Narrative of a Private Soldier » Chapter I » Battle of Ball’s Bluff

My great-great-grandfather, Charles Lewis Francis, arrived from Wales in 1860, at age 17, and shortly thereafter participated in the action of the Civil War. In 1879, he wrote and published a memoir of this period. I’ve scanned in the text and made it available as raw PDF scans and as an incomplete full-text PDF. As I correct the OCR’d chapters, I’ll be posting the sections to my blog. This is the fourth section of Chapter I.

After General McClellan assumed command, and had reorganized the army, there was a grand review of the troops held at Ball’s Cross Roads. In order to get there we first had to procure a formidable pass from the Headquarters of the Army, and this pass was made no less formidable by the oath attached to it then by the terrible looking signature placed at the bottom. It was that of “Drake De Kay,” who was an aide-de-camp at headquarters. I am sorry I have lost that pass, because it would now be a real curiosity, and I would have liked very much to have been able to give a copy of it in this place. However, armed with this formidable pass, I went with the rest of the sightseers, crossed the river at Georgetown, thence to Munson’s Hill in Virginia, where our people had a signal station communicating with another situated on the top of the dome of the Capitol.

From there we went to Ball’s Cross Roads, but I saw no Ball’s or other notable crossroads. I simply saw from a favorable position immense masses of troops of all arms: long lines of infantry, now in echelon, now in masses, and again formed into line of battle extending for miles, and at times two or three deep. Squadrons and regiments of cavalry galloped through openings in the woods, crossed the depressions, and quickly disappeared into other openings in the forests; then whole parks of artillery dashed into the fields, and in and out through the woods, meanwhile performing the most intricate and mysterious of manouevers.

One time I thought that the hill we were standing upon was to be carried by storm, but a division of New York troopers flanked us and passed on. It was an awfully grand sight, and fascinated me. I could not help fixing my gaze upon the scene before and on both sides of me. There was everything of real battle except smoke, noise, and suffering. The generals and their staff officers were gayly dressed, and the horses they rode reared and pranced as if they were conscious of the fact that the eyes of the civilized world were upon then, and that the great majority of men trusted and expected that their riders would be carried upon their backs to victory and triumph. It was a beautiful day, clear and cold, and the sun shining upon the well burnished arms and accoutrments of the men, withal, made a picture with which the finest I ever saw on canvas was not to be compared for beauty.

I saw the youthful commander twice on that day. He was surrounded by a hundred staff officers, while scores more were flying hither and thither with orders to the different division commanders. His escort consisted of about five hundred picked troopers, and this body guard prevented us from getting too near their chief. He himself stood up with a glass almost continually at his eye, and, if he thought to making a striking picture of himself, I must say that he succeeded in impressing me by his attitude and reminding me of a famous picture of his alleged prototype.

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