Confederate and Union troops met in battle at Ball Bluff in 1861. A Union raiding party crossed the Potomac at Ball Bluff with the mission of raiding a Confederate camp that was actually a row of trees that had been mistaken for tents.
While awaiting their new orders, the Union raiders encountered a Confederate patrol and in the ensuing skirmish were driven down the steeply sloping bluff and into the Potomac River.
Many drowned, weighed down by their clothes and ammunition, while others were shot by Confederate troops firing down from the top of the bluff. The bodies of Union soldiers washed ashore downstream in Washington, D.C. for days following the battle. As a result, the U.S. Congress created a committee that developed standards on the conduct of war.
The Ball's Bluff National Cemetery, one of the nation's smallest military cemeteries, was established in 1865 as the burial place of 54 Union casualties of the battle; only one of whom has been identified. A memorial to Union commander Col. Edward D. Baker, a close friend of President Lincoln who was killed during the battle, is located at the cemetery.
The cemetery and battlefield are part of the 223-acre Ball's Bluff Regional Battlefield Park. A one-mile long loop trail features displays interpreting the battle; self-guided tour brochures are available at a kiosk near the park entrance and audio tours can be downloaded from the park website. Civil War re-enactments and special events are scheduled periodically.