The Death of Senator Edward D. Baker
Birth of a Congressional Committee

     The orders of Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone commanding the Corps of Observation on the Upper Potomac River in the fall of 1861 were simply to keep a close eye on the Confederate Forces under Brigadier General Nathan "Shanks" Evans concentrated about Leesburg, Virginia. The object was to drive them out when Major General George McClellan had concentrated a force under Brigadier General McCall at Dranesville, a slight demonstration from across the river may be enough to push the rebels out.

     General Stone selected Colonel Edward D. "Ned" Baker, a sitting Senator, of the State of Oregon, lawyer and personal friend of the President's to cross the river and command the operation intended. The senator had been a novice at warfare, never formally accepting his star of a brigadier on fear of losing his seat in congress, and believed the words demonstration and battle were synonymous.
     While proud of bringing the Confederates to battle atop Ball's Bluff just outside of Leesburg, the colonels serving under him could not believe the predicament he placed his entire command in. Fighting across an open field among the woods, his small body of troops had their backs to the Potomac River, only fifty yards to their rear with roughly a fifty to one hundred foot cliff between them and the river below. His left flank was completely in air.
     Colonel Milton Cogswell then, commanding the 42nd New York Infantry called Baker's attention to this discrepancy only too late. Only minutes later the Mississippi Regiments under Brigadier General William Barksdale occupied it placing Baker into a precarious position.

     About five o'clock that evening as the battle had been winding down, Colonel Baker stood not only watching, but allowing a rebel officer on horse back to cross the field at a walk. He had done nothing to stop the event. Before the officer's intent was known to Baker, a cavalry revolver was raised to the colonel's head and unloaded in quick succession six times.
     The reporting of Colonel Baker's death after the battle was received in Washington with great alarm. A United States Senator and friend of the President of the United States was killed on the field of battle. His death must be answered for, and the Radical Republicans in Congress began an investigation to collect the facts behind his death.

     It was the birth of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of War. After testimony was heard on the matter from Generals Stone, McClellan, and a large collection of other personal witnesses to the affair, they set out to arrest Brigadier General Pomeroy Stone. It was done by federal troops in the middle of February 1862 night. He was quickly shuffled off to Fort Lafayette where he was imprisoned without formal charge for six months.
     Upon Stone's release, General McClellan did not wish to have him back among his ranks and he was briefly sent out west. He never had been able to clear his own name of any wrong doing whatsoever.

     The Joint Congressional Committee would continue to hear testimony regarding other matters pertaining to the war from there on out. It would continue on from the 19th and throughout the 20th Century and is still with us today, born to the investigation of the battlefield death of Colonel Edward D. Baker, lawyer and personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2001

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