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Centennial Times - November 3, 1861 - Union forces driven across Potomac

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November 3, 1861

Union Force Driven Back Across Potomac
An Union force which crossed the Potomac west of Washington, D. C., near Leesburg, Va., was beaten back in a complete rout on Oct. 21.

Federal casualties totalled nine hundred men. About two hundred were killed or wounded; the rest were captured. The Confederates lost 149 men, including 33 killed.

The dead included Col. Edward D. Baker, U.S. Senator from Oregon and close personal friend and political supporter of President Lincoln. The wounded included Lt. Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr., son of the famous Boston essayist, physician and wit.

The captured included Col. William E. Lee, Col. Milton Cogswell, and Major Paul Joseph Revere, a descendent of the famous Revolutionary rider. They have been taken to Libby Prison in Richmond.

Brigadier General Edward P Stone, commander of the division there, has come under heavy criticism for his handling of the affair. Some Congressmen and Senators even question his loyalty-

Stone had been ordered to cross the Potomac River at Edward’s Ferry as a point to cover Federal reconnaissance out of Dranesville, Va. The Fifteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts, Seventy-First Pennsylvania “California” and Forty-Second New York "Tammany” Regiments crossed the Potomac in the night and early morning, and after an advance toward Leesburg was driven back took up a position on Ball’s Bluff overlooking the river.

They were immediately pinned down by fire from a woods on higher ground. Although they tried to stay and fight, they were eventually forced down the bluff. Trapped between the bluff and the river, with not enough boats to cross back into Maryland, the Union soldiers were slaughtered.

Many were saved, however, that might have died by the soldiers of the First Maryland Regiment, now stationed at Darnestown in Montgomery County.

They were ordered to relieve Brigadier-General Stone, and upon arrival at Edward’s Ferry, were directed to man the boats and rescue the brigade of General Gorman, which was sent across to reinforce Col. Baker. Notwithstanding the high river, the strong current, and the gale, the Marylanders worked almost alone, using coal boats pushed with poles to bring out the trapped brigade

Col. John Reese Kenley reported of them, “I feel it a duty to say that the soldiers of the First Maryland Regiment saved members of our army from destruction or capture. I am proud of that night’s work.” On Oct. 26, the Marylanders returned to Darnestown.

Brigadier General Stone was inspector-general of the District of Columbia during President Lincoln’s “lame-duck” period, and was responsible for preventing a Confederate seizure of the Capitol. He is fond of remarking that he was the first soldier mustered in to defend the Union in the Civil War.

He got into a controversy with Governor John Andrew and Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts when Governor Andrew rebuked officers of the Twentieth Massachusetts for returning fugitive slaves to their owners. General Stone supported his officers, and told the Governor to mind his own business. Senator Sumner denounced the General on the floor the Senate. Then Stone bitterly attacked Sumner.

This is a delicate issue, the support of both slave-holding Maryland and abolitionist Massachusetts being crucial to the defense of the Union. Maryland is important because of its geographical position; Massachusetts because it was one of the first states to send troops to defend Washington in April when the Capitol’s future was so uncertain, and because it is considered to have one of the best records on mustering and outfitting troops.

This controversy made General Stone suspect in the eyes of the Radical Republican faction, who question the loyalty of any soldier who is soft on the slavery issue. Since the defeat at Ball’s Bluff, they have been repeating rumors of fraternizing between Union and Confederate soldiers along the river, and of mysterious alleged signals and messages being passed.

General Stone seems to have the confidence of President Lincoln and General McClellan. His friends hope this will be enough to save him from the Radical Republican leaders in Congress.

Small fights continued through West Virginia, East Tennessee and Missouri, where strong Union sentiment exists in the midst of slave territory.

Union troops have begun a move to join up with Union forces in East Tennessee. In Missouri, small battles have occurred at such places as Wet Glaze, Monday’s Hollow, Underwood’s Farm and Big Hurricane Creek. The first pitched battle in Kentucky was fought at Camp Wildcat in Rockcastle County on Oct. 21. On Oct. 26, another battle was fought at Canton, Kentucky, between Confederate cavalry led by Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Union gunboat Conestoga.

Confederates failed Oct. 9 in an attempt to drive Union forces from their stronghold at Pensacola, Fla., one of several Union bases on the Confederate coast. On Oct. 12, James Mason of and John Slidwell of Louisiana, ran the Charleston S. C., blockade as diplomatic representatives of the Confederacy in England and Europe.


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Used with permission of the Herald-Mail


Collection Location:
Hagerstown, Maryland

Original Size:
59 x 33 cms

Washington County (Md.), history; Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862; Sharpsburg, Battle of, Md., 1862; Centennial celebrations, etc:

Washington County (Md.), 1860-1862

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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