the courage to endure it.

1 See General Stone's article, “Washington on the eve of the War,” Vol. I., p. 7.--Editors.

2 Afterward Sedgwick's division, Second Corps, brigade commanders Gorman, Dana, and Burns.--R. B. I.

3 Colonel N. G. Evans, who distinguished himself at the first Bull Run.--Editors.

4 According to General Stone, he directed “five companies to be thrown into a strong mill on the right of Ball's Bluff. Colonel Baker allowed these companies to be directed to the front.”--Editors.

5 According to General Stone, he “sent cavalry scouts to be thrown out in advance of the infantry on the right. Colonel Baker allowed this cavalry to return without scouting, and did not replace it although he had plenty at his disposition.”--Editors.

6 Colonel Baker received the appointment of Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, August 6th, 1861, to rank from May 17th, 1861. This he declined, August 31st, 1861. On September 21st, 1861, he was appointed Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, but at the date of his death he had neither accepted nor declined the appointment. General McClellan was then the only other officer in the Army of the Potomac holding that rank.--Editors.

7 General Stone says in a report dated December 2d, 1861, that “Colonel Baker spent more than an hour in personally superintending the lifting of a boat from the canal to the river, when a junior officer or sergeant would have done as well, the meantime neglecting to visit or give orders to the advanced force in the face of the enemy.”--Editors.

8 Captain William F. Bartlett, of the 20th Massachusetts, says of this attack:

The enemy now opened on us from the woods in front with a heavy fire of musketry, which was very effective. They fired low, the balls all going within from one to four feet of the ground. Three companies of the 20th were kept in reserve, but on the open ground, exposed to a destructive fire. It was a continual fire now, with occasional pauses of one or two minutes, until the last. The rifled cannon was on the left in the open ground, in front of a part of Baker's regiment, exposed to a hot fire. It was not discharged more than eight times. The gunners were shot down in the first of the engagement, and I saw Colonel Lee carry a charge to the gun with his own hands. The last time that it was fired the recoil carried it down the rise to the edge of the bank.

Colonel Eppa Hunton, of the 8th Virginia, who made the attack, says: “At the first fire from my regiment nearly every man at the enemy's cannon was shot down, and so incessant and galling was the fire we kept up that there were only three discharges of cannon after the first fire from the 8th.”--Editors.

9 Colonel Cogswell says in conclusion: “I deem it my duty as commander of the field during the last part of the action to state my convictions as to the principal causes of the untoward results of the day: First. The transportation of troops across the two branches of the river was in no way guarded or organized. There were no guards at any of the landings. No boats's crews had been detailed, and each command as it arrived was obliged to organize its own. No guns were placed in position either on the Maryland side or on the island to protect the passage, although several pieces were disposable on the Maryland shore near the landing. Had the full capacity of the boats been employed, more than twice as many men might have crossed in time to take part in the action. Second. The dispositions on the field were faulty, according to my judgment.”--Editors.

10 Although the strict letter of his instructions was admittedly exhausted. But this was not the only communication that had passed. Observe, that although surprised by the movement, and greatly distressed by the disaster, General McClellan uttered not a word of censure. He even telegraphed, “Take Leesburg.” Curiously enough, this dispatch, being in cipher, could not be read by General Stone, who replied, “I have the box, but not the key.” At first this was supposed to refer to a box, and I was sent to General Stone's family for the key; of course, to no purpose.--R. B. I.

11 General McClellan says he thinks notice was sent to General Stone of McCall's withdrawal from Dranesville. He had a right to think so but the fact remains that no such notice was sent. I state this of my own knowledge.--R. B. I.

12 In “McClellan's own story,” the general writes of Stone: “He was a most charming and amiable gentleman; honest, brave, a good soldier, though occasionally carried away by his chivalrous ideas. He was very unfortunate, and was as far as possible from meriting the sad fate and cruel treatment he met with.”--Editors.

13 The following extract denotes the substance of such irresponsible accusations against General Stone as reached the public at the time: “Brigadier-General Charles P. Stone was arrested in Washington this morning, at 2 o'clock, by a posse of the Provost Marshal's force, and sent to Fort Lafayette, New York harbor. The charges against General Stone are: First, for misbehavior at the battle of Ball's Bluff; second, for holding correspondence with the enemy before and since the battle of Ball's Bluff, and receiving visits from rebel officers in his camp; third, for treacherously suffering the enemy to build a fort or strong work, since the battle of Ball's Bluff, under his guns without molestation; fourth, for a treacherous design to expose his force to capture and destruction by the enemy, under pretense of orders for a movement from the commanding general, which had not been given.”--[ “Diary of events” for February 9th, 1861, in Vol. IV. of Moore's Rebellion record, published in 1862.] These few lines involve nine distinct misstatements or perversions, only the single fact embodied in the first paragraph being correctly set forth.--R. B. I.

14 Adjutant-General Schouler ( “Massachusetts in the War” ) says, “Mr. Sumner took no notice” of Stone's letter. General Schouler was evidently not aware that Mr. Sumner took the letter at once to Mr. Lincoln, with the above result.--R. B. I.

15 The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, appointed in December, 1861, during the second session of the 37th Congress, consisted of Senators Benjamin F. Wade, of Ohio; Zachariah Chandler, of Michigan, and Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee; and Representatives D. W. Gooch, of Massachusetts; John Covode, of Pennsylvania; George W. Julian, of Indiana, and M. F. Odell, of New York. On the appointment of Andrew Johnson as Military Governor of Tennessee, March 4th, 1862, his place on the committee was filled, temporarily, by Joseph A. Wright, of Indiana. Only six names appear in the report, submitted April 6th, 1863, with respect to the First Bull Run, Ball's Bluff, the Western Department of Missouri, and other subjects.--Editors.

16 General McClellan informed General Stone that he had last seen the written statement at the War Office on the 8th of February, 1862. I saw it at his headquarters in Washington in September, 1862, in a wardrobe full of papers turned over to me when I, as Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, was detached “to prevent the tail of the army from being again cut off,” and it was among a double handful which I delivered back to General Seth Williams after Antietam. I suggest that the name of this refugee, and all the facts regarding him, and all the statements made by him, will probably turn up in the archives of the “Secret service.” I know the man was turned over to “Colonel E. J. Allen” (Allen Pinkerton) and examined by him.--R. B. I.

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