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Harpers Ferry
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Cities - North
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Cities - South
October 16, 1859 John Brown takes the armory at Harpers Ferry Maryland
  Causes of the Civil War
  John Brown
  Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
April 18, 1861 Federal forces withdraw from Harpers Ferry West Virginia
April 19, 1861 Virginia forces take control of Harpers Ferry West Virginia
May 1, 1861 Robert E. Lee orders Stonewall Jackson to remove the weapons and equipment from the arsenal at Harpers Ferry West Virginia
  Robert E. Lee
  Stonewall Jackson
June 14, 1861 Joe Johnston begins to withdraw from Harpers Ferry by blowing up the 800-foot B&O trestle over the Potomac River
  Joseph E. Johnston
  Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
July 2, 1861 General Robert Patterson crosses the Potomac at Williamsport, Maryland and moves towards Harpers Ferry. Virginia
September 12, 1862
September 15, 1862
Battle of Harpers Ferry

Stonewall Jackson takes 12,000 prisoners
  Stonewall Jackson
  Battle of Harpers Ferry
  Lafayette McLaws
July 24, 1864 Second battle of Kernstown

Jubal Early's [CS] move to the Shenandoah Valley is blocked by George Crook [US], at least for a while. After a violent assault on the Union left by John Breckinridge the federal line broke and pulled back to Harpers Ferry
  Jubal Anderson Early
  Rutherford B. Hayes
  John Breckinridge

Town presently in eastern West Virginia at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Harpers Ferry is located at the base of three mountains. To the northwest, Maryland Heights was the tallest of the mountains. Due east was Loudoun Heights and due west of the town was a high ridge overlooking the river. The city was designated the site of a National Armory in 1794. Because of the proximity to Washington D. C., the armory was frequently used to prototype weapons, including the 1855 Springfield Rifle.

Two tornadoes struck Harpers Ferry in 1859. The first came on June 28 and destroyed part of the town. The second came in the form of Kansas Freesoiler John Brown, who successfully assaulted the Federal arsenal on October 16 and encouraged slaves to join him in revolt against their masters. While the raid was quickly put down by Robert E. Lee and J. E. B. Stuart it changed the minds of many remaining pro-Union slaveholders to consider "disunion," and brought to the east the ongoing conflict known as Bleeding Kansas. It is generally believed to be one of the Causes of the Civil War

Following the secession of Virginia, Harpers Ferry was a key concern of the federals. With limited manpower available to defend the position, General Winfield Scott recommended that federal forces withdraw from the city, abandoning the arsenal and an important railhead on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. After the federal withdrawal to Carlisle Barracks on April 18, 1861, Virginia forces occupied the city the following day. They weren't really an army, just a ragtag group of Virginians emboldened by the Virginia Secession Convention's vote a few days earlier. Under the command of John Imboden they moved north from Winchester and entered the unprotected city.

Robert E. Lee ordered Thomas E. Jackson to remove the equipment from the arsenal on May 1. Jackson, who arrived the day before, began moving the contents of the armory south to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to a Confederate armory there. Lee knew the federals would mount an effort to retake the city as soon as possible. Command passed to Joe Johnston on June 30, 1861. Three days later, on July 2, 1861, Winfield Scott ordered Robert Patterson across the Potomac into Virginia to advance on Harper's Ferry. Scott had two objectives: first, he wanted control of the B&O Railroad from Baltimore to Cincinnati and second, he wanted to divert Confederate troops away from the Alexandria Line (between Washington D. C. and Richmond, Virginia), then located near Manassas Junction.

As Patterson entered Harper's Ferry on July 4, 1861, there was a skirmish with the Confederates, but Johnston had withdrawn most of his forces to Winchester, Virginia. Patterson could not hold Johnston in Winchester and some 7,000 men moved east by rail to turn the tide of battle at First Manassas - First Bull Run. As a direct result of this, Patterson was relieved of duty and General Nathaniel Banks replaced him. Harper's Ferry location, at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, made the area a frequent target for raiders, and skirmishes occurred throughout the rest of 1861, once more in July, twice in September, and three times in October. One of the October skirmishes is known as "the battle of Bolivar."

In September, 1862, Robert E. Lee decided to surround a garrison of some 13,000 Union soldiers under the command of Col. Dixon Miles. The garrison would block his supply/retreat route to the Shenandoah Valley from his position in Maryland. The first act in the Battle of Harpers Ferry was for J. E. B. Stuart to cut the telegraph line at Point of Rocks, Maryland, ending communication to and from Washington. Sending Stonewall Jackson and A. P. Hill while he marched to Frederick, Maryland, Lee counted on their quick success and return to the Army of Northern Virginia, now blocking the gaps in South Mountain. After capturing Maryland Heights on September 14, 1862, it was only a matter of time before the Union garrison holding the city would capitulate. The following day Miles was mortally wounded shortly after giving the order to surrender. At the time Cobb's Legion was battling William B. Franklin at Crampton's Gap, less than five miles from the city center.

Although George McClellan did not pursue Lee into the Shenandoah Valley following Antietam, he decided to retake Harper's Ferry so that he could preserve the route of the Baltimore and Ohio and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Map to Harper's Ferry

Links appearing on this page:

1855 Springfield Rifle
A. P. Hill
April 18
April, 1861
Army of Northern Virginia
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Battle of Harpers Ferry
Bleeding Kansas
Causes of the Civil War
First Manassas - First Bull Run
George McClellan
J. E. B. Stuart
Joe Johnston
John Brown
July 2
July 4
July, 1861
June 30
June, 1861
May 1
Nathaniel Banks
October 16
Richmond, Virginia
Robert E. Lee
Stonewall Jackson
Thomas E. Jackson
Washington D. C.
West Virginia
William B. Franklin
Winfield Scott

Civil War Encyclopedia >> Cities - North
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Cities - South

Harpers Ferry was last changed on - December 16, 2007
Harpers Ferry was added in 2005

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