Category Archives: Battle of Ball’s Bluff

1861: Luther H. Winship to Elizabeth (Hinman) Winship

I could not find an image of Luther but here is one of Reuben Hendrickson of Co. F, 27th Indiana Infantry. He was wounded on July 3rd at Gettysburg and killed at Resaca, Georgia in 1864.

The following letter was written by Luther H. Winship (1841-1861), a wagoner in Co. C, 27th Indiana Infantry. (His name appears as Windship in company rolls.) The 27th Indiana was organized at Indianapolis and mustered in on 12 September 1861. They were transported to the Upper Potomac where they were attached to Stiles’ Brigade, Banks’ Division, of the Army of the Potomac.

Luther was the son of Martin L. Winship (1800-Bef1860) and Elizabeth Hinman (1805-Aft1861). In the 1860 US Census, Luther was enumerated with his 53 year-old mother and his 28 year-old sister, Catherine M. Winship in Ninevah, Bartholomew county, Indiana.

Unfortunately Luther did not survive the war; he didn’t even survive the year. He died on 29 December 1861 at Frederick, Maryland. He has a grave marker in Haw Creek Cemetery at Hope, Indiana, but whether his body was actually buried there is unknown.

Luther’s letter includes a great description of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff which took place on 21 October 1861. Contrary to a long-held traditional interpretation, the Union launched attack did not come from a plan by McClellan or Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone to take Leesburg. The initial crossing of troops was a small reconnaissance. That was followed by what was intended to be a raiding party.┬áTo make matters worse, Stone was not advised that McCall and his division had been ordered back to Washington. Though the 27th Indiana did not participate in the battle, Luther—with the regimental wagon train—was on the Maryland side of the Potomac not long after the battle and was an eye-witness to the treatment of wounded survivors who were being attended to in a Maryland church turned hospital.


Mud Creek, Maryland
October 27th [1861]

I have not had time to write for several days before for we have been moving for the last week. We started from Camp Hamilton [at Darnestown, Maryland] last Tuesday [the 22nd]. Have been out to Edwards’ Ferry and the Lord knows where and tonight we are within two miles of our old camp on our way [to] someplace else. We have had a hard time of it, you better believe, but it is over. Our wagon master got out of the road and we drove a day’s drive out of our way and it left the regiment without anything to eat for two days right in sight of the Rebel army and within bomb distance of them but the boys killed hogs, cows, and took roasting ears and lived fat—only they had no tents. We had plenty to eat with us but didn’t take time to cook it. [We] drove for 48 hours and only rested four. I ate raw bacon and bread and drank water with one exception—when we stopped to feed.

But enough about our own suffering. You will see before this about the regiment that was murdered here a few days ago and I will send you the straight of it if I don’t. It crossed the river by itself and was to be reinforced but it rained so it could not be done. It went into the slaughter pen unconscious of this fact against 8,000 men and fought till one third of them bit the dust when they retreated for an island [Harrison’s Island] in the river but there was not boats enough for them and some attempted to swim and they fired on them in the water and there was 150 of them that sunk to rise no more, either from lead or drowned. Those that did get through said the most was drowned so at least one half of the regiment is gone.

Union soldiers carry the body of Colonel Edward Baker as they retreat during the fighting at Ball’s Bluff.

Colonel [Edward D. Baker] is dead. Lieutenant-Colonel had his leg shot off. I seen him myself and a hundred more that was wounded. The floor of the church they were in was slippery with blood. My heart was sick as I passed amongst them giving them water and then that could eat some of my own scanty store of provisions. I seen any amount of men pass our camp that night naked that had swam the river and what few of us that was there made coffee the whole four hours we laid there for them. Although I had not slept for the longest time I ever went, [I] was not sleepy then at all. I must close for we have to march in the morning early and I must sleep. — yours son.

Mother, I am well. One of our men shot one of his mess mates yesterday accidentally.

I must tell you how I spent my last or next to last 20 cents today. As I came along by a garden that had cabbage in it—the first I have seen since I left home—and I asked the lady how she sold it and she said as long as I was a soldier, I might have it for 8 cents a head and I took two at that and four light biscuits at a cent apiece. There were a cheap dinner for a fellow that lives on crackers.

We are now on our road towards Washington City but don’t know our destination. After we get settled, I will write you the particulars of this march and this fight of which I spoke.

I haven’t had any news from [home?] since the 12th. Think [it] rather strange for we get the mail two times a week at present. Excuse bad writing for I have to write on my knee tonight. Give my love to all my friends and be careful not to anyone else. I remain your unworthy son, — L. H. Winship

To my mother.

The man that got shot was on picket on the river and the one halted the other but he did not hear and he thought he was a rebel so fired a shot through his head.