A Little Short of Boats by James A. Morgan III

A Little Short of Boats: The Civil War Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21 – 22, 1861 by James Morgan III is an excellent analysis and description of two of the war’s earliest battles – the Battles of Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry. The book’s latest edition is revised with some updated information from Morgan’s further study of the Battle.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff (more action took place there than at Edwards Ferry) grew out of an order for Union General Charles P. Stone to make a “demonstration” in front of Confederate positions near Ball’s Bluff. This demonstration turned into a twelve-hour battle where hundreds of men were killed and wounded, a prominent friend of President Lincoln’s (Col. Edward D. Baker) was killed, and the promising career of Stone was ruined (Morgan succinctly and clearly explains how Stone was pointed out as a scapegoat by his detractors). As Morgan shows, if anyone was to blame, it was Baker for his lack of leadership and control of the battle.

Although Ball’s Bluff did not seem to have any tactical or strategic consequences, but it did have political repercussions way beyond the Battle. As a result of the Union’s bungling of this battle and the First Battle of Bull Run, Congress created the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War – which proved to be a major hindrance for Lincoln throughout the war.

Morgan clearly lays out how the battle progressed and the different units that participated on both sides. He equally criticizes and praises both sides. The Confederates were generally better led (overall command was under Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Evans) and organized than the Union – there was total confusion prior to Baker’s entrance on the battlefield. Morgan supports most of his arguments with diaries and official reports. However, when his opinion is not based on either source, he bases it on sound reason.

Scattered throughout the text, Morgan includes numerous maps and photographs of the participants. The maps are helpful in following the action depicted in the text. The reader gets a better understanding of the tactical situation as well.

Finally, Morgan includes seven appendices on various aspects surrounding the battles. The topics covered include the details surrounding Baker’s death and an interesting discussion on why the Battle of Ball’s Bluff even occurred.

This book is an excellent short, concise history of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff.

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