October 1861: Aftermath – The Battle of Ball’s Bluff #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing

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Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

Fourth and final installment in a series commemorating “The Battle of Ball’s Bluff”, first action for Henry Martyn Tremlett and the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry.

In the days following October 21, 1861, word of the defeat at Ball’s Bluff was horribly driven home by the ghastly sight of the bloated bodies of dead Union soldiers floating down the Potomac River as far as Washington. Onlookers were appalled, and outraged government officials called for action.

Comparative battle strength between South and North had been equivalent . . . about 1,700 Union troops had clashed with the same number of Confederate soldiers, but the Confederates earned a decisive victory. Union casualties numbered over 1,000, including 223 killed, 226 wounded, and over 50 missing. However the worst statistic was that some 500 soldiers were captured on the western flood plain of the Potomac, including the Twentieth’s regimental commander, Colonel Lee. The next day the prisoners were paraded on the town green in Leesburg amid the derisive taunts of the civilian population before being sent off to incarceration at Libby Prison in Richmond. By comparison Confederate casualties had totaled about 155, including 36 killed, 117 wounded, and 2 missing or captured. [1]

General William Schouler, adjutant general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reported to Governor Andrew:

The Twentieth was engaged with our Fifteenth at the Ball’s Bluff disaster, exhibited equal courage, and suffered a great loss of men and officers. Colonel Lee, Major Revere, and Adjutant Pierson are prisoners at Richmond, and confined in the cell. They are of the devoted band of hostages. In the battle, Captain Putnam lost an arm. Captains Dreher and Schmitt were severely wounded, and are now in the Massachusetts General Hospital. Colonel Lee is a graduate of West Point, and is an officer of whom any regiment might feel proud. The loss of his command, as near as can be ascertained, is about 208, in killed, wounded and missing. [2]

Ball’s Bluff was a small battle that cast a long shadow. General Stone, a West Point graduate and a career army officer, bore the brunt of the blame for the debacle. How could he have allowed troops to engage in battle with no clear path to retreat? He was vilified, humiliated, and even imprisoned for six months. The embarrassing defeat also resulted in the formation of the U.S. Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which sadly only served to undermine Union generalship and initiative for the war’s duration.

Why such a lopsided victory? Poor, inadequate intelligence plus a logistical blunder that there simply 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. Moreover, the northern troops were mostly green while most of the southern troops had already experienced battle. Finally, 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 in favor of the Confederates. Taken all together it sealed the Union defeat.

Those from the Twentieth who survived returned to Poolesville, Maryland and resumed their former charge of protecting Washington and wouldn’t see action for the balance of 1861. Henry was sent back to Boston to recruit replacements. So ended 1861 for Captain Henry Tremlett and the Twentieth Regiment. However, during that same year, a different war effort was being played out 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in England involving Henry’s cousin, the Rev. Francis William Tremlett.

Next: Confederate Raiders and British Legalities

[1] : The Civil War Trust, http://www.civilwar.org/, accessed October 24, 2015.

[2] : William Schouler, Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for the Year Ending December 31, 1861 Boston: Wright & Potter, 1863), 46.

 

Find out more about Colonel Henry Martyn Tremlett and his cousin, the Rev. Dr. Francis William Tremlett during the American Civil War in my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on Amazon.com.

 

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