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May 7, 2021 / mws

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

If you have an interest in History, Harpers Ferry is a good place to visit. The fact that John Brown led a raid on the the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry was the historical info that I recalled from history class. I knew John Brown made an attempt to lead an uprising of slaves, and that he failed and was hanged.

Looking deeper into the history of 1859 and 1860 revealed more facts. After his hanging, John Brown’s name was frequently read in newspapers around the country. With the 1860 presidential election looming, politicians were greatly divided with the slavery issue at the forefront. Because politicians could not agree on a candidate for the Republican Party for the 1860 election, they compromised on Abraham Lincoln. So now I know that the actions and hanging of John Brown compelled politicians to deal with the issue of slavery and resulted in secession and the Civil War. John Brown was a great proponent of the Declaration of Independence. He believed in “Liberty for All”, including education for all Americans, black or white. His actions set off a sequence of events that led to the start of the Civil War and freedom for slaves.

Reconstruction of John Brown Fort

The second major historical event at Harpers Ferry began in March 1862 when Union Colonel Dixon Miles was assigned to the remnants of a once productive Armory. Before the Confederate Army burned the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1861, it produced 10,000 firearms a year. Because of it’s location, Harpers Ferry remained important to the military as a supply base for the Shenandoah Valley and to protect the railroads. Due to the destruction from the Confederate assault, there were very few local residents, but Colonel Miles commanded thousands of military troops at Harpers Ferry.

As the Confederate troops moved north, Stonewall Jackson led a massive assault on the Union troops at Harpers Ferry. The Union troops were pinned in the valley with the confederates stationed in the hills firing at will against them. The Union Commanders held a military council and determined that they must surrender or die. On September 15, 1862, the Union soldiers raised white flags. However, a stray Confederate shell mortally wounded Colonel Dixon before the Union surrender could be finalized. During the surrender, the Confederate Army captured the largest number of Federal military soldiers in the Civil War…over 12,000 troops.

During our visit to Harpers Ferry, we visited the Murphy-Chambers Farm. Today, the farm is a wonder of nature and a peaceful place to hike. But during the Civil War, it was the site of a major defeat of the Union military.

Harper Ferry’s very early history dates back to 1783 when nature-loving Thomas Jefferson first travelled through the Shenandoah Valley. Along the high trails above Harpers Valley, Jefferson enjoyed the mountains and rivers and found nature at it’s best. According to history, Thomas Jefferson first stood at the location of Jefferson Rock on October, 25, 1783. A news article about his travels through the Shenandoah area was published in Virginia in 1785 and these quotes from Jefferson were included.

“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.

You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Jefferson Rock, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

The very top original slab of Jefferson Rock became unsafe due to weather and curious tourists. Sometime between 1855 and 1860, stone reinforcement pillars were place at the corners to offer better support.

Click here to see more photos of Harpers Ferry

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

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