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Ball's Bluff

Harrison's Island, Leesburg

October 21, 1861

Loudoun County, Virginia

On the evening of October 20, 1861, McClellan ordered Gen. Charles Stone to send a scouting party across the Potomac River to identify the positions of Confederate Col. Nathan Evans’s troops near Leesburg. In the darkness the party’s inexperienced leader, Capt. Chase Philbrick, mistook a line of trees for a line of tents, and reported that he had stumbled across an unguarded Confederate camp. Early on the 21st, Col. Charles Devens was sent across the river to attack the camp, and after realizing that the supposed “camp” was nothing but a line of trees, his men encountered a company of Mississippi infantry and a skirmish began. Col. Edward Baker, a U.S. Senator, decided to reinforce Devens, but with only four small boats available to transport men, Union reinforcements arrived slowly. Evans used the Federal delay to organize his men, and when Col. Baker was killed in the afternoon, Union resistance crumbled. The victorious Confederates drove the Yankees over the bluff and into the Potomac, where many drowned and hundreds surrendered rather than risk escape into the river. The battle, while small in scale, had major political implications that would haunt the Union army for the rest of the war.
Learn More About This Battle

10 Facts About Ball's Bluff

Learn more about the October 21, 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff.


Battle of Ball's Bluff: Then & Now

Historian Jim Morgan discusses the importance of the Battle of Ball's Bluff and the state of the battlefield today.

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The Civil War Trust's Douglas Ullman shares his experience at Ball's Bluff's 150th anniversary.

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Acres Saved


Check out our collection of photos from the resounding Union defeat at Ball's Bluff.

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Recommended Reading


"A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry"
by James Morgan

This definitive account of the battle analyses original sources to paint a complete picture of the events at Ball's Bluff.

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