Harpers Ferry and Virginia Secession

Today I made the short drive over to Harpers Ferry to attend the sesquicentennial observances. While my pal Robert Moore is “live blogging” the events, let me pass along some images from, and perhaps some thoughts of, Harpers Ferry today.

Looking back 150 years, on April 17, 1861, Virginia’s secession convention passed a resolution in favor of secession.  Formally, this resolution required a state-wide vote, but the wheels were set in motion. Earlier former Governor Henry Wise convinced (I use that word since “ordered” would be technically incorrect) Turner Ashby and John Imboden to prepare for a move on the US Arsenal and Armory at Harpers Ferry.

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Large Arsenal Foundation Trace

The next day, a force of Virginia militia, although numbering just over 300, moved to seize the military stores and machinery there.

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Virginia Militia Reenactors in Early-War Uniforms

At Harpers Ferry, thirty US soldiers defended the depot.

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Guards in Front of the Small Arsenal Building

Outnumbered, Lieutenant Roger Jones set fire to the arsenal and armory.  On the morning of April 18, Jones’ detachment stuffed mattress ticking with gunpowder creating improvised incendiary devices. Lighting a trail of powder leading back to bags, Jones’ men set the arsenal ablaze.

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Display at Harpers Ferry - Burned Musket at Bottom

As result, 15,000 small arms burned. The detachment also set fire to the Armory factory buildings, but those facilities proved less flammable.

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Old Armory Grounds

Townspeople and Virginia militia managed to suppress the fires at the armory, but the arsenal was a loss. The secessionists would put that equipment to use over the next few years producing weapons for the Confederacy.

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Stephensons Hotel

Following those fires, the town of Harpers Ferry saw scarcely a peaceful day for the next four years.

Aside from chatting with Robert Moore, the highlights of the day included an excellent interpretive program from the park staff, along with author presentations from Tom Clemens and Scott Mingus.  The weather made for a good day at Harpers Ferry, much improved over yesterday.  With all the rain over the last 24 hours, the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers were cresting high.

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Shenandoah River Rising

Normally, I consider the Potomac and Shenandoah, while with respect, less “angry” than the big rivers in the mid-west, of which I am more familiar.  But today, the rivers reminded me of those turbulent currents along the Mississippi.

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Confluence of the Rivers at the "Point"

Most dramatic, the rapids on the Shenandoah upstream from Harpers Ferry must have bumped up their whitewater rating.

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Rapids of the Shenandoah

Rough waters… consider that in context to events 150 years ago today.