from The Worcester Spy, October 30, 1861 , (Volume 90 # 43), 
Gallantry of The Fifteenth

A Washington dispatch, dated Oct. 23, makes the following statement:

"Gen McClellan yesterday went to the point where our army was crossing the Potomac, opposite Leesburg. He telegraphed back the highest praise of the action of our troops in the late battle. He says they fought bravely, and retired in order, and, after the fight, maintained the best spirits and most strict discipline. He expresses the belief that he can , hereafter, place implicit reliance on the men, and his conviction that they will not flinch at the hardest work. His praise is so warm and cordial that it is more than enthusiastic."

It is pleasant to hear such praise of the noble fellows who fought and suffered in the unequal battle. We trust that Gen McClellan will show his appreciation of their gallantry by never again allowing them to be placed in any position where they will be compelled to fight a battle with an overwhelming force of the enemy. All the men who fought at Ball's Bluff fought bravely; but the Massachusetts Fifteenth were first in the fight and last out of it.

Gen McClellan may be sure that he can rely upon them, those of them at least who still remain alive and fit for duty; but it is nowise likely that he will ever put them to harder work than that which was given them at Ball's Bluff. "Somebody blundered" in that affair. Some of the dispatches attribute the blunder to Col Baker, saying that he made a fight contrary to orders. Others place it at the door of Gen Stone, saying that he ordered Col Baker to maintain the fight, promising reinforcements. The latter statement comes from an aide of Col Baker, who, after telling how he and his companions crossed the river, gives the following particulars in regard to the fight:---

"Scrambling up the bank, we found an open field of six acres, with thick woods on three sides, out of which came a constant irregular firing from the enemy.

Here were Colonel Deven's Fifteenth Massachusetts regiment on the right in line at the edge of the woods, having been driven in after proceeding a mile and a half toward Leesburg. We formed on the left and presently advanced two companies of skirmishers to the woods in front. The concealed enemy drove them back with a heavy telling volley, and following the regular with an irregular firing. Our men fell on their bellies under the brow of the hill, the enemy not being in sight. The artillery could not be served because the gunners were not to be found.

Captain Stewart of Gen Stone's staff came with a message to Col Baker to hold his ground, as Gen Gorman, with 5000 men, was marching from Edwards Ferry to reinforce him. One company was advanced to the left, the direction from which Gen Gorman was expected. They were met with a yell and a volley as before, and fell back to the line. The hidden enemy now appeared to be in force on three sides of us, which, with the river at their back, disheartened the men. The line officers of the Massachusetts regiment ordered their companies to retreat, and the enemy coming out of the woods for the first time in sight, general confusion ensued. The men running to the waters edge, and finding no boats, rallied , ran up the hill, discharged two volleys, when an officer of the fifteenth tied a white handkerchief to his sword. The enemy ceased firing and took prisoners. Many escaped into the woods. Some swam for the island, others found small skiffs. Some were drowned, among them many of the wounded.."

It seems hardly possible that General Stone could have sent word that 5000 men, under Gen Gorman, were marching to reinforce Col Baker, for he knew as well as anybody else that General Gorman's brigade had not crossed the river. Col Baker was a very brave and capable man. His death is a serious disaster. Thinking of it, we are moved to repeat, that somebody blundered. This is not the first blunder of the kind by which our men have suffered. We hope it may be the last.

Every account shows that the officers of the regiment behaved admirably. Lieut. Colonel Ward, one of the most capable officers in the volunteer service, showed on this occasion that he was one of the bravest. We all understand that he would not flinch in the presence of the enemy. The same is true of the other officers who were killed or wounded. As for Col Devens, he behaved nobly throughout the whole engagement. He simply obeyed orders in undertaking the expedition that resulted so disastrously, but he showed great courage and capacity in the management of that bloody struggle with four times his number of the enemy. Much of the order, steadiness, and heroic endurance, with which the regiment maintained the conflict, was due to him and Lieut. Col Ward. Weak or cowardly leaders will take away the efficiency and spirit of any regiment. No such were engaged in leading that forlorn hope at Ball's Bluff.



15th Massachusetts VI