Ball’s Bluff was not a large battle, especially compared to what was yet to come in the following four years. Comparative battle strength between South and North was even… about 1700 Union troops clashed with the same number of Confederate soldiers. However the Confederates won in a rout. Union casualties numbered over a thousand, including 223 killed, 226 wounded, and over 550 captured or missing. From Captain Tremlett’s Company A, 6 men were killed, 11 were wounded and 14 were captured.
By comparison, Confederate casualties totaled about 155, of which 36 were killed, 117 wounded, and 2 captured or missing.
Why such a lop-sided victory? One could say that the Northern troops were mostly green while most of the Southern troops had already experienced battle. The Southerners were fighting on home soil and the North was the invader. One fights harder when defending the homeland. Perhaps an extension of the “home advantage” would also be a better knowledge of the lay of the land. All valid points.
However The Battle of Ball’s Bluff had far-reaching repercussions beyond the stinging defeat. In the aftermath, bloated corpses floated down the Potomac River, even reaching Washington for all to see. Washington went ballistic, and General Stone bore the brunt of the blame for the debacle. Stone was a West Point graduate and a career army officer… how could he have allowed troops to engage in battle with no path to retreat? He was vilified, humiliated and even imprisoned for 6 months (though reportedly for political reasons).
Poor, inadequate intelligence… plus a logistical blunder that there weren’t enough boats… I’m sure that the Union troops had little or no amphibious battle training back in Boston… perhaps add a modicum of Union overconfidence coupled with underestimating the Confederates, taken all together they spelled the Union defeat.
After Ball’s Bluff, the 20th Massachusetts was assigned to Camp Benson back at Poolesville, Maryland. Members of the regiment that survived the battle were assigned once again to picket the Potomac and guard against any Confederate incursion against Washington. They would remain there for the rest of 1861 and through the first few months of 1862. During that time Henry was sent back to Boston to perform recruitment duty with a request for two hundred men in order to replenish the 20th Massachusetts’ depleted ranks.