Harper's Ferry

Harper's Ferry

Brown is fifty-five years of age, rather small-sized, with keen and restless gray eyes, and a grizzly beard and hair. He is a wiry, active man, and should the slightest chance for an escape be afforded, there is no doubt that he will yet give his captors much trouble. His hair is matted and tangled, and his face, hands, and clothes are smutched and smeared with blood.

Colonel Lee stated that he would exclude all visitors from the room if the wounded men were annoyed or pained by them, but Brown said he was by no means annoyed; on the contrary, he was glad to be able to make himself and his motives clearly understood. He converses freely, fluently, and cheerfully, without the slightest manifestation of fear or uneasiness, evidently weighing well his words, and possessing a good command of language. His manner is courteous and affable, while he appears to be making a favorable impression upon his auditory, which, during most of the day yesterday averaged about ten or a dozen men.

When I arrived in the armory, shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon, Brown was answering questions put to him by Senator Mason, who had just arrived from his residence at Winchester, thirty miles distant. Colonel Faulkner, member of Congress who lives but a few miles off, Mr. Vallandigham, member of Congress of Ohio, and several other distinguished gentlemen. The following is a verbatim report of the conversation:

Mr. Mason: Can you tell us, at least, who furnished the money for your expedition?

Mr. Brown: I furnished most of it myself. I cannot implicate others. It is by my own folly that I have been taken. I could easily have saved myself from it had I exercised my own better judgment rather than yield to my feelings. I should have

gone away, but I had thirty-odd prisoners, whose wives and daughters were in tears for their safety, and I felt for them. Besides, I wanted to allay the fears of those who believed we came here to burn and kill. For this reason I allowed the train to cross the bridge and gave them full liberty to pass on. I did it only to spare the feelings of these passengers and their families and to allay the apprehensions that you had got here in your vicinity a band of men who had no regard for life and property, nor any feeling of humanity.

Mr. Mason: But you killed some people passing along the streets quietly.

Mr. Brown: Well, sir, if there was anything of that kind done, it was without my knowledge. Your own citizens, who were my prisoners, will tell you that every possible means were taken to prevent it. I did not allow my men to fire, nor even to return a fire, when there was danger of killing those we regarded as innocent persons, if I could help it. They will tell you that we allowed ourselves to be fired at repeatedly and did not return it.

A Bystander: That is not so. You killed an unarmed man at the comer of the house over there (at the water tank) and another besides.

Mr. Brown: See here, my friend, it is useless to dispute or contradict the report of your own neighbors who were my prisoners.

Mr. Mason: If you would tell us who sent you here - who provided the means - that would be information of some value.

Mr. Brown: I will answer freely and faithfully about what concerns myself - I will answer anything I can with honor,

but not about others.

Mr. Vallandigham (member of Congress from Ohio, who had just entered): Mr. Brown, who sent you here?

Mr. Brown: No man sent me here; it was my own prompting and that of my Maker, or that of the devil, whichever you

please to ascribe it to. I acknowledge no man (master) in human form.

Mr. Vallandigham: Did you get up the expedition yourself?

Mr. Brown: I did.

Mr. Mason: What was your object in coming?

Mr. Brown: We came to free the slaves, and only that.

A Young Man (in the uniform of a volunteer company): How many men in all had you?

Mr. Brown: I came to Virginia with eighteen men only, besides myself.

Volunteer: What in the world did you suppose you could do here in Virginia with that amount of men?

Mr. Brown: Young man, I don't wish to discuss that question here.

Volunteer: You could not do anything.

Mr. Brown: Well, perhaps your ideas and mine on military subjects would differ materially.

Mr. Mason: How do you justify your acts?

Mr. Brown: I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity. I say it without wishing to be offensive - and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those you willfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly. I think I did right and that others will do right who interfere with you at any time and all times. I hold that the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you," applies to all who would help others to gain their liberty.

The true question is, Did John Brown draw his sword against slavery and thereby lose his life in vain? And to this I answer ten thousand times, No! No man fails, or can fail, who so grandly gives himself and all he has to a righteous cause. No man, who in his hour of extremest need, when on his way to meet an ignominious death, could so forget himself as to stop and kiss a little child, one of the hated race for whom he was about to die, could by any possibility fail.

"Did John Brown fail? Ask Henry A. Wise in whose house less than two years after, a school for the emancipated slaves was taught.

"Did John Brown fail? Ask James M. Mason, the author of the inhuman fugitive slave bill, who was cooped up in Fort Warren, as a traitor less than two years from the time that he stood over the prostrate body of John Brown.

"Did John Brown fail? Ask Clement C. Vallandingham, one other of the inquisitorial party; for he too went down in the tremendous whirlpool created by the powerful hand of this bold invader. If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harpers Ferry, and the arsenal, not Col. Anderson, but John Brown, began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes and compromises.

"When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared. The time for compromises was gone – the armed hosts of freedom stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union – and the clash of arms was at hand. The South staked all upon getting possession of the Federal Government, and failing to do that, drew the sword of rebellion and thus made her own, and not Brown's, the lost cause of the century.

I read all the newspapers I could get within a week after this event, and I do not remember in them a single expression of sympathy for these men. I have since seen one noble statement, in a Boston paper, not editorial. Some voluminous sheets decided not to print the full report of Brown's words to the exclusion of other matter.

But I object not so much to what they have omitted as to what they have inserted. Even the Liberator called it "a misguided, wild, and apparently insane-effort." As for the herd of newspapers and magazines, I do not chance to know an editor in the country who will deliberately print anything which he knows will ultimately and permanently reduce the number of his subscribers.

A man does a brave and humane deed, and at once, on all sides, we hear people and parties declaring, "I didn't do it, nor countenance him to do it, in any conceivable way. It can't be fairly inferred from my past career." I, for one, am not interested to hear you define your position. I don't know that I ever was or ever shall be. I think it is mere egotism, or impertinent at this time. Ye needn't take so much pains to wash your skirts of him. No intelligent man will ever be convinced that he was any creature of yours. He went and came, as he himself informs us, "under the auspices of John Brown and nobody else."

Prominent and influential editors, accustomed to deal with politicians, men of an infinitely lower grade, say, in their ignorance, that he acted "on the principle of revenge." They do not know the man. They must enlarge themselves to conceive of him. I have no doubt that the time will come when they will begin to see him as he was. They have got to conceive of a man of faith and of religious principle, and not a politician or an Indian; of a man who did not wait till he was personally interfered with or thwarted in some harmless business before he gave his life to the cause of the oppressed.

I wish I could say that Brown was the representative of the North. He was a superior man. He did not value his bodily life in comparison with ideal things. He did not recognize unjust human laws, but resisted them as he was bid. For once we are lifted out of the trivialness and dust of politics into the region of truth and manhood. No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any and all governments. In that sense he was the most American of us all. He needed no babbling lawyer, making false issues, to defend him. He was more than a match for all the judges that American voters, or office-holders of whatever grade, can create. He could not have been tried by a jury of his peers, because his peers did not exist.

Harpers Ferry Raid

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Harpers Ferry Raid, (October 16–18, 1859), assault by an armed band of abolitionists led by John Brown on the federal armoury located at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia). It was a main precipitating incident to the American Civil War.

The raid on Harpers Ferry was intended to be the first stage in an elaborate plan to establish an independent stronghold of freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia—an enterprise that had won moral and financial support from several prominent Bostonians. Choosing Harpers Ferry because of its arsenal and because of its location as a convenient gateway to the South, John Brown and his band of 16 whites and five blacks seized the armoury on the night of October 16.

Sporadic fighting took place around the arsenal for two days. On October 18, combined state and federal troops (the latter commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee and including Lieut. Jeb Stuart) subdued Brown and his collaborators. Seventeen men died in the fighting. Brown was indicted for treason on October 25. He and his six surviving followers were hanged before the end of the year.

Although the raid on Harpers Ferry was denounced by a majority of Northerners, it electrified the South—already fearful of slave rebellions—and convinced slaveholders that abolitionists would stop at nothing to eradicate slavery. It also created a martyr, John Brown, for the antislavery cause. When he learned that Brown had been executed, essayist, philospher, and dedicated abolitionist Henry David Thoreau said:

I heard, to be sure, that he had been hanged, but I did not know what that meant—and not after any number of days shall I believe it. Of all the men who are said to be my contemporaries, it seems to me that John Brown is the only one who has not died.

10 Facts: Harpers Ferry

Ten Facts about the vital role of the town of Harpers Ferry in the American Civil War.

Fact #1: George Washington established an armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1794.

In 1794, George Washington, then a wealthy property owner, visited Harpers Ferry. Impressed by its location at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and the natural beauty of the town Thomas Jefferson had proclaimed “worth a voyage across the Atlantic for,” Washington selected the town as the site for a new national armory. By 1796, the arsenal was established, and machines shops and rifle works factories brought industry to Harpers Ferry. In the face of its industrial boom, the population of the town grew as Northern merchants, mechanics, and immigrant workers flooded the small western Virginia town. By the 1850s, Harpers Ferry emerged as a significant transportation hub in the east with the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Harpers Ferry in 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Fact #2: Radical abolitionist John Brown raided the Harpers Ferry arsenal in October 1859.

Known for the murder of slaveholders in “Bleeding Kansas,” in 1859 John Brown determined that he would free the slaves in Virginia by instigating a revolt that would spread throughout the slaveholding state. To begin his slave revolt, Brown planned to capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and use its cache of weapons to arm his followers. On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown and a company of 21 men—including his sons—occupied the arsenal.

Brown’s raid, however, was doomed from the start. Lacking proper ammunition for his weapons and unable to recruit any slaves to join his rebellion, Brown and his men became trapped in the arsenal as Virginia and Maryland militia surrounded his “fort.” Upon hearing that the infamous “Ossawatomie” Brown had plans for a slave uprising in Virginia, President James Buchanan ordered a company of 90 Marines, led by Col. Robert E. Lee and assisted by Captain J.E.B. Stuart, to put down the rebellion. Upon arriving in Harpers Ferry, Lee ordered the marines to storm the fort, rescue the few hostages Brown had taken earlier in the night (one of which was a relative of President George Washington,) and capture Brown and his men. Brown, severely wounded in the struggle, was hanged on the morning of December 2, setting off a spark throughout the country. To Northern abolitionists, Brown was a martyr to the cause yet to Southerners, John Brown was a symbol of northern aggression and northern hopes to destroy the Southern way of life.

Fact #3: The day after Virginia seceded from the Union, Federal soldiers burnt the armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

When Virginia voted to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861, the historic arsenal at Harpers Ferry immediately became a target. Former Governor of Virginia Henry A. Wise, the same governor who had hung John Brown for carrying out similar designs on the arsenal, organized a scheme to occupy the valuable armory. Knowing that no arms supplier south of the Mason-Dixon Line could match the output or quality of Harpers Ferry, Wise hoped to raise militia to take the arsenal before the Federal government organized enough troops to hold it. As Virginia militia bands began to assemble not four miles away, a Federal officer stationed in Harpers Ferry, Lieutenant Roger Jones, sent a distressed word to Washington that the armory was in danger and thousands of troops would be required to defend it. When it became clear that Washington was ignoring his request, Jones took matters into his own hands. At 10 p.m. on April 18, Jones and his men set fire to the arsenal, destroying over 15,000 muskets and combustibles in the main armory building, and then retreating across the Potomac Bridge. His efforts were largely in vain, however, as the arsenal was only moderately damaged. With over 4,000 firearms still in usable condition and much machinery able to be salvaged, the surviving elements of the armory were shipped south to Richmond and Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Fact #4: Despite its strategic importance, Harpers Ferry was an indefensible military position.

Harpers Ferry was a strategic nightmare although it was easy to attack, it was nearly impossible to defend. Surrounded on all sides by the steep rises of Bolivar Heights, Maryland Heights, and Loudoun Heights, successful defense of the town required that the more than one-thousand foot rises towering over Harpers Ferry be posted with artillery. Nestled far below the mountains, the low elevation of the town itself, which led soldiers posted there during the Civil War to describe it as a “godforsaken, stinking hole,” left Harpers Ferry open to attack without much hope for defense.

Confederate General Stonewall Jackson Library of Congress

Fact #5: Between 1861 and 1865, Harpers Ferry changed hands fourteen times.

From the beginning of the Civil War until the Union forces permanently reoccupied the town on July 8, 1864, the Harpers Ferry changed hands fourteen times. During the times that it escaped control from either army, the inhabitants of Harpers Ferry remained subject to frequent reconnaissance missions and guerrilla raids. Although no major battle was fought at Harpers Ferry after Stonewall Jackson’s attack on the garrison in 1862, by the end of the Civil War the town was devastated by repeated attempts from both Union and Confederate forces to control the vital transportation hub. Shortly after the war, Harpers Ferry resident Jessie E. Johnson spoke to the instability of Harpers Ferry, writing that “When the Union army came they called the citizens Rebels – when the Confederates came they called them Yankees.”

Fact #6: The largest surrender of United States forces during the Civil War took place at Harpers Ferry.

Although the amount of dead and wounded soldiers was comparatively low after the Battle of Harpers Ferry, the 1862 battle resulted in a staggering number of Federal prisoners – the largest surrender of United States soldiers during the Civil War. When the Federal garrison surrendered on September 15th, 1862, the nearly 12,400 Union troops that had been stationed at the garrison became Confederate prisoners. After being paroled by Gen. A.P. Hill, many of these prisoners were marched to Camp Parole near Annapolis to await their exchange for Confederate prisoners.

Fact #7: During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry became a significant Union army camp, headquarters site, and logistical supply base.

Camp Hill, located on a gentle slope above the town of Harpers Ferry, had been used as a U.S. army encampment in the late 18th century, and had since been populated with spacious mansions reserved for armory officials. When the Civil War broke out, however, these mansions were immediately converted into headquarters and hospitals Camp Hill became an army camp once more. In the spring of 1861, the Confederate army occupied the camp, but quickly abandoned it under orders from the garrison commander Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Soon afterward, it was occupied by infantrymen from the 2nd Massachusetts. Having been fortified by both Union and Confederate troops and naturally protected by steep banks, Camp Hill served a natural defensive position that aided the Union troops during the Stonewall Jackson’s attack on Harpers Ferry in September 1862. Although the garrison surrendered after Jackson’s attack, on September 24, nine days after the battle, the Army of the Potomac marched to Harpers Ferry and pitched their tents once more on Camp Hill and neighboring Bolivar Heights, where they remained immobile until November. Later, during Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Campaign, “Little Phil” made his headquarters in a home on Camp Hill.

Fact #8: St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harpers Ferry flew a British flag to avoid destruction during the conflict.

During the Civil War, the Reverend of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Father Michael Costello, avoided damage to the church throughout repeated artillery bombardments and contests for the town by flying a British flag over the church. Despite the debilitating damage sustained by other buildings nearby throughout the Battle of Harpers Ferry and repeated artillery bombardments in the summers of 1863 and 1864, St. Peter’s went unharmed as a result of its supposed British affiliation. As it remained intact during the war, St. Peter’s was frequently used as a makeshift hospital, and Costello continued to administer sacraments and hold services throughout the war. St. Peter’s remained the only church in the war ravaged town of Harpers Ferry that was not severely damaged or destroyed by Northern or Southern forces.

The vital transportation hub of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and surrounded by three towering heights, became a hotbed for conflict during the Civil War. Rob Shenk

Fact #9: A cavern just outside Harper's Ferry served as a hiding place for Confederate guerrilla raiders throughout the war.

In November of 1864, in the midst of Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign, Sheridan’s men became perplexed at Confederate partisan ranger Col. John Singleton Mosby’s ability to avoid detection and capture by disappearing from his pursuers. While scouting for guerrillas, a Federal cavalryman accidentally made a shocking discovery just outside Harpers Ferry when he fell through a trapdoor in the floor of a burned and abandoned building. Beneath the trapdoor lay a tunnel leading to a stairway deep underground. Returning with a scouting party, the Federals descended the staircase into a cavern that they estimated was large enough to hold three hundred horses. There was only one opening into the room, a space so narrow that only one horse could enter at a time, and only after wading through three feet of water. The entry was covered by brush and rocks, and was marked by a high cliff to mark the hideout. The room, they quickly realized, belonged to Col. Mosby and his band of rangers, allowing them to evade capture by Federal forces.

Fact #10: The Civil War Trust has saved hundreds of acres of land Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry today has remained remarkably well preserved. The National Park Service has preserved the majority of the battlefield at Harpers Ferry, yet there are still significant pieces of the battlefield that remain threatened by development. In 2002, the Civil War Trust successfully saved 325 acres of endangered land at Harpers Ferry, and in 2013 saved an essential tract of battlefield land on Bolivar Heights.

Harper's Ferry - History

299,577 Visitors
#153 Most Visited National Park Unit

Source: NPS, Rank among 378 National Park Units 2019.

Park Size

3,294 acres (Federal) 3,646 acres (Total)

Park Fee

Individual - $5 walking, biking, motorcycle.

Yearly Harpers Ferry Pass - $30

Protecting Harper's Ferry

Protecting Harpers Ferry is one of the ongoing fights within the eastern United States as suburban Washington and Baltimore creep into the Shenandoah Valley. Although recent efforts to thwart housing on the rim of the peaks overlooking the town have been successful, it is a battle that is never truly won. If you wish to contribute to conserving our national parks, please visit the National Parks Conservation Association to find our more about how you can help.

When you visit, please pay attention to the warnings and instructions of park rangers and the National Park Service to insure that your visit in safe and wonderful.

Harpers Ferry

In many ways, this town, today sleeping in the valley that is defined by the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, is one of the most under-appreciated historic sites in this nation. Its history is that of Thomas Jefferson and his daughter, who witnessed its beauty from a rock high above what was yet to be the town during a time of the Continental Congress and the birthing of a nation. His words, "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature" describes the beauty of the mountains that hover above those two rocky rivers. Photo above: the U.S. Army raid against John Brown's fort, led by Robert E. Lee.

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Harpers Ferry Then

John Brown - There has always been this dilemma when talking about John Brown. Was he a madman, both in Kansas and here at Harpers Ferry, chasing windmills of a dream of racial equality, but utilizing brutal methods to try and win his point. Was he a visionary, knowing that the seeds of a rebellion had to be sowed in whatever manner necessary, even if it meant eventual failure in the immediate action. The mural above shows the madman of bleeding Kansas during the debate of making new states slave or free. He would fail, of course, at Harpers Ferry, when the slaves in the surrounding area did not come to his call to arms. He would hole up in a small arsenal shed (now known as John Brown's fort), get captured, and eventually go on trial that led to his death. Madman or visionary? Perhaps both.

Harpers Ferry - Many famous visitors set foot in this town beyond the John Brown incident. One, George Washington, eyes Harpers Ferry during his surveyor's years and as President urged the building of the armory there. Stonewall Jackson after the April 1861 start of Civil War actions, dismantled that machinery and shipped it south for Confederate purposes, then came back one year later to conduct a siege from the mountains and force the surrender of the Federal troops that now guarded the town. Later, it would shift back into Union hands and serve as an important supply base. After the war, the shift in Harpers Ferry importance came full circle when Storer College was established to educate former slaves in 1867.

Abraham Lincoln and Harpers Ferry - Although not twinned in many ways, besides, of course, the actions of the Civil War that took place there and around it, Abraham Lincoln visited Antietam, only twenty miles from Harpers Ferry, several days after the September 1862 battle there. It was that battle, which was halted after Confederate troops from Harpers Ferry made their way to Antietam at the end of that day, which saw the rationale and timing for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. So it took a more rational man than John Brown, as well as a Civil War and the loss of 500,000 men, for John Brown's goal to be achieved.

Photo above: John Brown's Fort, circa 1885. Courtesy Historic Photo Collection, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. Below: John Brown Museum on Shenandoah Street in the lower town. Courtesy National Park Service.

Harpers Ferry Now

Its history includes the arrival of the first American railroad. Its history is that of the Civil Rights movement, one hundred years before it became a popular term, and emancipation, albeit prior to the Civil War and a failed attempt at that when a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry was overrun by abolitionists who wanted to seed a rebellion. Its history is that of the Civil War itself, when the peaks surrounding the town saw cannons that protected, or more accurately, threatened the town with destruction. The town changed hands many times during the Civil War, you see, because its defense, once overtaken, saw surrender within its confines before what would become an inevitable annihilation. Today, Harpers Ferry is predominantly a national historic park. Yes, almost the entire town. It tells the story of John Brown amongst exhibits housed in the town buildings, as well as the story of Civil War battles, and the history of the armory that had been built there, but is gone now. But it all begins with John Brown. John Brown was the noted abolitionist who moved in from bleeding Kansas and tried to start a slave rebellion two years prior to the start of the Civil War, only to be thwarted by a lack of support from black slaves and an eventual capture by Robert E. Lee, with aide J.E.B. Stuart by his side, while they were still in federal (Union) employ. The town is also situated in one of the most beautiful settings along the east coast, directly on the route of the Appalachian Trail. It contains a historic canal, the ruins of factories that once thrived in the manufacture of weapons, and much else rock climbing, white water rafting, fishing along both the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, and all that history. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia makes an ideal vacation destination for those interested in either the outdoors or the history that made our nation what it is today. If you have family members who are interested in both, this could be the spot for you.

Harpers Ferry Historic Park - Dozens of buildings dot the park all along Potomac Street and running half way up High Street. Each building tells part of the story of the town. On the outside of some of the buildings, another story is told, that of the floods that have ravaged Harpers Ferry as much as the Civil War and John Brown have done. There are museums here that should meet most historic vacationers fancy, from the African American bent at the John Brown Museum and the Black Voices Museum, to the Restoration Museum that has been completed part way to allow you to witness the interior of a building under repair. There are seven distinct areas of the park to explore . the Lower Town, Virginius Island, Camp Hill, Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, Bolivar Heights, and Schoolhouse Ridge. During the year, a variety of programs highlight the living history aspect of the site with National Park interpreters and other living history participants. And these living history demonstrations, plus the tours given by park staff highlight the history that the less celebrated soldiers endured, as well as the famous folks who made Harpers Ferry a location of their fame or infamy.


Native American history in the region dates back to at least 8,000 years ago. The Tuscarora people were the last of the native peoples known to inhabit the area in large numbers, essentially vanishing in the early 18th century. One of these European immigrants, Robert Harper, obtained a patent for the land from the Virginia legislature in 1751. Note that prior to 1863, West Virginia was still a part of Virginia. The town was originally known as Shenandoah Falls at Mr. Harper's Ferry (1763) due to the ferry business Robert Harper managed and operated.

Today, the original house built by Robert Harper is the oldest remaining structure in the lower part of the park. George Washington visited the area during his trip to the rivers' confluence in 1785, searching for a waterway to ship goods westward. Later, Washington began the construction of the federal Harpers Ferry Armory on the site, utilizing waterpower from the rivers for manufacturing purposes.

Meriwether Lewis, under government contract, procured most of the weaponry and associated hardware that would be needed for the Lewis and Clark Expedition at the armory in Harpers Ferry. Blacksmiths also built a collapsible iron boat frame for the expedition. Between the years 1820 to 1840, John H. Hall worked to perfect the manufacturing of interchangeable parts at the armory. [ citation needed ] Utilizing precision molds and jigs, this was one of the birthplaces of precision manufacturing so that armaments and related mechanical equipment could be standardized and parts would be interchangeable. Subsequently, the development of the modern bullet to replace the round lead slug was achieved by James H. Burton and this improvement was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1855. Employing at times up to 400 workers, the armory produced over half a million muskets and rifles between 1801 and 1860.

Abolitionist John Brown led an armed group in the capture of the armory in 1859. Brown had hoped he would be able to arm the slaves and lead them against U.S. forces in a rebellion to overthrow slavery. After his capture in the armory by a group of Marines (led by U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee), Brown was hanged, predicting in his last words that civil war was looming on the horizon, a prediction that came true less than two years later. The most important building remaining from John Brown's raid is the firehouse, now called John Brown's Fort, where he resisted the Marines.

The American Civil War (1861–1865) found Harpers Ferry right on the boundary between the Union and Confederate forces. The strategic position along this border and the valuable manufacturing base was a coveted strategic goal for both sides, but particularly the South due to its lack of manufacturing centers. Consequently, the town exchanged hands no less than eight times during the course of the war. Union forces abandoned the town immediately after the state of Virginia seceded from the Union, burning the armory and seizing 15,000 rifles. Colonel Thomas J. Jackson, who would later become known as "Stonewall", secured the region for the Confederates a week later and shipped most of the manufacturing implements south. Jackson spent the next two months preparing his troops and building fortifications, but was ordered to withdraw south and east to assist P.G.T. Beauregard at the First Battle of Bull Run. Union troops returned in force, occupying the town and began to rebuild parts of the armory. Stonewall Jackson, now a major general, returned in September 1862 under orders from Robert E. Lee to retake the arsenal and then to join Lee's army north in Maryland. Jackson's assault on the Federal forces there, during the Battle of Harpers Ferry led to the capitulation of 12,500 Union troops, which was the largest number of Union prisoners taken at one time during the war. The town exchanged hands several more times over the next two years.

Storer College was built in Harpers Ferry as one of the first integrated schools in the U.S. [7] Frederick Douglass served as a trustee of the college, and delivered a memorable oration on the subject of John Brown there in 1881. Subsequent rulings known as Jim Crow Laws led other African American leaders such as Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois to hold the second Niagara Movement (ancestor of the NAACP) conference at the school in 1906 to discuss ways to peacefully combat legalized discrimination and segregation. After the end of school segregation in 1954, Storer College closed the following year. What remains of the Storer College campus is now administered by the National Park Service, as part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry Center, and the Stephen T. Mather Training Center. [8]

Several historical museums now occupy restored 19th century buildings in the Lower Town Historic District of Harpers Ferry. Nearly half a million people visit the park each year. [9] (In comparison, 15 million people visit Washington, DC, each year. [10] ) North of the park and across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The canal, which operated from 1828 to 1924, provided a vital waterway link with areas up and downstream prior to and during the early years after the arrival of the railroad. Today, the canal towpath and park, which provide access to the Maryland Heights section of the Harpers Ferry N.H.P., can be accessed by foot from Harpers Ferry via a footbridge constructed by the National Park Service alongside tracks on the railroad bridge over the Potomac, or via car by traveling east from Harpers Ferry on U.S. Route 340 to access points near Sandy Hook, Maryland. Aside from the extensive historical interests of the park, recreational opportunities include fishing, boating, and whitewater rafting as well as hiking, with the Appalachian Trail passing right through the park. The park adjoins the Harpers Ferry Historic District, as well as two other National Register of Historic Places locations: St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church and the B & O Railroad Potomac River Crossing.

On June 6, 2016, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was featured on the third 2016 release of the America the Beautiful Quarters series. In the middle of the quarter is a depiction of John Brown's Fort, while the outside has the year (2016), location (Harpers Ferry), and the state (West Virginia). This specific coin is the 33rd park quarter to be released in the America the Beautiful Park Quarter series.

The Civil War Trust (a division of the American Battlefield Trust) and its partners have acquired and preserved 542 acres (2.19 km 2 ) of the battlefield in nine acquisitions. [11] Most of that land has been sold or conveyed to the National Park Service and incorporated into the park.

The original Harper's Ferry operated from 1733 until it was replaced by a timber covered road bridge in about 1824 at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. [2] [3]

Built in 1836–1837, [3] the B&O's first crossing over the Potomac was an 830-foot (250 m) covered wood truss. It was the only rail crossing of the Potomac River until after the Civil War. The single-track bridge, which comprised six river spans plus a span over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, II. [4] : 34 In 1837 the Winchester and Potomac Railroad reached Harpers Ferry from the south, and Latrobe joined it to the B&O line using a "Y" span. [4] : 65

John Brown used the B&O bridge at the beginning of his failed attempt to start a slave insurrection in Virginia and further south.

The bridge was destroyed during the American Civil War, and replaced temporarily with a pontoon bridge. [4] : 65

The two crossings today, which are on different alignments, are from the late 19th century and early 20th century. A steel Pratt truss and plate girder bridge was built in 1894 to carry the B&O Valley line (now the CSX Shenandoah Subdivision) toward Winchester, Virginia, along the Shenandoah River. This was complemented in 1930–1931 with a deck plate girder bridge that carries the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) main line to Martinsburg, West Virginia (the line is now the CSX Cumberland Subdivision).

A rail tunnel was built at the same time as the 1894 bridge to carry the line through the Maryland Heights, eliminating a sharp curve. In the 1930s the western end of the tunnel was widened during the construction of the second bridge to allow the broadest possible curve across the river.

Accident Edit

On December 21, 2019, a CSX freight train derailed on the bridge, sending several cars into the river. There were no injuries and the bridge was later reopened. [5]

Historic Landmarks Commission

The Harpers Ferry Historic Landmarks Commission was established to preserve, protect, and foster the rehabilitation of the Town's historic edifices to insure that growth of the community is commensurate with its historic significance and such other objectives, as set forth in West Virginia Code. The Commission consists of five members appointed by Town Council to staggered terms of five years each. For complete information, refer to Article 131 of the Codified Ordinances of Harpers Ferry.

Regular monthly meetings of the Commission are held at 7:00 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. Additional meetings are occasionally required. All meetings are open to the public and are held upstairs at Town Hall.

Historic Landmarks Commission Members

Guy Hammer, Chairperson (term ending 31 Jan --)
Christian Pechuekonis, Treasurer (term ending 31 Jan 2024)
Steve Sherry, (term ending 31 Jan 2020)
(vacant) (term ending 31 Jan --)
(vacant) (term ending 31 Jan --)

Harpers Ferry

As his Army of Northern Virginia advanced into Maryland in early September 1862, General Robert E. Lee made plans to capture the vital Union garrison at Harpers Ferry in the rear of his invading force. Although Maj. Gen. George McClellan's Army of the Potomac was in pursuit, Lee divided his army, sending three columns under Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to Harpers Ferry while the rest of the army marched towards Hagerstown, Maryland. Surrounded on three sides by steep heights, the terrain surrounding the town made it nearly impossible to defend, a problem made worse by the Union commander, Colonel Dixon S. Miles, who lacked experience leading troops. For three days, Jackson placed artillery on the heights above Harpers Ferry, and on the morning of September 15 ordered an artillery barrage that bombarded the town, followed by an infantry assault by Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill's division. As surrender was debated, Miles was struck by a shell that shattered his left leg, a wound that proved fatal. Jackson took possession of Harpers Ferry before joining the rest of Lee’s army at Sharpsburg, leaving Hill’s division to process the parole of 12,000 prisoners.

  • Note participation in class discussions.
  • Use the essay and rubric to evaluate whether the students meet the lesson objectives.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.11-12 Reading: Literature
Grade(s): Grades 11&ndash 12
Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

  • RL.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • RL.11-12.2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RL.11-12.3. Analyze the impact of the author&rsquos choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.11-12 Writing
Grade(s): Grades 11&ndash 12
Cluster: Text Types and Purposes

  • W.11-12.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    • Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons and evidence.
    • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values and possible biases.
    • Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
    • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
    • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
    • Introduce a topic organize complex ideas, concepts and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables) and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
    • Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.
    • Use appropriate and varied transitions to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
    • Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.
    • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
    • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the
    • information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
    • Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
    • Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events and/or characters.
    • Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth or resolution).
    • Use precise words and phrases, telling details and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting and/or characters.
    • Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed or resolved over the course of the narrative.

    Harpers Ferry and the Civil War

    When hiking in West Virginia, you will be treading on the same ground as abolitionist John Brown who made Harpers Ferry the place mentioned in history books today. Brown and 21 others raided the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry with the plan of using the stolen weapons to instigate an uprising among the slaves. U.S. troops rallied and stormed the firehouse where Brown was hiding out and either killed or captured all who were there. Brown survived the siege and was captured by then colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown was tried for treason and executed. This event ignited passions on both sides and historians say it was the impetus that led to the war between the states.

    The U.S. Armory and Arsenal was established in Harpers Ferry in 1799. The only other such facility was in Massachusetts. Before the Civil War began, the Harpers Ferry arsenal produced more than 600,000 weapons, including muskets and other firearms.

    The location of Harpers Ferry at the junction of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers makes it an ideal place to go hiking in West Virginia today. It is that precise location that made it easily accessible to both Union and Confederate troops. In addition, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had a station there making it a desirable supply route for both sides.

    Control of Harpers Ferry was transferred eight times between the Union and Confederation in the years from 1861 to 1864. In fact, in order to keep the Confederacy from accessing the arsenal, in 1861, Union forces made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy it. Local citizens were able to save the manufacturing equipment and move it to confederate headquarters in Richmond.