October 21st 1861
The Battle of Ball’s Bluff although not as monumental or tactically important during the Civil War as other battles, was a very compelling fight nonetheless. The Confederate troops defeated the Union army on the cliffs of The Potomac River at the beginning of the war. The method in which the Rebels defeated the Yankees was the primary reason the battle was so interesting and horrendous, simultaneously.
The location of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff was 35 miles west of Washington D.C. The Confederates, under the command of General Nathan Evans, with minimal numbers, had positioned his troops in the path of the Union army and had stopped their advance. The Union army was lead by the capable Brigadier General Charles P. Stone and was a fine fighting force fresh off a victory with General McClellan’s army in Northern Virginia. This battle would have a much more devastating outcome than the ones encountered just less than a month previously.
The Confederates stopped a sloppily prepared and inept effort by the Union troops under General Stone just west of the capital, and during the battle the unthinkable occurred. The retreating Union troops, suffering a severe beating at the hands of the seasoned veterans under the brilliant guidance of General Evans, were in a state of panic.
With the high cliffs behind them and the Rebels in front, the only place the Yankees had to go was over the cliff. The few Union troops that summoned, from deep below, the will to turn and fight the Rebel horde, were either killed or forced to return to the cliffs rocky-edges. Certain death awaited the retreating Union troops as they inched or were forced to inch toward the edge, the end result was that hundreds of men fell or leapt to their deaths there at those cliffs.
As the Rebels advanced and mercilessly shot, wounded, or forced the Union troops to leap to their deaths, the Confederate victory was assured. The repercussions that would come from not just the one-sided and horrific Union loss at the Battle of Ball’s Bluffs but also the public out-cry, would change the political body of the United States, forever.
The overall body count of the Union troops that were lost either by rifle shot or impacting the earth at such a great height, was around 921. The Confederates took a much lighter casualty count out of the battle and counted only 149 as killed in action. The loss was a heavy one for the Union army to handle and through the loss the President hastily enacted the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.
The Union loss during the battle of Ball’s Bluff would send a shock wave of public out-cry through the entire Union army and also the Union’s citizens. The Congressional Joint Committee was created as an outlet for the communications between generals in the near future. It was setup to monitor illegal trade between the Union and Confederacy, investigate why the Union lost battles and medical treatment of wounded soldiers.
The lesson learned during the battle of Ball’s Bluff was that in the future, no Union general was to find his troops, either in offensive or defensive positions, with his back to a cliff or river. If he could prevent it.