Civil War Book Review: A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 – 22, 1861

by James Durney on September 12, 2011 · 2 comments

A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 – 22, 1861
by James Morgan

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Savas Beatie; Rev Exp edition (July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611210666
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611210668

A little battle with a long shadow.

A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 - 22, 1861 by James MorganA minor event can cause a series of events that make history.  The specific event is quickly lost as the series of events come to life and the result occurs.  The result is the important event that makes history.  We may find mention of the minor event in a good history.  If you wish to learn more, you will find few detailed studies.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff is a very minor event in the American Civil War.  In terms of a “battle”, about 3,500 are involved on both sides, hardly qualifying as major skirmish in four years.  Depending on who is speaking, the “battle” is a slight demonstration, a reconnaissance in force or an attempt to occupy Leesburg.  Whatever it was, it became a disaster for the Union force.  They lost over half of the men involved, as once again a Union force fled the field of battle.  Confederate losses were about ten percent of the Union’s and they captured about 500 prisoners.  Defeat at Ball’s Bluff following defeats at Manassas and Wilson’s Creek deepen the gloom in America.  To make things worse, Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of President Lincoln, is killed leading a regiment.

This poorly planned unintended battle suffers from a lack specific objectives.  Everyone tries to evade responsibility in the aftermath.  McClellan has evidence that the army is not ready to enter the field.  Lincoln starts to question his officer’s abilities as he mourns Baker.  The congressional Radical Republicans are certain the West Point officers lack zeal.  The Confederate’s view of Yankee shopkeepers deepens as their moral climbs.  The Union solider in the East suffers a second bad defeat in three months.  The battle of Ball’s Bluff brings the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War into being.  What had been private mussing, discussions over dinner or dissatisfaction flares into a witch-hunt that bedevils the administration and the army for the length of the war.

What is the Battle of Ball’s Bluff?  What was the overall plan, if one existed?  What happened on the field?  This book answers our questions by providing an in-depth look at this operation.  The author answers, to the extent possible, the questions that have existed for 150 years.  The eight chapters cover the lack of planning, objectives, information and fighting in detail.  With so few units and such a tight space, the action is easy to follow.  The author writes in a direct descriptive prose that is clear, informative and very readable.  Maps and illustrations are in the right places and easy to follow.  An Epilogue follows the participants through life making them more than names that exist for a few hours.  Seven Appendixes cover Order of Battle, provide in-depth answers to some questions, a look at the Memorials and the battlefield.  Of great use is a walking tour of the park and a look at “why”.

In 2004, Ironclad first published this book.  Savas Beatie did not “reprint the Ironclad edition”!  You will find two Forwards as these are two different books on the same subject.  Since 2004, new material became available that is incorporated into this edition.  Expanding the size of the book allows for more biographical information, anecdotes and illustrations.    The walking tour is new reflecting the improvements made to the park.  Having the 2004 edition on your shelf is not a reason to ignore this book.

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Savas Beatie September 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm

As always, thanks for your kind support of our books. We appreciate it very much!
— Savas Beatie LLC


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