official report of the Yankee General Commanding
We have already published a great deal in connection with the late battle at Leesburg
, which resulted so brilliantly to our cause; but doubt not that the following official report from General Stone
, chief in command of the Yankee
forces, addressed to Lieut. Gen. Scott
, will prove interesting to the reader.--It will be seen that the attempt of Gen. Stone
to throw the blame of the whole enterprise and its results upon Col. Baker
, is a miserable failure, and the whole responsibility recoils upon him with double force:
Headq'rs Corps of Observation, Oct. 28, 1861.
On the 20th instant, being advised from headquarters of Gen. McCall
's movement to Drainsville to reconnoiter and draw out the intentions of the enemy at Leesburg
, I went to Edwards's Ferry at one o'clock P. M., with Gen. Gorman
's brigade, 7th Michigan, two troops of the Van Allen
cavalry, and the Putnam Rangers
, while four companies of the 16th Massachusetts volunteers were sent to Harrison
's island, under Col. Devens
, who then had one company on the island, and Col. Lee
, with a battalion of the Massachusetts 20th, a section of the Rhode Island battery, and Tammany regiment, was sent to Conrad's Ferry.
A section of Bunting
's New York battery and Rickett
's battery were already on duty respectively at Edward's and Conrad's Ferries.
's movement had evidently attracted the attention of the enemy, a regiment of infantry having appeared from the direction of Leesburg
, and taken shelter behind a hill about one mile and a half from our position at the ferry.
was ordered to deploy his forces in view of the enemy, and in so doing no movement of the enemy was excited,--Three flatboats were ordered, and at the same time shell and spherical case shot were thrown into the place of the enemy's concealment.
This was done to produce an impression that a crossing was to be made.
The shelling at Edwards's Ferry and the launching of the boats induced the quick retirement of the enemy's force seen there, and three boat loads of 35 men each, from the 1st Minnesota, crossed and recrossed the river, each trip occupying about six or seven minutes.
While this was going on, the men evinced by their cheering that they were all ready and determined to fight gallantly when the opportunity was presented.
At dusk, Gen. Gorman
's brigade and the 7th Michigan returned to camp, leaving the Tammany regiment and the companies of the 15th Massachusetts and artillery at Conrad's Ferry in position, awaiting the return of scouts.--Meanwhile Gen. Stone
remained at Edwards's Ferry.
At 10 o'clock P. M., Lieut. Howe
of the 15th Massachusetts, reported that scouts under Capt. Philbrick
had returned to the island, having been within one mile of Leesburg
, and there discovering in the edge of a wood an encampment of 30 tents.
No pickets were out any distance, and he approached to within 25 rods without being even challenged.
Orders were then instantly sent to Colonel Devens
to cross four companies to the Virginia
shore, and march silently under cover of night to the position of the camp referred to, to attack and destroy it at day break, pursue the enemy lodged there as far as would be prudent, and return immediately to the island, his return to be covered by a company of the Massachusetts 29th, to be posted over the landing place.
was ordered to make close observation of the position, strength and movements of the enemy, and, in the event of there being no enemy there visible, to hold on in a secure position until he could be strengthened sufficiently to make a valuable reconnaissance.
At this time orders were sent to Col. Baker
to send the First California regiment to Conrad's Ferry, to arrive there at sunrise, and to have the remainder of his brigade ready to move early.
Lieut. Col. Wood
, of the 25th Massachusetts, was also ordered to move with a battalion to the river bank opposite Harrison
's island by daybreak.
Two mounted howitzers in charge of Lieut. French
, of Rickett
's battery, were ordered to the tow-path opposite Harrison
, in pursuance of his orders, crossed and proceeded to the point indicated, Col. Lee
remaining on the bluff with 100 men to cover his return.
To distract attention from Col. Devens
's movements, and to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Leesburg
from Edwards's Ferry, I directed Gen. Gorman
to throw across the river, at that point, two companies of the 1st Minnesota under cover of a fire from Rickett
's battery, and sent out a party of 31 Van Allen
cavalry, under Maj. Mix
, accompanied by Capt. Chas. Stewart
, Assistant Adjutant General
, Capt. Murphy
, and Lieuts. Pierce
, with orders to advance along the Leesburg
road until they should come to the vicinity of a battery which was known to be on that road, and then turn to the left and examine the heights between that and Goose Creek
, and see if any of the enemy were posted in the vicinity, find out their numbers as nearly as possible, their disposition, examine the country with reference to the passage of troops to the Leesburg and Georgetown turnpike
, and return rapidly to cover behind the skirmishers of the Minnesota 1st.
This reconnaissance was most gallantly conducted, and the party proceeded along the Leesburg
road nearly two miles from the ferry, and when near the position of the hidden battery came suddenly upon a Mississippi regiment, about 35 yards distant, received its fire, and returned it with their pistols.
The fire of the enemy killed one horse, but Lieut. Gourand
seized the dismounted man, and drawing him on his horse, behind him, carried him unhurt from the field.
One private of the 4th Virginia cavalry was brought off by the party a prisoner, who, being well mounted and armed, his mount replaced the one lost by the fire of the enemy.
Meantime, on the right Col. Devens
, having in pursuance of his orders arrived at the position designated to him as the site of the enemy's camp, found that the scouts had been deceived by the uncertain light, and mistaken openings in the trees for a row of tents.
found, however, a wood in which he concealed his force, and proceeded to examine the space between that and Leesburg
, sending back to report that thus far he could see no enemy.
Immediately on receipt of this intelligence, brought me by Lieut. Howe
, who had accompanied both the parties, I ordered a non-commissioned officer and ten cavalry to join Col. Devens
, for the purpose of scouring the country near him while engaged in his reconnaissance, and giving due notice of the appoach of any force, and that Lieut. Col. Ward
, with his battalion of the 15th Massachusetts, should move on to Smoot's Mills, half a mile to the right of the crossing place of Col. Devens
, and see where, in a strong position, he could watch and protect the flank of Col. Devens
in his return, and secure a second crossing more favorable than the first, and connected by a good road with Leesburg
, Assistant Adjutant General
, and Gen. Lander
accompanied the cavally to serve with it. For some reason never explained to me, neither of these orders were carried out. The cavalry were transferred to the Virginia
shore, but were sent back without having left the shore to go inland, and thus Col. Devens
was deprived of the means of obtaining warning of any approach of the enemy.
The battalion under Col. Ward
was detained on the Bluff
in the rear of Colonel Devens
, instead of being directed to the right.
having arrived at Conrad's Ferry with the 1st California regiment at an early hour, proceeded to Edwards's Ferry, and reported to me in person, stating that his regiment was at the former place, and the three other regiments of his brigade ready to march.
I directed him to Harrison's Island
to assume command, and in a full conversation explained to him the position as it then stood.
I told him that General McCall
had advanced his troops to Drainsville, and had advanced his troops to Drainsville, and that I was extremely desirous of ascertaining the exact position and force of the enemy in our front, and exploring as far as it was safe on the right toward Leesburg
, and on the left toward the Leesburg
and Gum Spring
I also informed Colonel Baker
that General Gorman
, opposite Edwards's Ferry, should be reinforced, and that I would make every effort to push Gorman
's troops carefully, forward to discover the best line from that ferry to the Leesburg
and Gum Spring
road, already mentioned, and the position of the breastworks and hidden battery, which prevented the movement of troops directly from left to right, were also pointed out to him.
The means of transportation across of the sufficiency of which he (Baker
) was to be judge, was detailed, and authority given him to make use of the guns of a section of each of Vaughn
's and Bunting
's batteries, together with French's mountain howitzers, all the troops of his brigade and the Tammany regiment, besides the Nineteenth and a part of the Twentieth regiments of Massachusetts Volunteers, and I left it to his discretion, after viewing the ground, to retire from the Virginia
shore under the cover of his guns, and the fire of the large infantry force, or to pass our reinforcements in case he found it practicable, and the position on the other side favorable.
I stated that I wished no advance made unless the enemy were of inferior force, and under no circumstances to pass beyond Leesburg
, or a strong position between it and Goose Creek
, on the Gum Spring
i. e., the Manassas
was cautioned in reference to passing artillery across the river; and I begged if he did do so to see it well supported by good infantry.
The General pointed out to him the position of some bluffs on this side of the river, from which artillery could act with effect on the other; and, leaving the matter of crossing more troops or retiring what were already over to his discretion, gave him entire control of operations on the right.
This gallant and energetic officer left me about 9 A. M., or half-past 9, and galloped off quickly to his command.
Reinforcements were rapidly thrown to the Virginia
side by Gen. Gorman
, at Edwards's Ferry, and the skirmishers and cavalry scouts advanced cautiously and steadily to the front and right, while the infantry lines were formed in such positions as to act rapidly and in concert in case of an advance of the enemy, and shells were thrown by Lieut. Woodruff
's Parrot guns into the woods beyond our lines as they gradually extended, care being taken to annoy the vicinity of the battery on the right.
Messengers from Harrison's Island
informed me, soon after the arrival of Col. Baker
opposite the island, that he was crossing his whole force as rapidly as possible, and that he had caused an additional flat-boat to be rafted from the canal into the river, and had provided a line to cross the boats more rapidly.
In the morning a sharp skirmish took place between two companies of the 20th Massachusetts and about 100 Mississippi
riflemen, during which a body of the enemy's cavalry appeared.
then fell back in good order on Col. Lee
Presently he again advanced, his men behaving admirably, fighting, retiring, and advancing in perfect order, and exhibiting every proof of high courage and good discipline.
Had the cavalry scouting party sent him in the morning been with him, then he could have had timely warning of the approach of a superior force which afterwards overwhelmed his regiment.
Thinking that Colonel Baker
might be able to use more artillery, I dispatched to him two additional pieces, supported by two companies of infantry, with directions to come into position below the place of crossing, and report to Col. Baker
. Col. Baker
suggested this himself later in the day, just before the guns on their way arrived.
After Col. Devens
's second advance, Col. Baker
went to the field in person, and it is a matter of regret to me that he left no record of what officers and men he charged with the care of the boats and insuring the regular passage of troops.
If any were charged with this duty, it was not performed, for the reinforcements as they arrived found no one in command of the boats, and great delays were thus occasioned.
Had one officer and a company remained at each landing, guarding the boats, their full capacity would have been made serviceable, and sufficient men would have been passed on to secure success.
The forwarding of artillery before its supporting force of infantry also impeded the rapid assemblage of an imposing force on the Virginia
If the infantry force had first crossed, a difference of 1,000 men would have been made in the infantry line at the time of attack, probably enough to have given us the victory.
Between 12 and 1 P. M. the enemy appeared in force in front of Col. Devens
, and a sharp skirmish ensued, and was maintained for some time by the 15th Massachusetts, unsupported, and finding he would be outflanked, Col. Deven
retired a short distance and took up a position near the wood, half a mile in front of Col. Lee
, where he remained until 2 o'clock, when he again fell back, with the approval of Col. Baker
, and took his place with the portions of the 25th Massachusetts and 1st California, which had arrived.
now formed his line and waited the attack of the enemy, which came upon him with great vigor about 3 P. M., and was well met by our troops, who, though pitched against much superior numbers, three to one, maintained their ground, under a most destructive fire of the enemy.
reached the field amid the heaviest fire, and came gallantly into action, with a yell which wavered the enemy's line.
, of Bunting
's Battery, had succeeded, after extraordinary exertions and labor, in bringing up a piece of the Rhode Island Battery, and Lieut. French
his two howitzers, but both officers, after well-directed firing, were soon borne away wounded, and their pieces were hauled to the rear, so that they might not fall into the enemy's hands.
At 4 P. M. Colonel Baker
fell at the head of his column, pierced by a number of bullets, while cheering his men, and by his own example sustaining the obstinate resistance they were making.
The command then devolved upon Colonel Lee
, who prepared to commence throwing out forces to the rear, but it was soon found that Colonel Coggswell
was the senior in rank, and he, taking the command, ordered preparations to be made for marching to the left, and cutting a way through to Edwards's Ferry.
But just as the first dispositions were being effected, a rebel officer rode rapidly in front, and beckoned the Tammany regiment toward the enemy.
It is not clear whether or not the Tammany men supposed this was one of our officers, but they responded with a yell and charged forward, carrying with them in their advance the rest of the line, which soon received a destructive fire from the enemy at close distance.
The men were quickly recalled, but their new position frustrated the movement designed, and Colonel Coggswell
gave the necessary order to retire.
The enemy pursued to the edge of the bluff, over the landing place, and poured in a heavy fire as our men were endeavoring to cross to the island.
The retreat was rapid, but according to orders.
The men formed near the river, maintaining for nearly half an hour the hopeless contest rather than surrender.
The smaller boats had disappeared, no one knew where.
The largest boat, rapidly and too heavily loaded, swamped at 15 feet from the shore, and nothing was left to our soldiers but to swim, surrender, or die.
With a devotion worthy of the cause they were serving, officers and men, while quarter was being offered to such as would lay down their arms, stripped themselves of their swords and muskets and hurled them into the river to prevent their falling into the hands of the foe, and saved themselves as they could by swimming, floating upon logs, and concealing themselves in the bushes of the forest, and to make their way up and down the river bank to a place of crossing.--The instances of personal gallantry, of the highest order, were so many that it would be unjust to detail particular cases.
Offices displayed for their men, and men for their officers, that beautiful devotion which is only to be found among true soldiers.
While these scenes were being enacted on the right, I was preparing on the left for a rapid push forward to the road by which the enemy would retreat if driven, and entirely unsuspicious of the perilous condition of our troops.
The additional artillery had already been sent, and when the messenger, who did not leave the field until after 3 o'clock, was questioned as to Col. Bakers
position, he informed me that the Colonel
, when he left seemed to feel perfectly secure, and could doubtless hold his position in case he should not advance.
The same statement was made by another messenger half an hour later, and I watched anxiously for a sign of advance on the right, in order to push forward General Gorman
It was, as had been explained to Col. Baker
, impracticable to throw General Gorman
's brigade directly to the right by reason of the battery in the woods, between which we had never been able to reconnoitre.
At 4 P. M., or thereabouts, I telegraphed to Gen. Banks
for a brigade of his division, intending it to occupy the ground on this side of the river, near Harrison's Island
, which would be abandoned in case of a rapid advance, and shortly after, as the fire slackened, a messenger was waited for on whose tidings should be given orders either for the advance of Gen. Gorman
to cut off the retreat of the enemy, or for the disposition for the night in the position then held.
At 5 P. M.Capt. Candy
arrived from the field, and announced the melancholy tidings of Colonel Baker
's death, but with no intelligence of any further disaster.
I immediately apprised Gen. Banks
of Col. Baker
's death, and I rode quickly to the right to assume command.
Before arriving opposite the island, men who had crossed the river plainly gave evidence of the disaster, and on reaching the same I was satisfied of it by the conduct of the men then landing in boats.
The reports made to me were that the enemy's force was 10,000 men. This I considered, as it proved to be, an exaggeration.
Orders were then given to hold the island and establish a patrol on the tow-path from opposite the island to the line of pickets near the Monocracy, and I returned to the left to secure the troops there from disaster and make preparations for moving them as rapidly as possible.
Orders arrived from General McClellan
to hold the island and Virginia
shore at Edwards's Ferry at all risks, indicating at the same time that reinforcements would be sent, and additional means of entrenching were forwarded, and Gen. Gorman
was furnished with particular directions to hold out against any and every force of the enemy.
During that time Gen. Hamilton
, with his brigade, was on the march from Darnestown
Before I left to go to the right, I issued orders to intercept him, and instructed him to repair to Conrad's Ferry, where orders awaited him to so dispose of his force as to give protection to Harrison's Island
, and protect the line of the river.
At 3 A. M. Major General Banks
arrived and took command.
A report of division for the following days will be made out speedily.
I cannot conclude without hearing testimony to the courage, good discipline, and conduct of all the troops of this division during the day. Those in action behaved like veterans, and those not brought into action showed that alacrity and steadiness in their movements which proved their anxiety to engage the foe in their country's cause.
We mourn the loss of the brave departed, dead on the field of honor, if not of success, and we miss the companionship of those of our comrades who have fallen into the hands of our enemies.
But all feel that they have earned the title of soldier, and all await with increased confidence another measurement of strength with the foe.