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Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry in the Civil War

Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers has a rich Civil War history. President George Washington arranged to have one of the nation's two government arsenals located there. The Harpers Ferry Arsenal made high quality, rifled muskets and engaged in what we now call research and development.

Because of the abundant source of power afforded by the rapidly flowing rivers along with supply of skilled workers Harpers Ferry attracted other industrial development. Perhaps the most significant from a technological point of view was the Hall Rifle Works where John R. Hall used the concept of interchangeable parts to produce breech-loading rifles.

The vitally important Baltimore & Ohio Railroad passed through Harpers Ferry which added to the importance of the area to both sides once the War started.

In 1859 abolitionist John Brown seized the armory and arsenal in a abortive attempt to start a slave insurrection. He saw the ferry as the place to capture arms with which to equip an army and free the slaves of the Deep South. Brown's raid was a failure, but it set the country in motion toward civil war.

In April 1861, Virginia authorities sent militia to capture Harpers Ferry in order to seize arms and the valuable arsenal machinery. From a strategic point of view both sides wanted possession of the Ferry because whoever controlled the ferry controlled the B&O railroad, one of the three most important east-west transportation corridors in the North.

In the next four years, Harpers Ferry was devastated. The armory and arsenal were destroyed, its railroad bridges over the Potomac burned and later rebuilt. Usually occupied by Federal troops, it also became a refugee camp for thousands of runaway slaves making their way North.

Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson captured the federal garrison there on September 15, 1862, following a lightning 51-mile march. He captured about 12,000 troops and tons of supplies.

After the war, the ferry was little more than a ghost town. The federal government sold what was left of the armory and arsenal and other property. Efforts to rebuild its commercial base were frequently devastated by flooding. Finally in the 1940s Harpers Ferry was declared a national monument and subsequently made into the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry
Stonewall Builds a Legend in 1861
Lee's Maryland Campaign of 1862
Map of the area around Harpers Ferry
Map of Stonewall Jackson's Route to Harpers Ferry
Battle of Crampton's Gap
Battle of South Mountain

Harpers Ferry as a Federal Depot
National Park Site

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