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1861: October

[ Battle of Santa Rosa Island | Battle of Ball's Bluff ]


October, 1861, was a period of relative quiet in terms of military action--other than the Union disaster at Ball's Bluff--but of considerable political and military jockeying. There was friction beginning among the generals in both the Union and Confederate armies. The conflict over strategy, and power, between George B. McClellan and Winfield Scott led to the latter's resignation at the end of October.

Meanwhile, the Confederacy was seeking foreign recognition and aid. They signed peace treaties with the Shawnee, Seneca and Cherokee tribes and sent emissaries John Slidell and James Mason, to Europe to seek recognition there. In England, the London Post called for recognition of the Confederacy, while the London Times supported the Union.

Battle of Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island is an Atlantic barrier island along the northern Florida coast, at the western end of which stands Fort Pickens. This fort was reinforced by the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter, controlling nearby Pensacola and access to Pensacola Bay.

Battle of Santa Rosa Island
In the pre-dawn hours of October 9th, the Battle of Santa Rosa Island began when General Richard Anderson led about 1,200 Confederate troops to the island to take Fort Pickens. Landing about four miles east, Anderson's men surprised Union troops camped outside the fort, putting them to flight. Colonel Harvey Brown sallied out from the fort and forced Anderson, who was wounded in the attack, to retreat and then return to the mainline. This unsuccessful assault reaffirmed the Union control of Fort Pickens, which was one of only four forts in the South never occupied by the Confederacy.

Battle of Ball's Bluff

Death of Colonel Baker
General McClellan, commander of the army around Washington, was interested in trying to take Leesburg, on the southern side of the Potomac and so he ordered General George P. Stone to "keep a good lookout upon Leesburg" and to "make a slight demonstration" there to perhaps move the Confederates out. On October 21, Union forces crossed the Potomac by Harrison's Island, where they were set upon by Confederate troops. Thus began the Battle of Ball's Bluff, also called the Battle of Harrison's Island, or by the Confederates, the Battle of Leesburg.

The Union forces eventually took a defensive position on a hill just above the Potomac. Called Ball's Bluff, this hill ran down to the river over a high bank to a narrow beach across from Harrison's Island. The Union troops were pressed hard and soon were forced to retreat down the steep bank. Not enough craft were available to ferry the wounded and soldiers across the Potomac, and as their position was continually under fire, the frightened men soon panicked, many trying to swim across the river. The swift current took many away, and more were drowned than shot. Out of a force of about 1,780, more than 300 died and 800 were wounded, captured or missing. Among those killed was Colonel Edward Baker, a sitting Senator from Oregon and a good friend and former law partner to Abraham Lincoln.

This humiliating defeat, so soon after the failure at Bull's Run, embarrassed the government and army. General Stone was arrested for misconduct, though he was never formally charged. The defeat was also the final straw for Winfield Scott, for Lincoln soon thereafter asked him to resign. Congress, meanwhile,formed a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a committee which would subsequently have considerable influence on the war.

GoGo to interesting blog about the role of maps (or lack thereof) in this battle

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