Ball’s Bluff was a Union tragedy of errors. First, sent across the Potomac to reconnoitre, a unit of the Corps of Observation ‘observed’ a line of trees to be a rebel encampment. By the time the mistake was discovered, California Senator Baker had ordered his brigade across the river; with just four small boats for the purpose they swiftly became log-jammed. All this Union activity drew the attention of ‘Shanks’ Evans (nicknamed for his spindly knock-knees) and his Mississippi Infantry. Surrounding the Union troops, they drove them remorselessly towards the Bluff where they were cornered: ‘a kind of shiver ran through the huddled mass on the brow of the cliff…then, in one wide panic-stricken herd, (it) rolled, tumbled, fell over the precipice’. Baker was killed, the only US Senator to die in battle. Many Union soldiers drowned. Hard-drinking, brawling ‘Shanks’ became a high-school principal after the war.
— OR —