The Battle of Ball’s Bluff, also known as the Battle of Harrison’s Island or Battle of Leesburg was fought on October 21, 1861 in Loudoun County, Virginia. In response to movement by Confederate Colonel Nathan G. Evans, Union Major General George B. McClellan ordered Brigadier General Charles P. Stone to conduct a “slight demonstration,” a show of force from the Maryland side of the Potomac River without the intention of having any troops cross or combat. After a small encounter with Confederate troops, Union soldiers were ordered to cross over the river into Virginia. Without the necessarily amount of boats, Union soldiers were unable to successfully engage the enemy. This poorly coordinated attack combined with a vigorous counterattack from Confederate soldiers led to a disastrous defeat for the Union including the death of Colonel Edward D. Baker, a United States Senator from Oregon. Estimated casualties for the Union Army totaled over 900 while the Confederates suffered only 150. The defeat had substantial political consequences in Washington D.C. with the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.
Ted Ballard’s book Battle of Ball’s Bluff published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History provides the most extensive overview of the battle with a detailed account of the battle including maps, images, bibliographical sketches and further readings . The Library of Congress offers a number of resources including images of Baker’s death and the Union retreat. The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress is another valuable resource that contains transcribed military telegrams between generals and the President. The Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park and National Cemetery provides visitors a chance to explore the battle site with hiking trails and signs throughout the park. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority website also offers worthwhile information regarding the battle including an overview, cultural resources, a downloadable self guided audio tour and detailed battle maps.