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Leesburg in Loudoun County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Battle of Ball's Bluff - October 21, 1861: The Union Collapse

 
 
Battle of Ball's Bluff - October 21, 1861: The Union Collapse Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones, March 6, 2021
1. Battle of Ball's Bluff - October 21, 1861: The Union Collapse Marker
Inscription.  
4:30-5:00 PM: The Union commander on the field, Colonel (and U.S. Senator) Edward D. Baker was killed, not at the current Baker stone but probably about 75-100 yards inland from that point. Approximately 20 Federals successfully engaged in a brief struggle over his body with about an equal number of Confederates. He was taken to Harrison's Island shortly afterward and then to Poolesville that evening. Initially, Colonel William R. Lee of the 20th Massachusetts (the Harvard Regiment) assumed command and assembled a line near the bluff which he hoped would buy some time to remove the wounded and to cover the withdrawal of the Union force. He sent a portion of that assembled line forward under Major Paul J. Revere to retrieve the abandoned mountain howitzers, but this attempt failed due to heavy Confederate fire.

5:00-5:30 PM: After a conference among the regimental commanders, it was determined that Colonel Milton Cogswell of the 42nd New York (Tammany Regiment) was the senior officer. He assumed overall command and summoned the 15th Massachusetts from its position in the woods on the Union right. The Confederates soon

Battle of Ball's Bluff - October 21, 1861: The Union Collapse Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones, March 6, 2021
2. Battle of Ball's Bluff - October 21, 1861: The Union Collapse Marker
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occupied the position vacated by the Massachusetts men. Cogswell then began forming a column with the intention of breaking out and fighting his way to Edwards Ferry in order to link up with the roughly 2000 Federals then deployed at that location. His New Yorkers were placed in front as the tip of the spear pointed up the slope toward today's parking lot from which he hoped to get into the open fields now occupied by the Potomac Crossing subdivision and then to Edwards Ferry.

As Cogswell organized his breakout attempt, a rider, later identified by the 8th Virginia's Colonel Eppa Hunton as Lt. Charles B. Wildman of Colonel Evans's staff, appeared north of the Union force in the area just abandoned by the 15th Massachusetts. Wildman waved his hat and yelled something unintelligible at the Federals. He may have believed that the Tammanies, still in their pre-war gray militia uniforms, were Confederates or they may have believed that he was one of their officers. In any event, the 42nd surged toward him and was soon followed by some of the men of the 15th Massachusetts. These were promptly halted by Colonel Devens who had received no order to advance. The Tammanies were repulsed and confusion reigned. Realizing that his breakout had failed and that his force was nearing physical and psychological collapse, Cogswell reluctantly ordered a retreat to the boats.

5:30-6:00

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PM: Captain William F. Bartlett, commanding Company I of the 20th Massachusetts, decided to take one more crack at the Confederates before he was forced to retreat. He organized the remainder of his own company, and a portion of another, about 60 men in all, to attack the enemy's line. Moving forward, he ran into Confederates emerging from the woods, most likely the 8th Virginia, Company D of the 13th Mississippi, and perhaps some dismounted Virginia cavalrymen. The stronger Confederate force drove Bartlett back to the bluff. Still lacking ammunition, the Virginians continued their advance as a bayonet charge, overrunning the abandoned mountain howitzers, and then withdrawing to their former position. Curiously, they did not take their trophies with them when they withdrew, a failure which later caused a sharp disagreement with the Mississippians over which unit actually had captured those pieces.

Colonel Winfield Scott Featherston of the 17th Mississippi was in the process of forming his newly arrived regiment for his own attack when he observed the 8th Virginia's attack and subsequent withdrawal. He soon ordered his own men forward, supported by elements of the 18th Mississippi on both flanks. This climactic advance finally broke the Federal line and turned Cogswell's retreat into a rout. Two additional companies of the Tammany regiment, the last Federals to arrive,

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briefly stemmed the Confederate tide but soon were overwhelmed. Colonel Featherston's men captured the James rifle and claimed one of the mountain howitzers as well. The Confederates then deployed along the bluff, and fired down upon the panic-stricken Union troops on the floodplain and in the river. Cogswell was slightly wounded and captured while leading a group of his New Yorkers trying to drive Confederate troops away from the mouth of the ravine along the riverbank on the Confederate right. Darkness finally ended the fighting.

Dusk - Midnight: Colonel Devens, who could not swim, was assisted across the river by some of his men and escaped capture. Colonel Lee, Major Revere, and his surgeon brother, Edward Revere were captured near Smarts Mill, just over a mile upriver from the site of the retreat. Captain Bartlett used a skiff to organize the escape of some 80 men to Harrison's Island. A total of 161 Union troops were officially listed as "missing" and may be presumed to have drowned in the river.

Around midnight, Private Elijah V. White, a Confederate cavalryman on leave in Leesburg when the sound of battle spurred him to offer his services to Colonel Evans, organized some 50 volunteers from the 8th Virginia and proceeded onto the floodplain where he convinced over 300 exhausted and dispirited Union soldiers to surrender.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: War, US CivilWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical year for this entry is 2000.
 
Location. 39° 7.905′ N, 77° 31.653′ W. Marker is in Leesburg, Virginia, in Loudoun County. Marker can be reached from Balls Bluff Park east of Balls Bluff Road, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Leesburg VA 20176, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Ball's Bluff National Cemetery (here, next to this marker); Edward D. Baker (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Ball's Bluff National Cemetery (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Edward D. Baker (a few steps from this marker); United States National Military Cemetery (a few steps from this marker); A National Cemetery System (a few steps from this marker); 1st California Regiment (a few steps from this marker); 13 Pounder "James Rifle" (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Leesburg.

 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on March 6, 2021. It was originally submitted on March 6, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 90 times since then and 15 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on March 6, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.

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Jul. 3, 2022