To hell with Thermopylae. Why do I even need to say that?
I say this as an infantryman who once faced (modern) spartans - facing them not as a small P persian but as a small A athenian. The Thermopylae of history may be a paradigm for spartans across eternity but are you that eternal spartan? Do you even know what an (historical) Spartan was? Is this vicarious identification offered you by moviemakers sensible, decent, or authentic?
My friends, some Hollywood talespinners have inveigled you into the worst sort of ACW-type of nonsense.
Ball's Bluff is the appropriate paradigm for all small A athenians. Die on your own terms with no hope of turning the battle, no paeans, no glimmer of success. The best men from the best backgrounds led by the best of motives came to grief with no recourse, no court of higher appeals, no redemption trancending their own personal honor, decency, and spiritual destinies. There was no history to appeal to - they were writing it.
No one could ever say, "This chap, at least, did a great job at Ball's Bluff." These Union men died in a fiasco.
I went into this briefly with Gerald Prokopowicz when I said that McClellan's wartime story was our daily reality, our truth, while Grant's story is our fantasy, an indecent lie that sustains us. Ball's Bluff is McClellan's fate writ large; it is often the best we can hope for and defpite being a fizzle demands no less from us than would a glorious victory.
The defeated at Ball's Bluff did not kill enough (p)ersians to earn a screenplay but they earned a few words from Emily Dickinson (right). My punctuation and capitalization:
My portion is defeat today
A paler luck than victory
Less paeans - fewer bells
The drums don't follow me with tunes
Defeat - a somewhat slower means
More arduous than balls
'Tis populous with bone and stain
And men too straight to stoop again
And piles of solid moan
And chips of blank
in boyish eyes
And scraps of prayer
and death's surprise
stamped visible in stone
There's somewhat prouder, over there
The trumpets tell it to the air
How different victory to him who has it
and the one who to have had it,
would have been contenteder to die.