Recently, I was poking around the area of Williamsport on the Potomac River and exploring the West Virginia and Maryland sides of the river. I’ve always wondered “What’s the deal with ‘Falling Waters’? Was it really a waterfall or just some place along the river?” The answer is: both.
Thanks to the help of a Civil War Trails sign, I was able to find the location, see some water falling, and get a deeper appreciation for what happened at this location. Most readers are probably familiar with Williamsport and Falling Waters in relation to the Gettysburg Campaign and Lee’s river crossing here, but I’d like to share a little summary about the 1861 fight that occurred near this location.
Fought on July 2, 1861, and usually overshadowed by the large-scale First Battle of Bull Run a couple of weeks later, the Battle of Falling Water (which is also known as the Battle of Hoke’s Run or the Battle of Hainesville) was the “first baptism of fire” for the not-yet-named Stonewall Brigade, commanded by Colonel Thomas J. Jackson. The Union regiments commanded by General Robert Patterson were trying to advance into the lower part of the Shenandoah Valley to prevent Confederates in that area from heading to the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
On the day of the battle—probably more accurately described as a skirmish—Patterson’s division headed down the road towards Martinsburg, Virginia (West Virginia) after crossing the Potomac River near Williamsport, Maryland. Near Falling Waters, Jackson’s brigade fought a delaying action, but were driven back. After accomplishing his ordered objective to delay Patterson’s advance, Jackson intentionally pulled back his brigade. Casualty numbers for the fight are not exact, but likely in the range of 70 killed, wounded, captured for the Union and at least 23 killed and wounded on the Confederate side.
Patterson reached Martinsburg on the following day and stayed there until July 15. Surprisingly, Patterson was blamed for not securing a more decisive victory, and Jackson was praised for the delaying action.
Falling Waters is a small cascade, and the Valley Turnpike crossed Hoke’s Run just above the waterfall. Calling the July fight “the Battle of Falling Waters” is an early example of the Federal troops naming their engagements after water features near their battlefields.
If you want to see the waterfall and other marked historic sites around Falling Waters for the 1861 and 1863 battles, please reference the West Virginia Civil War Trails Map.