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1861 October 23: First Reports on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff

October 25, 2011

The latest war news from the October 23, 1861, issue of The Hudson North Star. These are the first reports on what will become known as the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, also known as the Battle of Leesburg and the Battle of Harrison’s Landing. The battle was fought on October 21, 1861, and was a victory for the Confederate Army under Nathan G. Evans.


B Y   T E L E G R A P H.

From Washington.


Washington, Oct. 21—There are rumors of a battle in progress near Leesburg. No particulars.

The federal troops are known to be entrenched on an island near that point.

Foraging parties of federal troops daily venture as far as Mt. Vernon.

The rumor of Fremont’s removal is revived to-day.


The following telegraphs from Gen. Stone’s1 command has been received at headquarters:

A gallant reconnaissance was made early this morning by Major Mix,2 of Van Allen’s [sic]3 cavalry, and Capt. Stewart assistant adjutant general, from Edward’s Ferry towards Leesburg with 30 cavalry.

They came on the 14th Mississippi regiment, received their fire at thirty yards, returned it with their pistols, and fell back in order, bringing in one prisoner.

We have possession of the Virginia side of Edward’s Ferry. Additional account says up to 8 o’clock to day Gen. Stone had held his own satisfactorily there, though his comparatively small force on the Island is engaged with some 4, 000 of the enemy.4

A subsequent dispatch received late this afternoon say Gen. Rains has four field pieces masked and about 4,000 men.

A prisoner taken mentions that he has 4,000 rebel troops and expects reinforcements. Gen. Stone at that time believed he could occupy Leesburg to day and hold it.


On careful investigation it is found that the sum of $400,000 was sent to England, and $400,000 more is to be sent within thirty days, in all not much short of a million dollars, to purchase cloths, to be made up in this country to meet the pressing wants of our soldiers in the field, until our own manufacturers can supply the goods so much needed.

The greatest care was exercised in the selection of agents to execute the orders.


A dispatch to the Times says it was currently reported on the other side of the Potomac to-day that Fairfax Court House has been fired and destroyed by rebels.

The navigation of the Potomac again appears to be unobstructed. Forty-one vessels passed the batteries at Shipping Point this p.m., and only one was hit—the ball passing through her mainsail.


A contraband had arrived within Gen. McCall’s5 lines yesterday. He reads and writes with facility. He was attached to the Louisiana brigade, and had been stationed near Fairfax Court House. On Wednesday they were all ordered to move back to Centreville, where it was currently reported a stand would be made to await and attack from [George B.] McClellan. So great was their haste they left large quantities of flour and other provisions.


[Herald’s Dispatch.]—The city has been very quiet. The advance of our forces has much diminished the number of uniforms upon the streets and around the hotels. Gen. McClellan’s Sunday orders appears to have been strictly obeyed.

It appears that Government has through its agents in England, purchased a large quantity of blankets, to the extent of at least 800,000 and that 200,000 more are yet to be purchased. Some of these it is said have already arrived—Government was compelled to exercise this foresight before the approach of winter, as no blankets could be got in this market, although it is supposed several speculators are holding them back for higher prices.


In regard to the expedition fitting out to operate against Mexico, our ministers at London and Paris assert positively that neither of these governments have entered into arrangements with Spain to join in the alleged expedition.

The reply to the communication of Secretary [of State William H.] Seward, which was addressed some time ago to the governments, respecting the designs of those powers, has not yet been received.

Our government has all along been assured, by both England and France, that they had no object in their interference in Mexican affairs, other than to protect their citizens, and obtain reparation for outrages perpetrated by them, and which are of long standing.


It is a remarkable fact thus far that the troops of neither army have occupied the soil of Mount Vernon, unless it has taken place within a few days. A general watchfulness has been kept upon the place by our troops. If the rebels attempt to erect batteries there they will be repulsed by McClellan without delay, and the place invested by a guard of honor composed of troops that have distinguished themselves.


The advance of the army has rendered it unnecessary that the headquarters of the General commanding should be removed to Virginia. Arrangements are being made, and it is expected in a few days that Gen. McClellan’s headquarters will be in the midst of the camps on the other side of the Potomac.

It is said the movement of Gen. McCall at the bend of his division towards Leesburg, to cut off the rebels if they have gone in the direction of Harper’s Ferry, as some suppose, instead of falling back on Manassas. They have most likely done the latter, and General McCall, will probably fail to find an enemy in the direction he is now searching.

1.  Charles Pomeroy Stone (1824-1887) was a career military officer, civil engineer, and surveyor, who had served with distinction in the Mexican War.  Stone was held responsible for the Union defeat at Ball’s Bluff. He was arrested and imprisoned for almost six months, mostly for political reasons, but never received a trial. After his release he would not again hold a significant command during the Civil War.
2.  Major John Mix, of the 3rd New York Cavalry.
3.  Colonel James H. Van Alen, also of the 3rd New York Cavalry.
4.  In fact, the Union Army had about 2,000 soldiers and the Confederate Army 1,600.
5.  George Archibald McCall (1802-1868) was another career military officer who served with distinction in the Mexican War. He was one of the oldest West Point graduates to serve in the Civil War.

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