|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
contributed by Paul McCray.
many of whom visited Washington for the first time, for the program of the day --
sight-seeing in Washington.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 Balls 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
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.
Continue at the top of colum two
|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
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
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
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