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On the 19th of October, 1861, General McCall marched to Drainsville with his division, in order to cover reconnoissances to be made in all directions the next day, for the purpose of learning the position of the enemy, and of covering the operations of the topographical engineers in making maps of that region.
On the 29th, acting in concert with General McCall, General Smith pushed strong parties to Freedom hill, Vienna, Flint hill, Peacock hill, &c., to accomplish the same purpose in that part of the front. These reconnoissances were successful.
On the morning of the 20th I received the following telegram from General Banks's headquarters:
“DARNESTOWN, October 20, 1861.
“SIR: The signal station at Sugar Loaf telegraphs that the enemy have moved away from Leesburg. All quiet here. “R. M. COPELAND, “Assistant Adjutant General. “General MARCY.”
Whereupon I sent to General Stone, at Poolsville, the following telegram:
“CAMP GRIFFIN, October 20, 1861.
“General McClellan desires me to inform you that General McCall occupied Drainsville yesterday, and is still there. Will send out heavy reconnoissances to-day in all directions from that point. The general desires that you will keep a good look-out upon Leesburg, to see if this movement has the effect to drive them away. Perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.
“A. W. COLBURN, “Assistant Adjutant General. “Brigadier General C. P. Stone, Poolsville.”
Deeming it possible that General McCall's movement to Drainsville, together with the subsequent reconnoissances, might have the effect of inducing the enemy to abandon Leesburg, and the despatch from Sugar Loaf appearing to confirm this view, I wished General Stone, who had only a line of pickets on the river, the mass of his troops being out of sight of, and beyond range from, the Virginia bank, to make some display of an intention to cross, and also to watch the enemy more closely than usual. I did not direct him to cross, nor did I intend that he should cross the river in force for the purpose of fighting.
The above despatch was sent on the 20th, and reached General Stone, as early as 11 a.m. of that day. I expected him to accomplish all that was intended on the same day; and this he did, as will be seen from the following despatch, received at my headquarters in Washington from Poolsville on the evening of October 20:
“Made a feint of crossing at this place this afternoon, and at the same time started a reconnoitring party towards Leesburg from Harrison's island. The enemy's pickets retired to intrenchments. Report of reconnoitring party not yet received. I have means of crossing one hundred and twenty-five men once in ten minutes at each of two points. River falling slowly.
“C. P. STONE, “Brigadier General. “Major General McClella N.”
As it was not foreseen or expected that General McCall would be needed to co-operate with General Stone in any attack, he was directed to fall back from Drainsville to his original camp, near Prospect hill, as soon as the required reconnoissances were completed. Accordingly he left Drainsville, on his return, at about 84 a.m. of the 21st, reaching his old camp at about 1 p.m. In the mean time I was surprised to hear from General Stone that a portion of his troops were engaged on the Virginia side of the river, and at once sent instructions to General McCall to remain at Drainsville, if he had not left before the order reached him. The order did not reach him until his return to his camp at Langley. He was then ordered to rest his men, and hold his division in readiness to return to Drainsville at a moment's notice, should it become necessary. Similar instructions were given to other divisions during the afternoon. The first intimation I received from Generel Stone of the real nature of his movements was in a telegram, as follows:
“Edwards's FERRY, October 21–11.10 a. m. “The enemy have been engaged opposite Harrison's island; our men are behaving admirably. “C. P. STONE,
“Brigadier General. “Major General McCLELLAN.”
At 2 p.m. General Banks's adjutant general sent the following:
“DARNESTown, October 21, 1861–2 p. m.
“General Stone safely crossed the river this morning. Some engagements have taken place on the other side of the river—how important is not known. “R. M. COPELAND,
“Acting Assistant Adjutant General. “General R. B. MARCY.”
General Stone sent the following despatches on the same day at the hours indicated:
“Edwards's FERRY, October 21, 1861–2 p.m. “There has been sharp firing on the right of our line, and our troops appear to
be advancing there under Baker. The left, under Gorman, has advanced its
skirmishers nearly one mile, and, if the movement continues successful, will
turn the enemy's right.
“C. P. STONE,
“Brigadier General. “Major General McCLELLAN.”
“Edwards's FERRY, October 21, 1861–4 p.m. “Nearly all my force is across the river. Baker on the right; Gorman on the left. Right, sharply engaged. • - “C. P. STONE,
“Brigadier General. “General McCLELLAN. ”
“Edwards's FERRY, October 21, 1861–9.30 p.m. “I am occupied in preventing further disaster, and try to get into a position to redeem. We have lost some of our best commanders—Baker dead, Cogswell a prisoner or secreted. The wounded are being carefully and rapidly removed; and Gorman's wing is being cautiously withdrawn. Any advance from Drainsville must be made cautiously.
“All was reported going well up to Baker's death, but, in the confusion following that, the right wing was outflanked. In a few hours I shall, unless a night attack is made, be in the same position as last night, save the loss of many good men. “C. P. STONE, “Brigadier General. “Major General McCLELLAN.”
Although no more fully informed of the state of affairs, I had, during the afternoon, as a precautionary measure, ordered General Banks to send one brigade to the support of the troops at Harrison's island, and to move with the other two to Seneca mills, ready to support General Stone if necessary. The 9.30 p.m. despatch of General Stone did not give me an entire understanding of the state of the case. Aware of the difficulties and perhaps fatal consequences of recrossing such a river as the Potomac after a repulse, and from these telegrams supposing his whole force to be on the Virginia side, I directed General Stone to intrench himself, and hold the Virginia side at all hazards until re-enforcements could arrive, when he could safely withdraw to the Maryland side, or hold his position on the Virginia side, should that prove advisable. General Banks was instructed to move the rest of his division to Edwards's ferry, and to send over as many men as possible before daylight to re-enforce Stone. He did not arrive in time to effect this, and was instructed to collect all the canal-boats he could find, and use them for crossing at Edwards's ferry in sufficient force to enable the troops already there to hold the opposite side. On the 22d I went to the ground in person, and reaching Poolsville, learned for the first time the full details of the affair. The following extract from the evidence of General Stone before the “Committee on the Conduct of the War” on the 5th of January, 1862, will throw further light on this occurrence. General Stone says he received the order from my headquarters to make a slight demonstration at about 11 o'clock a.m. on the 20th, and that, in obedience to that order, he made the demonstration on the evening of the same day. In regard to the reconnoissance on the 21st, which resulted in the battle of Ball's Bluff, he was asked the following questions: Question. “Did this reconnoissance originate with yourself, or had you orders from the general-in-chief to make it?” To which he replied, “It originated with myself—the reconnoissance.” Question. “The order did not proceed from General McClellan o’’ Answer. “I was directed the day before to make a demonstration; that demonstration was made the day previous.” Question. “Did you receive an order from the general-in-chief to make the reconnoissance 7" Answer. “No, sir.” Making a personal examination on the 23d, I found that the position on the Virginia side at Edwards's ferry was not a tenable one, but did not think it wise to withdraw the troops by daylight. I therefore caused more artillery to be placed in position on the Maryland side to cover the approaches to the ground held by us, and crossed the few additional troops that the high wind permitted us to get over, so as to be as secure as possible against any attack during the day. Before nightfall all the precautions were taken to secure am orderly and quiet passage of the troops and guns. The movement was commenced soon after dark, under the personal supervision of General Stone, who received the order for the withdrawal at 7.15 p.m. By 4 a.m. of the 24th everything had reached the Maryland shore in safety. A few days afterwards I received information which seemed to be authentic, to the effect that large bodies of the enemy had been ordered from Manassas to f Leesburg, to cut off our troops on the Virginia side. Their timely withdrawal had probably prevented a still more serious disaster. I refer to General Stone's report of this battle, furnished the War Department, and his published testimony before the “Committee on the Conduct of the War,” for further details. The records of the War Department show my anxiety and efforts to assume active offensive operations in the fall and early winter. It is only just to say, however, that the unprecedented condition of the roads and Virginia soil would have delayed an advance till February, had the discipline, organization, and equipment of the army been as complete at the close of the fall as was necessary, and as I desired and labored against every impediment to make them. While still in command only of the army of the Potomac, namely, in early September, I proposed the formation of a corps of New Englanders for coast service in the bays and inlets of the Chesapeake and Potomac, to co-operate with my own command, from which most of its material was drawn. On the first of November, however, I was called to relieve Lieutenant General Scott in the chief and general command of the armies of the Union. The direction and nature of this coast expedition, therefore, were somewhat changed, as will soon appear in the original plan submitted to the Secretary of War, and the letter of instructions later issued to General Burnside, its commander. . The whole country indeed had now become the theatre of military operations' from the Potomac to beyond the Mississippi, and to assist the navy in perfecting and sustaining the blockade, it became necessary to extend these operations to points on the sea-coast, Roanoke island, Savannah, and New Orleans. It remained also to equip and organize the armies of the west, whose condition was little better than that of the army of the Potomac had been. The direction of the campaigns in the west, and of the operations upon the seaboard, enabled me to enter upon larger combinations and to accomplish results, the necessity and advantage of which had not been unforeseen, but which had been beyond the ability of the single army formerly under my command to effect. The following letters, and a subsequent paper addressed to the Secretary of War, sufficiently indicate the nature of those combinations to minds accustomed to reason upon military operations:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY of the PotoMAC,
“SIR: I have the honor to suggest the following proposition, with the request that the necessary authority be at once given me to carry it out: to organize a force of two brigades of five regiments each, of New England men, for the general service, but particularly adapted to coast service—the officers and men to be sufficiently conversant with boat service, to manage steamers, sailing vessels, launches, barges, surf-boats, floating batteries, &c. To charter or buy for the command a sufficient number of propellers, or tug-boats, for transportation of men and supplies, the machinery of which should be amply protected by timber; the vessels to have permanent experienced officers from the merchant service, but to be manned by details from the command. A naval officer to be attached to the staff of the commanding officer. The flank companies of each regiment to be armed with Dahlgren boat guns, and carbines with water-proof cartridges; the other companies to have such arms as I may hereafter designate; to be uniformed and equipped as the Rhode Island regiments are. Launches and floating batteries with timber parapets of sufficient capacity to land or bring into action the entire force.
“The entire management and organization of the force to be under my control, and to form an integral part of the army of the Potomac. *
“The immediate object of this force is for operations in the inlets of Chesa
peake bay and the Potomac; by enabling me thus to land troops at points where they are needed, this force can also be used in conjunction with a naval force operating against points on the sea-coast. This coast division to be commanded by a general officer of my selection; the regiments to be organized as other land forces; the disbursements for vessels, &c., to be made by the proper department of the army upon the requisitions of the general commanding the division, with my approval.
“I think the entire force can be organized in thirty days, and by no means the least of the advantages of this proposition is the fact that it will call into the service a class of men who would not otherwise enter the army. “
“You will immediately perceive that the objeg of this force is to follow along the coast, and up the inlets and rivers, the movements of the main army when it advances.
“I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, “G. B. McCLELLAN, “Major General, Commanding. “Hon. SIMON CAMERON, “Secretary of War.”
Owing chiefly to the difficulty in procuring the requisite vessels, and adapting them to the special purposes contemplated, this expedition was not ready for service until January, 1862. Then in the chief command, I deemed it best to send it to North Carolina, with the design indicated in the following letter.
“HEADQUARTERs of the ARMY,
“GENERAL: In accordance with verbal instructions heretofore given yo you will, after uniting with Flag-officer Goldsborough at Fort Monroe, proceed under his convoy to Hatteras inlet, where you will, in connexion with him, take the most prompt measures for crossing the fleet over the Bulkhead into the waters of the sound. Under the accompanying general order constituting the department of North Carolina, you will assume command of the garrison at Hatteras inlet, and make such dispositions in regard to that place as your ulterior operations may render necessary, always being careful to provide for the safety of that very important station in any contingency.
“Your first point of attack will be Roanoke island and its dependencies. It is presumed that the navy can reduce the batteries on the marshes, and cover the landing of your troops on the main island, by which, in connexion with a rapid movement of the gunboats to the northern extremity, as soon as the marsh battery is reduced, it may be hoped to capture the entire garrison of the place. Having occupied the island and its dependencies, you will at once proceed to the erection of the batteries and defences necessary to hold the position with a small force. Should the flag-officer require any assistance in seizing or holding the debouches of the canal from Norfolk, you will please afford it to him.
“The commodore and yourself having completed your arrangements in regard to Roanoke island, and the waters north of it, you will please at once make a descent on Newbern, having gained possession of which and the railroad passing through it, you will at once throw a sufficient force upon Beaufort, and take the steps necessary to reduce Fort Macon and open that port. When you seize Newbern, you will endeavor to seize the railroad as far west as Goldsborough, should circumstances favor such a movement. The temper of the people, the rebel force at hand, &c., will go far towards determining the question as to how far west the railroad can be safely occupied and held. Should circumstances render it advisable to seize and hold Raleigh, the main. north and south line of railroad passing through Goldsborough should be so effectually destroyed for considerable distances north and south of that point, as