Volunteers helped to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff with a variety of special programs Saturday. The Civil War engagement on Leesburg’s eastern border occurred 156 years ago.
On the morning of Oct. 21, 1861, a Union raiding party under the command of Col. Charles Devens with 300 men from the 15th Massachusetts Infantry crossed the Potomac River from Harrison Island expecting to find a Confederate camp atop that had been reported—mistakenly—by a reconnaissance party the night before. Devens then was ordered to conduct reconnaissance toward Leesburg. A skirmish with a company of the 17th Mississippi Infantry, prompted the reinforcement from the rest of the 15th Massachusetts, shuttled in small groups on boats from Harrison Island. The time-consuming crossing allowed Confederates to converge on the Devens’ forces, pinning them to the river bluff and then driving them back across the river. With a shortage of boats, many Union solders downed in the retreat. At the day’s end, 223 Union soldiers were dead, including Col. Edward D. Baker, a U.S. senator; 226 wounded; and 553 captured.
Visitors to the battlefield on Saturday encountered Confederate and Union reenactors camped on the grounds, which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1984. They witnessed a skirmish between the forces on the grounds that have been cleared by volunteers in recent years to provide a more accurate depiction of the 1861 environment. An illumination and memorial program was held at dusk.
Free guided tours are offered at the battlefield every Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tours begin in the park parking lot, accessed from the end of Balls Bluff Road, off Battlefield Parkway in the Potomac Crossing neighborhood.