I’ve known George Franks for a few years and had the pleasure of meeting him when I spoke to the Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable back in 2011. He recently authored Battle of Falling Waters 1863: Custer, Pettigrew and the End of the Gettysburg Campaign. Here he tells us about it, and his interesting connection to the battlefield.
BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (Personal life, career, establish bona-fides, published works, etc. – whatever you’re comfortable with.)
GFF: I am originally from Pittsburgh. I currently live in Washington County, Maryland near the town of Williamsport. I studied history at the U. S. Naval Academy and University of Pittsburgh. I worked in the telecommunication industry for over twenty-five years. I am currently a consultant and also own an e-commerce business. Though I have always enjoyed history and writing, my first post academy published article was one on the Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland in 2007 in an international wargame publication.
BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?
GFF: As a child of the Civil War Centennial, I was bombarded with magazines, television programs, books and even toys related to the conflict. I started reading Civil War books at an early age. Also, my parents took my brothers and me to battlefields as part of our family vacations. I would say my biggest influence was family friends giving me a copy of Miller’s PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY when I was still quite young.
BR: Why the interest in Falling Waters?
GFF: I have always been interested in the Gettysburg Campaign. Melissa Cooperson and I began looking for a house to restore over a decade ago. We found and fell in love with the Daniel Donnelly House which was built in 1830. It also happened to have a Civil War battle fought on the property. While I knew the names related to it: Heth, Pettigrew, Kilpatrick, Buford and Custer, I was not familiar with the battle. As we began many years of restoration work on the house during weekends, I began my research of the battle.
BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?
GFF: Two things stand out in my view. First, if you look at any book on the Gettysburg Campaign, you will find a paragraph on the July 14, 1863 Battle of Falling Waters, Maryland. A very few books devote a page to it. This is the first book devoted to the last battle of the Gettysburg Campaign. Secondly, the battle is a microcosm of the war. It is a story devotion to cause, hardship, miscalculation, unparalleled bravery, tragedy, missed opportunities and what might be considered a cover-up.
BR: What’s your last word on Pettigrew, Buford, Kilpatrick, et al? Do you follow the old traditional narrative on these guys – are black hats always black, and white hats always white?
GFF: All these men were so complex. They were products of their era. It is difficult for us to fully understand them in 2013. Having said that, I do not differ greatly from most Civil War historians on Kilpatrick or Buford based on my research. I became a great fan of Pettigrew. Not so much as a military leader, though he was admirable, but as a brilliant academic, writer, scientist, jurist and politician. His mortal wounding at Falling Waters and death 3 days later at Bunker Hill, WV were a tragedy not only for the South but for the entire country. A true “what-if” that I have thought about often.
BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what you learned along the way, and when you knew you were “done”?
GFF: I began my research over ten years ago. I was working very responsible full time jobs during the entire research and writing process. I focused primarily on the writing and editing over the past two years. I was fortunate to work with a very able editor, Tim Terrell. I tried to focus on primary sources wherever possible and then build a narrative from that. Of course, there were many contradictory accounts. I stopped research, with one or two specific exceptions, two years ago so the book would be available for the 150th Anniversary of the battle. I missed my goal by three days.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?
GFF: It started out about 75% brick and mortar and 25% online. Over time those reversed as more information became available online. Initially the book covered more of the retreat but during the research process I concluded that some very good scholarship in that area was being published and to focus just on the Battle of Falling Waters 1863. I did include some background information on the events before and after for perspective.
BR: How has the book been received so far?
GFF: Sales through my web site and Amazon have been and continue to be strong. I have several retail stores selling the book with more carrying it in the near future. There is quite a bit of interest from Civil War Round Tables (I have spoken to several already) and in more tours of the Falling Waters Battlefield. We have hosted tours led by Ed Bearss, J. D. Petruzzi, Eric Wittenberg and Steve French plus the Smithsonian Institution in the past.
BR: What’s next for you?
GFF: I have several research and writing projects underway. I am not sure which one will take priority right now. I enjoy the research and writing process. There will be another book and it will probably be a Civil War topic.