Edward Dickinson Baker
Edward Baker was born in London, England in 1811. His parents were both Quakers and his father was a school teacher. The family immigrated to the United States when Edward was about five years old. His father opened a school in Philadelphia. Eventually, the family would migrate to Illinois. By 1831, Baker had become a lawyer.
Baker would see action in the Black Hawk War in 1832. He would be elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and eventually the Illinois State Congress. During his time in Illinois, he would become close friends with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln named one of his sons Edward Baker Lincoln after his friend, although the boy would die before the age of four.
He would leave politics briefly to fight in the Mexican War where he saw action on several battlefields serving as a colonel. In 1851, Baker would move to California where he continued with his law practice. He was famous for his elaborate speaking skill and flourish for the dramatic. In 1860 he would move again, this time to the state of Oregon where he would be elected to the United States Senate.
When the Civil War began, Baker began to raise a regiment to represent the state of California. Most of the regiment was recruited from Philadelphia however. Lincoln offered Baker a commission as a general, but Baker refused to accept the assignment from his longtime friend. There was a law in place that meant Baker would have to resign from the Senate if he became a general. Baker loved to stand before the Senate making speeches in favor of the war adorned in his uniform.
Colonel and Senator Baker
He soon was placed in command of an infantry brigade guarding a crossing of the Potomac River. His superior General Charles Stone ordered him to cross the river and push the Confederate's located on the high ground back. Baker was forced to ferry his men across the river in boats. Once across, he would be forced to fight on a bluff with his back to a river.
As he reached the top of the steep winding path, he greeted a fellow officer with the comment. "One blast upon your bugle horn is worth a thousand men."
Men were falling all around him, but Baker refused to lie down. He even remarked to one soldier, "When you become a United States Senator, you'll not lie down either."
Baker continued to pace back in forth in front of his men. Suddenly, a group of Confederate soldiers charged from the trees. A large red-haired boy aimed a revolver at Baker and fired five or six shots. Abraham Lincoln's friend was killed instantly. The Confederate soldiers ran forward and attempted to take Baker's sword. They were all shot down, including the red-haired boy who had killed their leader. His body was then taken down the bluff and carried by boat across the river.
Death of Edward Baker
The battle soon turned into a disaster as the Confederates pushed the Federal troops down the bluff and to the edge of the water. There weren't enough boats to ferry the men back and soon the Federal infantry panicked. Many were pushed into the water and the Confederates began to pour fire off the bluff into the mob. It was like shooting fish in a barrel as the saying goes. (More on this in another blog.)
Spot at Ball's Bluff where Baker was killed
Abraham Lincoln cried upon hearing of the death of his dear friend. His wife, however caused quite a scandal when she attended the funeral wearing a dress with flowers instead of the traditional black mourning dress. She asked, "Do the women of Washington expect me to adorn myself in mourning for ever soldier killed in this war?"
Grave of Edward Baker
Edward Baker's body was carried to San Francisco and buried in the National Cemetery there. He was fifty years old. He believed himself to be a great commander, but his friends believed his talents lay in public speaking and politics.