Today is the 151st Anniversary of the tragic death of Senator Edward Dickinson Baker at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, we commemorate it with a eulogy

October 21, 2012

Address of Rev. Thos. Starr King.


The story of our great friend’s life had been eloquently told. We have borne him now to the home of the dead, to the Cemetery which, after fit services of prayer, he devoted in a tender and thrilling speech, to its hallowed purpose. In that address, he said: “Within these grounds public reverence and gratitude shall build the tombs of warriors and statesmen *** who have given all their lives and their best thoughts to their country.” Could he forecast, seven years ago, any such fulfillment of those words as this hour reveals? He confessed the conviction before he went into the battle which bereaved us, that his last hour was near. Could any slight shadow of his destiny have been thrown across his path, as he stood here when these grounds were dedicated, and looked over slopes unfurrowed then by the plowshare of death?

His words were prophetic. Yes, warrior and statesman, wise in council, graceful and electric as few have been in speech, ardent and vigorous in debate, but nobler than for all these qualities by the devotion which prompted thee to give more than they wisdom, more than thy eagle eye in the great assemblies of the people even the blood of thy indomitable heart when thy country called with a cry of peril, we receive thee with tears and pride. We find thee dearer then when thou camest to speak to us in the full tide of life and vigor. Thy wounds through which thy life was poured are not “dumb mouths,” but eloquent with the intense and perpetual appeal of thy soul. We receive thee to “reverance and gratitude,” as we lay thee gently to thy sleep; and we pledge to thee, not only a monument that shall hold thy name, but a memorial in the hearts of a grateful people, so long as the Pacific moans near thy resting-place, and a fame eminent among the heroes of the Republic so long as the mountains shall feed the Oregon! The poet tells us, in pathetic cadence, that the paths of glory lead but to the grave. But this is true only in the superficial sense. It is true that the famous and the obscure, the devoted and the ignoble, “alike await the inevitable hour.” But the path of true glory does not end in the grave. It passes through it to larger opportunities of service. Do not believe or feel that we are burying Edward Baker. A great nature is a seed. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” It germinates thus in this world as well as in the other. Was Warren buried when he fell on the field of a defeat, pierced through the brain, at the commencement of the Revolution, by a bullet that put the land in mourning? No; the monument that has been raised where his blood reddened the sod, granite though it be in a hundred course, is a feeble witness of the permanence and influence of his spirit among the American people. He mounted into literature from the moment that he fell; he began to move the soul of a great community; and part of the principal and enthusiasm of Massachusetts to-day is due to his sacrifice, to the presence of his spirit as a power in the life of the State.

Did Montgomery lose his influence as a force in the Revolution because he died without victory, on its threshold, pierced with three wounds, before Quebec? Philadelphia was in tears for him, as it has been for our hero; his eulogies were uttered by the most eloquent tongues of America and Britain, and a thrill of his power beats in the volumes of our history, and runs yet through the onset of every Irish brigade beneath the American banner, which he planted on Montreal.

Did Lawrence die when his breath expired in the defeat on the sea, after his exclamation, “Don’t give up the ship!” What victorious captain in that naval war shed forth such power? His spirit soared and touched every flag on every frigate, to make its red more commanding and its stars flame brighter; it went abroad in songs, and every sailor felt him and feels him now as an inspiration.

God is giving us new heroes to be enthroned with those of the earlier struggles. Before our guests victories come, He gives us, as in former years, names to rally for, and examples to inflame us with the old and the unconquerable fire. Ellsworth, Lyon, Winthrop, Baker, our patriots who have fallen in ill-success, will hallow our new contest, and exert wider influences as spirit-heroes than over their regiments and battalions, while they shall ascend to a more tender honor in the nation’s memory and gratitude.

And other avenues of service than those of the earth are opened for such as he whom we are waiting to lay in the tomb. “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory,” saith the Sacred Word. God has higher uses for such spirits. In the Father’s house are many mansions; and Christ hath prepared the place for all ranks of mortals for whom he died. The mysteries of the other world are not revealed. The principles of judgment, the tests of acceptance and of the Supreme eminence are unfolded. Intellect, genius, knowledge, faith, shall be as nothing before humility, sacrifice, charity. But in the uses of charity the fiery tongue, the furnished mind, the unquailing heart, shall have ample opportunities, and ampler then here. Paul goes to an immense service still as an Apostle; Newton to reflect from grander heavens a vaster light. As we shut the door of the tomb of genius, let it be with gratitude to God for its splendor here, and with a hope for its future that swells our bosom, though its outline be dim.

And let us not be tempted, in view of the sudden close of our gifted friend’s career, in any sad and skeptical spirit, to say, “What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!” The soul is not a shadow. The body is. Genius is not a shadow. It is a substance. Patriotism is not a shadow. It is light. Great purposes, and the spirit that counts death nothing in contrast with honor and the welfare of our country, these are the witnesses that man is not a passing vapor, but an immortal spirit.

Husband and father, brother and friend, Senator and soldier, genius and hero, we give thee, not to the grave and gloom we give thee to God, to thy place in the country’s heart, and to the great services that may await thee in the world of dawn beyond the sunset, with tears, with affection, with gratitude, and with prayer.


Oregon Civil War 150th Anniversary Commission reports on October 2012 statewide Calendar of Events

October 1, 2012
Oregon is commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the American civil War with special events planned and produced by several state institutions and non-profits; including two separate events across the state commemorating the 151st anniversary of the death of Oregon United States Senator Edwsrd Dickinson Baker on October 21, 1861 as he was leading troops into battle at Balls Bluff, Virginia. 

Opening this month is a special October 1 presentation by the Oregon Encyclopedia at McMenamin's Mission Theater that will describe Oregon's political climate just prior to stateshood and the start of the Civil War. Entitled " Oregon Democrats, Asahel Bush, Slavery and the Statehood Debate, the program is free and open to the public and will feature author Barbara Mahoney. The lecture startes at 7:00pm, and the address is 

However, the national focus this month will be on the long-awaited return of the Commander's House from the Pedee, Oregon farmstead in Polk County to its original site in Benton County's historical park at old Fort Hoskins, which was decomissioned at the end of the Civil War. After months of fundraising, the only extant building from the Civil War era frontier outpost will be making its way home (partially dismantled) via a commercial mover over several miles of country roads to the site first selected in 1856 by then Post Commander (and future Civil War General) Christopher C. Augur. According to Ellen Tappon, president of the Alliance for Recreation and Natural Areas (AFRANA), the house originally built under the supervision of 2nd Lt Phil Sheridan is in remarkably good condition, and will be reinstalled on the fort's Officers Row that overlooked the Luckiamute River valley, close to the original footprint . "We're very fortunate that the parade ground was never plowed over," she said. 

The move will take advantage of Oregon's current dry spell and is described as being acomplicated move, as the house has to negotiate past several areas where high tension wires cross above the route from Pedee to Kings Valley, and then up a slope leading to Fort Hoskins. We wish Jeff Powers and his group a successful move, and congratulate all for working together to restore a portion of Oregon's heritage and to save the Civil War era Commanders House4 from oblivion. Thanks to Benton County, volunteer groups and donors, this timely move is taking place during the national Civil War 150th Anniversary observance. Oregon is again showing that we are a full partner in the commemoration. A local poet penned a "Ballad of Fort Hoskins" to celebrate the move. It is posted on You Tube at this link:

Here are other Civil War related events taking place in Oregon and SW Washington (the original Oregon Territory):

Saturday, October 6, 2012. Old Apple Tree Festival, Vancouver, WA 10:00am- 4:00pm. Come out and enjoy the family friendly festival honoring the 186th Birthday of this tree that was over 25 years old when Brevet Captain Ulysses S. Grant first reported for frontier duty at Columbia Barracks, Oregon Territory 160 years ago this fall. After visiting the festival, meet with volunteer guides from the Civil War 150th Commission for a short tour of "Sam Grant's Columbia Barracks" Free and open to the public. Location is just east of the 1-5 Interstate Bridge at 112 Columbia Way, Vancouver.

Saturday, October 6, 2012. Mountain View Cemetery, 500 Hilda Street, Oregon City. 10:00 Am. A call for volunteers to assist the Sons of Union Veterans, Baker Camp, as they restore and spruce up headstones of Civil War veterans buried at this historic cemetery. For more information about the Sons of Union Veterans, please call Steve Betschart at (503)623-2102.

Thursday, October 11, 2012, Fort Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver, WA 6:30pm. Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial Commissioner Frank Krone will give a presentation on the 150th Anniversary of the Army Medal of Honor :1862-2012. The program entitled "The Medal of Honor and the Pacific Northwest" will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Klickitat Room in the main branch located at 901 C Street. The program is free and open to the public and is being presented by the Vancouver Barracks Military Association. 

Friday, October 12, 2012, Jacksonville Cemetery, Jacksonville, OR "7th Annual Meet the Pioneers" special guided one hour tour. Spirits in period costumes greet each tour group and share their tales of travel west to Oregon and talk about their lives in Jacksonville and the Rogue Valley during the mid and late 1800's. Ticketed event. For both days, first tour departs at 4:00 p.m. - last tour departs at 7:30 p.m. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012. Wordstock, Portland, Or. Lois Leveen, author of Civil War historical novel “The Secrets of Mary Bowser" visits Wordstock Book Festival. She will be participating in two authors panels and has a 4:00pm lecture on "The Allure of the lives of others: writing about the famous and not so famous." Ticketed event. Check website for pricing and venues.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012. Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, OR. 1:00pm. Special commemoration ceremony honoring the 170th Anniversary of the Journey to Freedom by Oregonian black pioneer Sarah Johnston Wisdom.

Thursday, October 18, 2012. Seaside Public Library, Seaside, OR. Lois Leveen, author of Civil War historical novel “The Secrets of Mary Bowser” will be reading from her book at the Seaside Public Library. 1131 Broadway, Seaside, Oregon.

Saturday, Sunday - October 19-21, 2012. Portland, Oregon. The Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has been invited to participate in workshops at the 2012 Pacific Northwest History Conference "From Civil War to Civil Rights" in Tacoma, Washington. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012. Portland, Oregon. Oregon commemoration of the 151st Anniversary of the battlefield death of Oregon United States Senator Edward Dickinson Baker at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia.

October 20-21, 2012, Baker, Oregon. The Sons of Union Veterans, Baker Camp presents, along with Greg Leo, the Edward D. Baker Weekend (rescheduled from its original date of April 15, 2012) at the historic Geiser Grand Hotel that was first built in 1889 in the city named after Senator and U.S. Army Colonel Edward D. Baker. Senator Baker never visited this part of Oregon, but his spirit of patriotism and love for his adopted state is omnipresent. This weekend is a fully ticketed event, and the Saturday night banquet "Baker's Ball" is $60.00 per person. Rooms at the Geiser start at $185/night. For more information check out the Geiser Grand Hotel website at tags: Oregon Civil War 150th Anniversary | Lone Fir Cemetery | African American Pioneers | Underground Railroad | Asahel Bush | Oregon Enclyclopedia | 151st Anniv. death of Senator Baker | Medal of Honor 150th lecture | Vancouver Barracks Military Association | Sons of Union veterans of Oregon | Fort Vancouver | Friends of Jacksonville Cemetery | Cpt James Lingenfelter | Commanders House back at Fort Hoskins | Capt Christopher Augur | Lt Phil Sheridan 



Oregon United States Senator and Civil War hero Edward Dickinson Baker is honored with "Edward Dickinson Baker Day" in Oregon

February 24, 2012

This week will see the debut the Edward Dickinson Baker Day in Oregon, a memorial to Oregon's Civil War hero and United States Senator who died over 150 years ago on the battlefield of Ball's Bluff while leading his troops into battle. Oregon is continuing to show its pride in the life, triumphs and tragedies of its pioneer statesman, soldier, and best friend of President Abraham Lincoln by memorializing him with this day, and adding this honor to the panoply of other distinctions conferred upon Oregon United States Senator Edward Dickinson Baker in this state and nationwide.

The Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, the Sons of Union Civil War Veterans of Oregon, Edward D. Baker Camp and Lincoln/Baker scholars (following in the footsteps of the late Senator Mark O. Hatfield) are deeply appreciative of the support given by the Oregon State legislature and Governor John Kitzhaber to the passage of Senate Bill 809 in the 2011 Legislative season. which led to the creation of Edward Dickinson Baker Day which is to be celebrated this year going forward.

This timely honor, bestowed upon Union Army Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker came during the first year of the national observance of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial (2011-2015); and has done much to restore the lustre to the name and national and regional reputation of a man who devoted most of his life to public service to his state and the nation. Oregon United States Senator Baker immediately offered his services to his adopted country when the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter on that morning in April 1861. Even at the frontlines of the war, Colonel Baker's thoughts would at times, focus on the welfare and future needs of our fledgling state.

He loved Oregon so much, that during the first months of the Civil War, he turned down two offers of appointments for Major and Brigadier Generalships because he was deeply honored by Oregon's selection of him as their United States Senator. This was plainly evinced in one of the last letters sent by Colonel Baker from his headquarters at the Chain Bridge in Virginia just prior to his untimely death on October 21, 1861 at the Battle of Ball's Bluff near Leesburg, Virginia, that Frank Krone, an  Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennian Commisioner discovered this month while doing research in the Edward Dickinson Baker files at the Oregon Historical Museum's archives:

"...A great battle is hourly anticipated and whatever position I may occupy in the coming contest, you may rest assured that the State of Oregon shall have no cause to be ashamed of my action. You have doubtless learned ere this of my appointment by the President as Brigadier General. My duty to the State of Oregon in my opinion is such that I have felt impelled to decline the honor. Yesterday, I had conferred upon me an additional honor, in the shape of an appointment as Major-General, but actuated by the same motives as decided me in the former instance. I shall decline this position also.

I am very conscious of the necessity of a military force in Oregon, for various reasons, and I am today maturing a plan which I intend to summit to the President and Secretary of War for their approval--by which I hope that a force sufficient for all purposes will be raised in Oregon.

While I am writing this, your letter of August 23rd arrived. In relation to the Senatorship, be pleased to say to everyone once for all that I value the station conferred upon me by the State of Oregon more highly than any other in the world, but I do not intend to vacate or resign. I shall retain command enough in the field to enable me to risk my life with honor, with that I am content. I have strong hopes that my next spring this war will be successfully terminated. The unity of the country maintained and the supremacy of the cnstitution vindicated.

How happy shall I be then to return to your peaceful valleys and give to our people an account of this great contest, but if Providence wills it otherwise and my bones smoulder on a southern soil, be pleased then to say for me that no man can be more grateful ffor the confidence of the people of my State and the warm wishes of so many friends --- E.D. Baker

-excerpt from Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker's

letter of Sept 22, 1861

Headquarters, Baker's Brigade

Chain Bridge, Virginia"


Baker would soon meet his destiny on the Virginia battlefield less than a month later. In 1862, a year to the date after this letter was written, the Oregon Legislature commemorated Baker by "carving a second county out of Wasco County and named it Baker." Other honors were to follow across the nation...two Fort Bakers, one located in Nevada and the second one in the District of Columbia. San Francisco's "Baker Street" is named after him. There is a plaster carving of his face at the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, and a life-size marble statue of Baker was sculpted by Horatio Stone and placed in the rotunda in the Capitol Building.

In Oregon, on the 201st Anniversary of Edward Dickinson Baker's birth; ceremonies marking the inaugural "Edward Dickinson Baker Day" have been planned. There will be a ceremonial "Posting of the Colors" with the uniformed honor brigade of the Sons of Civil War Veterans Reserve, to mark the opening of the Oregon Legislative session on Friday, February 24, 2012 starting at 10:00 AM in the Senate chambers. In the afternoon, beginning at 12:30pm, volunteers from the Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission will meet at the 14th granite pillar of the Oregon Veterans Medal of Honor Memorial located on the west side of the Oregon State Capitol to talk about the Four Oregonians whose names are inscribed on the memorial, recipients of the Army Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Both events are free and open to the public.

The ceremony marking the inaugural 'Edward Dickinson Baker Day" is a Civil War Sesquicentennial Event, and shows Oregon's active involvement in the national observance of the Civil War's 150th Anniversary. There is a full scale program honoring the 150th Anniversary of the creation of the Army Medal of Honor being planned at the Oregon Veterans Medal of Honor Memorial on July 12, 2012. For more information about this event or other Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial events, please call (503)303-8426.



During the week of the launch of "Edward Dickinson Baker Day"...excerpts from a touching tribute to the "Grey Eagle of Mt. Hood"

February 20, 2012

During this week leading up to the launcing of the first ever "Edward Dickinson Baker" Day celebration in Oregon on the 201st anniversary of Baker's birth, we will print excerpts and publish links to past and present published profiles of our second United States Senator. Back on the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War Anniversary of Colonel Baker's death at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, the New York Times published a timely offering by guest columnist Professor Louis P. Masur, who is chair of the American Studies program at Trinity College (CT) and author of The Civil War: A Concise History  (2011) and a book to be published this year:  Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union. Here is an excerpt from Masur's profile of Edward Dickinson Baker "Senator Baker's Waveless Shore"  as published in the New York Times Opinionator:exclusive on-line Commentary from The Times

"Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend and sometimes political rival of Lincoln’s, had no fear of war. In 1832, he left his fledgling law practice in Illinois to participate in the Black Hawk War, and, in 1846, he resigned his Illinois Congressional seat to serve as a colonel of the Fourth Illinois Infantry in the Mexican War.

What made his martial ardor unusual was that he was a Quaker. Indeed, his parents had immigrated from England to Philadelphia in 1816, when the boy was not yet five years old, to be part of the Quaker community there. Nearly a decade later, the family moved west to join Robert Owen’s utopian community at New Harmony, Ind., and from there to Carrollton, Ill. Baker read law and was admitted to the bar. He also married a widow several years his elder with two children. In 1835, he relocated to Springfield and began a partnership with, among others, Lincoln’s future law partner Stephen T. Logan....

Baker served in the Illinois House from 1837 to 1841, overlapping with Lincoln also was a member, and the Illinois Senate from 1841 to 1845. He served a term in Congress from 1845 to 1847, then again from 1849 to 1851. The restless lawyer and ambitious politician moved to California in 1852, and, importuned by Republican allies, relocated in 1860 to Oregon, where he was promptly chosen to fill a vacant seat in the United States Senate. Upon his selection, Baker wrote to Lincoln: “You will feel that you have a true and warm friend at your side” in Washington...

You can read this column in its entirety at the NYTimes website, and its Opinionator column.


150 years in the making..."Edward Dickinson Baker Day" takes place in Oregon on Feb 24, 2012

February 16, 2012

On the 201st Anniversary of the birth of Oregon United State Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, the Civil War military leader and friend of Abraham Lincoln who died at Ball's Bluff, VA will be memorialized in Oregon with "Edward Dickinson Baker Day."


Over 152 years ago this month, Edward Dickinson Baker moved his family up to Salem in 1859, during the year Oregon was first admitted into the Union as a free state. Baker had left a prosperous law practice in San Francisco at the urging of his friends and admirers in Oregon to become a candidate for a vacant seat in the Senate, caused by the expiration of the term of Delazon Smith, and was duly elected by the State Legislature to that position of honor.

Baker's senatorship came with a deepened sense of responsibility to his constituents living in the fledgling 33rd state, and to the preservation of the Union, felt more intensely as war clouds darkened the horizon. When the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, he immediately offered his services (honed in the Mexican War) to his adopted country. Colonel Baker raised volunteer troops for the Union, and was drilling with his brigade while they were preparing for action in the middle of October of 1861.

In one of his last letters mailed from "Headquarters Baker's Brigade, Camp Advance, Chain Bridge", on September 22,1861, Colonel Baker wrote about his concerns for the creation "of a military force in Oregon...a force sufficient for all purposes..." Baker pointed out that he had turned down two appointments for Major and Brigadier Generalships because he was honored by the Senatorship and "...value(d) the station conferred upon me by the State of Oregon more mightily than any other in the world..."

In a chilling premonition of his own tragic death, Colonel Baker wrote that "...a great battle is hourly anticipated," and pledged that " may rest assured that the State of Oregon shall have no cause to be ashamed of my action(s)." One month later, Baker died at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia, leading his troops into battle. Oregon was suddenly bereft of its Civil War Statesman and Soldier and the silver tongue of the "Grey Eagle of Mt. Hood" was forever silenced. Senator Baker was the only sitting member of the United States Senate to die in battle.

On Friday, February 24, 2012, Oregon is conferring another honor on its fallen soldier and United States Senator, with the launch of "Edward Dickinson Baker Day" on the 201st Anniversary of Baker's birth . On this day set aside to honor the heroism and patriotism of Lincoln's best friend, a two part ceremony will take place in Salem, Oregon at the State Capitol Building and grounds, and the whole state is invited to come over to Salem and honor the life and aciievements of Oregon United States Senator Edward Dickinson Baker in the city he called home during his brief tenure in office.

The first part of the long-awaited day will be heralded in with a special ceremony at the opening of the legislative session. The uniformed Oregon Sons of Union Veterans Reserve, are in charge of the "Presenting of the colors" to honor Oregon's United States Senator and Civil War military leader Edward Dickinson Baker. Senate chambers. 10:00am

The second part of the ceremony will start at 12:30pm at the 14th granite pillar of the Oregon Medal of Honor Memorial located on the west side of the Capitol grounds. Commander Steve Betschart of the Oregon Sons of Union Veterans will play "Taps" on his bugle to commemorate the four Civil War Veterans buried in Oregon who received the Army Medal of Honor for actions taken in battle "beyond the Call of Duty".Then K.C. Piccard and other members of the Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission will lead guided tours of all of the memorial pillars engraved with the names of Oregon's Medal of Honor recipients. These free tours will honor the valor shown by the veterans of all wars and is especially timely because 2012 is the 150th Anniversary of the creation of the Army Medal of Honor during the second year of the American Civil War.

For more information about this free event, or other Civil War related events taking place in Oregon, please contact the Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission at (503)303-8426.


Narrative of the 150th Anniversary Events taking place at Ball's Bluff, Virginia

November 3, 2011

Descendants of Union and Confederate Veterans met on Sunday, October 23 at the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle that claimed the life of Oregon Sen. Edward D. Baker on October 21, 1861.This was the day after the re-enactment on Ball's Bluff that took place on October 22, 2011. 

 A small crowd of onlookers gathered on a perfect autumn afternoon and watched as members of the Baker Camp of the Oregon Sons of Union Veterans and the Clinton Hatcher Camp of the Virginia Sons of Confederate Veterans placed wreaths on the battlefield monuments to Baker and Hatcher who were killed in the fight. Andrew Fletcher placed a wreath from the Baker Camp at the Baker Monument James A. Morgan, author of the book A Little Short of Boats: The Fight at Ball’s Bluff spoke on the history of the Baker monument and Ken Fleming of the Sons of Confederate Veterans did the same for the Hatcher memorial.

Randy Fletcher of the Baker Camp presented an engrossed copy of Oregon Senate Bill 809, the law commemorating Baker’s 200th birthday, to Bill Wilkin of the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable and George Tabb of the Ball’s Bluff Regional Park. SUVCW members from the Department of the Chesa-peake were in attendance and the Potomac Guard provided a musket salute after which Taps was sounded by Michael Paquette.
Reprinted with permission of the editor of the Union Volunteer


Ball's Bluff--The Civil War Comes Home to Massachusetts and an eyewitness to the death of Colonel Edward Baker

October 28, 2011

The Massachusetts Historical Society is currently featuring an excellent exhibit that pertains to the aftermath of the Battle of Ball's Bluff and the death of Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker. In the exhibit entitled "Ball's Bluff--The Civil War Comes Home to Massachusetts", the October 22, 1861 letter to home written by Captain Caspar Crowninshield of Company D, of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry reveals the horrors of that engagement, from the viewpoint of a young officer who was standing less than six feet away from Colonel Baker, close enough to be splattered with Baker's blood at the moment of his death.

We are grateful to the Massachusetts Historical Society for granting us permission to reproduce a portion of these letters, which are part of the Charles Pickering Putnam Papers. Captain Crowninshield was the scion of a wealthy family and a graduate of the institution of higher education from whence his regiment received the nickname "the Harvard Brigade."

The 20th Infantry along with the 15th were almost completely destroyed in the battle, and sustained more than 500 casualties, including 84 killed or dying, others taken prisoners of war, like Paul Revere's two grandsons, and seriously wounded soldiers like the future United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. The letter from Caspar to his mother, Harriet Sears Crowninshield, was posted on the day after the fateful battle of Ball's Bluff:

"Camp Benton, October 22d 1861

My dear Mother:

I sit down in haste to give you an account of the battle which we have just fought and lost.
I had been stationed near the river to support a battery (Ricketts) for about a week. On Sunday at 3 P.M. received orders to march with Capt Bartlett's Company up the canal about 3 miles from Edward's Ferry, and await orders. When we arrived there we met Col Lee and Major Revere who told us that we were to cross the river with 300 men of the 15th Mass regt. and surprise a rebel camp which was near the town of Leesburg. So at about 11 o'clock, we crossed the river to an island some five miles long: there we waited until 3 o'clk in the morning, and then crossed the river into Virginia. As we had only 3 boats to cross in, it took us a long time. One boat would hold about 16 men, another 8, and a third only 4.

The width of the river here is about 1/4 of a mile or perhaps not so much. The banks on the other side are very precipitous and rocky; however we managed to get up on to high land by marching in single file and picking our way very carefully. It was bright moonlight...when we reached the top of the hill, we found ourselves on a broad field of 10 or 12 acres. Here Capt. Bartlett's and my Company under Command of the Col. (the Adjutant was also with us) remained as a reerve, and to cover the 15th in case they should have to retreat..."

(the 15th advances and met with the rebels on Ball's Bluff. Skirmishing takes place) - my notes

"Soon we heard rapid firing in the direction of the 15th. Soon after 2 men came out of the woods bearing a wounded man in their arms, and told us that the 15th had been attacked by infantry and cavalry, and that they had driven them off, but with the loss of many men, and were retreating to the woods near us. Our Col now sent a note to Genl Stone in which he said "if you wish to make a general advance into Virginia, send over a great many more men, if not, we ought to retreat at once." We had before this had orders "not to retreat until orders from Genl. Stone". The whole force we had on the Virginia side at this time was 300 of the 15th and 100 of the 20th. A short time after the Col. sent this message we heard the 15th firing and more wounded men were brought down the road. In about a quarter of an hour the 15th Came up to where we were. The enemy did not follow if they had, we should have been cut off to a man.

Now some reinforcements Came over, but very slowly, as there were only the 3 boats I spoke about, and a flat scow which had been found. At 1 o'clk the fight Commenced on our right flank, and in a short time the rebels were driven back. Then Came a breathing space of 10 minutes. Then they attacked on our left flank. Where I was they made a dreadful noise and fired heavily and rapidly . They drove my pickets in and killed at the 1st fire 2 or 3 men. My men stood firm and fought bravely. I was obliged to bring up my reserve and we drove the rebels back. An interval of quiet, and they advanced cheering, & attacking our whole line. We met them with a severe fire and they fell back, but they Continued to fire very rapidly, and killed many of our men. They cheered furiously, as their reinforcements came up, and their fire became firecer and fiercer. Our gunners were almost all shot, and those who remained could not fire very often.

My men fell back, and commenced to run. I believe our centre was broken at the same time. I did all I could to stop them, and succeeded in stopping about 20 men, with whom I again advanced, and checked the rebels. As they were advancing in great numbers, we could not stop them long however. Here was a poor fellow in my Company fell shot through the body. He was standing close to me, and, as he fell he said. "My God. I am shot through". We had to fall back rapidly now, as our Centre was broken, and had fallen back to the woods on the bank of the river. I was within 6 feet of Col Baker when he fell. He got up once, and then fell again, and 2 men Carried him off. He had 3 or 4 bullets in him they say. He behaved with the utmost Courage and coolness all through the fight. Our guns had now ceased to fire, and 2 of them had, I think been taken and I had been brought back to the edge of the woods. All was now confusion, and the horses, attached to the caisson of the gun, ran , and one was shot just as it was going into the woods, so that the other 3 could not draw the Caisson. This made a breastwork for a time behind which I stood. The fire of the rebels was at this time something terrible. The hill was Swept with bullets and the men were in the woods scattered in all directions..."

(Here Crowninshield describes the uneven retreat)

"...The ravine and the banks of the river were now crowded with men. Somewere sitting down behind trees and stones. Some were carrying the wounded, and some were throw--ing away their guns and trying to swim across...the river was now full of men who were drowning and shouting for help; but there was no help to give them except from God. I never saw such a sight and God grantI may never see such another. I was all covered with blood from some one, I suppose who had been shot near me. I felt very faint, and the men seeing the blood supposed that I was wounded, and those who managed to get across the river to the island, which we held, reported me as killed or taken prisoner. It was now about 6 o'clock. I wandered around trying to find my men and went back to the brow of the hill, but there were none of them there. The rebels were advancing and firing down the ravine. The men were calling out that they would surrender; and the rebels were shooting at the men who were swimming over...

(Here Crowninshield describes his passage across the river and onto Harrison Island)

...I slept under a haystack, & in the morning went across the river and got to the camp. We had only 418 of our Regt. in the fight. We took out 22 officers and only 9 have returned unharmed..."

He signs the letter:

"Goodbye. Give my love to all & believe that I did my duty.

your affectionate son


Captain Crowninshield would survive the war to again become 'a man of leisure." . A month after the Battle of Ball's Bluff, he became captain of the 1st Regiment of the Massachusetts Cavalry , and he was promoted to major of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry in January 1863. He became lieutenant colonel on March 18, 1864. Crowninshield commanded the Reserve Brigade of Division 1 of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Shenandoah for the five months starting from October 1864, and then was promoted to Brigadier General in December 1865.


Aftermath of Ball's Bluff, preliminary reports and assessments of the Union Loss

October 25, 2011

     Thanks to the widespread use of the telegraph on the east coast, and despite initial governmental attempts to censure the news coming out of Leesburg, Virginia,  the facts about the disastrous Union defeat at Ball's Bluff, the death of Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker, and partial casualty lists spread quickly.  The New York Times for Friday, October 25, 1861 ran the sub-headline "Repulse of the Union Forces-Heavy Loss- Gallant Conduct of the Men" and commented that the  "...Destruction of life has been far greater, in proportion to the numbers engaged, then at Bull Run." Add to that the commentary in  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine that also posed the question abouwho had sent Colonel Baker into the "jaws of death?" 

    In the October 25, edition, the New York Times started their Partial List of Killed and Wounded by assigning the wrong rank to Oregon's fallen statesman , as the first line is for "Brig-Gen E.D.Baker, killed." then it goes on to list other Union casualties including: "Capt Sloan, Fifteenth Massachusetts, wounded in foot"; "James Cranberger, killed--fell in his brother's arms", "Lieut-Col. Ward- lost a leg; remaining on the island..." and Capt. Watson, Mass.,Co E, Twenty-fifth Massachusetts, shot while swimming the river..."

    The October 30, 1861  edition of the Loudoun County, Virginia's morning weekly  The Democratic Mirror,  jubilantly reported that "Amid the din of war, the crush of Yankees and the retreat of armies, we last week missed an issue—and ere this the glad tidings of our glorious gain on the 21st of October has been wafted on the wings of the morning to the uttermost parts of our newborn Republic, but not withstanding we this morning give such information of that brilliant affair, as has come to our knowledge during the week..."  Further down in the article, the report continues with some of their  first accounts of the Union casualties, before submitting the Confederate Army's partial listing of their own dead and wounded:

     "...To say that we were victorious overwhelming victorious, conveys but a faint idea of the glorious achievement of the day. Not only were the Hessians repulsed with great slaughter in every charge, not only did they leave their dead and mangled bodies strewn over the ground like autumn leaves, but in their precipitate retreat it is estimated that more than one hundred found a watery grave, while no less than 657 were made prisoners. Among them were Col. W. R. Lee, 20th Mass; Col. Cogswell, 42nd New York Volunteers; and Major E. J. Reven, 20th Mass." -   For the South, The Democratic Mirror reported that the  "... battle on our side was exclusively conducted by infantry. Since the above was in type we have ascertained that our entire loss in killed and wounded, is 159.


Company A—F. A. Osbourn, 2d corporal; Private John B. Reeder.
Company C—Christopher Lambert, Neddy Mahan.
Company F—Sergeant T. C. L. Hatcher; Corp. George A. Donohoe; private Joseph Gastillow; Wm. C. Furr, mortally wounded, since dead.
Company G—Private James Ballinger."
Company K—J. S. Sidalle, shot through the leg — since dead... "

     New York Times war correspondent Elias Smith was in the thick of the battle action, he wrote of meeting "wounded men returning (across the river) in their comrade's arms and bleeding from the legs, chest, head, arms, and every other description of wounds... " He reported that the " Fifteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts Regiments suffered very severely, losing a large part of their numbers in killed and wounded..."  Smith also  posted vivid descriptions of the the rain-soaked and drawn-out retreat to Harrison Island; where the mostly untreated wounded were sent down to Edward's Ferry "in leaky canal boats" and then loaded onto ambulances by which they were carried over to Poolsville, Virginia.

These preliminary reports and their disclosed horrors about the Battle of Ball's Bluff were only harbingers of the even higher casualty counts to come during the next years of the Civil War.



The Ball's Bluff Battlefield...after 150 years became the stage for a re-enactment of the actual Civil War engagement

October 23, 2011
     While Oregonians  held a quiet memorial service on Friday, October 21, honoring the life and battlefield death of Colonel and Senator Edward Dickinson Baker in the state capitol of Salem, with the event taking place at the very moment of Senator Baker's untimate sacrifice 150 years assemblage of dedicated military re-enactors were arriving that Friday in Leesburg, Virginia  to prepare for the battle re-enactment on Saturday, October 22. 

     2000 spectators attended Saturday's ticketed event, and looked on from various viewing places as 1000 re-enactors took to the hallowed grounds of Ball's Bluff in the first re-enactment ever held on the hallowed grounds since the original skirmish. Only this time around, there were no Civil War casualties, as the re-enactors portraying Union and Confederate soldiers and commanders  went through an hour-long, condensed version of the actual battle, punctuated with  "the frequent booms of Union howitzers, whose construction was commissioned to help mark the 150th anniversary of the battle..." as reported in the Leesburg Times. A gallery of high-quality  photographs taken by Leesburg Times reporters are being displayed at   and in addition to showing impressive military formations, the photos also show the people in attendance, including some of the uniformed re-enactors, eagerly capturing the action on their smartphones.

     Randol Fletcher, of Baker Camp SUVCW, and a featured participant in today's memorial ceremonies; posted a photograph of the participants taking part in the October 23, 2011 solemnities held at the memorial headstone for Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker at Ball's Bluff. We will (with Randy's permission) post the picture on the front page of this website, so that it gets the extended coverage it deserves.  

     Today's ceremony at the headstone marking the spot where Oregon's Senator Baker expired a century and a half ago,  serves as a permanent reminder of the casualties that resulted from what has been called at times, "an insignificant skirmish".  Of the Union troops that fought at Ball's Bluff, 49 men were killed in action, 117 were wounded  and 714 were either missing in action or captured.  For the victorious Confederate troops of about equal strength, the toll from the battle included 36 killed, 158 wounded and 2 missing and captured. 

     Further repercussions will result from the death of the only sitting Senator, and Lincoln's close friend, combined with the growing tally of Union army losses. December 1861 will see the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. This oversight committee was comprised of three senators and four representatives and was granted the power to investigate anything or anyone. The committee's initial charge was to pinpoint the cause of the defeat at Ball’s Bluff and  to determine how Stone's actions and command may havecontributed to the defeat. For the remainder of the war, this watchdog committee would place all Union military actions under scrutiny.

Interested Oregonians helped to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the death of Colonel Edward Baker

October 22, 2011
What a day....both in Oregon and Virginia.  While reenactors on the actual Ball's Bluff battlefield in Virginia, were able to relive the battle where Colonel and Oregon United States Senator Edward Dickinson Baker shed his "hero blood, patriot blood" in defense of the Union, a dedicated group of Oregonians made time in their busy schedules to attend the Oregon Civil War Sesquicentennial's150th Anniversary  memorial to Baker, in the auditorium at the Salem Public Library. It was a solemn, but uplifting event. Thank you all for attending.