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.

4 thoughts on “Harpers Ferry and Virginia Secession

  1. ADJUTANT GENERAL’S OFFICE,
    Washington, April 17, 1861
    SIR: By direction of the Secretary of War, you will immediately proceed tp Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and perform the duties of the superintendent of the armory at that place until further orders.
    I am, sir, very respectfully,
    L. THOMAS
    Adjutant General
    To:
    Captain CHARLES PEEBLE KINGSBURY
    These orders were given to Captain Charles Peeble Kingsbury on 17 April 1861, and he would arrive that evening at Harpers Ferry to assume duties as the superintendent, where Lieutenant Roger Jones detachment was stationed with fifty men in case of an attack.
    The following morning a train came in from the east with the late superintendent and a delegate to the Richmond convention, with a few friends, and their advent seemed to signal for a disloyal demonstration on the part of a crowd in attendance at the depot. The cry “Virginia will take care of Harpers Ferry” was loudly and defiantly uttered. About 3 pm a report was brought that three Virginia companies were marching from Charlestown to the Ferry, information had been recieved by telegraph from General Scott that a large force was on its way from Richmond, by the Manassas Gap Railroad, with the object of capturing the armory. Between 9 and 10 pm Lt Jones was informed that about 2000 men were within a few miles and no time was to be lost to destroy 15000 stand of arms and as much raw materials on hand as possible.
    This testimony was given to the SENATE and Senator Grimes on 26 November 1861 in the ROOM OF COMMITTEE ON NAVAL AFFAIRS in WASH, DC.
    Brigadier General Charles Peeble Kingsbury was USMA Westpoint class of 1840 and served 30 consecutive years of service, and retired 31 Dec, 1870.
    His Son was Colonel Henry Peoble Kingsbury, USMA Westpoint class 1866. and was Married to Florence Elizabeth Slocum on 12 June 1889 to General H. W. Slocum’s only daughter.
    Another Family member was Colonel Henry Walter Kingsbury, 11th Conn, Mortally wounded and died at Antietam 16 Sept 1861 by troops in command of his (brother in law) Gen David Rumph Jones (CSA)
    as they both were married to Taylor women.
    Colonel Henry W. Kingsbury’s father was Major Julius J. B. Kingsbury and was Westpoint also, His sister Mary (Buckner) Kingsbury was married to Brig Gen Simon B. Buckner (CSA)
    I have been doing my family Kingsbury research since retiring fro the US Coast Guard after more then 20 years.

  2. 150 years today, Captain Charles Peeple Kingsbury, was ordered to Harpers Ferry to assume duties as the superintendent, Upon arriving met with Lt Jones and his detachment of 50 men, they had to destroy the armory to keep from falling into being captured. 26 Nov 1861, Major Jones and Colonel Charles Kingsbury testified at the ROOM OF COMMITTEE ON NAVAL AFFAIRS, on the Destruction of the Harpers Ferry Armory to Senate and Senator Grimes

  3. […] The Washington Post’s weather gang posted a detailed early analysis of that week’s weather on September 9th.  The writers cited 11.97 inches of rain that week (September 5-9) in nearby Reston, Virginia.  While this “storm” was not noteworthy in the larger historical sense, I like the breakdown of the events.  With my historian’s robe on, the analysis offers insight into what was behind those dispatch reports citing “heavy rains” and “impassable streams.” I’ve written a bit on this before regarding the creeks and the Potomac River (here and here). […]

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