Battle of Ball's Bluff Online Exhibit

Our Army at Edward's Ferry

Black-and-white illustration from Harper's Weekly magazine, November 9, 1861 issue, showing the Union army marching through a small town on the banks of the Potomac River.

Caption: Our Army at Edward's Ferry, on the Potomac, opposite Leesburg [See page 716]

Source: Illustration from Harper's Weekly, November 9, 1861, page 710.

Harper's Weekly (November 9, 1861, page 714) described the advance on Leesburg from the Union perspective as follows:

The Advance Upon Leesburg

General Stone crossed the Potomac on 21st on a pontoon bridge with 8000 men. Our illustration represents his army gathering at the Ferry before crossing. At the same time a portion of the Army crossed the river higher up with less success. The following extract from a letter in the Herald describes the affair:

General Stone crossed the Potomac on 21st on a pontoon bridge with 8000 men. Our illustration represents his army gathering at the Ferry before crossing. At the same time a portion of the Army crossed the river higher up with less success. The following extract from a letter in the Herald describes the affair:

Colonel Devens, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment, having received orders to advance with a detachment of his regiment to the Virginia shore, reinforcements having been promised him in case he should be attacked in force, made preparations accordingly, and on Monday morning last at one o'clock he crossed with five companies, viz.: Company A, Captain Rockwood; Company C, Captain Bowman; Company G, Captain Walter Forehand; Company H, Captain Chase Philbrick; and Company I, Captain George C. Joslin – in all about three hundred and fifty men – to an island in the Potomac called Harrison's Island. The passage to this place was effected in flat-boats. Arrived at the island, where Company H had been on picket duty for a week previously, Colonel Devens was informed by Captain Philbrick, who had been making a reconnaissance a short time before of the Virginia shore, that the enemy was not in sight. He then ordered his men to cross to the shore, which act they accomplished by means of one flat-boat and one metallic boat – a process both slow and tedious.

Colonel Devens landed on the shore without molestation, and proceeded to within about a mile of Leesburg without meeting the enemy. He then threw out Company H, Captain Philbrick, as skirmishers, who soon encountered a company of rebels, belonging to one of the Mississippi regiments. Captain Philbrick fired upon them a volley, which the enemy returned, and then retreated, when Colonel Devens fell back to his first position on landing, and kept up a sort of skirmishing and bush fighting against 1500 to 1800 rebels for some hours. About one o'clock P.M. reinforcements came up, under command of Brigadier-General Baker, with two howitzers and one brass twelve-pounder. The reinforcements consisted of a part of the Twentieth Massachusetts, Colonel Lee; the New York Tammany regiment, and a part of the California regiment – in all about 1700 men. In the mean time the enemy had been immensely reinforced from Leesburg, to the number of between 5000 and 8000 men. The fighting was kept up until dark, having commenced about seven in the morning, with great loss on both sides. The Union forces were compelled to retreat, and to avoid leaving their guns and equipments in the hands of the enemy, they threw them into the river by order of their commanders. A large number of the Union men plunged into the river, and were shot while attempting to swim across. The enemy's cavalry made but one charge, and with that exception the whole battle was a bush fight, both sides exhibiting great bravery. The enemy's loss is large – supposed to be about 500. They were thoroughly sheltered by the woods. All about our artillery were shot down. Our guns were spiked and thrown into the river.

Colonel Deyens was shot by a musket ball; and his life saved by the ball striking square upon one of the metallic buttons of his coat.

In a word, our army was driven back with heavy loss. Out of 1900 men who crossed the river, 700 were killed or missing, and 160 are wounded in hospital. History affords few examples of such slaughter. General McClellan, in an order of the day referring to the battle, thanks the troops engaged, and adds:

The gallantry and discipline there displayed deserved a more fortunate result; but situated as those troops were, cut off alike from retreat and reinforcements, and attacked by an overwhelming force of from five thousand to seven thousand, it was not possible that the issue could be successful. Under happier auspices such devotion will insure victory. The General Commanding feels increased confidence in the troops composing General Stone's division.

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Last Updated: February 2, 2012