1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Harper's Ferry

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HARPER’S FERRY, a town of Jefferson county, West Virginia, U.S.A., finely situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers (which here pass through a beautiful gorge in the Blue Ridge), 55 m. N.W. of Washington. Pop. (1900) 896; (1910) 766. It is served by the Baltimore & Ohio railway, which crosses the Potomac here, by the Winchester & Potomac railway (Baltimore & Ohio) of which it is a terminus, and by boats on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which passes along the Maryland side of the Potomac. Across the Potomac on the north rise the Maryland Heights; across the Shenandoah, on the West Virginia side, the Virginia or Loudoun Heights; and behind the town to the W. the Bolivar Heights. A United States arsenal and armoury were established at Harper’s Ferry in 1796, the site being chosen because of the good water-power; these were seized on the 16th of October 1859 by John Brown (q.v.), the abolitionist, and some 21 of his followers. For four months before the raid Brown and his men lived on the Kennedy Farm, in Washington county, Maryland, about 4 m. N.W. of Harper’s Ferry. The engine-house in which Brown was captured was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago and was later rebuilt on Bolivar Heights; a marble pillar, marked “John Brown’s Fort,” has been erected on its original site. On Camp Hill is Storer College (state-aided), a normal school for negroes, which was established under Free Baptist control in 1867, and has academic, normal, biblical, musical and industrial departments.

The first settlement here was made about 1747 by Robert Harper, who ran a ferry across the Potomac. The position of Harper’s Ferry at the lower end of the Shenandoah Valley rendered it a place of strategic importance during the Civil War. On the 18th of April 1861, the day after Virginia passed her ordinance of secession, when a considerable force of Virginia militia under General Kenton Harper approached the town—an attack having been planned in Richmond two days before—the Federal garrison of 45 men under Lieutenant Roger Jones set fire to the arsenal and fled. Within the next few days large numbers of Confederate volunteers assembled here; and Harper was succeeded in command (27th April) by “Stonewall” Jackson, who was in turn succeeded by Brigadier-General Joseph E. Johnston on the 23rd of May. Johnston thought that the place was unimportant, and withdrew when (15th June) the Federal forces under General Robert Patterson and Colonel Lew Wallace approached, and Harper’s Ferry was again occupied by a Federal garrison. In September 1862, during General Lee’s first invasion of the North, General McClellan advised that the place be abandoned in order that the 10,000 men defending it might be added to his fighting force, but General Halleck would not consent, so that when Lee needed supplies from the Shenandoah Valley he was blocked by the garrison, then under the command of Colonel Dixon S. Miles. On Jackson’s approach they were distributed as follows: about 7000 men on Bolivar Heights, about 2000 on Maryland Heights, and about 1800 on the lower ground. On the 13th of September General Lafayette McLaws carried Maryland Heights and General John G. Walker planted a battery on Loudoun Heights. On the 14th there was some fighting, but early on the 15th, as Jackson was about to make an assault on Bolivar Heights, the garrison, surrounded by a superior force, surrendered. The total Federal loss (including the garrisons at Winchester and Martinsburg) amounted to 44 killed (the commander was mortally wounded), 12,520 prisoners, and 13,000 small arms. For this terrible loss to the Union army the responsibility seems to have been General Halleck’s, though the blame was officially put on Colonel Miles, who died immediately after the surrender. Jackson rejoined Lee on the following day in time to take part in the battle of Antietam, and after the battle General McClellan placed a strong garrison (the 12th Corps) at Harper’s Ferry. In June 1863 the place was again abandoned to the Confederates on their march to Pennsylvania. After their defeat at Gettysburg, the town again fell into the hands of the Federal troops, and it remained in their possession until the end of the war. On the 4th of July 1864 General Franz Sigel, who was then in command here, withdrew his troops to Maryland Heights, and from there resisted Early’s attempt to enter the town and to drive the Federal garrison from Maryland Heights. Harper’s Ferry was seriously damaged by a flood in the Shenandoah in October 1878.