Ball's Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery
Map of Ball's Bluff Battle
Backstory and Context
The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was a relatively minor battle that took place in Leesburg, not to far from downtown Washington, DC. It was in October of 1861, which had been months after the General Irvin McDowell’s disastrous attempt at seizing the railroad junction at Bull Run or Manassas. Unlike Bull Run, the Ball’s Bluff would be not a planned event, but an accident that occurred which drove Union into an ill-fated encounter with Rebel forces in the vicinity.
With the defeat at Manassas, many of the Union’s top generals were more than willing to create a situation for the rebel army that would have them forced to retreat from a major railroad center, which would eventually, lead them to Richmond. Thus Union officers set their sights on the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. Leading the Union troops was the newly appointed George McClellan. McClellan sent his Brigadier General Charles Stone into Leesburg the evening of October 20. The problem was that his subordinate officer Captain Chase Phillbrick, had mistaken a line of trees for a tent city. He ordered fire on the “tent city” until he realized it was not that at all.
When this occurred, the result was that the Mississippi regiment under Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans, took notice of this. The regiment than proceeded to take advantage of the Union troops mistake and begin to fire on them. To further, the problem, there was much misunderstood communication between Union officers already there and reinforcements on the way. The small number of boats also contributed to the problem that occurred at Ball’s Bluff.
Evans eventually was able to have the commander, mortally wounded and as a result, this made the Union forces disintegrate. Eventually, they had no choice but to retreat from that advancing armies of such. Many died trying to swim to Maryland via the Potomac by enemy fire. 553 Union troops were taken prisoner, while only 200 Confederates were captured, killed, missing or wounded. Learning from this battle, Congress gave more authority to Union officers for major decisions.