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BAKER at BALLS BLUFF
J. HAMPTON MOORE
BALLS BLUFF, ON THE POTOMAC
October 21st, 1911
BAKER AT BALLS BLUFF
Hon. J. HAMPTON MOORE
Member of Congress from PennsyWanla
Reunion of Survivors of the Seventy-first Pennsylvania (California)
Regiment, G. A. R., and Confederate Veterans, at Balls Bluff,
Potomac River, Virginia, on the Fiftieth Anniversary
of the Battle, October 21, 1911.
V^e;rans : — Baker's death at Balls Bluff was one of the severest
shocks sustained by the overburdened Lincoln. The two men had
been associates in Congress from Illmois, and had stood side by
side in the argument against dis-union. Baker's return to Wash-
ington as a United States Senator from Oregon was reassuring to
the President. He sought and received a Colonel's commission,
although he was offered appointment: as a Major-General. The
higher rank he never accepted, although the tender of it was
regarded as the President's estimate of his dignity and capabilities.
WNCOLN WANTED ACTION.
McClellan was in command of the Army of the Potomac. He
was the only officer holding the rank of Major-General at that
time, and he was moving with great deliberation, undoubtedly over-
estimating the strength of the enemy on the other side of the river.
The disaster at Bull Run had alarmed and angered the Nation and
had caused the President the greatest solicitude. There were
moments when, to all intents and purposes, he was upon his knees
at the McClellan headquarters or in the McClellan home, begging
What Baker wanted was what Lincoln wanted. In his dramatj^j
debate with Breckenridge, accoutred as he was in the uniform of,
Colonel, he clearly indicated his belief that the Rebellion should b.
put down, and that there must be no temporizing. He went fortli
with his regiment, which he had recruited largely in Philadelphia
subject, of course, to the orders of his commanding officers.
OBEYED ORDERS AND DIED.
After the lapse of fifty years there is still some mist enshrouding
the motives and plans of the commanders who directed the move-
ment which, so unhappily, resulted in Baker's death. That Mc-
Clellan was endeavoring to force an opening upon the Virginia side
of the Potomac is evident. That the Division Commander, Stone,
directed the movement at Balls Blufif, and gave the orders to Baker,
is a matter of official record. That brave men from Massachusetts,
New York and Pennsylvania, who had not long been trained in the
art of war, were suddenly ordered across the river at Harrison's
Island, above Edward's Ferry, and that they spent most of the
night in getting over, and much of the succeeding day of October
2ist in struggling like rats in a trap on the top of Balls Bluff
and the approaches thereto, is a reasonable statement of the facts.
The heroic work of portions of the Massachusetts regiments before
the arrival of Colonel Baker, and the re-alignment of forces after
his appearance on the scene, and their gallant defense until the
close of the day, demonstrated that the new recruits could fight, and
that they were determined, if possible, to wipe out the humiliation
of Bull Run. Even Baker's death in the afternoon, although it
greatly disorganized the men, did not prevent their fighting on.
They were hopeful, as he was, that reinforcements would come.
REINEORCEMENTS DID NOT COME.
The miserable transportation facilities for getting the men back
and forth over the Potomac River was perhaps the weakest spot
in the campaign. They consisted only of an accidentally discovered
flat boat and a few skiffs, and delayed the arrival of a portion of
Baker's command until too late to be of assistance to the hard-
pressed fighters on the Bluff; they were also utterly inadequate
as a means of retreat. But it was held out to the commanders
\nd the men that the four thousand troops at Edward's Ferry, a
3W miles away, would come to their rescue, and so the shattered
3rces kept on fighting. But disappointment followed defeat, and
dt nightfall the worn-out remnant of Baker's men found themselves
at the foot of the Bluff, huddled along the hostile banks of the
Potomac, with no alternative but surrender, or death. A few
managed to escape by swimming the turbid river under cover of
the night, but many who made the attempt were shot in the water.
QUICKENING EFJfECT OF THIS DISASTER.
It was a pitiable spectacle, and while it added greatly to Lincoln's
anguish, it stirred the Nation to a greater realization of its danger.
It checked the assurance and jealousy of some of the leaders in
Congress and the Army, and quickened the activities of all the sup-
porters of the Union. It taught the self-satisfied Northener that
the Southern man was brave and determined, and, while a mere
incident in the bloody tram of hostilities that followed through the
four long years of strife, served to arouse the people to such a
frenzy of excitement as had only been witnessed after the disaster at
NATIONS GENEROUS AND FORGETFUL.
It is said of nations that they are ungrateful, and yet in many
ways the Government of the United States has belied the assertion.
No other nation in the world has been more generous to those who
bore arms in its defense. One-sixth of all the revenues of the
Government are this day devoted to the care and the maintenance
of the veterans who were loyal in the service of their country. We
have reared monuments to celebrate the achievements of our chief-
tains upon land and sea, and we have signalized the exploits of the
private soldier in bronze and marble; but, much as we have done
for the heroic living and the martyred dead, we have here and
there slipped a cog and overlooked the bravest of the brave. And,
pray, who more brave than they who, yielding up their homes and
opportunities, and obediently marching into the very jaws of death
upon Balls Bluff, laid down their lives on October 21. 1861 ! They
were true soldiers, for, without asking the reason why they followed
their commanders and plunged into the maelstrom of death, with
no hope of glory or reward in this life, and without even the assur-
ance that their graves would be marked.*
TARGETS FOR SHARPSHOOTERS.
Hemmed in on the brow of the Bluflf, with Confederate forces
occupying the surrounding woodland and gradually closing in upon
him, Baker ordered his men to lie down, since, standing, they were
only targets for the sharpshooters in the trees.
"Don't expose yourself," said he to a soldier who was standing
erect, loading and firmg.
"Colonel, you expose yourself, why shouldn't I?"
But the answer of the Commander indicated that, although he
knew the importance of keeping his men under cover and of safe-
guarding them until reinforcements came, he could not himself
"lie down in the face of the enemy." Thus he became the target
of the marksmen from whom he strove to shield his men. Several
bullets struck him as he fell.
NO MONUMENT TO BAKER.
There is no monument to Baker at Balls Bluflf. The bones of
many heroes who died with him, slumber there m obscurity.
A Nation which has been so generous in other respects should not
longer permit this palpable injustice to continue. Balls Bluff in the
Civil War had all the startling significance of the first shot upon
Sumter. It was like the blowing up of the Maine in our more
recent conflict with Spain. It involved the Nation in a controversy
which stirred Congress to action. It carried down with it the life
of one of the Nation's greatest orators and statesmen, a firm and
devoted follower of the immortal Lincoln, and one of his chief allies
in Congress and the Army. His life had been devoted to such
high and lofty and statesmanlike purposes that his tragic death had
all the effect of a national catastrophe. The sacred soil upon which
Baker fell, and around which the gallant Philadelphians and their
* Balls Bluff today is a bit of rugged country bordering the Potomac and overlooKing
a valley of much scenic beauty. It is the end of a three miles drive fr')m the old town
of Leesburg. The road cuts through rolling farm land which is divided up into large
Virginia estates. The Bluff is thickly wooded and slopes abruptly to the rivei bank.
On the clearing at the top of the Bluff, the United States Government has located a
small cemetery within the stone walls of which have been 'gathered toi^ether the bodies
of some of those who were killed October 21, 1861. Of all those remaining unclaimed
(* total of 25) only one, James Allen, of a Massachusetts regirnent, was identified.
The others are numbered amongst the unknown. There is a flagstaff in the center of the
plot, and this, save a small granite marker in memory of a Confederate soldier, about 100
feet from the cemetery, is all that marks the battle ground — a battle ground upon which
tlie casualties, dead, wounded and missing, reached nearly 1,200. — J. H. M., October 21,
comrades of Massachusetts and New York poured out their life's
blood in the last stand against the charging troops of Virginia and
Mississippi, should be marked, and that speedily, as a tribute to the
dead and a signal to the living.f
THE AFTERMATH OF WAR,
But, veterans, we have passed beyond the borderland of strife.
The fierce yell of the Confederate soldiers, breaking through the
woodland with fixed bayonets or smoking musketry, is no longer
to be seen or heard. The stubborn resistance of the invading but
unsupported Union men, driven back to defeat and surrender at Balls
Bluff, is interesting to the newer generation only as a matter of his-
tory, but to you, survivors of the thrilling scenes of half a century
ago, they involved the sacrifice of human life and blood, and shaped
a Nation's destiny! You understand what all this meant, you men
who wore the Blue, and you who wore the Gray; you understand
as we do not ! And in this age of progress, made possible by
your struggles and the gallantry of those who here laid down their
lives with Baker, we may well indulge the hope that this and future
generations shall continue to reverence and respect and, if need
be fight for, the institutions of our common country. We have
much to do that has not yet been done. The turning of the swords
of '6i into the plowshares of today is not the sum of all our hopes
and expectations. Under a single flag our country is expanding
and our wealth increasing, but we have been wasteful ; we have
not more than scratched the surface of our resources. The love
of ease and the lure of gold have followed in the wake of our
t About 100 feet from the Balls Bluff Cemetery (it is said to be the smallest of all
the National Cemeteries) at the edge of the Bluff slope, a bushelfui of loose stones
hold up a wretched worm-eaten fence rail, to mark the spot where Baker fell. It is the
only monument to one of the Nation's greatest orators and statesmen. Colonel Baker
was an Englishm.an by birth, but his Americanism was intense. From a mill-boy in
Philadelphia, he had risen to be a lawyer, and colleague in Congress of Lincoln of
Illinois. As a speaker he had thrilled great audiences East and West. In California
he was famous as an advocate, and Oregon gladly "^ent him to the United States Seuate,
He had served with distinction in the Mexican War and though risen to the proud post
of a United States Senator, he promptly stepped from the rostrum to the field when he
felt that the country needed his services there.
Baker's strength in the Senate was exceptional. His reply to Breckenrid'ge as his
regiment waited in camp under the very shadow of the capital, was dramatic in the
extreme. His power over his men was magnetic. His presence was impcsing and his
example was inspiring. The men whom he called his "boys," loved him They followed
him cheerfully when he scaled the heights at Balls Bluff, and they faltered only when
he fell. There was so much of gentleness and nobility in his charactei, that it would
seem now, after the swing of fifty years, that some monument more lasting than an
unhewn stick should adorn the ground where ebbed and closed the life of one whose
patriotism and bravery earned him a place amongst the nation's heroes. — J. H. M.,
October 21, 191 1.
prosperity, like the stealthy camp follower behind the battling armies.
Indeed we have mighty problems yet to be determined.
the; duty of bh;ing prepared.
We are dealing with a generation which knows little of the
struggles and privations of the men who fought on the one side
for the maintenance of the Union, and on the other for what they
believed to be the rights of the separate States. In our great onward
march of civilization, fifty years remote from the great war in
which you participated, we cannot forget that he is best assured
of peace who is best prepared for war. We seek no war ; we pray
'for peace; and yet from out the clear, unclouded sky the thunder-
bolts of war are hurled — when, where, we cannot tell. We are
dependent today upon a. standing army which is but a corporal's
guard compared with the standing armies of European or even of
Asiatic countries. Our navy is growing stronger, but the surprise
which Italy has just given the Sultan carries a warning to us that
we must maintain. our ability to defend upon the high seas.
MUST CONSERVE OUR NATIONAL STRENGTH.
And as we rear our monuments to the heroic dead, and seek
by their example to inspire the living, insisting upon peace as we
maintain a readiness for war, let us seek, by a closer interest in
the real welfare of our country, to have men know and firmly believe
in its worth and glory. Our land is rich and full of opportunity.
Our soil is fertile and capable of cultivation. We have millions of
acres of untilled land that need but the hand of man to give it value
and utility. We must depend upon the soil and the products of the
soil for our national strength. If we abandon the plowshare and
the sturdy occupations which create the wealth of our country, the
maintenance of an Army or a Navy will indeed be a burden. The
spirit of the soldier is the spirit of sacrifice. He entered the great
four years' struggle not for wealth, but to establish the reign of
peace and progress which followed the war.
WE SHOULD PROFIT BY HIS EXAMPLE.
The spirit of '76 united the Colonies and taught us the lessons
of liberty and independence. It was the spirit of '61 that gave us
the Union and taught us the lessons of peace and industry. What
we have gained through the sheddiug of blood and the loss of life
and happiness, should not be lost to the succeeding generations. As
we should be prepared on land or sea for the foreign thunderbolt
which we trust, will ne'er be hurled against our land, it is likewise
prudent that we should fortify ourselves against that more insidious
conflict, the modern spirit of greed and selfishness which tends to
undermine and sap the Nation's strength. We need true men to
make the Nation strong.
OUR MONUMENTS A HERITAGE.
Rear, then, your monuments, ye veterans of the great civil
conflict ;, rear them high upon mountain top and in valley ; memor-
ialize the personal sacrifice and the unselfish devotion of your com-
rades who laid down their lives in noxious swamps and rocky
fastnesses. Rear them to' the memory of brave and generous souls
whose patriotism far excelled the love of gold. They died that the
union of States might be 'maintained, and that under that union
succeeding generations should ^enjoy the blessings of peace, of
justice and of equaLopportunity. This is the heritage of your valor,
as it is our lesson for the day. ' *
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