In the Wake of Ball’s Bluff

The Federal defeat at Ball’s Bluff was small in scale but large in its repercussions. (LOC)

In his diary on October 22, 1862, John Haley of the 17th Maine recounted his experience camping near the Ball’s Bluff battlefield a year after the battle:

“[W]e were sent on picket on a strip of land between the Potomac and the Baltimore & Ohio Canal, nearly opposite Ball’s Bluff, a place of most unhappy memory so far as we are concerned…” he wrote…. Continue reading

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Remembering Ball’s Bluff

Author James Morgan with Chris Mackowski at the Ball’s Bluff battlefield 2011

Today is the anniversary of the 1861 battle of Ball’s Bluff. A small affair by the standards established later in the war, the battle nonetheless had a magnified impact because it directly led to the establishment of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a Congressional effort to arm-chair general the Union effort for the rest of the war.

As we commemorate the anniversary of the battle, I want to give a shout-out to Jim Morgan, a historian I have immense amounts of respect for, who wrote an excellent account of the battle, A Little Short of Boats. I first met Jim when I interviewed him about his book back in 2011, and to my good fortune, he has since become a great friend of mine.

I want to take a moment to highlight some of Jim’s work, and other work we’ve done here on the blog, about Ball’s Bluff:

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Ball’s Bluff: “Has Sparta More?”

“Cannonading on the Potomac” by Alfred W. Thompson

Recently, I came across some poems written about the Battle of Ball’s Bluff which was fought on October 21, 1861. This one was penned by a Union general from Massachusetts, Frederick Lander, and I’ve included a few historical notes after the original poem.


Aye, deem us proud, for we are more
Than proud of all our mighty dead;
Proud of the bleak and rock-bound shore,
A crowned oppressor cannot tread. Continue reading

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Photographic Portraits: Cadets Identified, Girl Unknown

“Those are cadet uniforms,” I thought while sorting through thumbnail files of digitized Civil War images on Library of Congress’s website. It was not at all what I was looking for at the moment, but I bookmarked the page to come back after work hours.

Where they Virginia Military Institute (VMI) uniforms or another military academy? And who was the girl? I didn’t remember seeing the photos when I had been looking for photos for Call Out The Cadets, so I couldn’t wait to find out if they were “New Market Cadets.”

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John Rankin, Bravery, and Gettysburg

ECW welcomes back guest author Jon Tracey

John Rankin was an average man by most standards.  Though an accomplished printer, newspaper editor, and foreign language proofreader for the Government Printing Office postwar, he defined his life less by those successes than one might expect.[1] Instead, he valued three years of his life over all the other decades combined – his service in the American Civil War. During the conflict, he rose from serving as a private to being commissioned as First Lieutenant and commanding his company. His service, and more importantly the way he wrote about and remembered his service in honest recollections afterwards, reveals a great deal about how many Union veterans valued and thought of their service in the post-war years. Continue reading

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A Crabby Inmate Recalled at Point Lookout

Perusing prison camp literature recently, I came across an amusing story written by Thad J. Walker of the 2nd Maryland Cavalry.  An inmate at Point Lookout – a Union-run prisoner of war camp – Walker recorded a comrade’s first encounter with a Chesapeake crab. Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 10/19-10/25/20

It’s the anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek, so let’s give the Shenandoah Valley a little highlight…

Which Shenandoah Valley battle (any Civil War year) do you think was the most important? Why?

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Week In Review: October 11-18, 2020

It’s time for Week in Review… Happy reading!

Sunday, October 11:

In the evening, Patrick Young shared about the recent posts on Echoes of the Reconstruction Era.

Monday, October 12:

Question of the Week highlighted post-war lives of Civil War personalities.

Chris Mackowski posted some photos from the Great Smokies and some Civil War connection to the views. Continue reading

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Cut These Guys Some Slack

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about combat leadership in the Civil War and elsewhere – specifically senior leadership. Sometimes I wonder if we judge commanders, especially early-war and mid-war commanders, too harshly.

Looking back through the lens of conflict after 1861, we sometimes miss factors that commanders had to deal with between 1861 and 1863. Corps and armies have been a feature of every American war since 1861, giving leaders examples (and often staff experiences in those commands) of how to move and fight such large organizations. Those examples and experiences were not available to the officers of the first half of the Civil War.

Three factors need to be kept in mind when considering the performance of Civil War commanders. Let me explain.

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Conspiracy – Civil War Style?

James A. Scrymser, post war years.

In a year with an exceptional plethora of “tell-all” books and a variety of conspiracy theories from multiple sides and perspectives, old historical sources never fail to add a little perspective and humor. While seeking an escape from the election news-cycle, I found this delightful little tale in James Scrymser’s Civil War stories. (He’s the same author who penned about the day that the plumbers saved the White House dinner!)

In hopes that it will lighten your weekend and provide a little chuckle, here is the tale of:


The “Great Conspiracy” Continue reading

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