Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 20, 1861 (Sunday): Crossing the Potomac to Ball's Bluff

Colonel Edward D. Baker, Senator from Oregon

                                                                        CAMP GRIFFIN, October 20, 1861.
Brigadier-General Stone, Poolesville:
   General McClellan desires me to inform you that General McCall occupied Dranesville yesterday and is still there.  Will send out heavy reconnaissances to-day in all directions from that point. The general desires that you keep a good lookout upon Leesburg, to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away.  Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.
Assistant Adjustant-General.

                                                            HEADQUARTERS CORPS OF OBSERVATION,
                                                            Poolesville, October 29, 1861
…On the 20th instant, being advised from headquarters of the movement of General McCall to Dranesville and to make a demonstration to draw out the intentions of the enemy at Leesburg,* I proceeded at 1 p.m. to Edwards Ferry with Gorman’s brigade, the Seventh Michigan Regiment of Volunteers, two troops of the Van Alen Cavalry, and the Putnam Rangers, sending at the same time to Harrison’s Island and vicinity four companies of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, under Colonel Devens, who had already one company on the island, and Colonel Lee, with a battalion of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, and to Conrad’s Ferry a section of Vaughan’s Rhode Island Battery, and the Tammany Regiment, under Colonel Cogswell.  A section of Bunting’s New York State Militia battery, under Lieutenant Bramhall, was at the time on duty at Conrad’s Ferry, and Ricketts’ battery already posted at Edwards Ferry, under Lieutenant Woodruff.
   The movement of General McCall on the day previous seemed to have attracted the attention of the enemy, as just before my arrival at Edwards Ferry a regiment of the enemy had appeared from the direction of Leesburg, and taken shelter behind a wooded hill near Goose Creek, about 1 ¾ miles from our position at the ferry.

                                                            HEADQUARTERS CORPS OF OBSERVATION
                                                            Poolesville, October 20, 1861—10.30 p.m.
   NO. ---
   Colonel Devens will land opposite Harrison’s Island with five companies of his regiment, and proceed to surprise the camp of the enemy discovered by Captain Philbrick in the direction of Leesburg.  The handling and march will be effected with silence and rapidity.
   Colonel Lee, Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, will immediately after Colonel Devens’ departure occupy Harrison’s Island with four companies of his regiment, and will cause the four-oared boat to be taken across the island to the point of departure of Colonel Devens.
   Two mountain howitzers will be taken silently up the tow-path, and carried to the opposite side of the island under the orders of Colonel Lee.
    Colonel Devens will attack the camp of the enemy at daybreak, and, having routed them, will pursue them as far as he deems prudent, and will destroy the camp, if practicable, before returning.  He will make all the observations possible on the country; will, under all circumstances, keep his command well in hand, and not sacrifice them to any supposed advantage of rapid pursuit….
   Great care will be used by Colonel Devens to prevent any unnecessary injury of private poperty, and any officer or soldier straggling from the command for curiosity or plunder will be instantly shot.

                                                                                    CHARLES P. STONE
                                                            HEADQUARTERS CORP OF OBSERVATION,
                                                                        Edwards Ferry, October 20, 1861—11 p.m.
   Colonel:  You will send the California regiment (less the camp guard) to Conrad’s Ferry, to arrive there at sunrise and await orders.  The men will take with them blankets and overcoats and forty rounds of ammunition in boxes, and will be followed by one day’s rations in wagons.  The remainder of the brigade will be held in readiness for marching orders (leaving camp guards) at 7 o’clock  a.m. to-morrow, and will all have been breakfasted before that hour.
    Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
                                                                                    CHAS. P. STONE,
                                                                                    Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Col. E. D. BAKER, Commanding Third Brigade

Reports of Brig. Gen. N. G. Evans, C. S. Army, with correspondence.

                                                                        HEADQUARTERS SEVENTH BRIGADE,
                                                                            Leesburg, Va., October 31, 1861.
….At 12 o’clock at night I ordered my entire brigade to the Burnt Bridge, on the turnpike.  The enemy had been reported as approaching from Dranesville in large force.  Taking a strong position on the north side of Goose Creek, I awaited his approach.  Reconnoitering the turnpike on Sunday morning, the courier of General McCall was captured, bearing dispatches to General Meade to examine the roads leading to Leesburg.  From this prisoner I learned the position of the enemy near Dranesville.  During Sunday the enemy kept a deliberate fire without any effect.
….                                                                               N. G. EVANS,
                                                            Brigadier-General, Commanding Seventh Brigade.
   A. A. G., 1st Crops, Army of the Potomac, near Centreville.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 5, Part 1, Pages 290-352 (various)

It started, as calamities do, with simple intentions and confused understandings.  McClellan wanted to see if Leesburg had been abandoned.  Stone, attempting to gain that information, sent a small party across the river who saw light through trees and believed it was a rebel camp with lax security.  Senator (and Colonel) Baker, with orders for his promotion to general at some future date undetermined from his good friend Abraham Lincoln in his hat band, was looking for an achievement to preface his advancement.  Evans, under orders to retreat to Manassas in the face of superior force, instead took position to await events.  Across the water from Harrison’s Island lay Ball’s Bluff, and disaster.

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