Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Visit to Ball's Bluff Battlefield

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting northern Virginia. I was in the Old Dominion to see part of the Virginia Historical Society's traveling exhibit, "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia," which was on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester. The exhibit was fantastic. It combined a traditional exhibit with artifacts and labels with some cutting edge and thought provoking interactive stations. I highly recommend a viewing if you get the chance.

I also had the pleasure of stopping in Leesburg to visit the Ball's Bluff Battlefield. I had passed near the battlefield on Highway 15 a number of times over the years, but had not taken the time to see what is there.

If you haven't heard of the Battle of Ball's Bluff don't worry, it's not the most well-known engagement. The fight was one of a number of Confederate successes, along with First Manassas and Wilson's Creek, in the summer and fall of 1861. While these early victories boosted morale in the South, none proved to be very decisive.

When Federal troops under the command of Gen. Charles Stone tried to cross the Potomac River at this point on October 21, 1861, a sharp fight ensued and the Yankees were badly repulsed by Confederates under General Nathan "Shanks" Evans.

During the panicked retreat the Federals were driven down the extremely steep slope that led to the Potomac River.

Boats that attempted to ferry the Union soldiers back to the Maryland side of the river capsized and soldiers ran directly into the water attempting to avoid capture. Many drowned and made easy targets for the Confederates in pursuit.

A number of the Union soldiers killed in the fight washed up along the Potomac River as far down stream as Washington, D.C.

One of the most noticeable features of the battlefield today is the tiny National Cemetery.  It is the resting place of 54 soldiers killed at the battle. The total casualties for the Union was 223 killed, 226 wounded and 553 captured. The Confederates only suffered about 150 casualties in the lopsided engagement.

Of the Union casualties, the most significant was Senator Edward Baker of Pennsylvania. Baker, colonel of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry has the distinction to be the only U.S. Senator in history killed in battle. He was mortally wounded at about 4:30 p.m. that day.

This Union patriotic envelope mourns the death of Senator Baker.

Ball's Bluff, while being a minor engagement compared to later battles, did have serious political repercussions. Due to the death of Senator Baker and the uneven number of casualties, Congress formed the Congressional Joint Committee on the War, which investigated army actions and caused commanders to perhaps be more cautious than they would have been otherwise.

For more on the Battle of Ball's Bluff check out the Civil War Trust's page on this engagement:

Non-photographic images courtesy of Library of Congress

No comments:

Post a Comment