War of the Rebellion: Serial 005 Page 0302 OPERATIONS IN MD., N. VA., AND W. VA. Chapter XIV.

Search Civil War Official Records

I must now touch a point that I would gladly leave unnoticed, but which the friends of the late colonel, in their efforts to crush another, force to the light. The troops were most unfortunately posted, whether the intention was to drive the enemy or to hold the position assumed and await re-enforcements. Colonel Baker had on the field between 1,600 and 1,700 bayonets. A short distance in his rear was a steep bluff, and immediately behind that bluff the river Potomac. On his left was a valley, and on the opposite side of that valley (which opened on the river) was a wooded hill. This wooded hill, giving access to the rear of his left flank, might have been expected to be taken advantage of by an active enemy, and from the nature of the position a reserve could be valuable only at the edge of the bluff. Yet Colonel Baker sacrificed from his line four stout companies to form a reserve near the center, which reserve could do nothing in the battle but shoot down his own men in the line, and at the same time they were posted so near the line and so in the open ground as to be exposed to a galling fire from the enemy during the entire action.

A second reserve was posted near the opening of the valley guarding the left flank, the true point of defense of which was far in advance, and only two companies of skirmishers were thrown out to the left flank. The two companies were able to arrest the progress of an entire regiment moving to turn his left flank, and they bravely held that regiment at bay for 20 minutes, but were finally overcome and destroyed. How different the result would have been if his two reserves had been employed in extending his line to cover his weak point it is mournful now to think.

When the determined two companies of the California regiment brought an entire regiment on the charge to halt, and forced it first to open fire, and then to waver before their well-maintained fire from the wood, had the two reserves been there to charge, instead of standing idle lookers-on and yet exposed to a galling fire, the force which at last turned his left flank would have been thrown in confusion upon the enemy's right, and victory would have been Baker's, instead of defeat and death. As the troops were arranged on the field I feel that increased force would only have given us increased loss. The plain truth is that this brave and impetuous officer was determined at all hazards to bring on an action, and made use of the discretion allowed him to do it. Had his eye for advantage of ground in posting troops equaled his daring courage, he would have been to-day an honored, victorious general of the Republic, instead of a lamented statesman lost too soon to the country.

Very respectfully, I am, general, your most obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.



Edwards Ferry, October 20, 1861 - 11 p. m.

COLONEL: You will send the California regiment (less the camp guard) to Conrad's Ferry, to arrive there at sunrise and await orders. The men will take with them blankets and overcoats and forty rounds of ammunition in boxes, and will be followed by one day's rations in wagons. The remainder of the brigade will be held in readiness for