Description of the battle of Balls Bluff by Gen Henry Ward


Date Written

Nov. 10, 1861

History Referenced

Henry Clay Ward was 18 years old when this was written.
Henry Clay Ward died 64 years, 6 days after writing it.
It was written 161 years, 10 months, 25 days ago.
It was a Sunday.

Poolesville Nov 10th

Dear Friend Chas.

I received your letter some time since and you must excuse me for not answering it before for as you must know that I have been pretty well engaged for the past three weeks.

We have had a brush with the rebels as probably you are aware of, by this time the 15th have fought as I believe they never will again. the rebels have backed us up pretty well but there (sic) loss in killed and wounded is far greater than ours, although they had about six to our one.

My brother was struck in the leg by a Minnie ball which completely shattered it and made amputation necessary. He is now at a private house in Poolesville and is doing as well as can be expected. he says in three months time he shall be able to take the field again.

Your humble servant escaped with a white skin and that was all although my cloths were completely riddled with bullets. I do not see how a man ever managed to escape and I never could go through it again. We fought nine hours like n___, bullets flying around us like hail; they had a murdering rattle in them.

Sometimes there would be a lull in the firing and then the groans of the rebel wounded were awful. Most of our men dropped with scarcely a murmur on their lips, but when we retreated it was awful they had to order us to retreat several times before we would do it for there was nothing but death behind us, a wide river with only one mud scow to cross on.

But retreat we did and some went rolling heals over head down the bluff to the river and then plunged in with cloths equipment and all on poor fellows they either shot or drowned in the attempt a river quarter of a mile in width with a swift current is a hard stream to cross. I sat down on the bank and deliberately took my cloths off and then thought twice before plunging in but a terrible volley over my head made me start rather than be shot or taken prisoner, never expecting to reach the other shore. I took what little money and valuables I had and started and having reached midway the bullets whistled all around and many a poor fellow wen(t) under within three feet of myself. I went to the bottom twice before reaching the shore and when I did reach I thanked God for having spared me, but I was scarcely able to stand, but I met two of our boys on the shore who had swam acros and together we got blankets and started for camp a distance of 7 miles on a might cold night barefoot but we reached the camp after four hours walk on Tuesday morning Oct. 22nd and were the last one there.

Col. Devens the Major and Willie Grout and myself started together about midway Grout was struck in the back of the head with a ball and says he "Tell Co D that Lieut Grout was drowned," poor little fellow.

There are thirty missing out of our Company and 350 from reg.

Woe be to the Gen that sent across to the shore he did He will have to ans for it. The divil tries to lay it to Gen Baker but a braver man than Baker never lived and Gen Stone who commanded us instead of being with his command where he should have been, he was in the Maryland Shore witnessing it and sending dispatches to Gen Baker. All we wish is to get out of Gen Stones Brigade. He is not so popular as before the fight.

All we wish for now is a chance to meet the devils on nearly equal ground and we will revenge our comrades.

Quartermaster Howe found Willie Grout's body down near Chain Bridge, opposite Washington he had been picked up and buried four days ago. Howe had him dug up and could only recognize him by the marks on his clothing and letters in his pockets. He had him put in a coffin and sent home. Will probably be some relief to his father to get his body.

You must excuse me at present for not writing any more but I have several letters to write so I must bid you good bye. Give my love to all inquiring friends and write soon. From your friend Henry

Charles D. Tucker Esq.

Scans of Letter