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Falling Waters 1863: From House to Book to Preservation

Posted on Saturday, August 1, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Sketch of the battle by Edwin Fobes who first gained fame during the Civil War for his detailed and dramatic sketches of battlefield combat scenes.

Sketch of the battle by Edwin Fobes who first gained fame during the Civil War for his detailed and dramatic sketches of battlefield combat scenes.

In 2002, Melissa Cooperson and I began looking for a historic house to restore as a project and weekend home. After looking throughout Virginia and Maryland we came across a property in Western Maryland near the canal town of Williamsport. Advertised as a Civil War era field hospital, we fell in love with the house, the property and the view. It became a weekend and holiday project beginning in 2003.

We removed many of the post-1833 features to the house, doing much of the work ourselves. Over the coming years all new heat, air, plumbing, electric, well, ceilings, bathrooms and a kitchen would follow. During this period we decided to make it a full-time home. We moved in in September 2011.

I started my research on the house in 2003 as well. Although we found it was built by Daniel Donnelly, an Irish-born attorney in 1833 who was a one term Maryland Assemblyman, there was little we could find about it as a Civil War field hospital. Continued research uncovered two “retreat from Gettysburg” drawings. One was by Alfred Waud. The other was sketched by Edwin Forbes. Both drawings are in the collection of the Library of Congress. They depict the July 14, 1863 Battle of Falling Waters in Maryland. The battle is recognized by participants and most historians as the final battle of the Gettysburg Campaign. The Daniel Donnelly House and our property were prominently featured in Forbes’ drawing (see photo).

The research initiated with the purchase of the house led to a magazine article I authored in 2007 and a book in 2013: “Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign.” The book features the events leading to the battle, the battle and the aftermath. Many Gettysburg books touch on Lee’s “retreat.” None focused on the final battle of the campaign including the roles of Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, George Custer and John Buford under the Army of the Potomac’s George Meade. Nor did they spell-out the role of Henry Heth and his rear guard – including the mortal wounding of Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew. The latter figure died three days after the battle in West Virginia.

Soon after purchasing the property, local preservation groups, historians and the Civil War Trust were contacted. The property gained National Register of Historic Places status. And the area made the Civil War Trust’s “Most Endangered” status based in part on my submission.

Since that time, I have partnered with the Civil War Trust, Save Historic Antietam Foundation and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to raise the visibility of the Falling Waters 1863 (not to be confused with Falling Waters 1861 in West Virginia) Battlefield. In 20014, Battle of Falling Waters 1863 Foundation, Inc. was formed with the goal of preserving historically significant battlefield land through purchases and easements plus education about the little-remembered but important battle.

Information on the book, talks and tours is available at:

Information about the Battle of Falling Waters 1863 Foundation, Inc. is available at:

The author can be contact at:

-By George F. Franks, III

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