"Bugler, Fifth Michigan Cavalry"
Battle of Falling Waters, July 1863
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Retreating from Gettysburg after his defeat there, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate infantry reached the Potomac River ford at Williamsport, Maryland on July 8 and 9, 1863. Lee’s men could not cross, due to the rain-swollen river and loss of a pontoon bridge at nearby Falling Waters to a Union cavalry raid. On July 11, Lee entrenched in a line protecting both river crossings and waited for Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s pursuing army to attack. On July 12, Meade reached the vicinity and probed the Confederate position. Skirmishing was heavy along the lines as Meade readied his forces for an attack. That evening, Meade held a council of war in which his corps commanders advised against moving against Lee’s formidable defenses. In the meantime, the river had fallen enough to allow the construction of a new pontoon bridge at Falling Waters, and Lee’s army began crossing the river after dark on July 13. The next morning, two Union cavalry divisions attacked the rearguard division of Brig. Gen. Henry Heth still on the east bank, taking more than 500 prisoners. Confederate Brig. Gen. James Pettigrew was mortally wounded in the fight. Lee's army was safely back in Virginia. Meade had let his best chance to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia slip away. In Washington, a frustrated Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, "We had them within our grasp." The war in Virginia would go on nearly two more years.