Ball's Bluff National Cemetery

Ball's Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery

Ball's Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery is a battlefield area and a national cemetery, located in Ball's Bluff Battlefield Regional Park, two miles (3 km) northeast of Leesburg, Virginia. The cemetery is the smallest national cemetery in the United States. 54 Union dead from the Battle of Ball's Bluff are interned in 25 graves in the half-acre cemetery. The identity of all of the interred except for one, James Allen of the 15 Mass. Infantry, are unknown. Monuments to Clinton Hatcher, CSA and General Edward Baker USA are located in the cemetery. The cemetery is managed through the Culpeper National Cemetery.


The Battle of Ball's Bluff, on October 21, 1861, was a small but embarrassing defeat for the Union early in the American Civil War, three months after the Union disaster at the First Battle of Bull Run. It reflected upon the political nature of Union appointments of officers, and their incompetence, and led to further compounding of politics in conduct of the war for its duration.

In the incident, a sitting U.S. Senator, Colonel Edward D. Baker, who was just pondering an offer of major generalship, directed Union troops to make a landing on the West side of the Potomac River, while the Confederates waited inland and built up a force. The Union troops positioned themselves poorly. Eventually the Confederates attacked, killed Baker, and pushed the Union troops off the cliffs and into the river, capturing 553. Only a transport that capsized and 3 small boats that could carry 10 men each were available, and had ferried Union troops into the trap over the course of many hours, so rapid evacuation was impossible. Some swam across to Harrison Island, but 161 were missing, many drowned, and bodies of Union troops who had drowned floated downstream towards Washington, D.C.


The significance of the battle is largely in its political consequences. A Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was formed, with investigative powers, was formed to examine the causes of the debacle. Such congressional investigations, more common since, had only very weak precedents at the time. The committee's operations were an aggravation, at least, for the duration of the war, and ruined the career of General Stone. General McClellan, who was responsible at a larger level and had issued vague orders early on, escaped blame.

Cemetery, Landmark, Park

The land for a cemetery was donated in 1865.

The battlefield area was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1984. At that time the tall bluff, the landing on the Potomac River, and almost all aspects of the site were substantially the same as the time of the battle 123 years before. An "intrusion" is the wall-enclosed Ball's Bluff National Cemetery, holding 54 graves of Union dead (53 unknown, and James Allen of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry). Another intrusion is a fenced approach road built in 1907. A grave marker for Confederate soldier Clinton Hatcher, of the 8th Virginia Regiment, and a marker of the site of Baker's mortal wounding, are nearby.

Ball's Bluff National Cemetery is the only national cemetery in which the Flag of the United States is not regularly flown due to repeated acts of vandalism against the flag at the site throughout its history.

The park is maintained by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.


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