A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Ball's Bluff

"Does It Awaken You to the Fact that Politicians are not Generals?"

Intended as a “slight demonstration,” the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, fought on 21 October 1861, was a cruel introduction to war and its blunders for the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment—known as the “Harvard Regiment” because of its well-educated, socially-elite officers. In this, the regiment’s first engagement, the death of Lt. William Lowell Putnam came to symbolize the newfound horror of war and the sacrifices it demanded of them.

Views of Ball's Bluff

"Battle of Ball's Bluff Fought Oct 21. 1861. Map Showing Position of Troops between ..."
Map This map show the position of soldiers on the day of the Battle of Ball's Bluff, outside of Leesburg, Va.
"Cliff at Ball's Bluff opposite Harrison's Island"
Engraving This engraving depicts the steep cliff at Ball's Bluff and conveys how this location became a natural trap for the Northern soldiers.

Eyewitness Accounts of this Battle

Letter from Caspar Crowninshield to Harriet Sears Crowninshield, 22 October ...
In this letter to his mother, written the day after the battle, Caspar Crowninshield describes the Battle of Ball's Bluff, which was fought in Loudon County, Virginia, on 21 October 1861.
Capt. Caspar Crowninshield
Carte de visite by James Wallace Black, 1862 This carte de visite depicts Caspar Crowninsheild, a captain in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry.
Letter from Wilder Dwight to Elizabeth A. Dwight, 24 October 1861
In this letter written by Wilder Dwight to his mother, he criticizes "the massacre near Leesburg" at Ball's Bluff when he asks, "Does it awaken you to the fact that politicians are not generals?"
Wilder Dwight
Carte de visite by John Adams Whipple, 1862 Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment died on 19 September 1862 of wounds received at the Battle of Antietam.

Two of the Casualties

The Vacant Chair
Broadside This song was inspired by the death of eighteen-year-old lt. John William ("Willie") Grout, who died in the Battle of Ball's Bluff.
William Lowell Putnam
Carte de visite by John Adams Whipple, 1861 This carte de visite photograph depicts William Lowell Putnam, who served in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. He died on 22 October 1861 of wounds received at the Battle of Ball's Bluff.