Edwin Forbes Observation Post

Edwin Forbes sketch of attic becomes focus of Homespun Historical Ventures Inc.'s first major preservation project!

For 160 years, the name of Civil War sketch artist Edwin Forbes had been etched into a beam in the Thomas attic. The beam, located just 18 inches from the gable end of the house, had been difficult to spot until Robert Small, who was doing research for the upcoming "Receding Tide" Civil War Reenactment, came across several Forbes sketches done at the time of the event. One sketch, in particular, caught Robert's attention as it closely resembled the attic of the Thomas house.

Excited by the discovery, Robert shared the sketch with Mark Thomas, who upon seeing it, immediately invited Robert over to his attic. When Robert arrived, Mark led him to the attic and pointed to a beam where the name "E. Forbes US 1863" was etched. Along with Forbes' name, there were other items in the attic that matched the sketch, such as a "scuttle-hole" (hatch) that went out to the roof and a small wooden table with holes in each corner.

Further research by Robert revealed that Forbes had written about the sketch in his book, Thirty Years After: An Artist's Story of the Great War, published in 1890. In it, Forbes described the scene as taking place in the attic of a farmhouse near Williamsport, Maryland during the pursuit of Lee's army by General Meade. The sketch depicts a signal officer observing the Confederate columns, three miles away, as they retreated towards the Potomac River.

It Reads:
“The sketch (2) immediately below the forgoing is a scene in the attic of a farmhouse near Williamsport, Md., during the pursuit of Lee’s army by General Meade. This position was on the advance lines of the Union army, and though the glass could be plainly seen the Confederate columns three miles distant, beating a hasty retreat toward the Potomac River. Their wagon teams moved slowly and heavily, as if laden with spoils captured from the Dutch farmers of Pennsylvania. The flagman who waved the news from this to the next station sat in the scuttle-hole above the observing officer, with legs and feet only in view. While making my sketch I noted the old spinning-wheel and bits of quaint furniture that the attic contained, and thought the turmoil of the moment a heartrending contrast to the peaceful days pf patient spinning in the past.”

The Thomas house is located 3 miles from the location of the Confederate lines and 1 mile from the location of Meade's Headquarters at Devils Backbone. Unfortunately, the spinning wheel that was also depicted in the sketch was sold at a family auction in 1997.

Solomons Valley Farm has a rich history, dating back to 1843 when George Thomas bought the farm from James Malone and had a large barn built. His son, Solomon, began construction of the farmhouse in 1856 and completed it in 1859. All of the materials used for the construction were harvested from the property.

The Civil War first touched this farm during the Maryland campaign in 1862. What is now the Thomas’s driveway, was a county road in 1862 which led to Mansfield road on the battlefield. The land is scattered with evidence of Union camps every time it is plowed and a field hospital was on along the road (driveway) opposite the farmhouse. When the Union army left the area, they took Solomon’s horses with them, breaking a steel bar and lock from the stable door to do so. The damaged steel bar is still there. The Union army once again set their camps on the Thomas farm in 1863 while coming face to face with General Lee’s retreating Army of Northern Virginia after Gettysburg.

The property is still owned and farmed by the 7th and 8th generations of the Thomas family, making it the second oldest farm in Washington County, Maryland. In 2019, Mark, Laura, their son Michael, and other family members began preservation of the farmhouse.

Now, Homespun Historical Ventures Inc.'s preservation project aims to bring this historical moment and the significance of Edwin Forbes sketch to light.