James A. Morgan III is a Virginia-based author and tour guide who specializes in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, an October 1861 fight near Leesburg. Jim graciously hosted the York, Pennsylvania, Civil War Round Table for a tour of the battlefield on October 16, 2010, almost the 149th anniversary. Thirteen people tramped the grounds for more than three hours as Jim held court with his rapid-fire, entertaining style.
The York CWRT meets the third Wednesday of every month except December in the auditorium of the York County Heritage Trust at 250 E. Market Street in York.
We take occasional group outings and battlewalks, including this year’s journey down to the Old Dominion.
Jim takes the group to a seldom visited spot from which he described the three separate morning skirmishes that preceded the main fighting in the afternoon at Ball’s Bluff. This ground is all privately owned, but is relatively undeveloped and one can still gain a good appreciation for the terrain and tactical challenges the officers faced.
We have entered the woods on the main battlefield proper. At the time of the fighting, this was a very large, uneven 12-acre meadow with scattered trees. Efforts to strip out the trees to restore the battlefield to its desired 1861 appearance have met with resistance from certain environmentalists. As the son of a forester, I appreciate the beauty of trees and nature. I also understand battlefield preservation, and support the efforts to restore battlefields by planting trees and orchards where they were historically, and removing them from areas that should be pastures and meadows.
Ball’s Bluff has dozens of interpretive wayside markers to help the battlefield tramper get a grasp of the tactical and strategic situation, the key commanders and regiments involved in the battle, and the importance of the results.
The battlefield is a public park and is nicely criss-crossed with walking trails of varying lengths and difficulty. It is perched on the bluffs above the Potomac River, directly west of Harrison’s Island.
The National Cemetery contains the remains of Pvt. James Allen of the 15th Massachusetts and 53 unidentified Union soldiers. At least 223 Yankees died in the fighting or by drowning in the Potomac River. Many bodies were never recovered. One even washed up at Mount Vernon! Red stripes on the deceased’s pants identified him as a Union artilleryman.