Saturday, October 3, 2009

Captain Chase Philbrick

This man happens to be the reason the Battle of Ball's Bluff even took place. Not that HE did anything wrong, but it was the start of a chain of events that just kept snowballing....leading straight to the battle itself. It was an overwhelming Confederate victory and the end result was the forming of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. All this for a little mistake.

It all started on October 20, 1861. There had been a lot of troop movement on both sides of the Potomac River....nothing serious, just a lot of movement. Keep in mind, this was three months after the 1st Battle of Manassas. The majority of the troops had never been in a war...nor a battle....before and these events were all new to them.

So, around midnight on the 20th....going into the 21st....Chase Philbrick and about 20 men were sent across the Potomac River to see just what was happening in Leesburg. Were the Confederates there or not? So, the men got to the other side of the River (after crossing Harrison's Island) and took the cow path up the side of the bluff. They walked across the field and followed the cart path to the top of a hill (today, it is in the area where the housing development ends and the park begins).

When they reached the top of the hill, they used the moon light to look down into Leesburg to see if there were campfires, movement, etc. They stood and looked. Suddenly they saw tents....quite a few of in the distance. But there was no movement, no campfires, nothing to make them believe that they were being used. So, Captain Philbrick took his men, they recrossed the river and the Island and told what they had seen.

The next morning, as the sun came up, a group of 100+ men, recrossed the river and the island, followed the same path that the Philbrick group had followed and recrossed the field via the cart path. When they got to the top of the hill, they looked towards where Philbrick and his men saw the abandoned tents (which they were sent to raid) and realized that what the men saw in the moonlight were actually trees.

So, disappointed, the men went back to the bluff and waited while one man recrossed the river and the island, and report what they had found. Now, at this point, I should mention that if the entire group had recrossed the river, this reconnaissance mission would be a footnote in the annals of history....something that very few, if any, would ever remember. But they didn't cross it....they stayed.

While they were waiting for word on what to do, the Union troops had a little run in with some Confederates out on patrol. And to make a long story short, the Battle of Ball's Bluff had begun. This is a lesson that we all can learn from, when we do something (even if it seems to be something really not crossing a river) the results can effect us for the rest of our lives. Many, many men were killed and wounded during this battle....all because they mistook some trees for a tent.

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