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Men of Virginia at Ball's Bluff. From the Times-dispatch of April 22-29, May 6, 1906.

They will divide the honors with the brave men from Mississippi—Hunton hero of the day.

The famous Eighth Virginia Infantry, the Cavalry and the Richmond Howitzers—the numbers engaged on both sides in the famous fight.

Editor of the Times-Dispatch :
Sir,—This paper on Ball's Bluff was partly prepared some weeks ago, but laid aside on account of an eye trouble, which prevented writing, and the examination requisite to accuracy. In the meantime Captain McNeily's account appeared, but as he writes from the standpoint of a Mississippian and I, from that of a Virginian, there will be found enough variety of treatment to keep the interest of readers of war subjects and Virginia historic battles.


The proposed appropriation by Congress of $5,000 for the purchase of so much of the Ball's Bluff battlefield as may be necessary for the preservation of the National Cemetery there located, and for macadamising a road leading thereto from the Leesburg and Point of Rocks turnpike, recalls one of the most remarkable of the minor battles of the war, not only because of the laurels sogallantly won by the victorious Virginians and Mississippians, the disproportion of the enemy's loss to the number engaged on our side, the tragic character of the disaster which overtook the Federal invaders, but also because of its far-reaching effect in the derangement and check it caused to McClellan's whole plan of campaign. Apart from these larger results, the battle bristles with thrilling exploits, and incidents of the most sensational character, which invest it with an enduring interest to all students of the military and general history of our country.

The significance of battles cannot be gauged fairly by the number [255] engaged. The results, immediate and remote, must be considered. In his ‘Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World,’ beginning with Marathon in 490 B. C., and ending with Waterloo, in 1815, Creasy gives Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga, where the Americans largely outnumbered the British, as the decisive battles of our Revolution, because it led to the French recognition and alliance, which proved so opportune at Yorktown. Southern historians, with pardonable native pride, advance the claim of King's Mountains to the distinction Creasy accords to Saratoga; and with much show of reason, because at King's Mountain, the militia of the backwoods frontier of Southwest Virginia and the adjacent country of Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky, to the number of 910, under such master spirits as Campbell, Shelby, Levier, Cleveland, McDowell and Williams, with their hunting rifles met and destroyed Cornwallis' advance guard under Colonel Ferguson, composed of 1,016 of the flower of the British army, equipped with muskets and bayonets. Less than two thousand were here engaged and the battle lasted only an hour, but that hour was largely fraught with the nation's fate, in that it dispelled at once and forever, the fatal illusion that our colonial militia could not successfully contend with British regulars, and taught lessons infinite in value, and full of inspiration, to our struggle and dejected countrymen.

While none of the splendid triumphs achieved by Southern arms in the war between the States can be called ‘decisive’ in the sense, the terms applied to these battles of the Revolution, for the reason that the government for whose establishment they were fought, was finally overthrown, yet they will live in history forever as models of the highest attainment in the science of war; and in all the Southland, the names and deeds of its champions will be enshrined in the hearts of its people as long as men cherish honor and women love courage.

To understand a battle thoroughly, the train of events which led up to it, the circumstances under which it was fought, and what it accomplished, must be considered; or more briefly in the phrase of the military writers, the ‘Genesis or Prelude, the Battle, and the Results.’

Along these lines we shall try to describe Ball's Bluff, availing ourselves, largely, however, of the admirable history written by Colonel E. V. White and dedicated to the Loudoun Chapter of the U. D. C., for the benefit of the monument to the Loudoun soldiers. [256]

The realistic touches of a personal narrative give a life and spirit to his picture, which any effort of a non-participant would necessarily lack. He belonged to Ashby's Cavalry and volunteered for the fight as aide to Colonel Hunton, who tells in his official report of ‘the great service’ White rendered ‘by his intimate knowledge of the country and his daring courage.’ Lieutenant-Colonel Jenifer, who was in command of the field until Hunton arrived, says he ‘never witnessed more coolness and courage than this young gentleman displayed, being exposed to the heaviest fire of the enemy.’ His subsequent career as a soldier was in accord with its early promise. He won promotion along with the praise of his generals, and as commander of White's (35th Va.) battalion, takes a place in our history among the boldest sabreurs who followed the plumes of Stuart, Hampton and the Lees.

It is because he has supplemented his active participation with a careful study of the official reports (which many writers fail to do) that I regard Colonel White as the best living authority as to the details of this battle, and will, therefore, quote from him freely.

The Prelude.

Popular clamor at the North for an advance upon Richmond, which was lulled for a while by the disastrous rout of McDowell at Bull Run, revived in intensity three months later. General Mc-Clellan, who appreciated the magnitude of the undertaking more clearly than the political generals who were goading him to aggressive operations, had wisely utilized the interval to discipline and mobilize the Northern hosts, which had rallied to the Union Standard, into that formidable organization which became famous as the ‘Army of the Potomac,’ and he was now making preliminary reconnaisances with the view to a combined movement upon the Confederate position near Manassas.

The main body of his army was in the defenses of Washington, south of the Potomac, and large Federal forces under Banks, Hamilton and Stone were located in Maryland, opposite the county of Loudoun, within easy march of the fords and ferries of the upper Potomac, which led to roads running to Leesburg. It will thus be seen that Leesburg was a point of prime strategic importance, the possession of which would make McClellan, by menacing or passing Johnston's left flank to manoeuver him out of his position, and this evidently was his aim. [257]

Apart from the necessity of guarding his flank and watching the ferries, the Confederate commander realized the importance of keeping open the turnpike leading from Leesburg across the Blue Ridge to the lower Shenandoah Valley, where Jackson was operating, and saving for his army the abundant supplies of the fertile Piedmont counties.

The Seventh Brigade.

To compass these ends, Colonel Hunton had been ordered early in August to reoccupy Leesburg with the Eighth Virginia Regiment, and later on three Mississippi regiments—the Thirteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth—under Colonels Barksdale, Featherstone and Burt with six guns of the Richmond Howitzers and three companies of Virginia cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Jenifer, were sent to the same place, and organized as the Seventh Brigade of Beauregard's Corps, under command of Colonel N. G. Evans, of South Carolina, who had won great distinction at the first battle of Manassas, and for which he was afterward made a brigadier-general.

Evans thought Leesburg was too much exposed and too far away for timely reinforcement in case of attack by a largely superior force, and had withdrawn his command to a strong position at Carter's Mill, seven miles nearer Manassas. Upon reporting this fact, General Beauregard wrote at once, asking the reason for his withdrawal, adding that the position he had occupied was ‘understood to be very strong, and the General hopes you will be able to maintain it against odds should the enemy press across the river and move in this direction. To prevent such a movement, and junction of Banks's forces with McClellan's is of the utmost military importance, and you will be expected to make a desperate stand, falling back only in the lace of an overwhelming enemy.’

At midnight of the 19th, Evans moved his brigade back to Burnt Bridge, along the line of Goose Creek, where he had a line of intrenchments, and there awaited developments. His situation was now critical, and called for the same fine military foresight he had shown at first Manassas, where he disconnected McDoweil's imposing feint at Stone bridge and met his main advance by way of Sudley Springs, some two miles beyond the Confederate flank.

On the morning of the 20th, McClellan telegraphed to Stone, at Poolesville, Md., that ‘General McCall occupied Draneville, yesterday [258] and is still there. Will send out heavy reconnoisances today in all directions from that point. The General desires that you keep a good lookout upon Leesburg to see if this movement drives them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.’

The battle came.

This order, although not so intended, brought on the battle of Ball's Bluff.

When armies are on the qui vive for a fight, slight and unforseen causes often bring it on. It was Pettigrew's, march in search of shoes, and his collision with Buford's cavalry, that precipitated the battle of Gettysburg, and defeated Lee's plan of concentration at Cashtown. So Stone's ‘demonstration’ at Ball's Bluff deranged McClellan's plan for a general advance of his army.

On the night of the 20th, Stone sent out a scouting party to cross at Harrison's Island and explore the country in the direction of Leesburg. Returning with the report that a rebel camp of about thirty tents was found in the edge of a woods near the town, Stone directed Colonel Devens, with four companies of his regiment—the Fifteenth Massachusetts—to destroy the camp, reconnoitre, and either to recross the river or remain, if he thought he could safely do so.

Devens decided to hold on, and sent back to his brigade commander (Colonel Baker) for reinforcements. The latter consulted Stone, his division commander, and was given permission either to withdraw Devens or send him reinforcements. Eager to add the laurels of a hero to his fame as a senatorial orator, Baker promptly availed himself of the discretion allowed him, and sent word to Devens that he would come in person with his historic brigade to this support; and this he did as rapidly as the boats at his disposal would permit.

The ‘rebel camp’ was an illusion, the scouts having been deceived by a line of trees, which presented, in an uncertain light, somewhat the appearance of tents. But about 7 o'clock in the morning of the 21st, Colonel Devens encountered a very real and a very insuperable obstacle in the person of Captain Duff, with forty men of the Seventeenth Mississippi, who had been picketing the river near Smart's mill, a short distance above the Bluff. Devens undertook their capture, by attacking with Philbrick's [259] company in front, and sending his other companies around their flanks. The net was spread in vain in sight of such a bird as Duff. Retiring a few hundred yards to a better position, Duff's men dropped on their knees for more deliberate aim, and fired a staggering volley as the enemy approached, which caused Devens to reconsider and retire out of range. In that preliminary skirmish Duff captured three wounded prisoners and fifteen stands of arms, with a loss of three men wounded, while Devens reports one killed, nine wounded and three missing.

Meantime, Devens had been reinforced by one hundred men of the Twentieth Massachusetts, under Colonel Lee, and by the other companies of his regiment, amounting in all to 753.

There was an earthwork called ‘Fort Evans,’ to the eastward of Leesburg, which commanded a wide view of the field of operation, where Colonel Evans fixed his headquarters and remained throughout the engagement. He knew that crossings had been effected, both at the Bluff and at Edwards' Ferry—the distance between them being about four miles—but nothing had as yet occurred to indicate clearly the point from which the enemy's advance was to be made. He could only conjecture, what we know now with certainty, that Stone's plan was for Baker to break and drive the Confederate left ‘so that when they are pushed, Gorman (at Edwards' Ferry) can come in on their flank.’ Stone's strategy was good, but Baker's tactics very bad.

Evans had previously ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Jenifer, with four companies from the Mississippi regiments and three Virginia cavalry companies, under Captains W. B. Ball, W. W. Mead and Lieutenant Morehead, in all 320 men, to the support of Captain Duff, and to hold the enemy in check until his plan of attack should be developed.

About 11 o'clock Devens again advanced, ‘but was met in strong contention by Jenifer's people for about an hour, when the Federals retired.’ In his report Jenifer speaks in highest praise of the Mississippi companies and the Virginia cavalrymen, who fought dismounted by their side, because of the fences, ravines and thickets in that part of the field. In the charge which dislodged the enemy, Jenifer leaped his horse over the fence, ‘followed by Captain Ball, Lieutenants Wooldridge and Weisiger, of the Chesterfield troop; Baxter, of the Loudoun cavalry, and Messrs. Hendrick and Peters, civilians, who volunteered for the fight.’ Baxter is [260] mentioned as “deserving praise for the gallant manner in which he made a charge with ten men on two companies of the enemy's infantry.” Lieutenant Charles Wildman, who will be heard from later on, is complimented, and ‘Sergeant Strother, of the Madison cavalry; Sergeant-Major Baugh, of the Chesterfield troop, and Private Toler, of the Loudoun cavalry, rendered good service in carrying orders.’

“And now,” says Colonel White, ‘was their best time to recross the river, for Hunton, with his Eighth Virginia (except Wampler's company, left at the Burnt Bridge to look out for McCall) was coming at a double quick, with 375 more people in bad temper.’

Then came the tug of the battle. Colonel Baker had now arrived with the rest of his brigade, making in all about 1,900 men, with two howitzers and one rifle cannon.

Colonel Hunton,” says Colonel White, ‘moved forward into the heavy timber, where Colonel Jenifer's fight had left the Federals. The battle opened again severely, the Eighth Virginia fighting straight ahead, with Jenifer's force covering their left, which gave them opportunity for aggressive battle, although but one to three, with no artillery to answer Baker's salutes. The firing was rapid and the fighting stubborn, the Federals standing up to their work well, giving and receiving bloody blows with high courage; but notwithstanding their superiority of force, amply sufficient to have swept the Confederates from the field at one rushing charge, they failed for lack of a proper leader, the result proving that Baker was as inferior to Hunton, in skill and promptness on the battle line as was Stone or Evans in general conduct of the field of operations.’

The key of the battle-field.

Devens, with the Fifteenth Massachusetts, was holding on hard along a ridge, at the edge of the woods, which faced an open field of about ten acres in area in front of the Bluff, looking towards Leesburg. Realizing with the quick eye of a soldier, that this ridge was the key of the situation, Hunton assailed Devens' left with a vigor that caused him to retire into the open field, where Baker was forming his line of battle. Seizing the abandoned ridge, the Eighth Regiment poured an incessant and destructive fire into the enemy, which killed and disabled their artillerists so rapidly that, as Hunton says in his report, ‘there were only three discharges of [261] cannon after the first fire from the Eighth.’ In rear of the ridge the ground sloped down into the woods, affording cover from the enemy's fire, and thus enabling Hunton's men to play havoc with the foe, with comparatively slight loss to them. When Baker advanced—as he did several times—our men rallied to the ridge, and with steady aim depleted his ranks and drove him back to the woods skirting the river. For four hours, with no other aid than Jenkins' small command, Hunton had been fighting, repulsing and holding at bay Baker's largely superior force. His ammunition was nearly gone, and his men suffering excessive fatigue. If they had not been of the staunchest type the strain would have been too great. Against such heavy odds, with ammunition and men nearly exhausted, Hunton had done all that was possible at this time; and he sent Lieutenant-Colonel Norborne Berkeley White to Evans several times for reinforcements and ammunition, but got no response than ‘Tell Hunton to hold on.’

As Gorman was making no aggressive movement from Edwards' Ferry, Evans concluded that he could safely spare a part of the force he had been holding at Fort Evans, and when Hunton's messengers came again, with a still more urgent message, ‘Evans, evidently mindful of Beauregatd's instruction to make “a desperate stand,” said to them, “Tell Hunton to hold on till every d——n man falls. I have sent him the Eighteenth, and will send him the Seventeenth.” When White joined Hunton, Colonel Burt had reached the field, and taken position about two hundred yards to the right of and in line with the Eighth Virginia. Therefore, Hunton sent word to Burt that the Eighth would charge the enemy in front, and asked him to attack with his regiment at the same time on the right. Burt waited no longer than was necessary to bring a detached company to his line, when the Mississippians moved forward in the most gallant style, but as White, who was with Burt at the time says, “We had already heard the battle yell of the glorious old Eighth as it dashed forward on the enemy.” ’

Hunton's report

In his report of this charge Colonel Hunton says: ‘I gave the order to cease firing for a moment, distributed the few cartridges remaining so as to give all a round of ammunition, and ordered a charge upon the enemy. This charge was made in the most gallant and impetuous manner. Nothing could exceed or scarcely [262] equal the intrepid daring and gallantry displayed by my officers and men in making this charge. Relying almost solely upon the bayonet, they rushed upon and drove back a heavy column of the enemy just landed, and captured the two howitzers. In the charge I was assisted by Captain Upshaw, of the Seventeenth, and Captains Kearney and Wellborn, of the Eighteenth Mississippi Regiment, who displayed great gallantry in the charge.’

As Burt's Mississippians pressed forward, they were met by a deadly volley, at close range, from the enemy concealed behind a ridge of earth thrown up by long-ago plowing; ‘but no man faltered except the stricken ones before that fearful fire.’ White, who rode by Burt's side, says it was one of the most deadly fires of musketry he saw during the war, and that sometimes in visions, even now, he sees ‘those brave fellows falling like leaves of autumn before the northern blast.’ The daunless Burt fell from his horse mortally wounded, and was borne from the field—still cheering his men on to victory, in the true spirit of a hero.

The fall of a commander often causes confusion, sometimes demoralization. Not so with these staunch sons of the Sunny South. The knightly spirit of the dying Burt was in their hearts, and, under Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin, their volleys drove the enemy from his position into the ravine near the river for shelter.

And now came up, at a double-quick, Colonel Featherston, with the Seventeenth Mississippi, and filled the gap between the Eighth Virginia and the Eighteenth Mississippi.

The battle, which had lasted from dawn until night began to let her sable curtains down, was drawing to its close—triumphantly for us, disastrously for the foe. Blucher had come to give the ‘ coup de grace.’

Hunton's charge having driven the enemy across the open field to the woods directly in front of the Bluff, at which point Colonel Baker, the Federal commander, was killed (pierced with four balls, no one knowing really who did it, although there was much romancing at the time), and there being indications, unmistakable to the eye of a soldier, that the Federals were in disorder, and fast losing their cohesion; we give, in White's own vivid words, the last act of the drama:

Colonel Hunton halted his men, who were completely broken down—nature and ammunition both exhausted—and rode over to Colonel Featherston, saying: “Colonel, charge the enemy on the [263] Bluff.” Featherston replied, “I do not know the ground;” and Hunton exclaimed, “Come on, I will lead you;” but Featherston curtly said: “No, sir; I will lead my own men, but want a guide who knows the ground;” when Hunton turned to me and said, “Lige, my boy, won't you go with them.” I was thoroughly acquainted with the country, having fox-hunted over it many times, and now, at sunset of a busy day, I rode up to the front, shouting, “Follow me; I'll show you the way.” The two regiments moved promptly a short distance, when they were met with a galling fire, to which they heartily responded, and in a rushing charge drove the enemy headlong over the steep, rugged bluff, capturing three hundred prisoners, among them Colonel Cogswell of the Tammany Regiment, but now acting brigadier-general in place of the gallant Baker, and Colonel W. R. Lee, 20th Massachusetts, together with the rifle cannon.’

Remarkable event of war.

A remarkable incident, attended with serious loss to the enemy, occurred just before Featherston's final charge, which must not be omitted. After Baker was killed, Cogswell says, in his report, that he went to the point occupied by Colonels Devens and Lee and found that they had decided on making a retreat—that he informed them he was in command of the field—that a retreat across the river was impossible, and the only movement to be made was to cut their way through to Edward's Ferry—and that a column of attack must be at once formed for that purpose. While endeavoring to make the necessary dispositions for this desperate attempt, we learn, from the reports of both Stone and Devens that an officer of the enemy rode rapidly in front of the Tammany Regiment and called on them to charge the enemy. The Tammany men, thinking he was one of their own officers, or perhaps, rattled by the excitement and confusion (which no one can appreciate who has not been in a hot battle), charged forward with a yell, carrying with them in their advance a part of the Massachusetts Regiments. The Confederates met this charge with a deadly fire, which killed and wounded at least twenty-five of the Federals; and Stone, in his report, says when they found out their mistake they had got into such a position that the movement designed was impracticable, and Colonel Cogswell reluctantly gave the order to retire, adding that ‘the enemy pursued our troops to the edge of the bluff over [264] the landing place and thence poured in a heavy fire on our men, who were endeavoring to cross to the island. The smaller boats had disappeared and the largest boat, rapidly and too heavily loaded, swamped fifteen feet from the shore, and nothing was left to our soldiers but to swim, surrender or die.’ The ‘officer of the enemy,’ referred to by General Stone and Colonel Devens, was Lieutenant Charles B. Wildman, of Loudoun, serving upon General Evans' staff, who came riding rapidly to the field, and mistaking the Federals for his own men, gave the order to charge. Wildman, fortunately, escaped from his perilous predicament, but the men he was leading suffered terribly.

The story of the battle would be incomplete if the essential role of Colonel Barksdale and his Thirteenth Mississippi Regiment were omitted. Remembering that Gorman's Brigade was at Edward's Ferry, numbering, according to official reports, 2,250 strong, and that Stone's plan was to strike the Confederate flank with this force when Baker pushed them from the Bluff, the importance of this role can be appreciated. Whenever Gorman's skirmishers advanced they were met in fierce contest and promptly driven back, and he was thus kept ‘bottled up’ until Baker's force had been routed and captured.

The statement in Barksdale's report that he was satisfied ‘that the presence of my command in position at Edwards' Ferry prevented the advance of a large column of the enemy, which was intended to reinforce General Baker's command near Conrad's Ferry, then engaged in battle with our forces,’ is ample testimony to the great value of the service here rendered, and also to the modesty and valor of this noble Mississipian, whose fearless fighters, it will be remembered, at a later period in the war, by their tenacious contention upon the river banks at Fredericksburg, checked Burnside's advance until Lee was prepared to welcome and overwhelm him.

The Richmond Howitzers.

Major Robert Stiles, who was with the Howitzers, near Fort Evans, says in his ‘Four Years Under Marse Robert:’ ‘We felt peculiarly chagrined at not being able to fire even so much as one shot while the battle roared in the thicket.’ And again: ‘We changed position several times during the action, in the vain hope of finding a point from which we might fire upon the enemy without imperilling our own men.’ [265]

Evans was by no means certain that Hunton could hold Baker in check. The chances he thought quite desperate, and cautioned the Howitzers to be very careful ‘not to fire on Hunton's men, who would be the first running out of the woods;’ but Hunton not only held on heroically, but drove the enemy, and the Howitzers, therefore, had no chance to test their metal. Their presence upon the field, however, had its effect, for General Stone, in his report, speaks of ‘breastworks and a hidden battery, which barred the movement of troops from left to right.’

The hero of Ball's Bluff.

In the narrative histories and descriptions of battles required by the act creating the office of Secretary of Virginia Military Records, it will be my constant aim, while bringing out in as clear relief as possible the achievements and exploits of our own soldiers, to pluck no laurels from the soldiers of our sister Southern States. Unfounded or grossly exaggerated claims discredit their authors and the merit of actions otherwise praiseworthy. Besides, there is a vitality about the truth very dangerous to tamper with.

General Hunton has been known throughout Virginia as the ‘Hero of Ball's Bluff’ ever since the battle, and we have never heard his title to that honor questioned. It is based upon considerations which involve no disparagement of the other distinguished participants. Colonel Evans, the commander of the whole field, remained at Fort Evans, two and a half miles from Edward's Ferry and one and a half miles from Ball's Bluff, during the whole day, watching both points, and directing the general operations.

In detaching two-thirds of his command from Gorman's front to reinforce Hunton at the critical juncture he evinced strategic skill and generalship of a high order and added to the fame he had won at First Manassas.

Colonel Burt, as we have seen, fell mortally wounded while leading a brilliant and successful charge in the face of deadly volleys from the enemy's left wing, in strong position, in conjunction with Hunton's splendid dash against their centre, and no one will question Captain McNealy's tribute to his fame as a hero ‘by the title of life-sacrifice.’

Colonel Featherston, whose crowning and conclusive charge swept the enemy from the woods, over the bluffs, and compelled his surrender, associated his fame forever with this memorable battle. [266]

No Virginian will question Major Robert Stiles' opinion that ‘this Mississippi brigade was in many respects the finest body of men he ever saw.’

Colonel Hunton, of the Eighth Virginia, however, was the chief contributing factor in the conduct of the actual battle and the winning of the victory. As next in rank to Evans, as White tells us, ‘Hunton was in command of the field from the moment of his arrival, at about 12 M., and so, as I know, ordered all the dispositions and movements of troops engaged in the battle.’ With no other aid than Jenkin's small command of 320 (his own regiment numbering less than four hundred), he first drove the enemy's largely superior force back to their position near the bluffs, and by promptly seizing and heroically holding for four hours at least the ridge, which was the key of the situation, he was enabled to repulse Baker's charges and compel his adversary to fight under every disadvantage. The disabling and subsequent capture of the enemy's howitzer's was an important turning point in our favor, and his last shots and bayonet charge broke the enemy's formations and left them in such disordered state that the final charge of the Mississipians was conclusive and triumphant.

The gallant Bee was ‘a hero by life-sacrifice’ at First Manassas, but the world accords to Jackson, whom Bee that day christened ‘Stonewall,’ the honor of having done the work which contributed chiefly to that great victory.

The Eighth Virginia Infantry has a brilliant record, and its roster bears the names of soldiers equal to any ‘that ever followed the eagles to conquest.’ As Judge Keith said, in presenting the portrait of its first Colonel to Lee Camp: ‘ Did not Hunton lead it at Manassas and at Ball's Bluff, and win for it and for himself imperishable glory on those famous fields, not only as a brave soldier, but as a ready, capable and resourceful officer? Was he not with them at Cold Harbor, and upon a hundred other fields of less renown, but which were attended by feats of arms and gallant deeds more than enough to adorn the annals of our modern wars? Was he not at the charge at Gettysburg? Was human courage and fortitude ever put to a sterner test? Did human virtue ever more nobly respond to the call of duty? * * * *For gallant conduct on that fatal day, Colonel Hunton, who had been sorely wounded, was made a brigadier-general.’

Its field officers, at different periods, were: Eppa Hunton, [267] Colonel; Charles B. Tebbs, Lieutenant-Colonel; Edmund Berkeley, Major, Lieutenant-Colonel; Norbourne Berkeley, Major, Lieutenant-Colonel; William A. Berkeley, Major; James Thrift, Major. Its Captains were: Edmund Berkeley, of Prince William; Richard Henry Carter and R. Taylor Scott, of Fauquier; James Thrift, of Fairfax; and Henry Heaton, Alexander Grayson, William N. Berkeley, M. Wample, Hampton; and Simpson, of Loudoun.

The other company officers and privates will have a proud place in the Virginia Roster, now being compiled for publication.

Only about three hundred of the Federals surrendered to Colonel Featherston, but many others were huddled along the river bank and in the woods, hoping to escape later in the night. Exhausted after thirteen hours of marching and fighting, the Mississippians and Virginians retired to the vicinity of Fort Evans for rest and rations, except a detail of seventeen men of the Eighth Virginia, under Lieutenant Charles Berkeley, with whom White was ordered by Colonel Hunton, to remain, to picket the battle ground. It was a solemn vigil, relieved only by a bountiful supper, which the keenly solicitous and patriotic ladies of Leesburg contrived to get to them. Whether it was the inspiration and refreshment supplied by the viands, or the thought of the bright eyes and fair hands of the ladies who sent them, we are not told, but the suggestion was made that they go to the river bank, for although the battle had rolled to the very edge of the bluff, none of our men had yet been quite there. Reaching the bank, they could hear, a few hundred yards away, the frantic cries for help from despairing, drowning Federals, and the sound of an occasional boat coming from Harrison's Island, to their rescue.

Their first impulse—prompted by the savage spirit of the day's hard fight — was to open fire and drive off the rescuers, but that ‘touch of nature which makes the whole world kin’ and abides in knightly breasts, even amid scenes of blood and carnage, restrained their hands.

Let this be remembered, because the newspapers throughout the North, at the time of the battle, and Northern school histories, since, have sought to create the impression that the conduct of the Confederates, after the defeat and rout of the Federals at Ball's Bluff, was not in accord with the usages of civilized warfare; and only a few weeks ago, the Washington correspondent of the Boston Transcript, wrote to his paper of the tragedy, ‘where the Northern [268] men, greatly outnumbered, were driven like sheep over bluffs 50 feet high, in a struggling mass down upon the—shore or into the waters of the Potomac.’

How strange it is, at this late day—forty-five years after the battle—and in view of the indisputable proof furnished by the official record, that Baker's force was more than double that of Hunton's, and that not until late in the day, after the Eighteenth and Seventeenth Mississippi regiments came upon the field, was there an approximate equality of numbers—that such careless and glaring mistakes should be published. The contemporary exaggerations are pardonable — for the Confederates had a marvelous way of magnifying and multiplying themselves in battle and there were also Falstaffs in those days, in whose affrighted vision hundreds of ‘men in buckram’ appeared, whose names were not on the rolls; but now—when sectional passions have subsided and the truth is so easily accessible—there is no excuse for such misstatements.

A volunteer expedition.

Asking pardon for this brief digression, we return to the picket by the river, where Lieutenant Berkeley and White were holding a council. It was agreed that White should go forward alone to reconnoitre, while Berkeley held his men ready for any emergency. Moving cautiously along the bank—it being so dark that he could not be recognized—White approached the landing where the Federals (estimated at over 1,000) were waiting for deliverance. Returning with this report, it was proposed to try and capture them, but a gallant fellow, afterwards killed at Gettysburg, said the scheme was too utterly rash for consideration, and it was decided that White should ride to Hunton's headquarters, explain the situation, and ask for the regiment. Colonel Hunton—who had been prostrated for several weeks by a painful malady, but thinking a battle was imminent, and unwilling that his men should go into it without him, had left his sick bed against the protest of his physician and the entreaties of his family—was so completely worn out at the close of the battle as to make it necessary for him to retire to Leesburg for medical attention, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel Tebbs in command. Tebbs would not assume the responsibility of ordering the regiment on the expedition, but said that any who chose to volunteer for it might do so. [269]

Thereupon Captains Edmund and Wm. N. Berkeley; Lieutenants R. H. Tyler, L. B. Stephenson and Robert Cue; Sergeants. F. Wilson, I. O. Adams and——Gochenaner; Corporals B. Hunt, W. Fletcher, R. Hutchinson, Wm. Thomas; Privates A. S. Adams, J. W. Adams, F. A. Boyer, I. L. Chinn, G. Crell, R S. Downs, W. Donnelly, G. Insor, C. R. Griffin, John George, I). L. Hixon, T. W. Hutchinson, I. F. Ish, R. I. Smith, W. C. Thomas, J. W. Tavenner, I. M. McVeigh, L. W. Luckett, M. H. Luckett, A. M. O'Bannon, Rev. Charles F. Linthicum, R. O. Carter, Geo. Roach, E. Nails, Howard Trussell, D. Rouke, T. E. Tavenner, P. Gochenaner, F. Tinsman, T. H. Benton, T. Kidwell, C. Fox, V. R. Costello, Will Moore, J. Ellis, Wm. McCarty, J. M. McClannehan, E. Herrington, R. Julian and C. D. Lucket—in all, fifty-two—came forward promptly, saying to White: ‘We will follow you.’

White brevetted ‘General.’

I should like to give in extenso Colonel White's stirring account of the incidents of that dark and eventful night—of his own hairbreadth 'scapes, and how, because he knew the ground, and was, moreover, full of resource and initiative, he was made the leader, and brevetted for the nonce ‘General’ of the expedition—of his good tactics in placing Berkeley and his squad on the Bluff, until the flanking party under his guidance, moved up along the bank of the river, under the Bluff, to the point of co-operation, where the surrender was to be demanded, or, in case of refusal, the enemy was to be fired on—how he called for a surrender, and receiving no reply ordered ‘Fire,’ which caused a stampede, ‘a large number of them jumping into the river, while some ran along the shore above’—and how, immediately after the firing, a gallant Irish captain, named O'Meara, who had swam the river to get some means to save his men, and failing, had swum back to share their fate, recognizing the inevitable, had called out: ‘We surrender; who is in command?’ whereupon Captain W. N. Berkeley, replied: ‘General White’—how the ‘general’ offered ‘the terms of war,’ which were satisfactory, and how the gallant Irish captain gathered the Federals together from the river and the woods and ‘ marched them up the bluff to the plateau, where he formed them in line and handed over to our charge 325 prisoners, with many arms, ammunition,’ etc., but we cannot tax your space farther than to give this imperfect [270] sketch, with the names of the volunteers of the Eighth Virginia, who participated in this hazardous and gallant enterprise.

Numbers engaged in the battle.

The Federal forces, under Baker, in the battle — not counting Gorman's 2,250 at Edwards' Ferry—comprised the Fifteenth Massachusetts, 600; the Twentieth Massachusetts, 340; the Forty-second New York (Tammany), 360; the First California (Baker's own), 600. To these must be added the men attached to the two howitzers of the First Rhode Island Battery, and the rifle cannon of the First United States Artillery, about 60 more, making in all, 1,960. The Federal losses, as officially reported, were 49 killed, 158 wounded and 714 missing—912. The number drowned were never reported.

A complete vindication.

A complete vindication of the conduct of the Confederate officers (who had repeatedly called upon the routed Federals to surrender, in order to prevent unnecessary bloodshed) at the landing and in the river is to be found in this extract from the report of Colonel Devens, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts: ‘It was impossible,’ said he, ‘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 the river rather than give them up to the enemy.’

Explanations of the disaster.

There have been many attempted explanations of this memorable Federal disaster, at the time and since it occurred. General McClellan sought to allay the popular wrath and clamor which it caused throughout the North by a general order, in which he said: ‘The gallantry and discipline there displayed deserved a more fortunate result; but situated as these troops were—cut off alike from retreat and reinforcements, and attacked by an overwhelming force, 5,000 against 1,700—it was not possible that the issue could have been successful.’

A secret service agent named Buxton, who seems to have been [271] paid to furnish false information, says in one of his reports: ‘Poor Baker must have been very rash to rush with his small force into the jaws of 7,000 men.’

Our own people have always known, and it is beginning to be admitted among fair-minded people everywhere, that the true explanation of the Ball's Bluff disaster, and other brilliant triumphs of Southern arms over largely superior Federal forces, is to be found in the superb prowess of our Southern soldiers and the superior skill of our generals. Generals Johnston and Beauregard availed themselves in congratulatory general orders ‘to express the confident hope that all of his command, officers and men, by the brilliant achievements of their comrades in arms of the Seventh Brigade, on the 21st instant, will be assured of our ability to cope successfully with the foe arrayed against us, in whatsoever force he may offer battle. * * * After the success of the Seventh Brigade in the conflict of the 21st of October, no odds must discourage or make you doubtful of victory.’

Colonel Edwin D. Baker at that time was, perhaps, the most spectacular personage in the land. Like Yancey in the South, he was the most inflammatory orator in the North and the special pet of the extreme abolition wing of the Republican party, which had brought on the war. He had been a member of the House from Illinois and California, and was then a Senator from Oregon. It is said that he appeared in the Senate in his uniform, and when Vice-President Breckinridge had finished his masterly farewell address to that body, seized the occasion to deliver a harangue of great virulence. He had, withal, the courage of his fanatical convictions and thirsted for military glory. Never, perhaps, has the Scripture saying that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall, been more aptly illustrated than in his case. His fall in front of his skirmish line at Ball's Bluff shocked Washington as Caesar's fall at the foot of Pompey's statue shocked Rome. His body was taken to the White House, where it lay in state for several days, and the Senate ordered from Rome a statue of heroic size, which is to be seen today in Statuary Hall.

It is now scarcely possible to realize the frenzied state into which the popular mind of the North was thrown by this man's death and defeat. Reason completely lost its sway, and every vestige of conservatism and respect for the Constitution and the guaranteed rights of persons were swept away in the storm. Extreme men [272] like Wade, Zach Chandler and Sumner, and monsters like Thad. Stevens and Stanton, seized the opportunity to throw aside all semblance of respect for law and inaugurate a despotism of capricious and unbridled power—a veritable ‘reign of terror.’ ‘ The fortresses of the North were stuffed full of men and women, dragged from their homes at midnight or at midday, without warrant or authority or even form of law.’

One result of Ball's Bluff, or rather of the blind rage generated by it, was the appointment of ‘The Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War,’ a standing menace to all generals, who would not disgrace the profession of arms by sacrificing their convictions of duty to senseless clamor — which tried and degraded officers upon testimony that would not have been accepted by Dogberry. A victim and scapegoat was needed to appease the popular wrath, and, at the instance of this committee, General Stone became the vicarious sacrifice for Baker's blunders. He was arrested by order of Stanton about two o'clock one morning in Washington, by a posse of the provost marshal's force, and sent to Fort Lafayette, and kept in close confinement for six months, with no more knowledge of the charges against him than if he had been a prisoner in the Tower or Bastile.

Who to blame for the disaster.

No one, who studies the battle of Ball's Bluff, can fail to fix the responsibility for the Federal disaster upon Colonel Baker. He was an orator, not a general; could command ‘the applause of listening Senates,’ but not soldiers upon the field of battle.

“The plain truth is,” said General Stone, in his report, ‘that this brave and impetuous officer was determined at all hazards to bring on all action, and used the discretion allowed him to do it.’

Without reconnoitering or organizing the boat service, which was ample for orderly crossing, he pushed forward into the fight in total disregard of Stone's precautionary orders. Like Tarleton at Cowpens, who was in such hot haste to attack Morgan, he violated one of the fundamental rules of battles by placing his reserves very near his front line and within range of Hunton's muskets, and thereby rendered them useless. There was a time, too, when by a bold rush with all his force he could probably have forced Hunton's small command from the wooded ridge, which commanded the field [273] of battle. This would have enabled him, at least, to retreat in good order. He disregarded Stone's order to report frequently, and left the latter unaware of the perilous position of his troops, and thus unable to render assistance. He had conspicuous personal bravery, but in all other qualities of a commander, as shown by this battle, he was totally lacking. General McClellan and the leading officer's of Baker's brigade, including those wounded and captured, cast no reproach on Stone, but their voices were drowned in the prevailing fury. In ‘McClellan's Own Story,’ he writes that Stone ‘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.’

The same black spirit, which made Stone its victim, later on led to the downfall of McClellan and the displacement of many others of that gallant band of Federal officers supporting him, who had impressed a generous and chivalric spirit on the war, which caused the remark in General Dick Taylor's ‘Destruction and Reconstruction,’ that the future historian, in recounting some later operations, “will doubt if he is dealing with campaigns of generals or expeditions of brigands.” Napoleon, when General Mack capitulated at Ulm, recalling his own chagrin when compelled by Sir Sidney Smith to raise the siege of St. Jean d'acre, remarked: ‘How much to be pitied is a general on the day after a lost battle.’ The pity that was felt in all manly breasts for this brave soldier in misfortune has been changed to respect for his memory and contempt for that of his persecutors.

There were notable men in that famous battle from Massachusetts, Mississippi and Virginia. Colonel Devens was afterwards brevetted Major General, and was Attorney-General under the Hayes administration; Colonel Lee was brevetted Brigadier, and was Attorney-General of his State; Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes, of the Twentieth Massachusetts, who was shot through chest from side to side, is now a Justice of the Supreme Court, and has delivered some good State Right's decisions; Captain Wm. Francis Bartlett, also of the Twentieth, became a General and lived for a time in Richmond, where he was much respected. Major Paul Revere, Colonel Ward and others also attained distinction. Mississippi sent Barksdale and Featherston to the House of Representatives and [274] made Captain A. G. Brown, of the Eighteenth, first Governor and then United States Senator.

The gallant Captain Ball, of the Chesterfield Troop, became Colonel of the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry, and achieved distinction as an officer, and Lieutenant Wooldridge, of the same troop, became Colonel of the Fourth Cavalry, and proved a worthy successor of Wickham, Randolph and Payne, one of the most distinguished cavalry commands in our service, of which our friend Judge Keith, was the adjutant, and there were many others whose names we do not now recall.

And the grand old hero of the battle, General Eppa Hunton, having served his people with marked ability and most faithfully, in the highest offices within their gift, still lives, we rejoice to say, crowned with honors, blessed in fortune and family, and with troops of loving friends.

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