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Death of Colonel Baker, steel engraving for Hurlbut Williams & Co., ca. 1862

On October 21, 1861, Senator Edward D(ickenson). Baker of Oregon was killed in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. His death and the Union defeat at Ball’s Bluff heightened pressure for a congressional inquiry into Union strategy. Baker remains the only sitting United States senator ever to die in combat.

Steel engraving by H. Wright Smith after a drawing by F.O.C. Darley

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Death of Colonel Baker, steel engraving for Hurlbut Williams & Co., ca. 1862

The Civil War

After Confederate victories early in the Civil War, some members of Congress wanted greater involvement in military policy and strategy. In December 1861 Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan introduced a resolution to investigate two particular Union defeats. Congress passed an amended resolution creating a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War with a broader mission. The committee, chaired by Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, extensively investigated many aspects of the Union effort. The committee’s published reports of its fact-finding were its greatest achievement.

We are not here a moment too soon. . . . If Wade & I fail in our mission the end is at hand

Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, Letter to Letitia Grace Douglass Chandler, October 27, 1861