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Civil War Tour: Harper's Ferry National Historic Park

Photography: James T. Parks, Alain Labadie & Jeff Arpin

Perched above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Harpers Ferry, WV has borne witness to American History for hundreds of years. George Washington helped establish the first federal armory at this location in the late 18th century. That armory would play a strategic role in events leading up to, and during, the American Civil War.

Just after sunset on October 16, 1859, John Brown led a contingent of 21 men across the Potomac River to capture a cache of weapons stored at the U.S. Arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Brown’s goal was to free and arm slaves, who he believed would eagerly join their abolitionist cause. Events, however, quickly devolved into a standoff with Federal troops commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee. The invaders were cornered in a small firehouse until they finally surrendered. This event further inflamed the tensions between North and South.

On September 13-15, 1862 Federal troops at Harpers Ferry were surrounded by a Confederate force of approximately 30,000 troops led by General Stonewall Jackson, which was part of General Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign. The Federal garrison of 12,000 inexperienced troops occupied the “low ground” in an impossible to defend strategic position. General Miles surrenders his troops to Jackson, which became the largest number surrendered during the war. Afterward Jackson departs for Sharpsburg, MD where the Battle of Antietam results in the largest number of American casualties in a single day of fighting.

In the 21st century Harpers Ferry, WV is a National Historical Park, preserving the town much as it appeared in the 19th century. This scenic historic location is one of the stops on the first day on the Blue Rim American Civil War Tour. For more information on the tour, visit our website or email us for details.

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