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HARCW2_120408_007.JPG: The War Moves North
In 1862, General Robert E. Lee led a Confederate army into the North for the first time since the Civil War began. This bold move, known as the Maryland Campaign, resulted in three significant battles over five days; Harpers Ferry from September 13 to 15; South Mountain on September 14; and Antietam on September 17.
Lee's invasion stalled in Maryland due to a garrison of Union soldiers at Harpers Ferry. The Southern army simply could not advance further north with an army force behind them in the Shenandoah Valley.
To counter the Union threat at Harpers Ferry, Lee sent General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to surround the town. This Confederate movement against Harpers Ferry became the critical turning point of the Maryland Campaign.
HARCW2_120408_012.JPG: Turning the Tables:
For a few short weeks in the late summer and early fall of 1862, the focus of the Civil War in the east moved from the edge of Richmond, Virginia, to the outskirts of Washington. A Union offensive to capture Richmond, the Confederacy's Capital, had failed. Just a few weeks later at Manassas, Virginia, near Washington, another Union army was defeated. The Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee were victorious and advancing north, while the Union armies were disorganized and in retreat. Perhaps the time had come for the South's first invasion of the North.
"For the first time, if I remember, I believe it possible... that Washington may be taken."
-- Adam Hill, Reporter for the New York Tribune
"We crossed the river without opposition, and now comes the 'tug of war.' The invasion policy is begun. May God continue to bless our armies and cause our general & these movements to be instruments in His hands for bringing about a speedy peace."
-- Confederate Major Walter Taylor
"The present seems to be the most propitous time since the commencement of the war for the Confederate Army to enter Maryland. ... we cannot afford to be idle ..., I am aware that the movement is attended with much risk, yet I do not consider success impossible, and shall endeavor to guard it from loss."
-- Confederate General Robert E. Lee
"There is every probability that the army, baffled in his intended capture of Washington, will cross the Potomac, and make a raid into Maryland or Pennsylvania. A moveable army must be immediately organized to meet him again in the field."
-- Union General-in-Chief Henry Halleck
HARCW2_120408_017.JPG: An Opportunity for the South:
The Southern army's victories in Virginia gave the Confederacy an opportunity to win the war. Several factors made it an attractive time for the South to carry the war out of Virginia and seize the advantage above the Mason-Dixon line:
(1) Sabotage of the B&O and Pennsylvania railroads would cripple east to west military transport and communication in the North.
(2) A victory over the Northern army deep in Union territory, coupled with the capture of a large city, might result in European recognition of the Confederacy.
(3) A number of Northern voters reluctantly supported the war and might switch votes to peace candidates in the upcoming elections when faces with a battle on their own soil.
(4) Lee desperately needed to feed his army and he thought he could do so in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
"Two divisions of the army have crossed the Potomac. I hope all will cross today navigation of the canal has been interrupted and efforts will be made to break up the use fo the Baltimore and Ohio railroad."
-- Confederate General Robert E. Lee
"... would it not be time for us to consider whether in such a state of things England and France might not address the contending parties and recommend an arrangement upon the basis of separation [of the union]?"
-- English Prime Minister Palmerston
"There never was such a campaign, not even by Napoleon. Our men march and fight without provisions, living on green corn when nothing better can be had."
-- Confederate General Dorsey Pender
"The proposal of peace would enable the people of the United States to determine at their coming elections whether they will support those who favor a prolongation of the war, or those who wish to bring it to a termination..."
-- Confederate General Robert E. Lee
HARCW2_120408_021.JPG: Why Harpers Ferry?
In 1862, Harpers Ferry was a hollow shell of its former self. Only 100 families remained from a pre-war population of nearly 3,000 people. The destruction of the United States Armory and Arsenal in the first days of the war eliminated the town's largest employer. Downtown Harpers Ferry and the surrounding factories were out of business or in ruins. Churches had become hospitals and gardens had become graveyards. One soldier wrote, "The entire place is not actually worth ten dollars." If the town was such a wasteland, why did an important battle take place here in 1862?
Strategic military significance had replaced the town's economic importance. General Robert E. Lee's invasion depended upon the Shenandoah Valley as a line of communication and supply. But the Union troops guarding the railroad across the Valley at Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry did not withdraw before the Southern advance as Lee had expected. Something had to be done.
Lee devised a plan that split his army into four parts. He sent three columns under Jackson to capture the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry and clear the Shenandoah Valley. Lee's plan, known as Special Orders 191, targeted Harpers Ferry as the key to the future of the Maryland Campaign.
"Gen. Jackson and Gen. Hill told me personally, they had rather take it [Harpers Ferry] forty times than to undertake to defend it once."
-- Union Lieutenant Henry Binney in a letter to the Boston Journal, September 27, 1862
HARCW2_120408_026.JPG: A Bold Plan:
On September 9, from his camp in Frederick, Maryland, Robert E. Lee devised a plan to capture the Union troops at Harpers Ferry and proceed with the invasion. This plan, known as Special Orders 191, shifted the focus of the entire campaign to Harpers Ferry.
Success for the Confederates depended on two things:
(1) A slow response from the Union Army at Washington.
(2) Coordinated and swift action from Southern soldiers who had been marching and fighting for almost three months.
Ambitious and risky, Special Orders 191 split the Confederate Army into four parts, separated by rivers and mountains. Three columns, or two-thirds of Lee's men, were sent off in three different directions to converge on Harpers Ferry. Stonewall Jackson assumed overall command of these soldiers, while Lee prepared for the invasion of Pennsylvania with the balance of his men. The three columns of Confederates sent to Harpers Ferry had three days to take up positions and begin their attack on the post. Following the capture or destruction of the Union force at the Ferry, Jackson was supposed to reunite with Lee for the push into Pennsylvania and a decisive battle with the main body of the Union army.
HARCW2_120408_031.JPG: The Union Defenders:
The only Union troops left in northern Virginia in September 1862 were the 14,000 men at Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg. A sweeping, 70-mile march by Jackson's troops flushed the smaller Martinsburg garrison into Harpers Ferry on September 12. The Northerners hastily fortified positions on Maryland Heights, the high ground across the Potomac River, and on Camp Hill and Bolivar Heights on the Virginia side. The majority of the 14,000 Union troops caught in Harpers Ferry had never been in battle, and many of these soldiers had only been in uniform a few weeks. However, the Union officer in commander, Colonel Dixon Miles, was confident. Fully aware that Confederate veterans would soon challenge his green troops, he said, "I am ready for them."
"Of course we were greatly surprised [sic] at finding ourselves in the face of the enemy so soon... We had no opportunity to drill or learn anything of the art of war."
-- Union Sergeant Nicholas DeGraff, 115th New York
"Be energetic and active, and defend all places to the last extremity. There must be no abandoning of a post, and shoot the first man that thinks of it, whether officer or soldier."
-- Union General John Wool
"... the men... never had a gun in their hands until the boxes were opened and muskets issued to them yesterday; not does an officer of the command... know how to drill or anything about the drill."
-- Union Colonel Dixon Miles
"I expect that this will be the last time you hear from me until this affair is over. All are cheerful and hopeful."
-- Union Colonel Dixon Miles
HARCW2_120408_035.JPG: The Lost Orders
"I expect to find a great battle & do my best at it." So wrote Union General George McClellan to his wife in September 1862. On September 7th, McClellan led an army of 87,000 soldiers northwest from Washington "to move against the rebels whatever their plans may be." Two days later, he wrote to President Lincoln, "If Harpers Ferry is still in our possession, I think I can save the garrison, if they fight at all."
On the 13th, McClellan's men made an incredible discovered while camped on the same ground the Southerners recently abandoned near Frederick, Maryland. A copy of Special Orders 191, wrapped around three cigars, had been left behind! As the Confederate trap began to close around the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, General McClellan pored over Lee's entire battle plan. "Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home," McClellan wrote. He realized that the Southern army was divided and vulnerable, and he thought he could save his country and end the war. He wired Lincoln, "I have the whole Rebel force in front of me but am confident that no time shall be lost... I think Lee has made a gross mistake, and that he will be severely punished for it. The Army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the Rebels remain unchanged... I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency."
But as McClellan prepared his own plan to destroy the Southern army and save the Harpers Ferry garrison, 18 hours passed. No Union soldier took a step toward the rescue of Harpers Ferry until the next day!
HARCW2_120408_038.JPG: Setting the Trap:
Special Orders 191 anticipated a Southern victory at Harpers Ferry on September 12, but only one of the three Confederate columns converging on the town came close to its objective on that day. Confederate General Lafayette McLaws ordered two of his brigades to seize the high ground known as Maryland Heights. Rough ground and heavy underbrush along the narrow ridge forced the Southerners to stop their advance at nightfall, but not until they were within speaking distance of the Union line. On September 13, the battle for this mountain, the key to Harpers Ferry, began. As the Southerners on the ridge top launched their attack, two other columns of Confederates, under generals John Walker and "Stonewall" Jackson, approached Loudoun Heights from the south and School House Ridge from the west. These two Southern columns occupied their positions without firing a shot. Maryland Heights would not be taken so easily.
"So long as Maryland Heights was occupied by the enemy, Harper's Ferry could never be occupied by us. If we gained possession of the heights, the town was no longer tenable to them."
-- Confederate General Lafayette McLaws
Union fortifications on the summit of Maryland Heights consisted of a small clearing fronted by a tangled mass of felled, sharpened trees known as abatis, and two lines of log and stone breastworks. A few hours before the first and most important fighting of the battle for Harpers Ferry, the center of these hastily constructed defenses were manned by inexperienced Northern recruits.
"The Loudoun Heights are in possession of Walker. I desire you to move forward until you get complete possession of the Maryland Heights."
-- Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson to Lafayette McLaws
HARCW2_120408_043.JPG: The 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry
September 13, 1862 -- Phase One: As the first column of Confederates attacked Maryland Heights at dawn, Northern artillery at the Naval Battery, Camp Hill and Bolivar Heights blazed away in a vain attempt to aid the Union Infantry on the mountain.
September 13, 1862 -- Phase Two: After falling back to a second line of defense, Union and Confederate troops on the mountain continued to fight until an order to retreat pulled the Northerners back to Harpers Ferry.
September 14, 1862 -- Phase One: Confederates took positions on School House Ridge, Loudoun Height [sic] and Maryland Heights surrounding the Union defenders on Camp Hill and Bolivar Heights. More than 100 cannons engaged in an artillery duel all afternoon until sunset.
September 14, 1862 -- Phase Two: After dark on the 14th, Union infantry engaged Confederates from School House Ridge at the base of Bolivar Heights. The Southerners also moved more artillery to Loudoun Heights and outflanked the Union left on the Chambers Farm.
September 15, 1862: After a one hour exchange of artillery fire, the Northern forces surrendered to the strategically positioned Confederates.
Number of troops involved: Confederate 23,000; Union 14,000.
HARCW2_120408_048.JPG: General Julius White
Union General Julius White found himself in an uncomfortable position throughout the Maryland Campaign and its aftermath. First he had to abandon his post at Winchester. Then he had to give up Martinsburg and retreat to Harpers Ferry in the face of "Stonewall" Jackson's advancing troops. General White then deferred command of the combined Union forces to the Harpers Ferry garrison commander -- a lower ranking officer with knowledge of the terrain -- Colonel Dixon Miles. Near the end of the battle, after Colonel Miles was killed, White "accepted the unwelcome duty" of arranging the surrender details. A few weeks later, General White was arrested and ordered to testify before a special military commission investigating his role in the surrender of Harpers Ferry.
HARCW2_120408_051.JPG: General John Walker
From his position high atop Loudoun Heights on September 14, 1862, Confederate General John G. Walker heard the sound of battle on nearby South Mountain. Convinced that the Northern army was coming to liberate the Union soldiers trapped in Harpers Ferry, Walker recognized the need to begin and end the battle for the town before the enemy reinforcements arrived. However, two miles west on School House Ridge, "Stonewall" Jackson was carefully planning the artillery bombardment of the Northerners trapped in Harpers Ferry. Jackson's lengthy orders, signal-flagged from ridge to mountaintop and back, delayed any artillery fire until all was ready. Walker could not convince Jackson that an opposing force was rapidly approaching, so he decided to bait the enemy artillery at Harpers Ferry. Walker dared the Union gunners to fire at him by momentarily exposing his infantry. Walker then fired back in self-defense without disobeying Jackson's orders and the battle for Harpers Ferry began.
HARCW2_120408_055.JPG: General Lafayette McLaws
General Lafayette McLaws was stretched to the limit during the attack on Harpers Ferry. His primary objective was to capture Maryland Heights and use the high ground to deploy artillery for the bombardment of the Union troops below. But, after defeating the Northern forces on the Heights in a sharp engagement, McLaws also had to battle the force of gravity. A road had to be cut up the steep hillside before he could move his artillery from the valley floor to the mountaintop. McLaws sent four cannon to the crest, but it took 200 men to pull each piece up the slope. Meanwhile, McLaws' rearguard, four miles east on South Mountain, was attacked and routed by an overwhelming Union force sent to rescue Harpers Ferry. Nightfall and a hesitant opponent allowed McLaws to regroup and form a thin line of battle across the valley between South Mountain and Maryland Heights. "The early surrender of Harpers Ferry relieved me from the situation...," McLaws wrote matter-of-factly. With no rest for the weary, or for the victors, McLaws received orders to march immediately "to Sharpsburg with all possible dispatch."
HARCW2_120408_059.JPG: Colonel Dixon Miles
Colonel Dixon S. Miles' 43-year military career ended in disgrace at Harpers Ferry on September 15, 1862. His professional life before the Civil War did not foreshadow such an unfortunate end. Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1804, Miles began his military training at West Point at the age of 15. He devoted his life to the army and entered the Mexican War as a captain in 1846. He earned two promotions for bravery and was one of only 22 colonels in the US Army when the Civil War began in 1861. At the first battle of Bull Run, however, Colonel Miles was accused of drunkenness. The charge was dismissed, but the damage to his reputation was severe. While at home on leave, the 58-year-old army veterans received new orders to command the Railroad Brigade at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Miles' weak defense and eventual surrender of Harpers Ferry led to bitter accusations of treason against him. His death in the last moments of the battle silenced the only voice that might have been able to clear his name.
HARCW2_120408_063.JPG: General Thos. "Stonewall" Jackson
Robert E. Lee could not have selected a more qualified officer than Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to command the Southern attack on Harpers Ferry in September 1862. Jackson knew Harpers Ferry well. He started his career in the Confederate army there when the Civil War began. During his tenure as the commanding officer at Harpers Ferry in 1861, Jackson became intimately familiar with the unique landscape. During the attack on Harpers Ferry in 1862, he combined his knowledge of the local terrain with his skill as a former professor of artillery tactics. The result of Jackson's effort at Harpers Ferry has been called his most brilliant victory.
HARCW2_120408_066.JPG: General Robert E. Lee
The future of the first Confederate military campaign into Northern territory depended entirely upon Robert E. Lee's plan to deal with the Union soldiers at Harpers Ferry. Before he could pursue his goal to invade Pennsylvania and destroy the Union army in a pitched battle, Lee had to eliminate the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry. Lee's daring plan to capture Harpers Ferry divided his army into four parts separated by mountains and rivers. He knew that his soldiers were tired and poorly fed, and that many of them had been marching barefoot for six weeks. But Lee also knew that his ragged army would have to take risks to give the South a chance to win the war.
HARCW2_120408_069.JPG: General George McClellan
After the defeat at Second Manassas, Northern soldiers needed an inspirational figure to lead them against the first Confederate invasion of the North. The various Union forces in the east also needed a skilled organizer to mold them into an efficient military machine. Against strong opposition from several members of his cabinet, President Abraham Lincoln returned General George B. McClellan to command. "Again I have been called upon to save the country -- the case is desperate, but with God's help I will try unselfishly to do my best & if he wills it accomplish the salvation of the nation," McClellan wrote his wife. But McClellan's caution on the battlefield, which frequently led him to overestimate the strength of his opponent, was well known to Robert E. Lee. Lee said of McClellan, "He is an able general but a very cautious one." Lee's knowledge of McClellan's cautious habits figured prominently both in the Southern general's invasion plans and in the fate of the Union defenders at harpers [sic] Ferry.
HARCW2_120408_072.JPG: General William Franklin
On September 13, 1862, William B. Franklin became a key player in the Union effort to foil the first Confederate invasion of the North. General Franklin's orders included a series of lengthy and detailed instructions, not the lest of which was the reinforcement of the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry. But before that could happen, Franklin had to seize Crampton's Gap on top of South Mountain, drive the Confederates into the Potomac River to the south and prepare for the possibility of another enemy force marching toward him from the north. Franklin outnumbered his opponent almost four to one. But on September 15, the day of Harpers Ferry's surrender, he mistakenly reported, "They outnumber me two to one. It will of course not answer to pursue the enemy under these circumstances."
William B. Franklin
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Soon after the beginning of the Civil War, Franklin was appointed colonel of the 12th U.S. Infantry, but three days later, on May 17, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. He led a brigade at First Bull Run, and afterwards became a division commander in the newly-created Army of the Potomac. In March 1862, the army was formed into corps, and Franklin appointed to head of the VI Corps, which he then led in the Peninsula Campaign. He was promoted to major general on July 4, 1862. During the Northern Virginia Campaign, Franklin stayed with the main army and did not participate in it. At Antietam, his VI Corps was in reserve and he tried in vain to convince Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner to allow his corps to exploit a weakened position in the Confederate center. Franklin was a staunch ally of Army of the Potomac commander George McClellan, part of the reason he was not considered for command of the army following the latter's dismissal in November 1862. At Fredericksburg, he commanded the "Left Grand Division" (two corps, under Maj. Gens. John F. Reynolds and William F. Smith), which failed in its assaults against the Confederate right, commanded by Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside blamed Franklin personally for this failure, although he appears to have executed his orders exactly.
As political intrigue swept the Union Army after Fredericksburg and the infamous Mud March, Franklin was alleged to be a principal instigator of the "cabal" against Burnside's leadership. Burnside caused considerable political difficulty for Franklin in return, offering damaging testimony before the powerful U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and keeping him from field duty for months. When Joseph Hooker took command of the army that February, Franklin resigned his command, refusing to serve under him. During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, Franklin was home in York, Pennsylvania, and assisted Maj. Granville Haller in developing plans for the defense of the region versus an expected enemy attack.
Franklin was reassigned to corps command in the Department of the Gulf and participated in the ill-fated 1864 Red River Campaign. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Mansfield in Louisiana. Returning from the field with his injury, he was captured by Maj. Harry Gilmor's Confederate partisans in a train near Washington, D.C., in July 1864, but escaped the following day. The remainder of his army career was limited by disability from his wound and marred by his series of political and command misfortunes. He was unable serve in any more senior commands, even with the assistance of his West Point classmate, friend, and future president, Ulysses S. Grant.
HARCW2_120408_074.JPG: After Harpers Ferry: The Rest of the Story:
This is one of the 128 books from The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, commonly referred to as the Official Records or, simply, the "O.R."
Almost 2,000 pages of reports and correspondence went into the two volumes of the O.R. related to General Robert E Lee's Maryland Campaign. A significant number of these documents focused on the Battle of Harpers Ferry and its aftermath, including the "Record of the Harpers Ferry Military Commission," a comprehensive military investigation of the battle.
HARCW2_120408_091.JPG: After Harpers Ferry: The Faces of Camp Douglas:
The Confederate victors paroled all 12,500 Union soldiers captured at Harpers Ferry. The captured soldiers swore an oath not to fight again until they were exchanged for Confederate prisoners. During their long incarceration at Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, boredom, humiliation, and filth weakened morale well before the last Northern paolee [sic -- should be "parolee"] returned to active duty four months later. Still, these so-called "Harpers Ferry cowards" longed for a chance to reclaim their honor.
"Says I must keep the lice off, and if I had not got a comb you would send me one. It is not the kind that needs combs. If you would send anythin send a horse rake, I have seen lice in these barracks as large as a kernel of wheat... I never saw a body louse until we came here. But I see something new every day. There are more rats here than I ever saw before, and they are big enough to carry a knapsack. They come out at nights and drill in squads."
-- Private thomas Freen, 111th NY
HARCW2_120408_093.JPG: Remember Harpers Ferry:
The 126th New York Volunteers were among the Union troops engaged at Harpers Ferry in September 1862. These soldiers had been mustered into service on August 22nd of that year. Three weeks later they faced hardened veterans of the Confederate army on the steep slopes of Maryland Heights. The conduct of the 126th during the battle remains questionable, even though they suffered higher losses than any other Union regiment. Although many of the journals and diaries stated that the young soldiers held their position well during the encounter, other sources disagreed. Newspapers soon reported that the regiment had fled in panic and disgrace. The men of the 126th New York were branded the "Harper's Ferry Cowards."
After surrendering on September 15th, all of the paroled Union troops marched to Annapolis, Maryland, 100 miles away. From there it was on to Baltimore by steamer where they boarded a filthy cattle train for Chicago, Illinois. They were locked up in vermin-infested Camp Douglas, recently vacated by Confederate prisoners of war. After two humiliating months as prisoners in their own land, the regiment was sent to guard Washington, DC, where they received the basic training they had never had. Regimental physician, Dr. Charles S. Hoyt, remarked, "The brigade is under constant drill and fast being educated in the school of the soldier."
In July of 1863, the men had the opportunity to test their schooling and to reclaim their honor. General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army once again moved north, and the Union Army of the Potomac, including the 126th New York, followed. On July 2nd at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the 126th New York fought valiantly, beating back Southern attacks on the Union left flank. The following day the boys from New York repulsed the Confederate onslaught known as Pickett's Charge. Their rallying cry during the battle was "Remember Harpers Ferry!" After the Southerners retreated, members of the 126th dragged captured Confederate battle flags through the dirt. The 126th New York redeemed their reputation at Gettysburg, but with 231 of the unit's 455 men killed or wounded, the cost of redemption was indeed high.
HARCW2_120408_102.JPG: No Way Out:
At 1pm on September 14, Confederate artillery began firing at the Northern troops on Bolivar Heights and Camp Hill. The Union artillery's return fire to Maryland Heights and Loudoun Heights was ineffective at such long range and elevation. The only comfort to the Northern soldiers that day came from the sound of cannon east of Maryland Heights on South Mountain, where their eagerly awaited reinforcements battled with the Southerner's rearguard. But any hope of rescue sank when the sound of the guns faded with the setting sun. The Union force sent to save Harpers Ferry stalled in the valley to the east of Maryland Heights. During the night, Northern infantrymen fired their last shots in defense of Harpers Ferry as Southerners probed the center of Bolivar Heights. The morale of the Northern soldiers plummeted, especially among the raw recruits. Alone, outnumbered, and trapped, how long could they hold out?
"... pass the enemy's lines, and try to reach somebody that had ever heard of the United States Army, or any general of the United States Army, or anybody that knew anything about the United States Army, and report the condition of Harper's Ferry."
-- Union Colonel Miles' instructions to his messenger
Sometime between 9 and 10pm on September 14, fighting broke out along the Union skirmish line on the western slope of Bolivar Heights. Colonel Jesse Segoine's 111th New York held the center of the line. During this final infantry engagement, Segoine came to the aid of Private James O'Hara and loaded a rifle for the disabled infantryman who had no right thumb.
The Union troops on Bolivar Heights dug trenches and changed position as far as they could to protect themselves from the Confederate bombardment. Albert Sabin of the 9th Vermont Regiment wrote, "We went over the hill to escape the fire, cavalry and infantry together, our batteries replying. No sooner were we nicely out of fire there, than a battery opened on us from the opposite direction, and we sought a ravine for protection."
"At 6pm marched to the foot of the hill. An awful fight on the eve. We atacted [sp] in front and rear."
-- Union Corporal John Paylor, 111th New York
"I was ordered out in front of our camp to skirmish as the Rebs were getting rather thick... It was a dangerous position, but I felt as if I did not care whether the Rebs had me or not. One hundred men were detailed and put under Lt. Munson & myself. You ought to have seen us hunting our way down Bolivar Heights.... At last we reached our position... Soon on the right of our position firing commenced."
-- Union Lieutenant George Yost, 126th New York
Troops and artillery on Camp Hill (in foreground looking west to Bolivar Heights) gave Colonel Miles a strong interior position. However, on the afternoon of September 14, as the report of a Major Henry McIlvaine pointed out, "The enemy opened fire from Maryland Heights with one and from Loudoun Heights with two batteries; from Charlestown road a battery of two guns, and one heavy gun from Shepherdstown road. Their fire was brisk and range good, rendering it almost impossible to work the guns on Camp Hill."
HARCW2_120408_111.JPG: South Mountain and the Attack on Harpers Ferry:
"Now I know what to do!" exclaimed Union General George McClellan on September 13, 1862. McClellan's cavalry scouts had failed to discover Robert E. Lee's position up to that point. But after McClellan's men literally stumbled upon a lost copy of Lee's Special Orders 191, the cautious General resolved to attack Lee's divided army and send a force to rescue the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry. Eighteen hours after the "Lost Orders" were found, McClellan's resolve "to cut the enemy in two, and beat him in detail" finally led his vanguard to three gaps along the crest of South Mountain. It took a full day of fierce but uncoordinated assaults to push back the grossly outnumbered Southerners. The time spent by the Northerners and gained by the Confederates in this action weighed heavily upon the action at Harpers Ferry and the outcome of the Maryland Campaign.
At Crampton's Gap, the southernmost of the three gaps on South Mountain, the Union Sixth Corps under General William Franklin fought the rearguard of Confederate General Lafayette McLaws. Franklin had been instructed by McClellan, "Having gained the pass your duty will be first to cut off, destroy or capture McLaws' command and relieve Colonel Miles... I ask of you, at this important moment, all your intellect and the utmost activity that a general can exercise."
McLaws men had to hold their ground against Franklin's attack, seal off the escape routes out of Harpers Ferry and cannonade the Union troops trapped there -- all at the same time. When McLaws' small rearguard lost Crampton's Gap, Franklin had the opportunity to overrun the rest of McLaws' troops and save the Northern soldiers at Harpers Ferry. But Franklin thought he was outnumbered, and waited until the next day to move toward Harpers Ferry. On the morning of the 15th, with his back to the Potomac River and mountains on both flanks, McLaws formed a thin line of battle across the valley between South Valley and Maryland Heights. It was a show of strength that bluffed Franklin again and sealed the fate of Harpers Ferry.
HARCW2_120408_114.JPG: The raw recruits of the 126th New York Volunteers surrendered their regimental flag at Harpers Ferry on September 15, 1862. The Confederate victors kept the flag as a trophy of war in Richmond, Virginia, until the city fell in 1865. Then the United States War Department stored the flag in Washington, DC, until 1879, when Colonel Ephraim Whitaker returned the flag to New York for a reunion of the veterans from the 126th.
Colonel Eliakim Sherrill led the 126th New York Regiment at Harpers Ferry in 1862.
HARCW2_120408_128.JPG: The Surrender
Even though Harpers Ferry was completely surrounded on September 14, the town remained in Union hands. Jackson forced the issue that evening by repositioning 30 cannon and sending 3,000 soldiers around the Union left on Bolivar Heights. General A.P. Hill's Southerners scrambled up steep ravines along the Shenandoah River and came up behind the Northerners' flank on the Chambers Farm. The next morning, Colonel Miles faced an intensified bombardment, a Confederate force poised to roll over his left flank and a dwindling supply of long-range ammunition. Miles ordered his troops to surrender. However, a late round of artillery from Loudoun Heights struck the Union line after the white flag went up. A shell fragment tore through Colonel Miles' leg, mortally wounding the beleaguered officer. With no time to march to a Southern prison, all of the captured troops were paroled under oath that they would not fight again until they had been exchanged for Confederate prisoners. The South captured 13,000 small arms, 200 wagons, 73 cannon, and 12,419 Union soldiers. It was the largest surrender of United States troops until the fall of Bataan and Corregidor during World War II.
General Julius White took command of Harpers Ferry after Colonel Miles' wounding, only to surrender the garrison. Reflecting on the circumstances years later, White wrote, "A number of the prominent officers of the Confederate army spoke of our situation as hopeless from the hour when the investment was completed."
"(General White, USA) was mounted on a handsome black horse, was handsomely uniformed, with an untarnished sabre, immaculate gloves and boots, and had a staff fittingly equipped. He must have been somewhat astonished to find in general Jackson the worst-dressed, worst mounted, most faded and dingy-looking general he had ever seen anyone surrender to."
-- Confederate Captain Henry Kyd Douglas, Jackson's aide
"Branch and Gregg were ordered to continue the march along the river, and, during the night, to take advantage of the ravines cutting the precipitous banks of the river, and establish themselves on the plain to the left and rear of the enemy's works... This was accomplished with but slight resistance, and the fate of Harper's Ferry was sealed."
-- Confederate General A.P. Hill
HARCW2_120408_130.JPG: The Great Escape!
"It was Sunday, the 14th of September, the day of the battle of South Mountain. The party consisted of twenty-two hundred cavalry and a number of mounted civilians who took advantage of the expedition to escape from the town before it was surrendered. Lieutenant Speaker and Colonel Davis rode side by side at the head of the column. They crossed on the pontoon bridge, which formed the military connection between Harper's Ferry and Maryland Heights, and turned up the road which runs between the canal and the Heights, riding at full charge along the left bank of the Potomac. It was a wild road; the night was dark; only the camp-fires on the mountain were visible; and there was no sound but the swift clatter of thousands of galloping hoofs, and the solitary rush of the Potomac waters.
"... We struck the pike between Hagerstown and Williamsport about two o'clock. We came to a halt pretty quick, although, for there was a Rebel wagon-train several miles in length, passing along the pike. There were no fences; and the woods were clear and beautiful for our purpose. Our line was formed along by the pike, extensive some three-quarters of a mile. Then we charged. The first the guards and drivers knew, there were sabres at their heads; and all they had to do was to turn their wagons, right about and go with us. We captured over seventy wagons, all the rear of the train. They had to travel a little faster in the other direction than they had been going, so that some of the wagons broke down by the way; but the rest we got safely off.
"It was just daylight when they arrived at Greencastle [Pennsylvania] and turned the wagons over to the Federal quartermaster there..."
-- Except from The South: A Tour of Its Battlefields and Cities, a Journey Through the Desolated States, And Talks With The People by J.T. Trowbridge
"Our town was thrown into the wildest state of excitement on last Monday a week by the arrival of 50 or 60 "secesh" prisoners together with a long train of wagons loaded with ammunition and guarded by a company of the first Maryland Cavalry. This train was captured that morning between Hagerstown and Williamsport, by about 1,500 of our Cavalry from Harper's Ferry, who were cutting their way through the enemy lines, which they succeeded in doing in the most successful manner, and arriving safely in this place with their valuable price, without losing a single man. This we consider the most successful exploit of the war..."
-- Valley Spirit, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, September 24, 1862
HARCW2_120408_134.JPG: September 14
A general feeling of depression observable in all the men. All seem to think that we will have to surrender or be cut to pieces.
A rather dark page in the history of us.
HARCW2_120408_135.JPG: "The scene of the surrender was one of deep humiliation to the North. It was indeed a repetition of the revolutionary glories of Yorktown, to see here the proud, gayly dressed soldiers of the oppressor drawn up in line, stacking their arms, and surrendering to the ragged, barefoot, half-starved soldiers of liberty."
-- Edward Polland, editor, Richmond Examiner
HARCW2_120408_137.JPG: "They hoisted the Bars and stars where an hour before our glorious old star-spangled banner floated proudly in the breeze. Oh, how my heart beat and my bosom heaved to see that corrupt flag raised in defiance over us."
-- Union Sergeant Charles Smith, 32nd Ohio Infantry
HARCW2_120408_148.JPG: The Aftermath:
"Stonewall" Jackson's command decisions at Harpers Ferry led to a stunning and valuable victory for the Confederacy. However, as a result of the Harpers Ferry engagement, the main Union army under George McClellan caught up with Robert E. Lee's much smaller force at Sharpsburg, Maryland. Jackson's footsore troops had to make a severe overnight march from Harpers Ferry to rejoin Lee in time for the expected battle. Although the last Confederate reinforcements from Harpers Ferry arrived at Antietam Creek in the nick of time to save Lee from annihilation, the first Southern invasion of the Northern states was over. The Confederate invaders withdrew after the battle of Antietam -- the single, bloodiest day of the Civil War. Despite the astonishing Union defeat at Harpers Ferry and the sobering losses at Antietam, the end of the Maryland Campaign resulted in a desperately needed victory for the North.
HARCW2_120408_153.JPG: Forever Free: The Emancipation Proclamation:
Five days after the battle of Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln declared war on slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had been waiting for a battlefield victory to lift public morale because of the limited support for emancipation. The Southern Army's retreat at the end of the Maryland Campaign provided the necessary boost to Northern spirit despite a combined casualty list from South Mountain, Harpers Ferry and Antietam of 25,000 Federal soldiers killed, wounded and surrendered.
Southern newspapers, like Virginia's Staunton Spectator, were horrified by Lincoln's Proclamation and predicted a race war. "He invites the servile population of the South to enact the bloody scene of St. Domingo throughout the limits of the Southern Confederacy." None of the predicted atrocities occurred.
Although the Proclamation's immediate effect was limited, and very few people were actually freed by this act, the words served a greater purpose. The document changed the course of history and steered the country in a new direction. The Emancipation Proclamation determined that the Civil War was not only about preserving the Union, but also about preserving personal freedom.
From that moment forward, the Civil War became what some historians have called the "Second American Revolution." President Lincoln captured the significance of this turning point in history when he said, "In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth."
HARCW2_120408_155.JPG: Defeat and Triumph:
Two groups of African Americans were immediately affected by the surrender of the Union forces at Harpers Ferry. Their fates' [sic] are described below:
"And now ensued a scene which to our liberty-loving young northerners was in the highest degree revolting.
"During the long sojourn of the Union Army at Harper's Ferry, large numbers of slaves had escaped into our lines. The old and helpless and the little children, as well as able-bodied men and women, who thought the hour had come for which they had prayed and longed through many a weary year, the hour of freedom, had gathered under the flag which to them was its starry symbol. Alas, in surrendering Harper's Ferry to the rebels, Miles re-surrendered these hapless human beings to the slavery from which they fondly hoped they had escaped forever! Throughout that dismal 15th, fierce-eyed, lank, half-savage men, armed with long, cruel whips, rushed in to claim "their property;" and with oaths and curses, drove before them from their new-found liberty into bondage, the helpless, despairing blacks. The crack of the whip, its cuts across the shoulders of the women and children who flagged; the anguish, the speechless misery of those who lost in a moment the hope of their lifetime and almost their faith in a just God, formed a scene never to be forgotten. And it is dreadful to think that just such a scene ensued at each similar reverse which our army experienced!"
-- Excerpt from the regimental history of the 126th New York Volunteers, Disaster, Struggle, Triumph, by Mrs. Arabella M. Willson
Another group of African Americans faced the same dismal prospect as the contrabands. Their fate, however, was quite different. The 60th Ohio regiment included a number of free African Americans employed as teamsters and servants. The Ohio unit's Colonel, William Tremble, knew that the Union surrender jeopardized the freedom of these black men. Trimble persuaded Confederate General A.P. Hill, in charge of the surrender details, to issue passes for the African-American Ohioans to leave Harpers Ferry. However, as thousands of Union soldiers crossed the river to leave town, a Confederate major attempted to separate the Ohio blacks from their comrades. Colonel Trimble ordered the major to step aside. Trimble then drew the pistol he had been allowed to keep, and held the Confederate officer at gunpoint until all of the Ohio men, black and white, were safely across the river.
HARCW2_120408_163.JPG: The Road to Emancipation:
The capture of Harpers Ferry on September 15, 1862, remains a little-known, yet critical turning point in the Maryland Campaign. Although the influence of this Campaign on the Civil War is undeniable, few people recognize the role of Harpers Ferry in the ultimate Northern victory and Southern defeat. Because of the Southern focus on Harpers Ferry, the Union army discovered the information and gained the time necessary to turn back the Confederate invasion.
As a result, President Abraham Lincoln had the victory he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and make the end of slavery and official goal of the war. Lincoln had said to Congress in January of 1862, "I cannot imagine that any European power would dare to recognize and aid the Southern Confederacy if it became clear that the Confederacy stands for slavery and Union for freedom."
Although the war lasted another two-and-a-half years, the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation prevented the Confederate cause from receiving the desperately needed assistance and recognition a foreign power could have provided.
HARCW2_120408_168.JPG: The Confederate Assault on Maryland Heights:
"The width of the crest was not more than fifty yards in places, and along this Kershaw had to move in line of battle, Barksdale's brigade in reserve... Over such obstacles as were encountered and the difficulties and dangers separating the different troops, a line of battle never before made headway as it did those of Kershaw and the troops under McLaws.
"We met the enemy's skirmishers soon after turning to the left on Elk Ridge, and all along the whole distance of five miles were were more or less harassed by them. During the march of the 12th the men had to pull themselves up precipitous inclines by the twigs and undergrowth that lined the mountain side, or hold themselves in position by the trees in front. At night we bivouacked on the mountain... Early next morning as we advanced we again met the enemy's skirmishers, and had to be continually driving them back. Away to the south and beyond the Potomac we could hear the sound of Jackson's guns as he was beating his way up to meet us. By noon we encountered the enemy's breastworks, built of great stones and logs, in front of which was an abattis of felled timber and brushwood. The Third, under Nance, and the Seventh, under Aiken, were ordered to the charge on the right. Having no artillery up, it was with great difficulty we approached the fortifications. Men had to cling to bushes while they loaded and fired. But with their usually gallantry they came down to their work. Through the tangled undergrowth, through the abattis, and over the breastworks they leaped with a yell. The fighting was short but very severe."
-- Excerpt from History of Kershaw's Brigade by D. Augustus Dickert
"They [Union] retired about 400 yards, to a much stronger position, a similar abatis, beyond which was a breastwork of logs, extending across the mountain, flanked, as before, by precipitous ledges of rocks.
"I had, at the commencement of the attack, directed General Barksdale to form his brigade down the face of the mountain to my left, in prolongation of the two lines on the summit, it having appeared the night before that the enemy's skirmishers occupied a part of that face of the mountain. I now directed General Barksdale to advance his command, and attack the enemy in flank and rear, while I pressed him in front. Again I moved forward the Seventh and Eighth Regiments. Reaching the abatis, a most obstinate resistance was encountered, and a fierce fire kept up, at about 100 yards distance, for some time. Our loss was heavy, and I found it necessary to send in Colonel Nance's Third Regiment to support the attack. They, too, were stoutly resisted."
-- Official Records, J.B. Kershaw, Brigadier-General, Commanding
HARCW2_120408_174.JPG: This is one type of shell fired from the Union's Naval Battery on Maryland Heights. Primarily used to batter down structures, 100-pound solid shot like this was also used to bowl down troop formations. The cannon that fired these balls had a range of more than four miles.
HARCW2_120408_189.JPG: Harpers Ferry and the Civil War:
The Strategic Importance of Harpers Ferry:
Tempting to take, difficult to defend, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times. Even though each side occupied the town four times, the Union Army garrisoned Harpers Ferry more than three years during the Civil War. Southern forces held the area less than three months.
Important to the North: Federal troops occupied Harpers Ferry to:
(1) Protect the B&O Railroad and C&O Canal
(2) Deter invasion of the North
(3) Maintain a base of operations in the lower Shenandoah Valley
Important to the South: Confederate armies in Virginia took advantage of Harpers Ferry to:
(1) Damage Union transports on the railroads and canals
(2) Pass through the mountains to threaten Washington, DC
(3) Support invasions of the North via the Shenandoah Valley
"I am of the opinion that this place should be defended with the spirit which actuated the defenders of Thermopylae ... The fall of this place would, I fear, result in the loss of the north-western part of the State, and who can estimate the moral power gained to the enemy and lost to ourselves?"
-- Col. Thomas J. Jackson, CSA
"As regards Harpers Ferry, its abandonment would be depressing the cause of the South..."
-- Brig. General Robert E. Lee, CSA
"I look upon the permanent and secure occupation of Harper's Ferry as a military necessity... I cannot urge too strongly the importance of permanently occupying Harper's Ferry in great strength."
-- Maj. General George B. McClellan, USA
"... a very important position in reference to Baltimore and Washington and for operating in Western Virginia... a force sufficient to protect the bridge and railroad should be stationed there..."
-- Maj. General John E. Wool, USA
Harpers Ferry before the war...
... a prosperous industrial town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with a stable economy and a rural attitude.
Nearly 3,000 people -- ten percent African American -- lived in this area in 1860. 400 men manufactured weapons at the federal armory on the Potomac River. The Shenandoah River provided power for the U.S. Rifle Factory on Hall's Island and for more than 40 privately owned businesses on Virginius Island. Restaurants, hotels and shops in town profited from the commerce of the B&O Railroad and the C&O Canal.
Harpers Ferry after the war...
... a ghost of its former self.
More frequent flooding over a barren landscape and the loss of hundreds of jobs as the federal gun factories made recovery from the war a long, slow process. Years of rebuilding efforts and the end of slavery would change the face of Harpers Ferry forever.
HARCW2_120408_202.JPG: As the Confederate garrison increased during the early weeks of the war, the authorities assigned Col. Thomas J. Jackson to command this strategic position. This was Jackson's first command of the war.
JEB Stuart and AP Hill also began their Confederate military careers here. So did Turner Ashby, Joseph E. Johnston, William Nelson Pendleton, and John D. Imboden.
HARCW2_120408_206.JPG: The Confederates under Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston abandoned Harpers Ferry on June 15, 1861.
Before the evacuation, the Southerners moved arms and machinery south. They destroyed much of the public property that remained, including the B&O Railroad bridge over the Potomac.
HARCW2_120408_212.JPG: 1861 -- War Begins:
Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861. As Virginia militia advanced upon the armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Union soldiers under Lt. Roger Jones set fire to a number of the federal buildings.
"... there was a sudden flash that illuminated for miles around the romantic gorge where the rivers meet. Then followed a dull report, reverberating from mountain to mountain until it died away in a sullen roar."
-- Porte Crayon, artist and correspondent
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