The Arrest of Charles P. Stone

January 28, 1862 – Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issued orders to arrest Brigadier General Charles P. Stone for his role in the Ball’s Bluff fiasco the past October.

Brig Gen Charles P. Stone | Image Credit:
Brig Gen Charles P. Stone | Image Credit:

Stone, who had suspected that certain politicians in Washington sought to blame him for the defeat, had received assurances from General-in-Chief George B. McClellan that he had not been responsible. However, the Radical Republicans on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War were determined to use Stone’s anti-abolition political views against him.

Stone testified before the committee in early January. Following McClellan’s advice, he refused to divulge any information about upcoming army operations. This caused him to provide vague testimony that some construed as trying to hide wrongdoing. He was asked about orders he had issued in September directing his troops “not to incite and encourage insubordination among the colored servants in the neighborhood of the camps,” as well as rumors that he had returned fugitive slaves to their masters.

Stone answered that if he had issued such orders or returned fugitives, he had done so in Maryland, a Unionist state exempt from the Confiscation Act. Stone then described the Ball’s Bluff disaster, including mistakes made by Colonel Edward D. Baker, the former senator with no real military experience, who had been killed. Stone was not informed of any intention to levy charges against him.

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces
Maj Gen George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

Two days later, Stone learned that a congressman accused him of treason in the House of Representatives. He asked McClellan if he should request a “Court of Inquiry” to clear his name. McClellan advised against it, showing him the dispatch that he (McClellan) had sent to President Lincoln absolving Stone of blame in the Ball’s Bluff defeat.

Meanwhile, Joint Committee members continued questioning witnesses, often in confusing and misleading ways, to find evidence of Stone’s supposed unfitness for command. Some of Stone’s subordinates even testified–without proof–that Stone secretly met with Confederates just before the Ball’s Bluff engagement. It seemed that the committee, unable to implicate McClellan in the disaster due to his close relationship with Lincoln, was determined to persecute someone and focused on Stone instead.

Without allowing Stone the opportunity to examine the evidence against him or defend himself against the allegations, the committee issued a report blaming Stone for sending Baker across the Potomac, which led to the death of Baker and many of his men. This was good enough for Stanton, who was allied with the Radical committee members leading the charge in Stone’s condemnation.

Stanton directed McClellan to arrest Stone. Lincoln did nothing to stop Stanton’s order, only saying that he was thankful he “knew nothing of it until it was done.” McClellan initially refused to carry out the order unless it was in writing. He then summoned Stone to Washington and relieved him of command instead.

McClellan appeared before the Joint Committee and declared that Stone would not be arrested and deserved to confront his accusers. Stone angrily denounced the committee members accusing him of consorting with the enemy. This temporarily satisfied Stanton, but the issue would resurface the following month.



Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68-71; (multiple dates); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 108

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