Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia   Leave a comment

Day 23-26

Confederate forces marched into northern Virginia to attack Manassas Junction in July 1861, the result was a stunning Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run. Soldiers on both sides were stunned by the violence and destruction they encountered. At the end of the day nearly 900 young men lay dead on the fields of Matthews Hill, Henry Hill, and Chinn Ridge. We found it interesting that during the battle all of the area townspeople gathered on the hill off in a distance and watched the battle!

Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia’s major business in the 1800s was the U.S. Armory, which consisted of the musket factory, two arsenal buildings and the U.S. Rifle Factory. The armory employed over 250 men with wages averaging just over $2 per 10 hour day. Slave owners rented their human property to the government as laborers. They turned out over 10,000 rifles and muskets each year for American soldiers to defend their country. Harper’s Ferry changed hands 8 times during the Civil War.

In1859, John Brown attempted to seize the 100,000 rifles and muskets stored in Harper’s Ferry as a first step in his revolutionary scheme to rid the nation of slavery. The plan failed. Robert E. Lee seized Brown and killed or captured nearly all of his raiders. Brown was convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion. He was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859. Below is a photo of John Brown’s fort. It was built as the fire-engine house for the U.S. Armory in 1848. It has been vandalized, dismantled and moved 4 times.

The Civil War, which John Brown’s raid helped to bring about, trapped Harpers Ferry on the border between North and South. After Virginia forces seized the armory in April 1861, Stonewall Jackson dismantled the weapons-producing machinery and shipped it south to produce arms for the Confederacy. He returned to Harper’s Ferry in mid-September 1862, during Lee’s first invasion of the North, and conducted a brilliant siege from the mountains that forced the surrender of both the town and the Federal troops stationed there – the largest surrender of United States troops during the Civil War.

The battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, was a 12 hour battle beginning at dawn. From 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. savage combat raged across the Cornfield, East and West Woods.

By late morning fighting shifted toward the “Sunken Road” in a three-hour stalemate that left the road known as “Bloody Lane.”

At 10 a.m. Union corps began its assaults on the Lower Bridge. This picturesque crossing over the Antietam Creek was built in 1836. The big, dark tree on the other side of the bridge to the right was a witness to this attack. The battle ended at 6 p.m.

Nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle, about 23,000 were killed, wounded, or missing. It is known as the bloodiest single day in American history.

The Pry House, located close by, was used as the field hospital. The majority of Civil War surgeries took place in the field hospitals established close to the battlefields. The barn was actually used as the hospital.

Triage was put to the test. You can imagine the doctors trying to decide who to work on first. They had to decide who was not savable, and put them aside; who could survive while waiting hours to medical attention, and who they could quickly attend to. Needless to say, amputations were quick and easiest. It is estimated that about 50,000 amputations were done on Confederates and Union sides throughout the war. Contrary to popular belief (biting on a bullet), pain medication was used, but not at the level we use today. They used just enough to take the pain away, but no more to allow the patient to breathe on their own.

Touring Washington, D.C. felt so good to be so close to home in a place so familiar to me. We started out at the War memorials, catching a group photo of our Viet Nam Vets from our group.

The day we toured was especially busy because it was Law Enforcement Office Week, known as “Top Cops” as well as World War II Vets coming together to tour D.C.

My favorite is Arlington Cemetery where we saw the Changing of the Guard.

We had lunch at the newly renovated History Museum where we viewed muppets, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis puppets, the “Fonz’s” jacket, Archie Bunker’s chair.

Our last day in Harper’s Ferry area was spent in Winchester, Virginia. Driving thru this little town I spotted a “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

How Cute! Just down the street from there is a plaque marking the “lot” that George Washington purchased (there is currently a house on it) in order that he could run for his first political office. Even back then I guess you didn’t have to live there, just own something. See how things never change.

We saw our first ever Civil War reenactment in New Market, Virginia. Civil War reenactments are only done in 2 places in the United States. It is performed annually in Virginia and every 5 years in Georgia.

It was interesting to watch as the “Blue Coats” came through the field from the North side and the “Grey Coats” came through the orchard from the South.

The calvary arrived.

As the battle progressed, the Confederates moved the Union soldiers back, until some of the soldiers actually abandoned their posts. I was surprised to see the Union soldiers firing at their own men, but I guess back then, they were killed for desertion.

In the visitor’s center museum next to the battlefield we watched a 45 minute film about the Battle of New Market. It talked about how young some of the cadets were that fought in that battle. 14, 15, 16 and 18. It’s hard to imagine. One young man was about 16 years old, had 13 siblings and always thought he would be an artist. He fought in that battle alongside many of his friends who were wounded or killed. He went on, at the urging of Robert E. Lee, to become a world renowned sculpture living in Italy.

The highlight of our day was visiting with our son, Robby, for a few hours. We haven’t seen him since the end of November when he left home to train to be a tractor trailer driver. It felt so good to be able to give him a great big hug and kiss.


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