The Battle of Balls Bluff will be reenacted in Balls Bluff VA in 2011 as part of the 150th Civil War Anniversary.
It’s more than likely that you have not even hear of Balls Bluff or know of its significance in American history. Battles like Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam and Vicksburg are taught in American history classes and are much a part of our shared national memory of the Civil War. But for folks in the Balls Bluff region of Virginia recalling the 150th anniversary of the fighting of the “late War Between the States” means shining a spotlight on their local Civil War encounter: the Battle of Balls Bluff.
Prelude to the Battle at Balls Bluff
After the first land battle of the Civil War took place in Manassas, VA in July of 1861, both sides seemed to reconsider their hasty rush to battle. War there would surely be, but both North and South took time out to reassess their strengths and weakness and rebuild, equip and train their armies. The Battle of Balls Bluff, while not a battle of huge proportions when viewed through the prism of time was a battle that set momentum for the first year of the war clearly on the side of the Confederacy. Balls Bluff seemed to mark the end of the waiting period and the beginning of what would end up being a 4 year conflict of colossal destruction and loss of life.
Why Balls Bluff.? The Battle of Balls Bluff was fought in a geographic area not well known to those living outside of Virginia or Maryland. The significance of the location is much easier to understand when you stand on the site itself. The Potomac River marks the boundary between Loudon County, VA and Montgomery County, MD. Along that watery boundary there were a number of crossing spots that could give advantage to the side that held them and attempted to cross the river. For this reason the area along the river was seen by both sides as pivotal.
As with many battles during the Civil War the jockeying for position along key strips of real estate eventually positioned troops in such a way that it was only a matter of time before human misjudgment and miscalculation would change feints, repositioning of troops and faulty intelligence into violent confrontation. Such was the case at Balls Bluff,VA on October 21, 1861.
A Second Confederate Triumph
The Battle of Balls Bluff took place as Union forces crossed the Potomac and attempted to probe the Confederate forces in the direction of Leesburg, a transportation and communication center several miles away. The Confederate forces used the terrain advantage provide by Balls Bluff and forced the Union forces back down the bluff and into the river. The end result of the Battle of Balls Bluff was a major Confederate victory and a sobering Union loss. Twice now the Union forces had attempted to oust Confederate forces from locations quite near to the Union capital in Washington and twice it was the Union forces that were repelled and sent into full scale retreat. At First Manassas and then the Battle of Balls Bluff Confederates had out smarted and out fought Federal troops.
What also stood out in the minds of all combatants and observers at the Battle of Balls Bluff was the human tragedy it produced. According to National Park Service statistics, at the Battle of Balls Bluff the Union sent in approximately 2,000 forces against the somewhat smaller Confederate forces who numbered only 1600. At the end of the battle Union casualties had risen to 921 while Confederate casualties were listed at 149. The victorious Confederate forces took some 700 Union solders prisoner, approximately one third of the forces that had been committed to the fray. One can only imagine the sense of accomplishment and superiority that must have swept across Confederate forces throughout Virginia when they heard of this stark Confederate victory against Union troops.
It is this Battle of Balls Buff that local Civil War enthusiasts and historians will commemorate in Oct , 2011. While reenactors have come to the area previously to re-stage the battle the location has always been away from the actual battle site. Because 2011 is the 150th Civil War anniversary year, the commemorative reenactment will be held at the actual site and will include approximately 1500 participants.
With the sesquicentennial reenactment more than a year away, lots of plans are still being finalized. But the reenactment of the Battle of Balls Bluff looks to be the kind of once in a lifetime event you will want to make plans to witness. You can keep up to date on the developing plans by continuing to check in on Civil War and Loudon History websites as well as Balls Bluff regional park website.