Tuesday, July 2, 1861
A Confederate scout galloped up to Col. Thomas Jackson’s headquarters near Martinsburg, Virginia with word that the Yankees had crossed the Potomac and were now less than five miles away. Jackson seemed unfazed as he calmly gave orders to his four regiments. It was clear to Jackson that the coming Union force greatly outnumbered his own. In all, the Union troops under General Patterson numbered over 14,000. Jackson had merely a brigade of around 2,000 men. One regiment (5th Virginia) and the artillery would move towards the coming Federal troops. Another regiment (the 27th Virginia) would strike the tents, load the wagons and prepare to withdraw to the main bulk of the Army of the Shenandoah near Bunker Hill. The other two regiments (2nd and 4th Virginia) stood in reserves.
Jackson rode to the front of the 5th Virginia, 380 strong, and they advanced north together towards the town of Falling Waters and the coming enemy.1
Union General Patterson’s men crossed the Potomac at dawn and proceeded south on the road to Martinsburg. The 1st Wisconsin regiment (dressed in gray) led the advance with the 11th Pennsylvania behind them. They marched five miles to the small town of Falling Waters when, just past it, they were opened upon by a company or two of Rebels posted in the woods to their front.
The 1st Wisconsin regiment deployed skirmishers on both sides of the road, with cavalry in the middle, and advanced through the fields leading up to the woodlot. A heavier volley burst from the woods and forced the leading skirmishers to fall back towards their main body. The effort was redoubled with more skirmishers from the 1st Wisconsin as well as the 11th Pennsylvania. Union artillery was also added to the fray.
The 11th Pennsylvania, on the right of the Wisconsin boys, divided itself into two parts. The first moved toward the Confederate artillery posted along side the woods, while the other approached the Rebel cavalry who were protecting the Rebel’s left flank near a farmhouse. They hoped to turn the flank and dislodge the Confederates from the woods.
The 11th advanced nearly a mile towards the guns but, knowing that they could easily be overrun, the Rebel artillerymen limbered up and moved out.
While the 11th Pennsylvania attempted to drive in the left flank of the 5th Virginia, the 1st Wisconsin aimed for the right. Overwhelming it with numbers, they were able to push them back enough to convince them that their position could not be held.2
Confederate Col. Jackson knew from the start that the position was untenable. As the 5th Virginia began to fall back, he feared that Col. Stuart’s cavalry might be cut off. Jackson decided to rally his men near his camp a mile north of Martinsburg. He wanted to delay the Federal troops long enough to get his wagons on the road. The Confederates slowly withdrew three miles under fire. They did not break and run and showed no signs of panic.
To stem the advance, Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry rode hard around the Yankee’s right flank, guarded by the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and managed to capture fifty of them.3
By the afternoon, while the Union artillery kept up a sporadic fire, Confederate General Johnston caught wind of the battle and offered to send a brigade under General Barnard Bee to assist Jackson. To pen a quick reply, Jackson seated himself on a rock near an oak tree alongside the road. While in the concentration of writing, a shell from a Federal artillery piece slammed into the large oak tree, raining “a mass of bark, splinters and trash all over him and the paper on which he was writing.” Jackson casually brushed the debris away from the paper and continued writing as if nothing had happened. Finished, he folded the dispatch and ordered a courier to take his reply to General Johnston.
Jackson then deployed his entire brigade on the north side of Martinsburg and prepared to fight the advancing Union brigade of 3,000 (and potentially the 8,000 stacked up behind them). Once both brigades were facing each other, however, Jackson’s flanks were overlapped and he withdrew from the town, camping two and a half miles south.
Stuart’s Cavalry were posted just north of town while the Union troops occupied the old Confederate camp barely a mile away.
Casualties were relatively light on both sides. The Confederates killed ten, wounded eighteen and captured fifty Federal troops, while Patterson’s men wounded eleven Rebels (with eight or nine listed as “missing”).4