Loudoun County, VA | Oct 21, 1861
On the evening of October 20, 1861, Union army commander George B. McClellan ordered Gen. Charles Stone to send a scouting party across the Potomac River to identify the positions of Confederate Col. Nathan Evans’s troops near Leesburg. In the darkness the party’s inexperienced leader, Capt. Chase Philbrick, mistook a line of trees for a line of tents, and reported that he had stumbled across an unguarded Confederate camp. Early the next day, Col. Charles Devens was sent across the river to attack the camp, and after realizing that the supposed “camp” was nothing but a line of trees, his men encountered a company of Mississippi infantry and a skirmish began. Col. Edward Baker, a U.S. Senator, decided to reinforce Devens, but with only four small boats available to transport men, Union reinforcements arrived slowly. Evans used the Federal delay to organize his men, and when Col. Baker was killed in the afternoon, Union resistance crumbled. The victorious Confederates drove the Yankees over the bluff and into the Potomac, where many drowned and hundreds surrendered rather than risk escape into the river. The battle, while small in scale, had major political implications that would haunt the Union army for the rest of the war.