Writing to his wife on October 25, 1861, George McClellan offered some fascinating thoughts on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, fought just a few days prior on October 21. While McClellan had played some role in the battle, considering he had authorized Brigadier General Charles Stone to commence a small demonstration against Confederate troops near Leesburg, the battle itself was an entirely different matter. In searching for the culprit responsible for the debacle, McClellan looked past Stone when determining who was at fault. While Stone was excoriated by scores of politicians, McClellan instead turned his blame to the late Baker, a close personal friend of Lincoln’s. McClellan’s letter shows both a human side to the man, as well as an important opinion on what exactly went wrong at Ball’s Bluff.
George Brinton McClellan to his wife, Mary Ellen McClellan
October 25, 1861
…How weary I am of all this business—case after case—blunder after blunder—trick upon trick—I am well nigh tired of the world, and were it not for you would be fully so.
That affair of Leesburg on Monday last was a terrible butchery—the men fought nobly, but were penned up by a vastly superior force in a place where they had no retreat. The whole thing took place some 40 miles from here without my orders or knowledge—it was entirely unauthorized by me and I am in no manner responsible for it.
The man directly to blame for the affair was Col. Baker who was killed—he was in command, disregarded entirely the instructions he had received from Stone, and violated all military rules and precautions. Instead of meeting the enemy with double their force and a good ferry behind him, he was outnumbered three to one, and had no means of retreat. Cogswell (Colonel Milton Cogswell, 42nd New York) is a prisoner—he behaved very handsomely. Raymond Lee (Colonel Raymond Lee, 20th Massachusetts) is also taken. We lost 79 killed, 141 wounded, and probably 400 wounded and prisoners—stragglers are constantly coming in however, so that the number of missing is gradually being decreased and may not go beyond 300 (McClellan’s casualty figures were off by quite a bit: 49 killed, 158 wounded, 714 missing). I found things in great confusion when I arrived there—General Banks having assumed command and having done nothing. In a very short time order and confidence were restored. During the night I withdrew everything and everybody to this side of the river—which I truth they never should have left….