previous next

Doc. 99. battle of ball's Bluff, Va., fought October 21, 1861.1

Col. Devens' report.

Headquarters Fifteenth regiment mass. Vol., Poolesville, Md., Oct. 23, 1861.
General: I respectfully report that about twelve o'clock Sunday night, October 20, I crossed the Potomac, by your order, from Harrison's Island to the Virginia shore, with five companies, numbering about three hundred 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 reinforcements, 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 four 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 Twentieth Massachusetts, accompanied by Colonel Lee, who were to protect our return.

At daybreak we pushed forward our reconnoissance toward Leesburgh to the distance of about a mile from the river, to a spot supposed [212] 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 openings 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 this slope and along the other line of it, observing Leesburgh, 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 reinforced. 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 sixty or seventy 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 five hundred men 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 half-past 6 o'clock A. M., and during his absence, at about seven o'clock, a company of riflemen, who had probably discovered us, were reported on our right, upon the road from Conrad's Ferry. I directed Captain Philbrick, Company H, to pass up over the slope and attack them, while Captain Rockwood, Company A, was ordered to proceed to the right arid cut off their retreat in the direction of Conrad's Ferry, and accompany Captain Philbrick as he proceeded to execute the order. Captain Philbrick's command proceeded over the slope of the hill, and the enemy retreated down on the other side, taking the direction of a cornfield in which the corn had lately been cut and stood in the shocks. The first volley was fired by them from a ditch or trench into which they retreated. It was immediately returned by our men, and the skirmish continued hotly for some minutes. I had ordered Captain Forehand, Company G, to reinforce Captain Philbrick, but a body of rebel cavalry being reported on our left, I directed Captain Philbrick to return to the wood lest he might be cut off from the main body of the detachment; this he did in good order. In the skirmish, nine men of Company H were wounded, one killed, and two were missing at its close, although the field was carefully examined by Captain Philbrick and myself before we left it; they probably were wounded and crawled into the bush, which was growing in portions of it. On returning to the wood, I remained waiting for an attack for perhaps half an hour; at the end of this time, as my messenger did not return, I deemed it prudent to join Colonel Lee, which I did; but after remaining with him upon the bluff a short time, and having thoroughly scouted the woods, I returned to my first position. I was rejoined at eight o'clock A. M., by Quartermaster Howe, who reported to me that I was to remain where I was, and would be reinforced, and that Lieutenant-Colonel Ward would proceed to Smart's Mill with the remainder of the regiment, that a communication should be kept up between us, and that ten cavalry would report to me for the purpose of reconnoitring. For some reason they never appeared or reported to me, but I have since learned they came as far as the bluff. 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, and threw out a company of skirmishers to the brow of the hill, and also to my right and left, to await the arrival of more troops. At about ten 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 nine and eleven o'clock, I was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Ward with the remainder of my regiment, making in all a force of six hundred and twenty-five men, with twenty-eight 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 twelve o'clock it was reported to me a force was gathering on my left, and about half past 12 o'clock a strong attack was made on my left by a body of infantry concealed in the woods, and 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. Reinforcements not yet having arrived, and the attempt of the enemy to outflank us being very vigorous, I directed the regiment to retire about sixty paces into an open space in the wood, and prepared 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 a quarter-past two 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 centre and left being composed of a detachment of the Twentieth Massachusetts. numbering about three hundred men, under command of Colonel Lee. A battalion of the California regiment, numbering about six hundred men, Lieutenant-Colonel Wistar commanding; two howitzers, commanded by Lieutenant Pierce, and a six-pounder, commanded by Lieutenant Bramhall, were planted in front, supported by Company D, Captain Studley, and Company F, Captain Sloan, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts. The enemy soon appeared in force, and after [213] sharp skirmishing on the right directed his attack upon our whole line, but more particularly upon our centre and left, where it was gallantly met by the Massachusetts Twentieth and the California battalion. Skirmishing during all the action was very severe on the right, but the skirmishers of the enemy were resolutely repulsed by our own, composed of Companies A and I, Captains Rockwood and Joslin, of the Massachusetts Fifteenth, and Company--, of the Twentieth Massachusetts, under the direction of Major Kimball, of the Massachusetts Fifteenth.

The action commenced about three o'clock P. M., and at about four 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, Capts. 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 six-pouder 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 centre of the line, and learned for the first time that Col. Baker had been killed, and that Lieut.--Col. Ward, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts, had been carried from the field severely wounded. Col. 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 Col. Coggswell 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 Fifteenth regiment in line toward the left. The Fifteenth regiment accordingly moved across from the right to the left of the original line. Two or three companies of the Tammany New York regiment, just then arrived, formed also on its left; while endeavoring to make the necessary disposition 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 Fifteenth 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 Massachusetts Fifteenth supposing that an order had been given for the advance of the whole line, rushed with eagerness, but were promptly recalled by their officers, who had received no such order. The detachment of the Tammany regiment were received by a shower of bullets, and suffered severely; in the disturbance caused by their repulse, the line was broken, but was promptly reformed. After this, however, although several volley were given and returned, and the troops fought vigorously, it seemed impossible to preserve the order necessary for a combined military movement, and Col. Coggswell 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 Coggswell, I saw the large boat upon which we depended as the means of crossing the river; swamped by the number of men who had rushed upon it. For the purpose of retarding as much as possible the approach of the enemy, by direction of Col. Coggswell, I ordered the Fifteenth 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, but it was impossible to do this to rebels and traitors, and I had no hesitation in advising men to escape as they could, ordering them, in all cases, to throw their arms into tile 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. On arriving at the island I immediately gathered a force of thirty men who had reached it with safety, and placed them at the passage of the river to prevent any attempt of the enemy crossing in pursuit; but soon learned that Col. Minks had arrived with the Nineteenth Massachusetts regiment, and would take charge of the island. Our loss, in proportion to the numbers engaged of the regiment, is large, as will be seen by the list of the killed, missing, and wounded, which I annex. A large proportion of those reported missing are probably prisoners in the hands of the enemy. Although the result of the day was most unfortunate, it is but justice to the officers and men of the Fifteenth Massachusetts regiment, as well as to the other troops engaged, to say that they behaved most nobly during the entire day, and that the nation has no occasion [214] to blush for dishonor to its arms. The loss of the regiment, in arms, equipments, and clothing, is necessarily heavy, the particulars of which I will immediately forward.

In conclusion, it may not be improper for me to say that, notwithstanding the regiment mourns the loss of the brave officers and soldiers whose names are borne on the list I annex, its spirit is entirely unbroken, and its organization is in no way demoralized. It will answer any summons from you to another contest with the foe, although with diminished numbers, with as hearty a zest as on the morning of Oct. 21.

I remain, General, respectfully,

Charles Devens, Colonel.

General Stone's order.

Headquarters Corps of observation, Pollesville, Nov. 4. 1861.
General Order, No. 24.

the General commanding has with deep regret observed, in a report rendered to Brig.-General Lander by Colonel E. W. Hinks, commanding Nineteenth regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, of what he (Col. Hinks) saw from Harrison's Island of the engagement on the Virginia shore on the 21st ult., and of his own regiment's guarding the island, and securing and caring for the wounded as they were brought from the field, a statement reflecting severely on the conduct of the gallant Tammany regiment.

Col. Hinks reports that a portion of the Tammany regiment deserted the island on the morning of the 22d October, “in disobedience of orders.” 2

The commanding General deems it proper to give publicity to the fact that he himself requested Maj.-Gen. Banks to relieve the companies of the Tammany early on that morning, and that the order was given immediately that they should be relieved, and replaced by fresh troops from Gen. Hamilton's brigade.

Commanding officers are cautioned against making unnecessary and rash statements in their reports, especially in cases where the honor and reputation of other regiments may be involved, as from such statements not only great injustice may be done, but ill-will, most prejudicial to the good of the service, is certain to be engendered. By order of

Brig.-Gen. Stone. Chas. Stewart, Asst. Adj.-General.

Lieutenant Bramhall's report.

at Thomas Oxley's House, near Conrad's Ferry, Md., Oct. 24, 1861.
Captain T. B. Bunting, commanding Light Battery K, detached Ninth Regiment New York State Militia:
sir: I beg to submit to you the following report of my participation in an engagement which took place on the Virginia shore of the Potomac, opposite Harrison's Island, upon the 21st inst.

During the afternoon of the 20th, Captain Vaughn, of the Third Rhode Island battery, came down to my camp with one section of his battery, when the command of the artillery thore, consisting of his one section and mine, devolved upon him. The night was passed without any alarm, and in the morning Captain Vaughn left to go to his camp at Poolesville, to attend to matters concerning his battery. During his absence, about one P. M., a courier arrived from General Baker, bidding as report with all despatch to him upon the Maryland side of the Potomac, opposite Harrison's Island. Being the senior artillery officer present, I took command, and arrived at the point designated, with the four pieces, in less than half an hour. Here we were joined by Captain Vaughn, who soon left us, temporarily, to discover some point from whence to shell the enemy from our side with effect.

At the time of our arrival but little firing was heard upon the opposite shore, and that only desultory. At about half past 2 P. M., however, the firing of musketry suddenly became very brisk, accompanied by occasional discharges of artillery. At this time General Baker, who had been actively engaged in superintending the despatch of reinforcements, crossed himself, accompanied by but one officer, who, I am informed, was Major Young of his command, leaving word to forward the artillery with all despatch. The means provided for this purpose consisted of two scows, manned with poles, and which, owing to the swiftness of the current, consumed a great deal of time in the trip from the mainland to the island. Captain Vaughn not having yet returned, I took command, and ordered the immediate embarkation of the pieces. I crossed with the first piece, (which happened to be a Rhode Island piece,) accompanied by Colonel Coggswell, of the Tammany regiment, arriving upon the island after a half hour's hard labor to keep the boat from floating down the stream. We ascended the steep bank, made soft and sloppy by the passage of the troops, and at a rapid gate crossed the island to the second crossing. At this point we found only a scow, on which we did not dare to cross the piece and the horses together, and thus lost further time by being obliged to make two crossings. Upon arriving on the Virginia shore we were compelled to dismount the piece and carriage and haul the former up by the prolonge, the infantry assisting in carrying the parts of the latter to a point about thirty feet up a precipitous ascent, rendered almost impassable with soft mud, where we remounted the piece, and hitching up the horses, dragged it through a perfect thicket up to the open ground above, where the fighting was going on.

During all this time the firing had continued with great briskness, and that the enemy's fire was very effectual was evident from the large number of wounded and dead who were being borne to the boats. But a few moments [215] previous to coming into position the firing had ceased, and when I arrived I found that our men were resting, many with arms stacked in front of them. The ground upon which was such of the fight as I engaged in was an open space, forming a parallelogram, enclosed entirely in woods. Our men were disposed in a semicircle, the right and left termini of which rested upon the woods, with, as near as I could discern, skirinishers thrown out upon each flank, while the convexity of our lines skirted the cliff overhanging the river. The width of the opening I estimated at about four hundred and fifty feet; its length as many yards. The ground sloped from a point about forty yards from the cliff sufficiently to afford a very tolerable cover for our men.

Upon order of General Baker, I moved my piece forward into position in the centre, equidistant from two howitzers posted respectively upon the right and left of our lines. I had hardly got into position when the enemy, who occupied the woods in front at the other extremity of the opening, and a portion of the distance down the right and left, opened upon us a severe fire, wounding two of my cannoneers. I immediately responded, and continued a rapid fire until all but two of my cannoneers were wounded and left me. Among these, most unfortunately, was No. 4, who took with him the tube pouch and lanyard. Finding no other lanyard nor any primers in the limber chest, I obtained the assistance of some infantry soldiers and hauled the piece down to the rear. After a few minutes the missing tube pouch was found and brought to me, the blood which covered it showing plainly the cause of its disappearance.

At this time there was but one cannoneer (Carmichael) by the piece. The piece was brought into position by the aid of General Baker, Colonel Coggswell, Colonel Lee (I think that is his name) and Captain Stewart, of General Stone's staff. Assisted by these gentlemen, the firing was resumed, and maintained until they were obliged to leave and go to their several commands. I then called for volunteers, whom I soon obtained from the infantry. I would be glad to have been able to distinguish who they were that came to my aid, for they worked with great zeal and coolness; but the similarity of uniforms prevented. I would beg, however, to call attention to one young fellow whose name I obtained. He is a private (Booth) of Company L, California regiment, who rendered me great assistance, at times being the only one with me at the piece.

I do not know how long a time the piece was engaged, but I judge it to have been (allowing for all intervals) about half an hour. The number of rounds I estimated at from eighteen to twenty, none of which I think failed to do good execution. The longest range necessary to obtain was not in any case over four hundred and fifty yards, and at three separate times I reserved the fire until I could plainly discern the enemy advancing up the slope at one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet distance.

The expediency of this was demonstrated in the hasty and disordered returning of the enemy's centre. The last round which I fired was when the enemy had flanked us on the left, and were pouring in a deadly fire from that quarter; as well as from the front, at about the moment when Gen. Baker fell at the head of his men. Finding that the battle was lost to us, and with but one man left to aid me, (Booth of the California regiment,) whom I have already mentioned, and growing weak and stiff from my wounds, of which I received three, none dangerous, I caused the piece to be drawn down to the edge of the cliff, whence it was afterward thrown down, lodging in the rocks and logs, with which the descent was cumbered, and, assisted by two privates of the Fifteenth Massachusetts regiment, made my way to the boat and over to the island. Here I found my own section and the other piece belonging to the Rhode Island section, one of which I had had, and leaving directions to command the ford at the upper end of the island with two pieces, and to hold the other in reserve to act where circumstances might require aid to cover the retreat of our own infantry, I crossed to the mainland. I had first despatched a messenger for Lieut. Clark of our battery, who soon after arrived and took command. The only projectile with which the ammunition chest was provided was the James shell. I have been told by those from the right and left, who could correctly observe their effect, that they burst and with great effect. The short range at which they were fired would of course hardly admit of any very appreciable deviation from a direct course such as has been remarked of the projectile. I cannot speak too well of the conduct of the brave fellows who belonged to the piece, who, with one exception, remained at their posts, until wounded and driven away. I beg especially to mention Sergeant Tucker, privates Carmichael, Madisons, (two brothers,) together with the drivers and all others whose names I do not know. I had in use one of the battery horses as my saddle horse (my own being unfit for use) upon that day, which was killed by a ball through the left lung. The piece, I have since learned, was taken by the enemy: with it there were but eight or ten rounds of shell and about twenty blanks. I do not think it was possible to have saved the piece from capture, for it would have required a full half hour to have gotten it down to the river, when, if it were shipped upon the boat it would have been necessarily to the exclusion of the wounded who were being conveyed to the opposite shore. Indeed, I very much doubt if it could have crossed at all, for the scow sunk with its weight of men the next trip after I returned in it. The horses belonging to the piece were all shot, and I learn from Captain Vaughn, who has since been over to bury the dead, that five of them lay dead in [216] one heap. I regretted that the canister which was to be sent over to us did not reach us, as with it I might have at least kept the enemy sufficiently in check to have given time to many of the wounded who were left on the Virginia side to have escaped. Our own men worked with energy and zeal in getting the pieces across, and in assisting the passage of both reinforcements and the returning wounded, which merit the highest commendation. Their only regret was in being unable to reach the scene of conflict themselves. My wounds are only flesh wounds, and not in any way dangerous, and a respite of a short time will, I trust, render me capable of resuming my duties.

I am, captain, with much respect, your most obedient servant,

W. M. Bramhall, Lieutenant Commanding right section Battery K.
The action referred to occurred during my absence on business in Washington. The report is approved and respectfully submitted. Our loss is as follows, viz.: one horse; seventy-five yards of picket rope, used and lost while towing scows; thirteen blankets, taken to carry the dead and wounded; five overcoats, cast off while at work, and taken by men who swam the river without clothing; seven sabres, laid down while at work and supposed to be taken by the infantry who had thrown their guns in the river; four camp kettles; sixty seven rations, and some small parts of one set of harness.

T. B. Bunting, Captain Commanding.

Second report of Lieut.-Col Palfrey.

Headquarters Twentieth regiment mass. Vols camp Benton, Poolesville, Md, October 27, 1861.
To his Excellency Gov. Andrew:
Governor: The extreme pressure of business of all kinds which came upon me, in consequence of the affair of Oct. 21, has kept me from writing again to you till now.

With such losses in the field and staff of our regiment, it has been very difficult to attain to any thing like despatch. At ten, this evening, I found all our wounded, with two or three exceptions, sleeping peacefully. They are all cheerful, and there seems to be, singularly, little suffering among them. All are apparently sure to recover, and but one occurs to me as permanently injured. Lew, of Pittsfield, has lost his right arm near the elbow. I enclose a list of the killed, wounded, and missing. I also enclose an account of the engagement made by the senior officer of those who came back safe. It is a copy of the official report transmitted by me to our Division Commander.

official report.

Headquarters Twentieth regiment M. V., camp Benton, October 25, 1861.
To Gen. Stone, Commanding Corps of Observation:
General: I have to report that one hundred men of the Twentieth regiment crossed from Swan's or Harrison's Island, at half past 3 A M., on Monday morning, Oct. 21, to support the detachment of the Massachusetts Fifteenth, and cover its retreat. We climbed the steep bank, one hundred and fifty feet high, with difficulty, and took post on the right of the open space above, sending out scouts in all directions. The detachment of the Twentieth consisted of two companies, I and L--in all one hundred and two men, under command of Col. Lee. A little after daylight, First Sergeant Riddle, of Company I, was brought in, shot through the arm by some pickets of the enemy on the right.

At eight A. M., a splendid volley was heard from the direction of the Fifteenth, (which had advanced half a mile up the road leading from the river,) and some wounded men were brought back toward the river. We were then deployed by Col. Lee as skirmishers, on each side of the road mentioned, leaving an opening for the Fifteenth to pass through in retreat.

They fell back in good order at ten A. M. At eleven A. M. the other companies of the Fifteenth arrived from the island, and Col. Devens, with his command, moved inland again. At this time, the remaining men of the Twentieth, under Major Revere, joined us. Major Revere had, during the morning, brought round from the other side of the island a small scow, (the only means of transportation, excepting the whale boat, holding sixteen, and the two skiffs, holding four and five respectively, with which we crossed in the morning). At two o'clock the detachment of Baker's brigade and the Tammany regiment had arrived, and Col. Baker, who disposed the troops under his command. The three hundred and eighteen men of the Twentieth were in the open space, the right up the river. The Fifteenth were in the edge of the woods on the right, a part of the California (Baker's) regiment on their left, touching at right angles our right.

Battlefield diagram.

One company of the Twentieth, under Capt. Putnam, was deployed as skirmishers on the right in the woods; one, under Capt. Crowninshield, on the left. Capt. Putnam lost an arm in the beginning of the engagement, and was carried to the rear. His company kept their ground well under Lieut. Hallowell. (The Fifteenth had before this, after the arrival of Gen. Baker, fallen back the second time, in good order, and had been placed by Gen. Baker as above mentioned.) 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 [217] the Twentieth were kept “in reserve,” but on the open ground, exposed to a destructive fire.

It was a continued 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.

The men of the Twentieth regiment behaved admirably, and all that were left of them were on the field after the battle was declared lost by General Baker. They acted (at least all under my command) with great coolness and bravery, and obeyed every order implicitly; and after the intimation had been given that we must surrender in order to save the men that were left, they cheerfully rallied and delivered a well-directed fire upon two companies that we caine upon, which had just advanced out of the woods. We were slowly driven back by their fire in return, and covered ourselves with the slight ruse mentioned above. We now tried to induce the colonel to attempt to escape, and get him down the bank unhurt. I turned to collect the remnant of my company, and when I returned to the bank they told me that the colonel, (Lee,) major, and adjutant had gone into a small boat and were by this time safely across. Feeling at ease, then, about them, I collected all that I found of the Twentieth, and gave permission to all those who could swim and wished to, to take to the water, and sent over reports and messages by them.

I then ordered those of the regiment who could not swim, to follow up the river, in order to get them out of the murderous volleys which the enemy were pouring down on us from the top of the bank. About twenty of the Twentieth regiment, twenty of the Fifteenth, and forty of the Tammany and California regiments followed us. We went up as far as the large mill, where I found by means of a negro there, a small sunken skiff in the mill-way, and induced him to get it out of the water and down to the river. It was capable of holding five men, and I began to send them over, expecting every minute to be discovered by the enemy. In an hour they were all over, and I crossed, with Lieut. Abbott of my company and Capt. Tremlett of Company A, Twentieth. I reported with the men at the hospital on the island. They got across to this side during the night. They were obliged to stop at the ferry, and sleep out, many without overcoats or blankets, until morning.

Out of twenty-two officers that were with us in the engagement, thirteen are killed, wounded, or missing. The colonel, (Lee,) I learned at the island, had not crossed, but I have since learned that he and his companions went farther up the river, found the boat which I afterward used, thought it impracticable, and went on. They were (by the report of one or two men who have since come in) taken prisoners. Col. Lee, Major Revere, Adjutant Pierson, Dr. Revere, and Lieut. Perry are supposed to have been together. I supposed it was my duty to make this report of that part of the regiment engaged, as senior officer of those saved.

Very respectfully,

W. F. Bartlett, Capt. Co. I, Twentieth Regiment Mass. Vols.

I trust that my delay in telegraphing is now fully explained to you by my letter of Oct. 24. When Gen. Lander ordered me to march on the morning of the 22d, I had no authentic account of our loss, and confident hopes that it would be much less severe, than it proved. Moreover, I then expected that my absence from camp would be short, as our little remaining force seemed necessary at our own camp, and able to do small service in an advance....

To show the spirit of our regiment, I may say that some of the men who had had little sleep Sunday night, little food and much fighting on Monday, and no sleep Monday night, joined me voluntarily on Tuesday morning and went cheerfully through our fatiguing service in Virginia. I need hardly say that I did not know it in time to tell them to stay in quarters and get the rest they had so richly earned. Also, Capt. Bartlett reported that during our absence the men were all begging to cross the river and join us.

Capt. Bartlett, in his report, speaks of getting some seventy men across the river in a boat that held five. I may add, what his modesty left unwritten, that he sent Lieut. Whittier, of Company A, across early to take charge of the men as they reached the Maryland shore, and that he and Lieut. Abbott of his company, and Capt. Tremlett of Company A, crossed at the last trip.

We gratefully acknowledge your kindness in sending to us at this time Col. Lee of your staff, Assistant-Quartermaster Lee and Dr Russell. I have had much conference with Col. Lee, the results of which and of his own observation, I leave him to communicate to you.

I have learned that we have a few wounded, estimated at six, in the Division Hospital at Poolesville; I have applied to the Division Surgeon for a list of them. It has not yet been furnished to me, but will be forwarded as soon as it comes to hand.

Our reduced regiment is at present arranged as a battalion of six companies.....

As for the missing officers, we have no doubt of the safety of the Colonel, Major, Adjutant, Assistant-Surgeon Revere and Lieut. Perry of Company D, and no doubt of the death of Capt. Babe, late Lieut. of Co. C, and Lieut. Wesselhoeft of the same company.

Your obedient servant,

Francis Winthrop Palfrey, Lieut.-Col. Commanding Twentieth Reg. Mass. Vol.


Lieuten Ant-Colonel Mooney's report.

Headquarters Tammany regiment, camp Lyon, near Poolesville, Md., Nov. 4, 1861.
To His Excellency Edwin D. Morgan, Governor of the State of New York:
sir: I herewith transmit to you a complete report of an engagement with the rebels at a point on the Potomac River, in the State of Virginia, known as Ball's Bluff, in which the Tammany regiment from New York City were active participants. On the morning of the 21st ult. Col. Coggswell received orders from Brig.-Gen. Stone to hold the regiment in readiness to march on a moment's warning to a point two miles below Conrad's Ferry, in the State of Maryland. On arriving at the point, the whole regiment was transported in good order and without accident to Harrison's Island, about midway between the Maryland and Virginia shores, in the Potomac River. Here, in accordance with the orders of the General in command, the regiment commenced crossing to the Virginia shore to a steep acclivity, some fifty feet in height. The passage across was slow and tedious, owing to the inadequate means of transit provided, only about a single company being able to cross at a time. Company A, Capt. H. Harrington; Company C, Lieut. McPherson.; Company E, Capt. T. H. O'Meara; Company H, Capt. H. Alden; and Company K, Capt. M. Garrity, had succeeded in crossing to the Virginia shore, and were hotly engaged in a sunguinary and uneven conflict with the rebels, when the boat used for the transportation of troops to the battle-field was swamped on a return trip, laden with wounded and dead soldiers, who had just fallen on the field of battle. How many of our bleeding soldiers were thus buried beneath the waters of the Potomac it was impossible, in the confusion that followed, to ascertain. No inconsiderable number were rescued by their comrades in arms on the island, and others, not seriously injured, escaped by their own exertion; but there is no doubt but some were drowned by this unfortunate occurrence. As this was the only boat at command, companies B, Lieut. J. McGrath ; D, Capt. Isaac G. Gotthold; F, Capt. J. W. Tobin; G, Capt. Quinn; and I, Capt. D. Hogg, were thus prevented from crossing to Virginia to assist their compatriots already in conflict with a largely superior force of the enemy. The men evinced the deepest anxiety to go to the rescue of their brother soldiers, and manifested the most unmistakable sorrow on learning the impossibility of engaging with the enemy.

The detachment of the Tammany, which succeeded in crossing to the Virginia shore, was marched up the steep acclivity, and immediately entered into the conflict already progressing, with a spirit and intrepidity that would have done credit to older and more experienced soldiers; but the contest was too uneven, and, notwithstanding the valor and steadfastness of the men, the battle went against us, though twice the troops of the Tammany impetuously and with great effect charged on the enemy after the order for retreat had been given. The retreat was conducted with the most perfect order to the river, our soldiers contesting every inch of the ground in retiring. On arriving at the river, and finding no means of conveyance to the island, our troops were ordered to throw their arms into the river, and such of them who could swim to do so, as this was their only alternative from being taken prisoners.

Below I transmit to you a list of those killed, wounded, and missing. Having no means of ascertaining the actual facts in the case, of course there are many unavoidable inaccuracies in the list, and it is but reasonable to suppose that at least a large proportion of those reported as wounded and missing, are among the dead.

On the death of Col. E. D. Baker, Acting Brigadier-Gen., Col. Milton Coggswell, of the Tammany regiment, assumed command of the brigade. Though the fortunes of the Union forces had already commenced to wane, Col. Coggswell rallied them with consummate skill, and when retreat became inevitable, drew off the men in the best possible style, ordering them to cast their muskets and accoutrements into the river, rather than leave them as trophies for the rebels. He was wounded in the hand, though it is supposed not seriously-sufficiently so, however, to prevent him from swimming to the island, in consequence of which he was doubtless taken prisoner.

Company A.--Capt. H. Harrington commanding. Killed--Privates: Thomas Bailey, Thomas Dugan--2. Wounded--Sergeant Hugh Mills, Corporal Thomas Stephton. Privates: Michael Gilligan, Daniel Ferry--4. Missing--First Lieut. Samuel Giberson, Corporal Frank Hughes. Privates: Edward Flood, Thos. James, Jeremiah McCarthy, Geo. McClellan, Daniel Devlin, Geo. Sykes, James Connor, Edward Clary, James Douglas, John Wilson--12. The four men wounded reached camp, and are now under treatment. Their injuries are not of a permanent nature, and they will doubtless be again on active duty in a few weeks. Captain Harrington conducted himself, both on the battle-field and in the retreat, with great coolness and discretion. On seeing that he must either be killed or taken prisoner, he threw his sword into the river, divested himself of his wearing apparel, and swam to the island.

Company C.--Lieut. Chas P. McPherson commanding. Wounded--Corporal Duncan McPhail--1. Missing--Lieut. Chas. McPherson, Sergeant Robert Crawford. Corporals: Geo. W. Odell, Chas. Wiggard, Thomas Soumerville. Privates: Daniel Barrett, Christian Backer, Carl Bower, Patrick Cahill, Augustus Cronier, John C. Calhoun, John Craig, William Church, Francis Campbell, William Deckleman, Arthur Donnelly, James H. Dogherty, Michael Donevan, Thomas Dunegan, Michael Eagan, James Fitzgerald, Felix F. Fagan, John Gorrill, Hugh Gilchrist, Edward Hicks, Jacob Hecker, Wm. [219] Jamieson, Michael Hawkins, Edward Lindsay, William May, James Moore, John Moriarty, John McKenna, John McLoughlin, Robert McMonagh, John Nichol, John Grittle, Lewis Peters, Henry Pardy, Peter Riley, William Stripp, Charles Smith, Charles Sparrows, Fred. Scheltz, John Sullivan, David Thompson, John Walsh, Garnet Hyde--48. But little is definitely known respecting the fate of this company, as they were detached from the main body as scouts. Corporal Duncan McPhail, who was known to have been wounded, was on board of the boat when she sunk, and was drowned.

Company E.--Capt. Timothy O'Meara, commanding. Killed--Private Daniel Graham, 1. Wounded--Sergeant Henry Van Voast, 1. Missing--Capt. Timothy O'Meara; First Lieut. James Gillis; Sergeants: James McConvine, Thomas Dobbins, Patrick Lynch; Corporals: Edward McNally, James Kane, John C. Joyce, Michael Brennan, Michael Cunningham, Michael Collins, Francis Crilley, Charles Dillman, William Dunham, Jeremiah Geavin, Francis Kiernan, Patrick McMarrow, Michael McDonough, Owen McLaughlin, Thomas Murphy, Owen McCabe, Dennis C. O'Neil, Wm. O'Mahoney, James Quin, Louis Louvey, Edw'd Teaffle--27. Sergeant Van Voast, reported as having been wounded, is also known to have been taken prisoner. Too much praise cannot be awarded to Capt. O'Meara and those under his command. They fought with undaunted bravery and great efficiency, and when vanquished at last, Capt O'Meara swam to the island, and implored Col. Hinks, then in command there, for the use of a boat to rescue his brave men from the hands of the enemy; and failing in this, he recrossed the river to Virginia, in order to assist his men in person, with the best means he could devise, to escape. As he did not return, it is presumed that he is now a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. His persistent efforts in behalf of the safety and welfare of those under his command, are worthy of the highest encomiums.

Company H.--Captain H. Alden, commanding. Killed--Capt. H. Alden. Missing--Sergeant Owen McCarthy; Corporals: John G. Smith, Thomas McBey; Privates: B. J. Dolan, Patrick Flattery, Michael Queenan, Nicholas Quinn, Michael Doran, James Manahan, Augustus Bauer, William Mooney, Horace E. Adams, James Byron, Patrick Moore, Michael Lynch--15. Captain Alden fell at almost the first volley from the enemy. His remains were afterward recognized by Captain Vaughn, of the Third Rhode Island battery, who crossed to the Virginia shore with a flag of truce on the twenty-third instant., and buried a portion of the dead. Though deprived of their commander thus early in the action, the company still continued to fight with commendable order.

Company K.--Captain Michael Gerity, commanding. Killed-Privates: John Cahill, James Danver, Edward Sullivan, John Sullivan--4. Wounded--Sergeants: Patrick Swords, Patrick Condon; Corporals: Peter McGreever, Edward Galliger--4. Missing--Captain Michael Gerity, (supposed to be killed;) Sergeants: James J. Monaghan, Martin Ryan; Corporals: Charles C. Landers, Daniel Sullivan, Wm. Byrne; Privates: Frederick Boff Geo. Blake, Dennis Callegan, Thomas Carvey, Patrick Collins, James Connor, Michael Clancey, Cornelius Denneen, Terrance Traddy, Wm. Eavley, Adam Heydenhoff, Wm. Harding, James Gifford, Robert Hesey, James Geever, Daniel Mahoney, James McCaller, Patrick McManus, Thomas Murray, Andrew A. Olwell, Bernard Pegram, Eugene Sullivan, Peter West, William J. Walsh, William Wallace, Antoine Schlessinger--33.

The supposition that Captain Gerity is among the killed is well founded, though not fully authenticated. He shouldered a musket, and was seen to be engaged in the conflict in person. It is credited that he was killed pierced with several balls, and that his body was afterward terribly mutilated by passing cavalry of the enemy. Sergeant Thomas Wright, of Company G, who was detailed on the island to assist in the transportation of troops, is missing. The detachment of the Tammany regiment that remained on the island, in consequence of the accident heretofore mentioned, consisting of Companies B, Lieut. McGrath, commanding; D, Capt. Isaac Gotthold, commanding; F, Capt. J. W. Tobin, commanding; G, Capt. Quinn, commanding; and I, Capt. David Hogg, commanding — were on active and arduous service from the moment of their arrival on the island until two P. M. of the succeeding day,in taking care of, and conveying the wounded to the hospital, and in standing in the intrenchments as a guard under a heavy and incessant fire from the enemy. Notwithstanding the inclement wind and storm that prevailed during the night, the men performed the disagreeable task assigned them without a murmur.

During the forenoon of the twenty-second the Tammany regiment was relieved by the Twenty-seventh Indiana regiment, of Gen. Hamilton's brigade. The regiment was then marched back to Camp Lyon, and, though grieved and disappointed at the result of the engagement with the enemy, their zeal and ardor are unabated. The inauspicious result, which was entirely beyond the control of those engaged, and for which they cannot in the slightest be held responsible, has had the effect of inspiring the men with renewed determination, instead of producing discontent and disorganization, which too often follow upon the heels of such lamentable disasters.

It would be unjust to close this report without paying tribute to the exertions of Major Peter Bowe and Lieut. Thomas Abbott, in superintending the transportation of troops to the Virginia shore, and bringing back to the island the dead, dying, wounded, and discomfited soldiers. The task was a severe one, but they performed it with fidelity and promptitude. [220] Their assiduous attention to the duties devolving upon them deserve the highest and most honorable mention. Respectfully,

J. J. Mooney, Lieut.-Col. Com'g Tammany Regiment N. Y. S. V.

Report of General McClellan.

The following is General McClellan's explanation in submitting the report of General Stone to the Secretary of War:

Headquarters army of the Potomac, Washington, November 1, 1861.
To the Hon. Secretary of War:
sir: I have the honor to forward herewith Brig.-Gen. Stone's report of the engagement near Leesburg on the 21st ultimo. I also transmit a copy of the despatch sent by me to Gen. Stone on the 20th ultimo, being the same mentioned in the beginning of his report as the basis of his movement. I enclose a copy of his despatch in reply, of same date.

My despatch did not contemplate the making an attack upon the enemy, or the crossing of the river in force by any portion of Gen. Stone's command; and not anticipating such movement, I had upon the 20th directed Major-General McCall to return with his division, on the forenoon of the 21st, from Dranesville to the camp from which he had advanced, provided the reconnoissance intrusted to him should have been then completed.

Being advised by telegraph from Gen. Stone, received during the day and evening of the 21st, of the crossing of the river, the fall of Colonel Baker, the check sustained by our troops, and that nearly all his (Stone's) force had crossed the river, I sent to him at Edwards' Ferry the following despatch at half-past 10 P. M.: “Intrench yourself on the Virginia side, and wait reinforcements, if necessary.”

I immediately telegraphed Major-Gen. Banks to proceed with the three brigades of his division to the support of Gen. Stone; and advising the latter that he would be thus supported, I directed him to hold his position at all hazards.

On the 22d I went personally to the scene of operations, and after ascertaining that the enemy were strengthening themselves at Leesburg, and that our means of crossing and recrossing were very insufficient, I withdrew our forces from the Virginia side.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

George B. Mcclellan, Major-General Commanding United States Army.

Despatch no. 1, received October 20, 1861.

General McClellan desires me to inform you that Gen. McCall occupied Dranesville yesterday, and is still there. Will send out heavy reconnoissances to-day in all directions from that point. The General desires that you keep a good look-out upon Leesburg to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.

A. V. Colburn, Assistant Adjutant-General.

[Received at Washington from Poolesville.]

Headquarters army of the Potomac, October 20, 1861.
To Major-General McClellan:
Made a feint of crossing at this place this afternoon, and at the same time started a reconnoitring party toward Leesburg from Harrison's Island. The enemy's pickets retired to intrenchments. Report of reconnoitring party not yet received. I have means of crossing one hundred and twenty-five men once in ten minutes at each of two points. River falling slowly.

C. P. Stone, Brigadier-General.

1 see documents 35 and 47, ante.

2 See page 98, ante.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
E. D. Baker (17)
Robert E. Lee (14)
Milton Coggswell (9)
C. P. Stone (8)
Philbrick (8)
W. H. Vaughn (6)
Charles P. Stone (6)
Revere (5)
George McClellan (5)
Elias Howe (5)
Timothy O'Meara (4)
H. Alden (4)
Hiram A. Ward (3)
Nicholas Quinn (3)
E. W. Hinks (3)
H. Harrington (3)
Michael Gerity (3)
Charles Devens (3)
W. M. Bramhall (3)
W. F. Bartlett (3)
Tremlett (2)
J. W. Tobin (2)
John Sullivan (2)
Charles Stewart (2)
J. W. Rockwood (2)
J. C. Putnam (2)
George B. Perry (2)
Francis Winthrop Palfrey (2)
J. J. Mooney (2)
Chas P. McPherson (2)
Duncan McPhail (2)
J. McGrath (2)
George A. McCall (2)
Lander (2)
David Hogg (2)
John Hamilton (2)
Forehand (2)
James Connor (2)
M. Carmichael (2)
T. B. Bunting (2)
Booth (2)
N. P. Banks (2)
Albert I. Abbott (2)
C. B. Young (1)
Thomas Wright (1)
Wistar (1)
John Wilson (1)
Charles Wiggard (1)
Whittier (1)
Peter West (1)
Wesselhoeft (1)
William J. Walsh (1)
John Walsh (1)
William Wallace (1)
Henry Van Voast (1)
Henry Voast (1)
John R. Tucker (1)
David Thompson (1)
Edw'd Teaffle (1)
George Sykes (1)
Alanson T. Swan (1)
Eugene Sullivan (1)
Edward Sullivan (1)
Daniel Sullivan (1)
Studley (1)
William Stripp (1)
Thomas Stephton (1)
Thomas Soumerville (1)
John G. Smith (1)
Charles Smith (1)
Sloan (1)
Antoine Schlessinger (1)
Frederick Scheltz (1)
Martin Ryan (1)
Dr Russell (1)
Peter Riley (1)
John Riddle (1)
James Quin (1)
Michael Queenan (1)
Pierson (1)
Franklin Pierce (1)
Lewis Peters (1)
Bernard Pegram (1)
Henry Pardy (1)
Andrew A. Olwell (1)
George W. Odell (1)
Dennis C. O'Neil (1)
T. H. O'Meara (1)
William O'Mahoney (1)
John Nichol (1)
Thomas Murray (1)
Thomas Murphy (1)
John Moriarty (1)
Edwin D. Morgan (1)
Patrick Moore (1)
James Moore (1)
William Mooney (1)
James J. Monaghan (1)
Minks (1)
Hugh Mills (1)
Charles McPherson (1)
Edward McNally (1)
Robert McMonagh (1)
Patrick McMarrow (1)
Patrick McManus (1)
John McLoughlin (1)
Owen McLaughlin (1)
John McKenna (1)
Peter McGreever (1)
Michael McDonough (1)
James McConvine (1)
George B. McClellan (1)
Owen McCarthy (1)
Jeremiah McCarthy (1)
James McCaller (1)
Owen McCabe (1)
Thomas McBey (1)
William May (1)
James Manahan (1)
Daniel Mahoney (1)
Madisons (1)
Patrick Lynch (1)
Michael Lynch (1)
Louis Louvey (1)
Edward Lindsay (1)
Lew (1)
Charles C. Landers (1)
Nathan Kimball (1)
Francis Kiernan (1)
James Kane (1)
John C. Joyce (1)
Joslin (1)
Albin B. Jamieson (1)
Thomas James (1)
Garnet Hyde (1)
Frank Hughes (1)
Edward W. Hinks (1)
Edward Hicks (1)
Adam Heydenhoff (1)
Robert Hesey (1)
Jacob Hecker (1)
Michael Hawkins (1)
William Harding (1)
Hallowell (1)
John Grittle (1)
Daniel Graham (1)
Isaac G. Gotthold (1)
Isaac Gotthold (1)
John Gorrill (1)
James Gillis (1)
Michael Gilligan (1)
Hugh Gilchrist (1)
James Gifford (1)
Samuel Giberson (1)
James Geever (1)
Jeremiah Geavin (1)
M. Garrity (1)
Edward Galliger (1)
James Fitzgerald (1)
Felix F. Fagan (1)
William Eavley (1)
Michael Eagan (1)
William Dunham (1)
Thomas Dunegan (1)
Thomas Dugan (1)
James Douglas (1)
Michael Doran (1)
Arthur Donnelly (1)
Michael Donevan (1)
B. J. Dolan (1)
James H. Dogherty (1)
Doc (1)
Thomas Dobbins (1)
Charles Dillman (1)
Daniel Devlin (1)
Cornelius Denneen (1)
William Deckleman (1)
James Danver (1)
Michael Cunningham (1)
Crowninshield (1)
Augustus Cronier (1)
Francis Crilley (1)
Robert Crawford (1)
John Craig (1)
Patrick Condon (1)
Com (1)
Patrick Collins (1)
Michael Collins (1)
A. V. Colburn (1)
Edward Clary (1)
W. M. Clark (1)
Michael Clancey (1)
Thomas Carvey (1)
Francis Campbell (1)
Dennis Callegan (1)
John C. Calhoun (1)
Patrick Cahill (1)
John Cahill (1)
James Byron (1)
William Byrne (1)
Michael Brennan (1)
Carl Bower (1)
Peter Bowe (1)
Boff George Blake (1)
Augustus Bauer (1)
Daniel Barrett (1)
Thomas Bailey (1)
Christian Backer (1)
Babe (1)
John A. Andrew (1)
Horace E. Adams (1)
Thomas Abbott (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: