Ball's Bluff Battlefield Hike

superbron

Private
Joined
Nov 3, 2020
Location
Leesburg, Virginia
Hey everyone! Decided to take the family on a hike around Ball's Bluff battlefield. It's only 10 minutes from my home. The hiking was good, and the history even better! Lots of people enjoying the public regional park, it was a good day.

The battlefield is maintained by the "Friends of Ball's Bluff" organization. They offer guided tours every weekend, and maintain the open field area of the battlefield as best as they can to replicate what it looked like in 1861, amongst other responsibilities.

A bit of history (from battlefield pamphlet):

"The Battle of Ball's Bluff was an accident, not a planned attack. On October 21, 1861, some 1700 Union troops met an equal number of Confederates in a small but significant battle that resulted from actions taken by Union Brigadier General Charles Stone in response to a fault intelligence report that he had received from a reconnaissance patrol the previous night.

The reconnaissance patrol mistakenly reported that a Confederate camp sat in the fields near the Jackson farm house. Based on this erroneous report, General Stone sent 300 men from the 15th Massachusetts Regiment under Colonel Charles Devens on the morning of October 21 to capture the "camp." But they found that, in fact, it was just a row of trees and reported to General Stone that there were no Confederates at Ball's Bluff. With Colonel Devens and his men maintaining their position near the Jackson house, General Stone ordered more troops across the Potomac River and placed Colonel (and U.S. Senator) Edward Baker in command of all the Union troops in the vicinity of Ball's Bluff.

However, while not "camped" near the Jackson house, Confederates were on picket duty near the Bluff. Skirmishes between the Union and Confederate forces began early in the morning and continued throughout the morning as both sides sent in reinforcements. The fighting intensified significantly around 3:00pm and raged almost non-stop until just after dark. Late in the afternoon, Colonel Edward Baker was killed, and the Confederate soldiers pushed the Union army back toward the Bluff and the Potomac River. With 233 killed, including Colonel Edward Baker, Abraham Lincoln's longtime friend, 226 wounded, and 553 captured or missing, the Union forces were virtually destroyed."

A little picture of our visit via pictures is below. There are more photos attached to this post that you can view, outside of the pictures I inserted into the body of this discussion that have captions.

Enjoy!

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(Above) This is where the Confederate line existed, after pushing the Union forces back from the Jackson house, edging up to the open field on the opposite side of this tree line, just over the crest of the hill.

(Below) The edge of tree line beyond the view of the picture above. The U.S. cemetery and Bluff is off to the right in the distance (behind the trees).
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(Below) The battlefield, looking from the southernmost section of the Confederate line, up the hill to the Union forces and batteries. The Bluff and Potomac River are beyond.
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(Below) The 8th VA Inf. Regiment monument and service record.
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(Below) The third smallest United States National Military Cemetery.
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(Below) Union batteries. M1841 12 pound Mountain Howitzers bearing down on Confederate forces in the opposite tree line & ridge.
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Below are some photos of some of the hiking trails, which portray areas of the Union forces where they crossed the Potomac from Maryland and Harrison's Island, as well as views from above and below the Bluff itself.
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Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@superbron Whenever we go that far south we go straight down 15 into Leesburg. Next time we go we will take your advice and stop there. We were going this fall but have decided to wait until all this covid stuff has ended. Thank you very much for the recommendation.

John
 

Lubliner

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
You should definitely go check it out. They have an interactive trail if you decide to walk without a tour guide, and they have trails sprawling all over the area. I bet it's wonderful during spring.
Wonderful tour via photos. I was never quite certain overall of how steep and wooded the area was. The perspective you've given me was excellent! Thank you.
Lubliner.
 

7thWisconsin

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
I believe that´s the smallest National Cemetery in the nation. You know, it doesn´t look like it´s that far from the bank to the island, but a lot of men drown trying to get back there during the rout. When I was an Army chaplain, my assistant and I studied that battle, then walked the terrain. We planned where we would have set up, if something like a modern ministry team had existed at the time. We decided that we probably would have been in one of those gullies where the wounded were collected, aaaaaaaaand probably would have been captured there at the end of the battle.
Ball´s Bluff was a tremendous shock to the Washington establishment, a shock way outside its actual military significance. They were grasping for anything that looked like good news in the fall of 1861 and this certainly wasn´t it.
 

superbron

Private
Joined
Nov 3, 2020
Location
Leesburg, Virginia
I believe that´s the smallest National Cemetery in the nation. You know, it doesn´t look like it´s that far from the bank to the island, but a lot of men drown trying to get back there during the rout. When I was an Army chaplain, my assistant and I studied that battle, then walked the terrain. We planned where we would have set up, if something like a modern ministry team had existed at the time. We decided that we probably would have been in one of those gullies where the wounded were collected, aaaaaaaaand probably would have been captured there at the end of the battle.
Ball´s Bluff was a tremendous shock to the Washington establishment, a shock way outside its actual military significance. They were grasping for anything that looked like good news in the fall of 1861 and this certainly wasn´t it.
So based on this info plaque on the battlefield, it mentions that the cemetery is the third smallest. Perhaps that has changed in time?

Yeah, down in the gully near the river would've been the safest place for a ministry team, I would expect.

The swim across to Harrison's Island doesn't look too treacherous, and the water was very calm, but I'm sure there were those who didn't know how to swim and drowned. The larger branch of the Potomac on the other side of the island is the area I would be unwillingly to ford without a boat, attempting to get back to Maryland.

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Lubliner

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
@superbron you are right about panicky men without a good swimming record drowning. Imagine having to make that choice! But O. H. Holmes was wounded three times swimming across, and he made to the other side. I am sure that alone could shatter any record one might have achieved earlier on in their youth. Again another consequence is the duration of activity and stress preceding the swim. Possibly even at the beginning it looked hopeful, but strength has been spent.
Lubliner.
 

General Butler

Sergeant
Joined
Nov 16, 2017
My son and I enjoy the park a lot. It has come a long way in a short amount of time it's just sad it is surrounded by houses but such is our life in NOVA.
Jumping off the cliffs to get away seems rather dicey to me, of course knowing your about to be shot is rather dicey too.
Speaking of jumping...one of our walks there led us to a small creek where he wanted to wade in the creek and seek crawfish. Okay fine playing the role of Dad I made my own trail down since we didn't see one. I got about halfway down, hit some mud, and went "A over Tea Kettle" down into the stream. About 8 seconds late my 10 years old son came down, asked if I was ok and as he was both clean and dry he laughingly told me that the trail was 4 feet away from my failed efforts.
He makes a point of telling the story each time we go now.
I tell him that for each time he tells the tale that is one fewer Ben Butler inheritance piece...
 

superbron

Private
Joined
Nov 3, 2020
Location
Leesburg, Virginia
My son and I enjoy the park a lot. It has come a long way in a short amount of time it's just sad it is surrounded by houses but such is our life in NOVA.
Jumping off the cliffs to get away seems rather dicey to me, of course knowing your about to be shot is rather dicey too.
Speaking of jumping...one of our walks there led us to a small creek where he wanted to wade in the creek and seek crawfish. Okay fine playing the role of Dad I made my own trail down since we didn't see one. I got about halfway down, hit some mud, and went "A over Tea Kettle" down into the stream. About 8 seconds late my 10 years old son came down, asked if I was ok and as he was both clean and dry he laughingly told me that the trail was 4 feet away from my failed efforts.
He makes a point of telling the story each time we go now.
I tell him that for each time he tells the tale that is one fewer Ben Butler inheritance piece...
Yes, it is sad that it's surrounded by a subdivision now. And unfortunately, such is the way of life in NOVA. At least there are federal protections for sacred land such as the battlefields, forests, etc.

But I do support the fight to keep Loudoun as rural as possible, as much of the county is beautiful and my family and I frequently escape from the suburbs around Leesburg and dive into the country. I believe the development should halt and remain where it is, alas, we know how that goes...look at Fairfax County. We've even discussed moving west into the Blue Ridge/Shenandoah, but we do love downtown Leesburg and the conveniences of the area.

Great mudbogging story, thanks for sharing! 🤣
 
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