The Battle of Balls Bluff was fought on the steep, rocky shores of the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia, in October of 1861. Following the devastating Union defeat (in which one of Abraham Lincoln's closest friends lost his life), a Confederate officer was heard to say that "fewer of the Massachusetts officers would have been killed, had they not been too proud to surrender". This poem, written by General Lander as a response to that allegation, mentions several of those officers by name, including the grandson of Paul Revere and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
By war's end, the 20th Massachusetts (also known as "the Harvard Regiment") had suffered more casualties than any other Massachusetts regiment, answering the question posed by the last line of the poem.
Thanks to Bob Dames, Webmaster of the Harvard Regiment Web site, for permission to reproduce this poem from his page.