The Battle of Ball’s Bluff [also called the Battle of Leesburg or Harrison’s Island] was fought October 21st 1861 in Loudoun County, Virginia.
On October 19th 1861 Union Brigadier General George A McCall took his division to Dranesville, Virginia about 12 miles from Leesburg, Virginia to see if Confederate Colonel Nathan Evans had abandoned Leesburg. Evans was in fact in a defensive position on the Alexandria Winchester Turnpike to the east of the town.
Union Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone was ordered on October 20th 1861 to conduct a demonstration on the Confederates. He had troops moved along the river, with artillery firing into the suspected Confederate position; Stone crossed about 100 of the 1st Minnesota Infantry just before dark. Getting no reaction from Evans troops, Stone recalled his men. After dark Stone ordered Colonel Charles Devens of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry to send about 20 men across the river to gather information. These soldiers advanced about mile inland, mistaking a row of tree for a Confederate camp they reported this “camp” without verifying. This information caused Stone to order 300 troops to be moved across the river as soon as it was light.
Devens’ troops quickly discovered on the morning of October 21st 1861, that there wasn’t a camp for raiding. He had his men deploy along the tree line and sent back to Stone for new orders. Stone had the rest of the 15th Massachusetts cross the river and join the first of Devens’ troops and make a reconnaissance towards Leesburg. Stone sent Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker to evaluate the situation. Baker was told to move additional troops across the river or withdraw at his discretion. At this point Baker learned that Devens’ men had engaged a company of the 17th Mississippi Infantry, and so decided to move more troops across the river. The problem was a lack of boats and so the crossing took forever. Devens found himself facing a growing number of Confederate troops and around 2 pm was forced to withdraw to the bluff along the river where Baker deployed the men he had gotten across. At about 3 pm the fighting became heavy, continuing until after dark. Baker was killed about 4:30 becoming the only United States Senator ever killed in battle. At dark with their line breaking the Union troops began to look for an escape route. Banks of the river along Ball’s Bluff were steep, boats which were over loaded by men trying to re-cross the river became swamped, and many Union men drowned.
There were 223 Union soldiers killed, including Colonel Baker, 226 wounded, and 553 taken prisoner of war.