Chapter 4: the balls Bluff disaster.On October 21, 1861, Col. Hinks was informed at 1 P. M., by Capt. Edmund Rice, of Company F, commanding the companies on the river, that his detachment was ordered to cross to the Virginia side as soon as certain other regiments had preceeded him. Col. Hinks and Lieut. Col. Devereux immediately repaired to the point of crossing, some four miles from camp. The weather was superb and the spirits of the men were high, as they scented a movement on the part of the army. The six companies at the river were collected and they joined the regiment. No one had eaten and all were hungry. By the time these companies joined, Col. Hinks found himself the senior officer at the Ferry, and assumed direction of the transportation across the river. He had a portion of the First California, a battalion of the Forty-Second New York (Tammany) and four pieces of artillery to throw across, before his own regiment could move. Meanwhile, the camp of the Nineteenth Massachusetts had been left in charge of Second Lieut. Wm. H. LeCain, and his only command was the few sick and convalescents who had been left behind. As the band had not been taken with the regiment, its musicians were ordered to do guard duty. This was rather a serious incident in the life of the musicians, for, in all the little command left for guard duty, there was but one gun and that an old one. The rest were ‘armed’ with sticks and staves. The transportation from the shore to Harrison's Island was very poor and insufficient and the work of crossing slow, arduous and tedious. There were only three miserable hulks, dignified by the name of scows. The two previously raised by the men of the Nineteenth were capable of carrying 30 men each,—the third of capacity sufficient to carry 60 men, or one  piece of artillery and its horses. These scows had to be poled up stream and allowed to drop slowly down and across to Harrison's Island, a long, narrow reach of land, which, at that point divided the stream. The recent rains had so swollen the river as to make this work dangerous and difficult. Only 120 men could be transported to the island in an hour. The first boat was launched and manned by men of Capt. Rice's company, Co. F., and they continued throughout the day and the night to work the boats between the Maryland shore and the island, which was about an eighth of a mile in width. Ropes, taken from canal boats, were finally stretched across the stream, and by this means the boats could be pulled across, hand over hand, and thus make more frequent trips. The First California regiment, Col. Baker, then acting Brigadier General, the New York (Tammany) Col. Coggswell, the Twentieth Massachusetts, Col. Lee, a section of Vaughn's battery and two mountain howitzers were poled across to the island. After some difficulty a fourth scow was hauled out of the canal and into the river, by Col. Baker's command, but in trying to get the artillery across on it, the current carried it too far down the stream, and for a long time that scow was useless but was eventually brought back to the landing. Finally the largest scow was poled up and around the island to the Virginia side, where the channel was about 175 yards in width and the current very swift. This single scow was the only means of transportation from the island to the Virginia shore, except a very light life boat, capable of holding only 15 or 16 persons. Into the scow, horses, men and artillery piled, reached the Virginia shore, ascended the bank, ten feet high,—clayey and slippery,—and then climbed the bluff, 100 to 150 feet high, by handfulls, to await slaughter at the enemy's convenience. Company K. of the Nineteenth, and the Andrew Sharpshooters, under Major Howe, had crossed the river at Edward's Ferry and were with Gen. Lander when he received a severe wound. These remained on the Virginia side nearly all day, finally recrossing at Edward's Ferry and rejoining the regiment at Harrison's Island.  During the time occupied in ferrying the different commands to the island, the various regiments stood in line on the tow path, awaiting their turn. The Fifteenth Massachusetts, First California, Twentieth Massachusetts and some others had already crossed. The battle was in progress, and wounded and dead men filled the places of the living as the scows returned for a new load. Standing thus, inactive, it was a sickening sight to see men with their heads, arms and legs tied up in bloody bandages and hear the groans of the poor fellows as they were helped out and slowly moved along the front of the regiments. The sight of the body of a soldier who had been killed, and the presence of so many wounded, had a disheartening effect upon many. Instinctively there was a hush along the entire line, and hats were raised as the body of Gen. Baker, covered with an American flag, was tenderly lifted out of the scow and slowly borne along the front. This incident had almost a demoralizing effect, but the command to ‘Pile in lively, boys’ occupied the attention at once and the men of the Nineteenth jumped into the scow and hauled it over to the island, just at dusk, Company F, being the left flank company, was the last to cross, and the sight of Gen. Baker's body had so angered the men that as they poled their boat over, they sang with vigor, ‘We'll hang Jeff Davis to a Sour Apple Tree.’ The regiment marched in line across the island at sunset, just in time to see the worsted Union forces, hotly pursued, flying in disorder down the opposite bank, and at once took a stand where they could aid in repelling the advance of the enemy. The scene of carnage there witnessed cannot adequately be described. The men were just in time to see a little 12-pounder, which had been carried up on to the bluff, spiked and tumbled over the cliff into the river. It had done valiant work, but all except two of its crew had been killed or disabled and in no other way than by destroying it could the seeing men save it from falling into the hands of the confederates. The exultant cries of the foe rose above all the other uproar of battle as the Union men were pushed back to the brink of the bluff and nothing remained, apparently, but surrender  or merciless slaughter. Col. Cogswell, of the Tammany troops, ordered the men to throw their guns into the river and escape as they could. Some refused to flee further and stood upon the bluff, loading and firing, until they were shot down. As one rebel officer afterward said: ‘Fewer of the Massachusetts officers would have been killed, if they had not been too proud to surrender.’ Col. Devens of the Fifteenth Massachusetts explained in his report that ‘under the circumstances, he would have surrendered to a foreign foe, but to traitors and rebels, never!’ The hurrying crowd of the broken ranks, rushing into the stream and clamoring into the single scow that formed the only communication with the Virginia shore and the island, and could carry but thirty people, swamped it in a moment, and many were drowned as it went down. The loss of this boat rendered any further passage by this means impossible, as the little life boat which had previously been used had fallen into the hands of the rebels. Col. Devens swam across the river, despite his wound, and Lieut. John P. Reynolds, Jr. assisted him up the bank. Some strong swimmers, divesting themselves of most of their clothing, succeeded in reaching the island, while some secured boards and logs, but the shots from above fell incessantly upon them and large numbers were wounded or killed. Col. Cogswell, of the Forty-Second New York and Col. Lee of the Twentieth Massachusetts were captured. There was a farmhouse on the island, directly in the line of transit, and this was at once turned into a hospital, every room being occupied by the wounded. In consequence of the shooting of wounded men by the enemy on the bluff, Col. Hinks, who retained command of the troops on the island, determined to do something to stop it. Lieut. Reynolds was detailed, with 16 men, to proceed under cover of the darkness to the front of the island, dig a number of holes,—like post holes,—throw up the dirt as an embankment in front and drop a man into each, to fire across the river and thus protect, as far as possible, the retreat of the wounded.  The island upon this side was merely an open plain, without trees or shrubbery, and the frowning bluff opposite seemed near enough to throw a stone upon. The wounded men crept down the bluff during the night, and, those who could swim, ventured across, many never reaching the island, because they were swept away by the rapid current and drowned. ‘It was the season of moonlight nights, but, on this occasion clouds providentially obscured the moon. The detail worked away, digging their holes, until a break in the clouds occurred, the moon shone brightly for a few minutes, giving us ‘dead away’ and we were ‘peppered’ from the Virginia shore. No rabbits ever hunted their holes quicker. We dropped into them, behind the dirt already thrown up, crouching in a heap like lumps of putty, until the clouds again shut out the moon and the work was resumed and completed,’ said Lieut. Reynolds, in telling of the affair. No one was hurt, and when the digging was completed, the men replied to the rebels' shots, and the shooting of the wounded was, in a measure, stopped. A detail from Company F was sent out on picket duty during the night, under command of Lieut. J. G. G. Dodge, who found a narrow path along the shore of the island, on which he posted his men at the usual intervals. No one could approach without being seen, and the river, on its surface, would show any boat or moving object. As the pickets were being placed, the voices of men were heard and several were seen running toward the bivouac of the Nineteenth. Lieut. Dodge gave chase and hailed them, but they would not stop until he threatened to shoot. They said they had just crossed from the Virginia side in a small boat. The lieutenant tried to get two or three of them to row back again and rescue some of their wounded comrades on the other side, but no one would venture. Although he could ill be spared, one man from Company F was sent over three times with the boat and he rescued fifteen men. Out of this number not one could be found who would return for his comrades.  During the night Lieut. Dodge asked for more men as pickets and a detail from Company H, under command of Lieut. Hale, was sent out, completing the line along the shore. It was a terrible night for those on picket. The wounded on the Virginia side of the river, cut off from all help, could plainly be heard crying for water and begging that a boat be sent over to them. Now and then one could be heard as he waded out into the water, and, with strong and steady strokes, breasted the current. Little by little his strokes became weaker, then less steady, then mere splashes, in the frantic endeavor to hold out. Then a gurgling sound, a cry for help, and all was still again. All this passed under the senses of willing comrades, powerless to give aid. Now and then, one who was more successful would creep, cold, benumbed and almost dead, up the bank. At about midnight a volley was fired from the top of the bluff at a number of fugitives who were trying to swim the. river,—an unnecessary cruelty, akin only to barbarism. During the night of October 21, the regiment held possession of Harrison's Island, camping in a cornfield, and assisted in rescuing men who managed to swim the river after the repulse, and in collecting, caring for and transporting to the Maryland shore the dead, dying and wounded on the island. Morning found the work effectually accomplished and at an hour before daybreak Lieut. Col. Devereux, by direction of Col. Hinks, disposed the Nineteenth Regiment, two companies of the Twentieth, which had joined it during the night, a portion of the ‘Tammany’ regiment and two pieces of Col. Vaughn's Rhode Island Battery in the best position for defence of the island, as an attack was expected at dawn and Col. Hinks had received orders to hold it at all hazards. By dawn a heavy rain, which had threatened all night, set in, and perhaps it was due to this that no attack was made on the island by the enemy. During the night, Lieut. Dodge, in making the round of his pickets had heard a voice from the Virginia shore, calling: ‘Send over an officer under a flag of truce to look after your dead and wounded.’  He reported this to Colonel Hinks and was himself detailed for the duty at 10 o'clock in the morning. Some fugitives had secured a skiff on the Virginia side and had reached the island, and in this skiff Lieut. Dodge was rowed across by private Carr of Company F, who volunteered for the duty. The lieutenant borrowed a white handkerchief from Adjutant John C. Chadwick (his own being black) and tied it to a ramrod. The little lieutenant, as he went over in the skiff on the important mission, was dressed in a pair of private's trousers, turned up at the bottom, a pair of old army shoes, a blouse with shoulder straps, sword and revolver. A dirty, ragged, gray blanket was thrown over his shoulders like a shawl and his glazed cap cover hid the bugle on the front of the cap. No real insignia of his rank appeared in sight. A fine wet drizzle served to make matters more gloomy than they otherwise would have been, and the little skiff was borne down stream by the current. The bank where the lieutenant landed was strewn with the tins from cartridge boxes, broken muskets, bits of uniforms, and one or two wounded men were calling for water. Here and there, rebels were seeking for spoil. In one place, four or five men were ‘going through’ a knapsack or a dead soldier,—it was not possible to tell which. One of them, the roughest looking of the lot, had a red ‘U. S.’ blanket around him and was hailed by Lieut. Dodge with: ‘I say, you fellow with the red blanket, where is the officer who called for a flag of truce?’ ‘He's on the bluff somewhars, I reckon,’ was the reply. ‘Can't you take me where I can find him,’ asked the lieutenant. Evidently moved by the idea that it might be a feather in his cap to conduct a flag of truce, he consented. The bluff was steep and slippery and the lieutenant found it very difficult, with one hand holding the flag and the other his blanket, to surmount. The rebel escort, seeing his difficulty, politely assisted him, but when they reached the plateau at the top no officer was visible. ‘He was here a short time ago and went in that direction,’ said one man who was standing at the top. The two men, ‘Rebel’ and ‘Yank,’ started off to hunt him up, but it seemed as if  he had ‘just left’ every spot they reached. Men in grey were in abundance, discussing the fight, but no mounted officer could be seen. Civilians were joking with the rebel soldiers about the misfortunes of the Union troops, and negro slaves were coming up with horses to bury the Southern dead. Soon a mounted officer rode by and the lieutenant inquired for a mounted officer to receive the flag of truce. As the officer rode off, a rebel soldier, picking up a gun, asked the lieutenant what kind of a thing it was. He was told that it was an Austrian rifle. ‘What's this?’ he asked passing over another. ‘That's an Enfield,’ was the lieutenant's reply. ‘Well, this is the best,’ said the inquisitor, patting a Springfield, ‘if the d—d Yankees did make it,’ and then he offered the lieutenant a ‘chaw’ of tobacco. While this conversation was progressing, a mounted officer appeared, and, in an insolent tone, said to Lieut. Dodge, ‘Ain't you a d—d Yank?’ ‘I'm a Yankee,’ he responded. ‘What do you want here?’ Lieut. Dodge told the nature of his errand, but the officer seemed to doubt him. Several of the men, however, came to his aid, exclaiming, ‘Oh, we know all about it. The adjutant of the Seventeenth Mississippi called out for an officer to come over under a flag of truce, and we saw this officer come over.’ ‘Where are your credentials?’ asked the officer. ‘I have none’ responded Lieut. Dodge, ‘in our army the word of an officer is sufficient.’ ‘How in h— do we know you're an officer?’ Stepping on a small stone near by, the lieutenant drew himself up to his full height (five feet, three inches), jerked the blanket from his shoulders and replied as gruffly as he could, pointing to his shoulder straps. ‘There are my credentials’— and then turned his back upon the rebel officer, who rode away, growling: ‘Well, you ought to have credentials.’ Shortly after this, Lieut. Dodge was met by Lieut. Tyler, of the Seventh Mississippi, who, during a friendly chat, dammed  the ‘Yankee mudsils’ very effectually, but the only Yankee present thought best to ‘let it pass.’ Soon he was informed that he was expected at Leesburg, and started for that town, with the rebel soldier who had been his original guide up the bluff. They had gone but a short distance, however, when they met Col. Jenifer, formerly of the Second U. S. Dragoons. A guard was then placed over the lieutenant, and no conversation was allowed. (‘My own idea,’ said Lieut. Dodge later, ‘was that this ought to have been done on my first arrival.’） Col. Jenifer was very polite. He asked after his old friend, Gen. Stone, and expressed his astonishment that the Union forces ‘could have been such fools as to have made the attack as they did, with everything against them.’ He said that the commander on the island could send over a reasonable number of men, not over a dozen, to bury the dead, that they would be placed under guard and not allowed to converse with the Confederates. Lieut. Dodge returned to the island and crossed again to the Virginia side with Capt. Vaughn, of the Rhode Island battery and twelve men, under orders from Col. Hinks to prolong the work until nightfall. This they successfully did, although, suspecting something, the enemy at one time seized the little party and threatened to hold them as prisoners of war because a rebel horseman, who was chasing a Union soldier while the truce was on, was shot and killed by a man from Company H, of the Nineteenth, on the island. They were released, however, on the firm demand of Col. Hinks. Toward night the burial party returned and as soon as Capt. Vaughn had landed, he placed his arms around the neck of Lieut. Reynolds, exclaiming ‘Horrible, Horrible,’ and in this position the two walked for some distance toward headquarters, the captain relating the details of what he had seen and passed through during the day. During the day there had been many rumors afloat among the men, who, of course, did not know what was being done on the Virginia side. Colonel Hinks had been warned by General Evans, the rebel commander, that if he attempted to leave the  island the rebels would immediately shell it, and in some way this rumor was exaggerated until the men declared that if Colonel Hinks did not surrender before four o'clock in the afternoon the rebel artillery was to open upon him. Lieut. Prime of Co. C. was at the river looking after rations and was met on his return by the first sergeant of his company with the startling intelligence that ‘if we don't surrender at four, they'll commence shelling.’ It was then half past 3. Dropping a box of hard tack from his shoulder, the lieutenant replied: ‘Let them shell and be d—d. I'm going to have something to eat,’ and turned back to the boat for another box. With the passing of the hours the men gained courage at the absence of any movement by the enemy and began to prepare themselves for an attack, and for the coming of the night. Company I was sent out on picket duty under Lieut. William L. Palmer and most of the regiment was posted along a stone wall, which ran from the farmhouse to the river. Here the men secured a quantity of fence rails and unthreshed wheat. Some of the rails were used as fuel, while the rest were arranged to form a roof over the stone wall. A long shed was made, looking much like those behind country meeting houses. It was about five feet high in front and three feet high at the back. The roof rested on the stone wall and was covered with wheat. A quantity of the wheat was thrown upon the ground for beds and the men crawled into the shed after dark, wet to the skin, covered with mud and tired out. During the night, Lieut. Palmer, of Company I, was stationed at the lower end of the picket line, while Sergt. Harris acted as patrol, visiting each post at intervals, up and down the line, and listened to the noises which came from the rebel side of the river. In about two hours orders came to withdraw the pickets. Sergt. Harris was instructed to go from post to post and tell the men to leave, one or two at a time, without noise, and make their way as fast as possible across the island to the landing. As he groped his way in the darkness, sometimes the moon would shine out through the scudding clouds and he would  throw himself down in the wet grass to avoid being seen by the enemy. The sleeping men were quietly awakened by the officers and ordered to ‘Fall In’ without noise. Trembling and with their teeth chattering from the cold, they marched to the riverbank, where the rope ferry had been repaired and the re-crossing to the Maryland side was begun and, subsequently, successfully accomplished. As the last of the troops left the island, Capt. Hale of Company H suggested to Colonel Hinks that the two guns of Vaughn's battery fire a couple of shells over into the rebel camp. This was done, but no response was made to their ‘Hellish Good-Night,’ and in a few hours Camp Benton was reached. The report of the operations in and around Ball's Bluff, made shortly afterward by Colonel Hinks, occasioned considerable feeling and attracted almost universal remark and comment from the Northern press and people on account of its plain statement of the important affair. In a letter to Adjt. Schouler, written from Poolesville, Camp Benton, October 29, 1861, Colonel Hinks says:
Colonel Hinks' report to Brig. Gen. Lander, dated Oct. 23, 1861, at Camp Benton, closes as follows:
Company K of the Nineteenth Regiment had a most interesting part in the fight at Edward's Ferry, aside from the conflict at Ball's Bluff. On Monday morning, October 21, two pieces of Rickett's battery crossed at Edward's Ferry with 30 men of the New York VanAllan cavalry. These were followed by the First Minnesota, part of the Twentieth New York, the Seventh Michigan and Thirty-fourth New York. One company of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, Company K, (the Tiger Zouaves), under Capt. Wass and Major Howe, and the Andrew Sharpshooters, under Capt. Saunders, of Salem, also crossed the river. The whole command was under Brig. Gen. Gorman, and the object was to make a reconnoissance along Goose Creek. Early in the day the VanAllan cavalry made a reconnoisance,  meeting a regiment of the enemy who fired upon them from the woods. This was returned with good effect. The field here, as at Ball's Bluff, was surrounded on three sides by woods. On the right was a cornfield on part of which the corn had been cut and stacked, while the remainder was standing. A Virginia rail fence ran through the centre of the battle ground, from the river to the woods in front. A regiment of the enemy was posted on the edge of the woods to the right of the ground, while pickets were in advance in a road running between the cornfield and the open field between it and the woods. About 3 P. M. Captain Saunders, with the Andrew Sharpshooters, crossed to this ground and ranged themselves behind the rail fence. Shortly after this the enemy issued from the woods, three-quarters of a mile away, and many were seen to be wearing United States army hats. The sharpshooters fired upon them, dropping a mounted officer and several men, and the enemy fled. The Tiger Fire Zouaves of the Nineteenth Massachusetts came up at this point and, deployed as skirmishers, entered the woods for some distance. They returned at 5 P. M. and reported the woods all clear. A red sash, an officer's scabbard, and six bodies were found in the woods, together with other evidences tending to show that the rebels had been busy carrying off their wounded men. This ended the skirmish for the night. Early in the following morning, October 22, General Lander arrived, having ridden from Washington during the night, a distance of 40 miles. The enemy did not show themselves until about 5 P. M., when they issued from the woods in front of the river and near the terminus of the fence running from the river, where Captain Saunders and six of his men were seated about a campfire. Just before this, four men of the Fire Zouaves had come from the woods and reported them all clear. The enemy in column, a full regiment or more, issued from the woods, firing as they advanced. General Lander, who was standing back of the fence, or nearly half way from the left of the line of sharpshooters to the woods, was wounded by a ball in the calf of the left leg. Reinforcements were not sent forward  and the little band retreated, but not until they had completely turned the head of the enemy's force by their deadly fire. The Tiger Zouaves behaved bravely and were deserving of great praise. Major Howe, of the Nineteenth Massachusetts, who commanded them, proved himself a gallant officer and won the entire confidence of his command by his conduct upon the field. General Lander expressed himself as highly pleased with this little band of 150 men, and commended the Andrew Sharpshooters. On Wednesday the wind blew a gale, but the forces were safely withdrawn in good order and Company K returned to Camp Benton.