Prelude to Manassas: The “Affair at Falling Waters”

Posted on July 2, 2011 by


There’s much talk today about Gettysburg, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about that in two years, but…

Harper’s Weekly Montage of the Battle of Falling Waters

150 years ago on this day (morning), while probing toward the Potomac River, just south of Williamsport, Maryland, the 5th Virginia Infantry, along with the 1st Rockbridge Artillery… and even a portion of the 1st Virginia Cavalry (J.E.B. Stuart), all under command of one Col. Thomas J. Jackson, made contact with the lead elements of Gen. Robert Patterson. The “affair at Falling Waters” (aka, Hoke’s Run/Hainesville) lasted for less than two hours, and the Confederate forces, realizing there were outnumbered, left the field to Patterson. Patterson’s failure to pursue, however, would prove significant in the weeks to come… but to the advantage of the Confederate forces. In time, though he advanced on Martinsburg and Bunker Hill, his withdrawal to Charles Town and Harper’s Ferry left the opportunity open for Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah to reinforce P.G.T. Beauregard at Manassas. No doubt, one of the first significant “should’ve, could’ve, would’ves” of the Civil War.

Now I could go to great lengths in writing about the battle (fyi… see the Falling Waters Battlefield Association, here), but others have done it before me, and there’s lots out there to enjoy, taking the time to look for it. What I’m most interested in, is what happened to some of the lesser-known personalities in the fight…

On the Confederate side…

John Merritt “Jack” Doyle* apparently was the man to be able to make the claim that he was the first man wounded in what would become the Stonewall Brigade. Ironically, no… he was not a Virginian by birth, but had been born in Carrollton, Green Co., Illinois (you’ll see below, he was a Virginian by family, just not birth… so there’s your bar trivia for today). Though wounded in the neck by shrapnel (courtesy of a shell fired from Battery F, 4th United States Artillery), he survived, got shot in the leg in October, and then was wounded again (!) on August 28, 1862, at the Brawner Farm (Second Manassas/Bull Run). Lightning having found its mark (so to speak) in the man three times, the third time was enough to have Doyle detailed to collect conscripts. When later writing of Doyle, John D. Imboden noted “He is a very intelligent man and will be valuable to me in collecting conscripts, and being disabled for active service, I ask his transfer to my command.” Doyle was subsequently transferred to Co. D, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry. After the war, he was a salesman in Greenville, Augusta County, Virginia.

George Rupe (Roop?), however, was not as fortunate as Doyle, or all those in gray who took a hit that day. A 31 year-old carpenter, Rupe was described as “a most worthy, industrious and excellent young man, who displayed a noble and unselfish spirit in his last moments, when he urged his four comrades who were carrying him from the field, to ‘let him alone’ and make their escape, ’twas better to leave a dying man to his fate, than four should be killed to save him’.” His body was left on the field, but later buried in Shepherdstown. William T. Wright** also of the same company (The “Mountain Guard”, Co. C, 5th Virginia Infantry), remembered in 1885, that he was about 5 paces from Rupe, and had a distinct recollection of the dull thud sound made when he was shot. He saw Rupe fall behind a shock of wheat. The Staunton Spectator later (July 9, 1861) reported that Rupe was shot in the thigh and bled to death.

While I can’t find much in the way of personal details for the Union soldiers who were wounded and killed, it seems the best information out there is for the 1st Wisconsin Infantry.

Of that regiment, Philo Jones, of Co. K, fired the first shot; Color Bearer Fred Hutching, of Co. E (Madison, Wisconsin) was the first wounded; and George C. Drake, Co. A (of Milwaukee), was the sole man killed.

1st Wisconsin Infantry (first organization) at Falling Waters. Engraving from The Illustrated London News

Some time before the fight, Drake wrote home, that he expected to be “among the first to fall.” Not only did his premonition prove true, but he was also the first Wisconsin soldier to fall in the war.

Drake’s remains were initially buried in River View Cemetery, in Williamsport. Thanks to the efforts of those who assembled his Find-a-Grave page, we have an account of that day…

Pvt. George C. Drake

The burial of Private Drake took place on the third of July. His remains were removed to Williamsport…The corpse was laid out in neat grave clothes and a rich black walnut coffin. Within his folded hands young Drake held a lovely bouquet, trimmed with red, white, and blue ribbon. His features were natural, and gave the appearance of a deep sleep – not that long, long rest of eternal. A number of patriotic ladies wreathed the coffin with beautiful bouquets. He was followed to the grave by two companies of soldiers and numerous citizens. After an impressive sermon he was laid away in his narrow cell of earth – The soldiers accompanying him discharging the customary salute over his grave. He is the first of the Wisconsin boys that fell in battling for the Union.

The chaplain of the 13th Pennsylvania later noted:

Our regiment, with its brass band, turned out and buried him with martial honors…Ere the body was lowered into the grave, and while I was addressing the soldiers and citizens, a little girl approached, bearing a beautiful bouquet of flowers and laid it upon the breast of the dead soldier. The act was simple, yet so touching…

Drake’s remains were moved to his present burial site, in Antietam National Cemetery, in 1866.

The first of the blood to mingle with the earth of the Shenandoah Valley during the course of this war had been shed…

Notes: *”Jack” Doyle was a son of (at the time of the engagement at Falling Waters) Capt. Robert L. Doyle, who commanded the same company the “Mountain Guard”. Robert later (Sept. 1862) became lt. col. of the 62nd Virginia Infantry, but resigned in November 1863 to accept the position of Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Later, before the Battle of Piedmont, he was returned to service as a captain of reserves. In an effort to rally his men, he was wounded. Later, after having been captured, it is said that he was shot and bayoneted. In addition to the death of his father, “Jack” also lost a brother, Robert Merritt Doyle, dying almost a month after having been wounded at Second Manassas.

**William T. Wright was later wounded at Chancellorsville, and deserted in December 1864. While initially granted membership to the Stonewall Jackson Camp No. 25, United Confederate Veterans, of Staunton, he was removed from the membership because of having deserted.

Lastly, while his brigade was not engaged (John J. Abercrombie’s was the one to see the action), Virginia-born Unionist George Henry Thomas was also present on July 2.