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Jan. 6, 2021

The Battle of Ball's Bluff

Union soldiers fleeing Confederate troops from The Educator Podcast: Walking History series episode The Battle of Ball's Bluff

In this episode of The Educator Podcast: Walking History we talk about the Battle of Ball's Bluff, a unique and often overlooked battle early in the Civil War that shook the North and saw the death of a sitting United States Senator.

The battle took place on October 21, 1861 at Ball's Bluff, Virginia, located on the edge of the Potomac River about 35 miles northwest of Washington DC at the edge of a bluff, or steep cliff, marked by rugged ravines to each side and a large, open field surrounded by forest above it. As we’ll see, this terrain, which would initially play to the Union force’s advantage, would eventually spell its demise.  

Want to jump ahead in the episode?

Summary of the Battle: 1:25
Interesting Facts: 2:45
Lead-up to the Battle: 5:00
Course of the Battle: 11:40
Visiting Today: 35:25

At the Battle of Ball’s Bluff forces of nearly identical strength fought each other in what eventually became a total rout of the Union troops, resulting in over 1000 casualties, over half the Union force. A sitting United States Senator and longtime friend of President Abraham Lincoln was killed, the first and only time a member of congress has been killed in battle in American history. These dual losses lead to embarrassment and widespread concern in the North and had political ramifications that would be felt for the remainder of the war. It also helped make even clearer that this would not be the quick, painless war most Americans had initially expected, but one in which both sides were deeply entrenched, could last years, and would cause a brutal loss of life, widespread destruction, and massive social upheaval.  

In The Educator Podcast: Walking History series we explore the history around us by actually walking it. Curious to explore the battlefield yourself? This episode will tell you all about how and what you can expect if you visit this remarkably well-preserved battlefield today. 

Useful links:

Ball's Bluff Battlefield Regional Park
The Battle of Ball's Bluff - Essential Civil War Curriculum
Friends of Ball's Bluff

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