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Battle Studies: Harpers Ferry

Before and during the Civil War, the strategic importance of Harpers Ferry included a location along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and a firearms industry including the United States Arsenal & Armory and Hall's Rifle Works.

The Battle of Harpers Ferry

As General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia advanced into Maryland in the fall of 1862, Lee made plans to capture the vital Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, in the rear of his invading army.  Although Maj. Gen. George McClellan's Army of the Potomac was in pursuit, in a bold maneuver Lee divided his army, sending three columns under Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to Harpers Ferry while the rest of the army marched towards Hagerstown, Maryland. Surrounded on three sides by steep heights, the terrain at Harpers Ferry made it nearly impossible to defend, a problem made worse by the Union commander, Colonel Dixon S. Miles, who lacked experience leading troops. ~from Civil War Trust

Precursor to War: John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry


In October 1859, the U.S. military arsenal at Harpers Ferry was the target of an assault by an armed band of abolitionists led by John Brown (1800-59). (Originally part of Virginia, Harpers Ferry is located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia near the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.) The raid was intended to be the first stage in an elaborate plan to establish an independent stronghold of freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia. Brown was captured during the raid and later convicted of treason and hanged, but the raid inflamed white Southern fears of slave rebellions and increased the mounting tension between Northern and Southern states before the American Civil War. (source)

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