An excerpt from:

History of the Excursion of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment and its Friends to the Battle-Fields of Gettysburg, PA., Antietam, MD., Ball's Bluff, Virginia and Washington, D.C. May 31-June 12, 1886, by Capt. David M. Earle.

Worcester: Press of Charles Hamilton, No. 811 Main Street, 1886
Researched and contributed by Paul McCray.
   .....  many of whom visited Washington for the first time, for the program of the day -- sight-seeing in Washington.

At an early hour the party divided into small squads and proceeded to visit places of special interest to them. The various points visited were the Capitol, White House. Botanical Gardens, Smithsonian Institution, Department Buildings, Washington Monument Navy Yard and Museum, National Museum, Arlington Heights, Soldiers' Home, and the office of the National Tribune.

The visitors at the White House were disappointed in not seeing President Cleveland, who was absent from the city on his bridal tour.

Those who visited the Capitol were especially favored. After making a tour of the building they visited the House of Representatives, where Congressman Rice extended every courtesy, giving them prominent seats in the gallery. While here Congressman Whiting, Lovering and Long of Massachusetts, and Haynes of New Hampshire, visited the gallery and shook hands with the members of the party.

Immediately after, Senator Hoar escorted the party to the other side of the Capitol, visiting first the Vice-President's room, where Henry Wilson died; next the reception room of the Senate, and subsequently the President's room, where Senator John Sherman, President of the Senate, and Senator John A. Logan came in and were introduced to all in the party. Each spoke a few words of greeting and afterwards mingled with the company.

They were next shown seats in the gallery of the Senate-chamber and heard Senator Cockrell's speech. At a late hour in the afternoon the party re-assembled at the depot preparatory for the start for Leesburg, in which over seventy joined; the rest of the party remained in Washington over Sunday, and several pleasant excursions to places of interest followed. At five o'clock the party for Leesburg left via the Washington, Ohio and Western Railroad, crossing the Potomac and passing through Alexandria and over a portion of the route of the Regiment in its march from Falmouth to Gettysburg, and reached Leesburg at 7 p.m., a distance of forty-five miles from Washington, and were quartered at the Reamer House.  

Column 2

After an interesting visit to Harrison's Island and the Maryland shore of the Potomac the party re-assembled on the bluff, to find that our company had been increased by large delegations of Leesburg people, both white and colored, who had come from all directions to meet us upon that field. Mr. and Mrs. Wright and Mr. and Mrs. Campbell brought bouquets of roses which they had gathered on hearing of our arrival and Major Church Howe procured an additional supply from a house in the vicinity, the soldiers and colored men brought laurel blossoms and we decorated the graves of the dead of Ball's Bluff, presumably the first service of the kind ever performed there.

The Leesburg Mirror thus mentions the occasion:   "The next morning, Sunday, the visitors in such conveyances as could be procured for so large a number proceeded to the battle-field and spent several hours in viewing the grounds, gathering relics recounting reminiscences of the battle and climbing the rugged cliffs, down which, a quarter of a century ago, so many of their comrades had plunged in wild disorder, only to find death and a grave in the waters below. Before leaving quite a number of the old vets, accompanied by several ladies assembled inside the cemetery enclosure, and with. uncovered heads and surrounded by the graves of the unknown dead’ upon each of which they had deposited a bunch of June's sweetest flowers-sang in soft and tender strains "In the Sweet-Bye-and-Bye,"  the music of which, as it floated out upon the gentle breezes of that calm Sabbath morn, afforded a striking contrast to the sounds that woke the echoes of that secluded spot on the 21st of October 1861."  

No words can adequately describe that touching memorial service. We esteem ourselves most privileged to have been able to join in thus honoring the dead, and we are deeply gratified for time kind thoughtfulness of those who furnished the flowers on the occasion.

An interesting fact in connection with this most solemn and interesting service was time presence of several whom we met there twenty-five years before in deadly conflict upon the very spot where now sleep time "unknown dead."  

   We approached the village from the opposite direction from that of 1881 and under very different circumstances. The party as it emerged from the train and took up its line of march to the "Reamer House" presented on the whole an amusing spectacle, and the attempt of the landlord to provide the entire party with comfortable quarters in his small hotel was still more amusing, but many found pleasant quarters among the citizens of the town, and thus made the acquaintance of many agreeable people.

With reference to our reception at Leesburg we quote from the Leesburg Mirror, which gave an account of our visit:   "And here it is proper to say that our citizens were ignorant of their coming until a few hours before their arrival and even then did not know who they were, nor the object of their visit, otherwise steps would have been taken to accord them a more formal reception."    The long twilight gave opportunities for the ladies of the party to visit the dry goods and jewelry stores and make purchases at this the most distant point on the route, of souvenirs the Journey.

On their return to the Reamer the presence of the regulation hotel piano suggested music, and a concert followed in which all joined, and the old army solos, songs and choruses were rendered with an enthusiasm befitting the occasion.  Meanwhile the street -- not a wide one-in front of the hotel -- had filled with colored people eager to see and hear the Yankee soldiers. After some urging on the part of the ladies a quartette of young colored men gave some characteristic songs and chants which quite delighted the listeners, and it was not until a late hour that mine host of the Reamer was able to close his windows and put up his shutters for the night.

Many of the Veterans, however, were busily, and no less pleasantly, engaged in interesting conversation with several residents of Leesburg who were opposed to us in the fight at Ball's Bluff, and who met us in a kindly and generous spirit; and a large number of our guest. were pleasantly entertained in the recital by both Federal and Confederate soldiers of many interesting events and incidents connected with that battle, and the evening at Leesburg was full of interest and pleasure to all.

We were called to breakfast on that lovely Sunday morning by a loud ringing in the yard, and looking out we saw suspended from a tall frame a large bell, which we were told was rung in the "antebellum" days to summon the slaves from their work. After breakfast the business of the day was the journey, to Ball's Bluff and Poolesville.

The Leesburg Washingtonian closes an account of our visit with the following tribute to the fallen dead which we can well appreciate:   "The 15th Mass. brought over 626 men, 825 being lost in killed, wounded and missing. The brave Col. Burt of the 18th Mississippi on the Confederate side, was also mortally wounded. The silent woods only ruffled by a passing breeze, will never again echo the old familiar battle yell and those who passed through the eventful war can heartily add their mite in doing honor to the brave men who sacrificed their lives from principle, and who now sleep the sleep that knows no waking. The Federal and the Confederate soldiers learned to respect each other's manhood on the field of battle; the animosities engendered by the war have passed away; and those who ‘marched to the front’ now join hands in honoring the memory of brave men, whether they be of the North or South we only remember their heroic devotion to duty. Over the Blue and the Gray, over the known and unknown, a love tender as a mother's spreads like the balmy incense that flowering blossoms' breathe."  

While most of our party remained at the bluf during the day and mingled with the citizens, conversing with them upon the events of the battle, a party of about twenty proceeded in carriages and on foot to Poolesville, the scene of the Regiment's camp during the fall and winter of 1861. We passed up the Virginia side of the Potomac to "Conrad's Ferry," now known as "White's," where we crossed the river, and an hour's ride brought us once more to the village of Poolesville.

We found almost no changes. As we rode past Higgins's store, one of our party said "there's Old Higgins?" and the response came from one of the persons engaged in holding down the old piazza floor "I guess he's been here before," We stopped at the hotel and obtained lunch, and an elderly colored woman who served it remembered making pies for the soldiers while we were in camp and seemed very glad to see us. Very few of the citizens of the town who were there twenty-five years ago are there today. We rode past the house formerly occupied by Dr. Brace, where Col. Ward remained after the battle, until the last of February, 1862 when he returned home.

We visited the old camping ground; the open field has been fenced off into four smaller ones, but we were able to locate all the main features of the camp with the assistance of a few of the villagers who resided there in 1862 and who met us upon our old camping ground and seemed much pleased to meet us. A. ride of two hours from Poolesville, crossing the Potomac again at Conrad's Ferry, brought us to the Reamer House much fatigued from the journey of the day.

The lapse of almost a quarter of a century has not enabled us to utter those names without a thrill. Here were a band of Veterans who on that fair autumn morning so long ago came in the vigor of manhood, the ardor of patriotism, and received their baptism into a knowledge of the horrors of war. Some escaped from the battle-field unharmed, some exchanged camp for prison life, and still others, though present, bear with them the effects of wounds and forced marches which they will carry to their graves.

The ground they were to visit was their own; there they would need no Sergt. Holtzworth; they could almost tell the very spot their feet pressed as they stood the target for the rebel sharpshooters whom the wood and cornfields concealed, but every Veteran would have told you that the privilege of revisiting that spot, of having had a share in other battles for the Union and of still being a survivor, was ample compensation for all the sufferings and privations of the war.

A pleasant ride of about two miles over a level tract of land brought us to the battle-field of Ball’s Bluff. Here we saw but little change from 1861; the field and surroundings looked perfectly natural and every Veteran found it easy to locate the exact position occupied in the battle. The shrub, of 1861 upon the bluff and down its steep declivity had grown to tree and the foliage to-day would afford the cover and protection so much needed then in our rapid descent to the river's edge.

In the open field upon the bluff at the point where our Regiment was engaged we find the national cemetery, described in the Leesburg Washingtonian as "an enclosure some fifty feet square surrounded by a substantial stone wall five feet high and capped with red stone, within the enclosure fifty-four federal soldiers are buried in a semi-circle, the graves marked by neat slabs one and a half feet high, all but one bearing the sad inscription unknown, No. 13 bears the simple epitaph, James Allen, Mass."

After a hurried survey of the field, the bluff amid the river's bank, a large number of the party crossed over to Harrison's Island and visited the house used as a hospital in which Col. Ward suffered amputation of his wounded leg, and several of the veterans crossed from the island to the Maryland side of the Potomac and visited places along the towpath and at "Edwards' Ferry," where the regiment performed picket duty in 1861.


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After supper Messrs. Campbell and Wright and ladies called on us at the hotel, and the Rector of the Episcopal Church sent a general invitation for us to attend the evening service at his church. Upwards of twenty of our party including nearly all the ladies accepted the invitation and formed the larger part of the audience. A large number of the party attended the colored church which was full to overflowing, and the pastor made special mention of our memorial service in his prayer.

Returning to the hotel we found Dr. Mott and lady awaiting us. The Doctor brought an elegant bouquet of roses for the ladies of the 15th Regiment. Those of our men who were wounded at Ball's Bluff and taken prisoners had reason to remember the kind attention of the Doctor, who secured for them many privileges.  

It was a tired party who assembled at the station at Leesburg at 6:30 o'clock Monday morning to take the cars for Washington. Our Leesburg friends, Messrs. Campbell and Wright with their wives, were present, as were other citizens, also a large gathering of colored people, among them Isaiah Allen, the colored man who cared for Lieut. Spurr, and accompanied his body home to Worcester, where he remained awhile and finally drifted back to Leesburg, where he seems quite content.

We close this account of. our visit to Leesburg and Balls Bluff with another quotation from the Leesburg papers :   "We are indebted to Gen. John W. Kimball, Major of the 15th Regt. Mass. Infantry In the fight at. Ball's Bluff for a description of the battle from the Federal side. Gen. Kimball was hero with the excursionists and we found him a very pleasant and agreeable gentleman." -- Leesburg Washingtonian.  

"The excursionists mingled freely with our people during their stay and by their gentlemanly conduct and their free, frank, and fair recitals of their various experiences and the part they bore when in this vicinity on a former occasion, rendered their present visit a pleasant and agreeable one.

They left for their homes on the 7 o'clock train Monday morning, bearing with them no unpleasant recollections of their second visit to Leesburg, assuring them that though they were not received with the same magnificent display of fireworks that greeted their first arrival, they were much more welcome guests at their second coming; and now, twenty years after grim visaged war has smoothed his wrinkled front, let us hope that both they and we, casting behind us the bitter memories, of the past, and dropping the tear of affection upon the graves of those who fell on either side, martyrs to a cause each believed to be just, may have been benefited by their coming, and hereafter each vie with the other, in their efforts to strengthen and perpetuate the bond of a reunited sisterhood of American States." --Leesburg Mirror  

We reached Washington at 8.30 and found those of the party who had remained there during our visit to Leesburg awaiting our arrival at the depot.