“[P]erhaps a small demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them,” wrote Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone on October 20, 1861. This simple telegram triggered a “demonstration” by General Stone that same afternoon that evolved into the bloody subject of A Little Short of Boats: The Battles of Ball’s Bluff & Edwards Ferry, October 21–22, 1861.
Opposing the Union effort was Brig. Gen. Nathan “Shanks” Evans’ small Confederate command at Leesburg. Reacting to the news of Federals crossing at Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, Evans focused on the former and began moving troops to the point where Col. Edward D. Baker’s troops were gathering. The Northern troops were on largely open ground, poorly organized, and with their backs to the wide river when the Southern infantry attacked. The twelve fitful hours of fighting that followed ended in one of the worst defeats (proportionally speaking) either side would suffer during the entire Civil War, wrecked a prominent Union general’s career, and killed Baker—a sitting United States senator and one of President Abraham Lincoln’s good friends. The disaster rocked a Northern populace already reeling from the recent defeats of Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek.
A Little Short of Boats sets forth the strategy behind the demonstration, the fighting and the key command decisions that triggered it, and the many colorful personalities involved. The bloody result, coupled with the political fallout, held the nation’s attention for weeks. The battle’s most important impact was also the least predictable: the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Ostensibly formed to seek out the causes of the string of defeats, the Joint Committee instead pushed the political agenda of the “Radical Republicans” and remained a thorn in Lincoln’s side for the rest of the war.
Gracefully written in a conversational style, this study is based upon extensive firsthand research and a full appreciation of the battlefield terrain. This fully revised and expanded sesquicentennial edition of A Little Short of Boats includes numerous photos and original maps to make sense of the complicated early-war combat. Seven appendices offer an order of battle, discussions of key participants and controversies, and a complete walking tour of the battlefield at Ball’s Bluff. This special edition will please Civil War enthusiasts who love tactical battle studies and remind them once again that very often in history, smaller affairs have important and lasting consequences.