Fact #1: The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was the result of a “slight demonstration.”
Three months after the Battle of Bull Run, the Union and Confederate armies occupied a relatively stagnant front along the Potomac River. On the Virginia side of the river, Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans, commanding less than 3,000 men was increasingly concerned about being flanked by the growing numbers of Federals gathering across the river. A minor skirmish in the direction of Harper’s Ferry on October 16, 1861 only added to Evans’ fears, and prompted the Confederate to abandon his position at Leesburg.
Opposing Evans was Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone’s Corps of Observation, whose primary mission was to monitor Confederate movements. When Stone’s men reported Evans’ withdrawal, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan ordered the division of Brig. Gen. George McCall to advance to Edwards Ferry, but the cautious McClellan quickly rescinded the order. At the same time, McClellan ordered Stone to make a “slight demonstration”—a feint to ascertain Confederate intentions—along the Potomac on October 20. In the meantime, under orders from Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, Evans had returned to Leesburg, setting the stage for the battle that followed.