Civil War Photo Contest
Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
The waterfall seen here was before and during the Civil War a well-known feature occurring on the north shore of the Potomac River in Western (now West) Virginia that marked the site of an important ford. Also known as the Battle of Hoke's Run in the North, Falling Waters gave its name to the South for one of the first "battles" - a skirmish, really - of the war and the first to be commanded on the Southern side by an eccentric professor from the Virginia Military Institute, Col. Thomas J. Jackson, newly-appointed to lead a brigade of Virginia Volunteer regiments.
In Spring, 1861, Jackson held department command in the extreme north of the state, separated from neighboring Maryland by the Potomac River and stretching from Harpers Ferry westward north of Martinsburg. He was superseded in his post by another Virginian, Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, retaining command of his brigade of fewer than 4,000 men, which took post just north of Martinsburg at Camp Stephens. This part of Maryland had already been occupied by Northern troops from Pennsylvania and states from the Old Northwest led by Pennsylvania militia General Robert Patterson, like Federal Commanding General Winfield Scott, a veteran of both the War of 1812 and Mexico. Patterson had retired from the Regular Army but returned to the colors when war broke out.
Patterson's orders were to use his 18,000 men to prevent the 11,000 now led by Johnston from reinforcing Brig. Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard at Manassas Junction near the Federal Capital. In the early morning hours of July 2, 1861, his men began to cross the Potomac at the ford near the mouth of the creek above, only yards from the waterfall. Unopposed, they soon approached the nearby village of Falling Waters. Meanwhile, Jackson learned of the crossing and set out with only the 5th Virginia and the four-gun Rockbridge Artillery of his brigade; the 2nd and 4th Virginia were left with orders to stand ready if called, and the 27th Virginia was set to loading baggage into wagons in case it became necessary to retreat.Jackson also took along some of the 1st Virginia Cavalry under their Lt. Col. James E. B. Stuart to cover his flank as he advanced.
Leaving three of Capt. William N. Pendleton's guns a short distance in the rear, Jackson continued on with 350 men of the 5th and a single cannon. Two companies were placed in and around the house and barn of local Unionist William Porterfield, above, which stands on the Valley Turnpike, now U.S. 11 a few miles south of the Potomac crossing site. Patterson's leading brigade, under his son-in-law J. J. Abercrombie, advanced cautiously, grossly overestimating Jackson's force at ten times its actual number. Jackson was under orders from the equally cautious Joe Johnston not to bring on a general engagement, so withdrew after about an hour's fighting, most of it at long range. Jackson had followed his instructions to determine the size of the enemy force, falling back on his main body at Camp Stephens which he then abandoned for a position south of Martinsburg where he was joined by Johnston and the rest of his army. Casualty figures vary from a couple of dozen to as many as a hundred or so for each side, but between those numbers is likely.
Meanwhile, Stuart, while covering Jackson's left flank, had managed to capture a fifty-man company of Indiana infantry by himself; his blue Regular Army uniform confused them until it was too late! To his everlasting calumny, Patterson did not pursue the retreating Jackson past Camp Stephens, which he reached the same afternoon. He seems to have felt he had done all he could, and that it was enough to pin the Confederates in place. Johnston waited until July 8 for the attack which never came, then withdrew nearer Winchester; a little more than a week later, behind a screen of Stuart's cavalry, Johnston left the Valley to succor Beauregard at Manassas where together they won the first real battle of the Civil War.
This marker beside U.S. 11 commemorates one of the legends that sprung up around the future "Stonewall" Jackson. According to Corporal William Brown of the Rockbridge Artillery,
Seating himself on a large, loose, round stone on the north side of the road, he commenced to write... A shot from a Federal battery struck centrally, ten feet from the ground, a large white oak that stood in the fence corner close to Jackson and knocked a mass of bark, splinters and trash all over him and the paper on which he was writing. He brushed away the trash with the back of his hand, finished the dispatch without a sign that he knew anything unusual was going on, folded it, handed it to the courier and dismissed him courteously: "Carry this to General Johnston with my compliments, and see that you lose no time on the way."
Calm Under Fire by Mark Churms depicts an alternate version of this incident showing Jackson and his staff members mounted; copy of print available from the Falling Waters Battlefield Association: http://www.battleoffallingwaters.com/calmunderfire.htm