19 October 1861
General Joseph E. Johnston withdraws the Confederate Army of the Potomac from the vicinity of Washington and establishes a defensive position near Centreville, Virginia. Johnston's 7th Brigade, commanded by Col. Nathan G. Evans, remains near Leesburg to guard crossing sites on the Potomac River.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan orders Brig. Gen. George A. McCall's division of the Union Army of the Potomac to march from its camp at Langley, Virginia, to Dranesville on a reconnaissance. General McClellan hopes that McCall's movement will cause Colonel Evans' brigade to withdraw from the Leesburg area.
1800: General McCall's division arrives at Dranesville.
2400: Evans is alerted to McCall's advance. Instead of abandoning Leesburg, Evans moves his brigade to a defensive position south of the town along Goose Creek.
20 October 1861
McClellan is informed by a Union signal station on Sugar Loaf Mountain that the Confederates appear to have moved away from Leesburg.
1100: McClellan informs Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone at Poolesville, Maryland, of McCall's movement to Dranesville and suggests a "slight demonstration" by General Stone's division might cause the Confederates to abandon Leesburg, if they have not already done so.
1200: Stone orders the 42d New York Infantry to march to Conrad's Ferry and await orders.
1300: Stone moves a portion of Brig. Gen. Willis A. Gorman's brigade to Edwards' Ferry, along with the 7th Michigan Infantry, two companies of the 3 d New York Cavalry, and one company of the Putnam Rangers. To give the Confederates the impression the Union Army is crossing into Virginia, two companies of the 1st Minnesota Infantry are sent across the river, supported by artillery fire.
During the demonstration at Edwards' Ferry, Stone orders a small scouting party to cross the river at Ball's Bluff to scout toward Leesburg.
By evening, Stone's demonstration at Edwards' Ferry ends, and the Minnesota troops withdraw to the Maryland shore.
2200: The scouting party returns from Ball's Bluff and reports the discovery of an unguarded Confederate camp of about thirty tents about a mile from the river.
2300: Stone orders Col. Charles P. Devens, 15th Massachusetts Infantry, to take five of his companies and attack the Confederate camp at daylight. Two companies of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry will also cross the river to protect Devens' return.
2400: Colonel Devens and five companies, along with Col. William R. Lee with two companies of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, begin crossing the Potomac River from Harrison's Island to Ball's Bluff. Lt. Col. George H. Ward, with five companies of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, and Maj. Paul Revere, with five companies of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, remain on the Maryland shore as support.
Lt. Col. Isaac J. Wistar, commanding the 1st California Infantry, is ordered to move his regiment to Conrad's Ferry as possible support for Devens' attack.
21 October 1861
0400: Devens and Lee complete crossing their troops to the Virginia shore.
0600: While Lee and his two companies remain at the bluff, Devens and his five companies march toward the site of the supposed Confederate camp. Devens soon discovers the report of the camp was in error.
Responding to orders from Stone, Gorman moves the 2d New York State Militia, 1st Minnesota Infantry, and 3d New York Cavalry to Edwards' Ferry.
0700: After a short reconnaissance toward Leesburg, Devens sends 1st Lt. Church Howe to Stone to report that there is no Confederate camp and to say that Devens will remain on the Virginia shore and await further orders.
The 1st California Infantry arrives at Conrad's Ferry.
To divert attention from Devens' movement, Stone sends a detachment of the 3d New York Cavalry and two companies of the 1st Minnesota Infantry across the river at Edwards' Ferry.
0730: Confederate pickets from Company K, 17th Mississippi Infantry, fire on Lee's pickets of Company I, 20th Massachusetts Infantry.
0800: Company K, 17th Mississippi Infantry, skirmishes with Company H, 15th Massachusetts Infantry, near the Jackson house. Lt. Col. Walter H. Jenifer, with four companies of Virginia cavalry, arrives, and Devens withdraws his men east of the Jackson house.
At Edwards' Ferry the detachment of the 3d New York Cavalry rides inland about a mile and briefly skirmishes with the 13th Mississippi Infantry before returning to the ferry.
0830: Devens withdraws his five companies to Ball's Bluff.
McCall's division completes its reconnaissance at Dranesville and begins the return march to its camp at Langley.
Lieutenant Howe informs Stone that Devens had found no Confederate camp and was remaining on the Virginia shore to await orders.
Stone orders Colonel Ward, with the remaining five companies of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, to cross from Harrison's Island and march to Smart's Mill. This is to support Devens' command if it is forced to fall back in that direction.
Stone also orders a detachment of about ten cavalrymen to report to Devens for the purpose of scouting.
0900: Devens and his five companies return to the vicinity of the Jackson house.
Jenifer and his cavalry are ordered to Fort Evans.
Lee sends a note to Major Revere that Devens has been engaged in a skirmish and that "we are determined to fight." Revere begins crossing his five companies of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry and two mountain howitzers from the island to the bluff.
At Conrad's Ferry, Wistar receives orders from Stone that, if heavy firing is heard from across the river, he is to cross with his regiment and support Devens and Lee. Having heard the firing from Devens' earlier morning skirmish, Wistar moves his regiment closer to Harrison's Island.
0915: Howe returns from Stone's headquarters and reports to Devens that he is to remain where he is, that Ward's five companies of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry are marching to Smart's Mill, and that a detachment of cavalry will soon join Devens. Devens says he would rather have Ward's companies join him near the Jackson house, then sends Howe back to Stone with news of the morning skirmish.
0930: Jenifer returns to the scene of the morning skirmish, along with three companies of Virginia cavalry, and joins Company K, 17th Mississippi Infantry. They are joined by one company of the 13th Mississippi Infantry and two companies of the 18th Mississippi Infantry.
0945: Unaware of the morning skirmish near the Jackson house, Stone informs McClellan that Devens has discovered no Confederates near Leesburg and that the detachment of the 3d New York Cavalry has skirmished with Confederates near Edwards' Ferry.
On the way back to Stone's headquarters at Edwards' Ferry, Howe encounters Ward and tells him of the morning skirmish and of Devens' desire that Ward join him instead of marching to Smart's Mill. Ward tells Howe to inform Stone that Ward will join Devens' command.
Stone orders Gorman to continue crossing his troops at Edwards' Ferry.
1000: Evans orders the 8th Virginia Infantry to Ball's Bluff.
Col. Edward D. Baker, commanding the California brigade, arrives at Stone's headquarters and is given command of all troops in the vicinity of Harrison's Island.
1030: Colonel Baker leaves Stone's headquarters for Harrison's Island.
Howe meets Baker on the canal towpath and informs him of the morning skirmish and of Ward's marching to Devens' assistance.
Baker sends orders for the 1st California Infantry to cross the river and support Devens and Lee.
1045: Howe informs Stone of the morning skirmish and of the fact that Ward is marching to join Devens instead of going to Smart's Mill.
1100: Ward's five companies of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry join Devens' five companies near the Jackson house.
1110: Stone informs McClellan that "The enemy have been engaged opposite Harrison's Island; our men behaving admirably." According to McClellan, this is his first intimation that Stone's activities are more than a reconnaissance. McClellan orders McCall to remain at Dranesville if he is still there and, if not, to hold his division in readiness to march to Stone's support. McClellan also orders Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding a division at Darnestown, Maryland, to be prepared to march to Harrison's Island.
The cavalry detachment crosses the river into Virginia and, without reporting to Devens as ordered, returns to the Maryland shore.
Jenifer's cavalry and infantry begin skirmishing with Devens' command.
1130: The 1st California Infantry begins crossing onto Harrison's Island.
Revere's five companies of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, along with two mountain howitzers, cross from Harrison's Island to Ball's Bluff.
1150: Stone sends a message to Baker estimating Confederate strength at 4,000. Baker is to push them as far as Leesburg if possible. When the Confederates fall back, Gorman's brigade at Edwards' Ferry will strike their right flank.
1200: Howe reports to Devens that Baker will cross the river and take command. Three times during the next two hours Devens sends Howe back to the bluff to locate Baker and to hurry up the reinforcements.
Baker crosses onto Harrison's Island and assists in the crossing of the 1st California Infantry.
Baker orders the 42d New York Infantry at Conrad's Ferry to march to Harrison's Island and cross over. Two guns of Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, then with the New York regiment, are ordered to accompany the infantry.
The 8th Virginia Infantry arrives near the Jackson house and falls in on the right of Jenifer's Mississippi companies.
McClellan sends a message to Stone asking the estimated strength of the Confederate force currently engaged opposite Harrison's Island and also what size force would be necessary to capture Leesburg. McClellan states that he may require Stone to occupy Leesburg today and will support Stone from the other side of the river at Darnestown. Stone responds by saying he believes the enemy strength is about 4,000 but thinks his command can occupy Leesburg today.
1300: McCall's division arrives back at its camp at Langley.
Col. Milton Cogswell and the 42d New York Infantry begin to cross onto Harrison's Island. Cogswell delivers Stone's 1150 order to Baker, who responds that the advance will begin when Baker feels his command is strong enough.
Two rifled guns of Battery B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, cross to Harrison's Island.
1400: Baker crosses to Ball's Bluff to take command.
After four companies of the 1st California Infantry have crossed to the Virginia side of the river, Wistar crosses over.
With no reinforcements arriving, and to prevent his command's being cut off, Devens withdraws the 15th Massachusetts Infantry toward the bluff. Jenifer's command and the 8th Virginia Infantry follow in pursuit.
1420: Stone informs McClellan that there is heavy firing opposite Harrison's Island, but Baker is advancing.
1430: Baker places the 15th Massachusetts Infantry on the Union right flank.
Cogswell and one company of the 42d New York Infantry cross the river to the Virginia shore, along with one rifled gun of the Rhode Island battery.
Baker orders two companies of the 1st California Infantry to advance as skirmishers. However, the two companies are attacked by the 8th Virginia Infantry and driven back.
1500: The 18th Mississippi Infantry arrives on the right of Jenifer's command and charges the two mountain howitzers. Col. Erasmus Burt, the regimental commander, is mortally wounded, and the regiment withdraws.
The rifled gun is hauled up the bluff and placed in the open field, near the location of the present-day national cemetery.
1530: The 17th Mississippi Infantry arrives and takes position between the 8th Virginia Infantry and the 18th Mississippi Infantry.
1600: Stone informs McClellan that all of Baker's and Gorman's forces are across the river, with Baker's command heavily engaged.
McClellan orders Banks to send one brigade to Poolesville, Maryland, to support troops at Harrison's Island and the other two brigades to Seneca, Maryland, to support Stone if necessary.
Wistar is seriously wounded and carried from the battlefield.
1700: Companies A and H, 42d New York Infantry, arrive on the bluff and make a brief attack against the Confederate right.
Baker is killed.
Cogswell assumes command and orders all Union forces on the bluff to form a column of attack, faced to the left. An attempt is to be made to break out toward Edwards' Ferry.
1730: A charge by the 8th Virginia Infantry captures the two mountain howitzers. Out of ammunition, the Virginians halt in the open field.
Union troops make an unsuccessful attempt to push the rifled gun over the bluff.
An unidentified mounted officer appears in the field, on the right of Cogswell's column. Apparently thinking the officer is ordering them to charge, a portion of the 42d New York Infantry break column and charge
into the open field. The Confederates drive them back through the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, and both units fall back toward the bluff.
Unable to get his attacking column in motion, Cogswell orders a general retreat to the riverbank.
The 17th and 18th Mississippi Infantries attack Cogswell's retreating troops and drive them down the bluff.
1800: As the Union troops crowd on the riverbank below the bluff, Companies E and K, 42d New York Infantry, arrive on the Virginia shore. Cogswell orders them halfway up the bluff to attempt to hold off the Confederate attack while Union troops on the riverbank try to cross the river to the island. However, the last remaining boat is swamped, and many of the Union troops still on the riverbank attempt to swim to the island.
Devens swims to Harrison's Island.
Cogswell is captured on the riverbank.
Lee and several others attempt to escape upriver toward Smart's Mill but are captured by Virginia cavalry.
1830: Stone is informed of Baker's death. He sends the news to McClellan, then rides upriver to a point opposite Harrison's Island, where he gives orders to the 19th Massachusetts Infantry to secure the island and care for the wounded.
Stone returns to Edwards' Ferry where he informs McClellan of the defeat and of his intention to withdraw the Union forces at Edwards' Ferry to the Maryland shore.
2200: McClellan orders Stone to hold his forces on the Virginia shore at Edwards' Ferry while reinforcements are sent. McClellan sends Brig. Gen. Frederick W. Lander, in Washington, D.C., to Edwards' Ferry to rejoin his command.
2245: McClellan orders Banks' two brigades at Seneca to march to Edwards' Ferry and cross as many men as possible to the Virginia shore before daylight.
2330: Stone suggests that McClellan send up reinforcements to Goose Creek. It is only then that Stone learns that McCall has not been at Dranesville all day.
22 October 1861
0330: Banks and his two brigades arrive at Edwards' Ferry and begin to cross the river to reinforce Stone's command. Later, Banks reports to McClellan that Stone himself is still on the Maryland shore.
Sometime later that morning, under a flag of truce, a Union burial party crosses from Harrison's Island to Ball's Bluff to bury the Union dead.
General Lander arrives from Washington and crosses to the Virginia shore at Edwards' Ferry.
1200: Banks' two brigades at Edwards' Ferry complete their crossing to the Virginia shore.
1600: Confederates skirmish briefly with Union troops near Edwards' Ferry. General Lander is seriously wounded.
McClellan arrives at Poolesville. After dark McClellan orders all Union troops on Harrison's Island withdrawn to the Maryland shore.
23 October 1861
In response to an order from General McClellan, Stone crosses to the Virginia shore at Edwards' Ferry.
McClellan makes a personal reconnaissance of the Edwards' Ferry area and decides the Union position on the Virginia shore is not a favorable one. However, he waits until dark to order a withdrawal.
1915: McClellan orders Stone's and Banks' forces to begin withdrawing to the Maryland shore.
24 October 1861
0400: The withdrawal of all Union forces from the Virginia side of Edwards' Ferry is completed.
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