|from The |
| THE BATTLE AT EDWARDS FERRY
INTERESTING DETAILS OF THE FIGHT
Poolesville, Md., Oct. 22, 1861.
J. D. Baldwin, Esq., ---Dear Sir---You will have heard before this reaches you of the great disaster that has befallen the federal troops at the encounter which took place yesterday near Leesburg; but, as I have just arrived at this place, I hasten to give you such incidents as have fallen under my observation, or been communicated to me by persons who took a part in the battle. Col. Devens regiment the fifteenth Massachusetts, has just returned to its camp at this place. It crossed over the river on Sunday, at midnight, about six hundred strong. Five companies went first and the other five followed in the morning. This regiment took the brunt of the battle, and conducted with the greatest coolness and bravery. Col. Devens says that every man has done his duty; there was no disobedience, no flinching, no cowardice, and they fought to the very last with great cheerfulness, notwithstanding it was apparent after four o’clock that the day had gone against them. I learn from various sources that the officers of the regiment behaved with great gallantry. I have conversed with the men, and they express themselves well satisfied with the conduct of their officers.
This disaster was the result of sheer blunder on the part of the commanding officer, I think. Col. Baker, commanding as a brigadier general, was a brave and noble man, but he certainly erred in taking only about sixteen hundred troops (to) the river, a few at a time in one mud scow, without any reserves to sustain him or reinforce him in case of necessity, or any means to retreat in case of a repulse. Our men fought with the utmost bravery. There was no panic even at the last, when their case was desperate. They were cool and determined, and when after retreating to the river, and finding that their single scow had been swamped, and no means left of escape, they kept up a constant fire on their assailants until darkness hid them from view.
When I arrived here about one o’clock a good part of the survivors of the battle had got in, but for several hours they continued to arrive, and the scene was exciting to the highest degree. One good fellow after another would arrive, and his comrades would seize him by the hand, and congratulate him on his escape. The wounded to were coming in by the ambulances. One hospital building was already filled. Dr. Bates and his assistant were intensely busy in disposing of the several cases. Lieut. Col. Ward lay on one of the cots, having just suffered the amputation of one of his legs just below the knee. he bore up under it with great fortitude, but it was a sad sight to see a brave officer in that condition. One poor fellow, I do not recollect his name, had been shot through the body, and was in a dying condition, but with that exception there was not a case regarded as desperate, at the time I was at the hospital, and most of the sufferers appeared in very good spirits. The wounded continued to arrive and to fill up the other building, and I propose to make another visit tomorrow, to see how they get on. The hospital accommodations are excellent compared with what I expected. the government has just erected two frame buildings of one story, made tight and comfortable, and vastly preferred to tents, for sick and wounded soldiers.
It has rained all day, yet there has been a constant stream of troops and baggage wagons poring through the town for Edward’s Ferry, and the expectations here now is, that a great battle is to be fought, and a general forward movement made throughout the entire line.
The killed wounded and missing, in Col. Devens regiment is about 300. Of these many are doubtless prisoners, and many more are on there way back to camp, without doubt. One hundred are thought to be killed or wounded, and two hundred, prisoners or missing.
No regimental officer is injured, except Lieut. Col. Ward. Four of the captains, Watson ,Philbrick, Joslin, and Bowman, are here safe; probably others will come in. If circumstances will permit, I intend to write you by next mail, giving particulars which I cannot now state with precision, in regard to the different companies. Col Devens is putting his regiment in order, and ascertaining its condition as fast as possible.
Yours in haste
P. S. 8 P. M. Gens. McClellan, and Banks are said to have just passed by, en route for Edwards Ferry or Conrad’s
9 P. M. Gen. Landers has just arrived here from Edward’s Ferry, slightly wounded. fighting has been going on all day over the river, and the confederate are understood to have the worst of it.
Washington, Oct. 26, 1861
J. D. Baldwin Esq., ---Dear Sir; I gave you, in haste in the 22d some general facts in regard to the battle near Leesburg. I remained two days longer at Poolesville, and its neighborhood, visited Edward’s Ferry twice, saw Gen McClellan and Banks frequently. I think I had a good opportunity to learn the opinions of the officers and men, from highest to lowest, in regard to the conduct of our troops in that unfortunate affair; and can say confidently that all agree that the battle was fought with great bravery. That the result was a total defeat, is no fault of either the officers or men on the ground, that the loss is terrific is not to be charged to the cowardice or bad conduct of those who fought the battle. The whole blame, and a heavy blame it certainly is, rests on those who planned the enterprise.
I ventured the opinion in my previous letter, that the movement was a “blunder,: and now it is everywhere admitted to have been so. Gen. McClellan never ordered the movement, Gen. Banks Knew nothing of it. It came like a clap of thunder upon them.. McClellan was at Washington, and started at once for the scene of conflict. He telegraphed to Gen. Banks at once, who instantly put his troops in motion. I am at his headquarters near Darnstown, and had opportunity to notice, with great admiration how rapidly and easily a large army would be put in motion. At five o’clock the tents were all standing in quietness , at seven the ground was cleared, and the troops with loud huzzahs were on the march. No one knew the cause of the movement at the moment, but the general himself.
The responsibility rests upon Gen. Stone and Colonel Baker, or both. The great point of delinquency consisted in attempting to send some nineteen hundred troops over the Potomac in two old canal boats, the bottom of one of which came out as it was returning with wounded men, and twelve of them, dear fellows, whose wounds had been dressed, found a watery grave. The other boat, as you know, was swamped with the first load of retreating soldiers and about one hundred were thrown into the streams, most of them to perish.
When these troops were ordered across the river, it was well known thee was, or might be a very large body of the enemy in the neighborhood of Leesburg. Of course provision should have been made rapid transportation over, so that all might be landed in season, and for their safe return, in case of being compelled to retreat. More consummate stupidity never was manifested than in attempting to convey such a body of men across a great river with such a totally inadequate means. It is sad and disheartening to contemplate such wretched management. By the way, it is understood by many that Gen. Banks has the entire command of all the forces on the right wing of the Potomac. This is not true. He has only the command of a certain division assigned to him, and Gen. Stone commands an independent brigade.
I visited the hospital in which our soldiers are placed, very often, while at Poolesville. I found them just as comfortable as men can be under the circumstances. The building is an excellent one for the purpose. Their beds are comfortable and clean, and Dr. Bates and his assistants were assiduous and attentive. The patients were remarkably cheerful, and seemed to bear up nobly. When I left at 12 A. M. on Thursday, all seemed doing well, and when I went to bid Col. Ward goodbye, I found him engaged in writing. At the time of the action Dr. Haven was on the island, dressing wounds, assisted by Dr. Heywood of the twentieth regiment, and Lieut. Col. Ward’s limb was amputated by them. Dr. Bates was on the Maryland shore, also employed in dressing, amputating, ect. I am glad to say that he was able to do so, notwithstanding his recent illness.
I was quite gratified to find that the men of the fifteenth regiment, notwithstanding the terrible disasters that had befallen them, were in the best of spirits, and ready for another encounter, if necessary. They do not appear to be at all demoralized. They have entire confidence in their officers, and more confidence in themselves than ever before. I feel very desirous that the people of Worcester County should appreciate the bravery of their favorite regiment, and to be fully conscious of the honor they have done themselves and their country.
I don’t know if I mentioned in my last the case of Lieut. Greene of company F, who refused to surrender. After being surrounded he shot one of the rebels with his revolver, and was instantly fired on by another and fell. Lieut. Staples was struck by a ball, which tore out his breast pocket and smashed his pipe and was afterward thrown over the bank by the falling of a wounded soldier, and somewhat bruised. Sergeant Doane of Co. F. was struck on the head with a ball and bled profusely. Two balls passed through his hat. Col. Devens was struck by a ball, which flattened one of his buttons, and made a slight contusion. Quartermaster Howe was actively engaged during the whole battle, went over with the first companies and acted as Col. Devens only staff officer until the other companies arrived. he received one ball through his cap and three struck his scabbard. A hundred other interesting incidents might be named of a similar character if I had time.
It seemed quite surprising that so many escaped across the Potomac, but it is ascertained that two of our men ran up the river, found a negro, (probably a contraband,) who had a small boat, and they induced him to assist nearly one hundred of our men over. The sanitary committee, who returned from Poolesville twenty four hours after I left, have given me the following statement, obtained by them. It is probably correct.:---
15th regiment No. In fight 635, Lost 277, killed or wounded 90
twentieth regiment 318 *** 145 *** 35
California regiment 600 *** 250 *** 25
Tammany regiment 400 *** 170 *** 10
Totals: 1953 *** 842 *** 100
It will be seen by this that the fifteenth had more killed or wounded than all the rest put together. This shows who did the fighting. One third of all the men the fifteenth lost were killed or wounded! The GLORIOUS FIFTEENTH were the first on the battlefield and the last to leave it. God bless them,
P. S. Dr. Bates brother left here , today for Poolesville, and a large number of gentlemen from the east have come on to visit the scene of the disaster and look after their friends.
Several letters, containing affecting and interesting details of the fight, were received by friends of members of the regiment, yesterday, agreeing in the essential particulars. One of them writes as follows;---
Poolesville, Oct.22, 1861
About midnight on Monday morning, Oct 21 the “long roll” beat for our regiment to fall into line for battle and we reached Conrad’s Ferry about 4 o'clock. Embarking on scow boats, we crossed the Potomac to an island, and then from the island on to the Virginia shore, about two miles below the ferry, landing in the mud and going up a very steep and crooked path, we soon found what proved to be our first battle field. Sending out pickets, we soon found them driven in, and ay last fully engaged the enemy. We think he was about 2000 strong. We commenced with 500 and increased all day as fast as possible. until we had near 2500. The fight commenced about 9 A. M. and continued till darkness put an end to it, we being badly cut up and driven from the field in hasty retreat.
Our regiment was depended upon to commence the attack, and when we joined in line of battle, our company was thrown out in front to first engage the enemy, and when drawn out the others were to charge upon him; but he would not come out, kept concealed in the oak bushes, knowing all about the ground. A running fire was kept up all day, our men standing their ground like so many heroes. A hasty retreat and surrender followed. I had one of thee things to choose, to be shot, and b a prisoner or swim the Potomac. I chose the latter, and I am here living to praise God for my most wonderful deliverance, not only from fire and shot but from water. I swam with all on, and saved every article I usually carry in my pockets. Bullets whistled over my head, around my ears and within six inches of me, tearing the trees and bushes. And amidst all this, most wonderful to tell! I am not even scratched or harmed.