What Happened at War-Torn Harpers Ferry and What It’s Like Today


Nestled amid the Blue Ridge Mountains on the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, Harpers Ferry is the northern gateway to Virginia’s fecund Shenandoah Valley. Initially settled in 1733 as a ferry touchdown on the Potomac, the location on which the present-day city sits was purchased by its namesake, Robert Harper, in 1751. Harper continued the profitable ferry as settlers more and more moved south into the valley. George Washington had enterprise pursuits within the space, and household lived close by, together with youthful brother Charles, the namesake founding father of Charles City. In 1794 Washington proposed Harpers Ferry as the location of the brand new U.S. Arsenal and Armory, which opened in 1801. The armory turned out greater than a half million firearms earlier than being destroyed on the 1861 outset of the Civil Warfare. The village industrialized additional within the 1830s with the arrival of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Although just about unscathed through the suppression of John Brown’s Raid in 1859, Harpers Ferry was closely broken through the Civil Warfare. (Library of Congress)

Harpers Ferry exploded on the nationwide scene in 1859 when radical abolitionist John Brown raided the arsenal. Believing an armed slave rebellion in Virginia would finally consequence within the demise of the “peculiar establishment” all through the South, Brown and 21 followers armed themselves with rifles and revolvers and seized the armory on Oct. 16, 1859. Sarcastically, a free black railroad employee named Shepherd Heyward was the primary casualty. Confronted by armed residents bolstered by militia from close by Charles City, Martinsburg and Shepherdstown, in addition to Frederick, Md., Brown and his followers have been trapped in a small hearth engine home. Two days later Col. Robert E. Lee, commanding a detachment of U.S. Marines from Washington, D.C., ended the combating. Seven prisoners, together with Brown, have been quickly tried and executed.

Map by Brian Walker

Within the raid’s aftermath conflict clouds billowed as states addressed the matter of secession following Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election to the presidency. Residents of Harpers Ferry and neighboring cities expressed loyalty to the Union throughout Virginia’s secession debate. When the state did secede, an armory supervisor with Insurgent sympathies sought to show it over to the Confederacy, however a Union officer had his males torch the buildings earlier than fleeing to Pennsylvania. Inside days Col. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson arrived with the Virginia militia to occupy city. His males salvaged what they might from the armory ruins, together with 1000’s of rifle shares and far of the equipment. Ringed in as it’s by mountains, nevertheless, Harpers Ferry was thought-about indefensible by Jackson’s successor, Accomplice Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who withdrew south to Winchester, Va., in June 1861.

A month later Union troops underneath Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson occupied Harpers Ferry. The city modified fingers 5 extra instances earlier than Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks made it his headquarters in late February 1862. That Could, throughout his famed Shenandoah Valley marketing campaign, Jackson attacked Harpers Ferry, however Union Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton efficiently repelled him. Three months later Lee launched his first invasion of the North and wanted a safe provide line from the Shenandoah. Taking a threat, he cut up his forces. Returning to Harpers Ferry, Jackson defeated 14,000 Union troops underneath Col. Dixon Miles and captured the city on September 15. He then joined Lee in Maryland for the September 17 Battle of Antietam—the bloodiest single-day conflict of the conflict—which ended with Lee’s retreat and Harpers Ferry again in Union fingers.

In 1944 the center of Harpers Ferry, together with the engine home often called ‘John Brown’s Fort,’ was established as Harpers Ferry Nationwide Historic Park

Harpers Ferry remained underneath federal management till July 1, 1863, when Union troops who’d been defeated through the Second Battle of Winchester withdrew. Once they returned eight days later, Harpers Ferry was now not in Accomplice territory, as on June 20 it and 24,000 sq. miles to the south and west had been subsumed by the newly admitted state of West Virginia. Union troops briefly misplaced the city once more on July 4, 1864, throughout Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s daring raid on Washington, D.C., however he withdrew inside days, and Union troopers have been again for the conflict’s length. A month later Harpers Ferry served because the stepping-off level for Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s sensible marketing campaign that completely claimed the Shenandoah Valley from the Confederates.

In 1944 the center of Harpers Ferry, together with the engine home often called “John Brown’s Fort,” was established as Harpers Ferry Nationwide Historic Park. The touristy city additionally hosts the Nationwide Park Service’s media middle and the Appalachian Path Conservancy. MH

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