• Sun beginning to set at Harpers Ferry, as seen from Maryland Heights. Photo by NPS Volunteer Buddy Secor.

    Harpers Ferry

    National Historical Park WV,VA,MD

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    Due to the park archives and research room/library space move, new public research requests will not be filled until at least June 30th, 2014.

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Harpers Ferry and the Civil War

Upcoming 150th Commemorative Events

Invasion Stalled: Harpers Ferry and the Defense of Washington

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park will host a Civil War 150th Anniversary commemorative event, Invasion Stalled: Harpers Ferry and the Defense of Washington on July 4, 5, and 6, 2014. This event highlights the engaging role of Harpers Ferry in delaying Confederate General Jubal Early's 1864 march on Washington and the run up to the Battle of Monocacy.

July 4-6 Activities & Programs Schedule

There are several ongoing activities, ranger programs, and living history demonstrations during this three day event. Here is a PDF document detailing our schedule for this commemorative event.

Highlights of the event include:

Saturday July 5th
1-2pm Author discussion and book signing with Dr. B.F. Cooling at Hamilton Street Gathering Tent.
3:30-4:30pm Wildcat Regiment Band at Hamilton Street Gathering Tent.

Sunday July 6th
1-2pm Author discussion and book signing with Dennis E. Frye at Hamilton Street Gathering Tent.
3:30-4:30pm Fort McHenry Fife & Drum Corps at Hamilton Street Gathering Tent.

Throughout the July 4-6 weekend
10am-4pm Family & Youth Tent on Hamilton Street, "The Families of the War" youth activity at the Harper House, and living history demonstrations both in Lower Town and Bolivar Heights.

 
collage of images representing Fort Stevens, Harpers Ferry, and Monocacy.

Collage of images representing Fort Stevens, Harpers Ferry, and Monocacy.

(NPS Photos)

About the Event

The three-day commemoration will provide visitors with a variety of programs including the diverse places and faces of this little-known piece of Civil War history. The stories of citizens and soldiers in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia bring to life the dangers of life in the border town of Harpers Ferry during war. The battle included fighting on Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, Bolivar Heights, Camp Hill and Fort Duncan surrounding the town. Featured programs will include living history activities, artillery programs, family/youth activities, ranger conducted programs, special exhibitions by Monocacy National Battlefield, the Civil War Defenses of Washington and Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, concerts by the Wildcat Regiment Band, the Ft. McHenry Fife & Drum Corps, and special keynote presentations by Dr. B. F. Cooling and Dennis E. Frye.

Additional Historical Information

In the summer of 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early led 14,000 soldiers down the Shenandoah Valley to draw Federal troops away from the siege of Richmond, Virginia. Early boldly targeted Washington, D.C, and chose the Potomac River water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Harpers Ferry as his portal to the capital.

On July 4, as the Confederates approached Harpers Ferry, Federal Brigadier General Max Weber abandoned the town, destroyed the B&O railroad bridge, and retired to the defenses of Maryland Heights. Town resident Joseph Barry recalled, "At no time during the war was there as deep a gloom on Harpers Ferry as on that anniversary of the birth of our nation.”

The Federals, reinforced by General Franz Sigel, bombarded the town where Early’s men had taken cover. Early crossed the Potomac and attacked the defenders of Maryland Heights; for the first time in the Civil War the Federals held on to their mountain fortress. The stalled invasion cost Early four days and allowed Federal forces to make a desperate, one-day stand at Monocacy. Ultimately, veterans from General Ulysses S. Grant’s army had just enough time to reinforce the all but empty forts circling Washington and prevent Early from wreaking havoc in the District of Columbia.

 
Schedule of Harpers Ferry's Civil War Events, 2014-2015

Exhibit: The USCT & the Spirit of Freedom

Date: February 2, 2014 through end of year
Description: This year long exhibit will highlight dedication and commitment of African American soldiers and their fight for freedom.

Event: Harpers Ferry and the USCT Recruiting Station
Date: April 26-27, 2014
Description: This event will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Harpers Ferry's role in the recruitment of United States Colored Troops during 1864. Activities will include living history and ranger conducted programs.

Event: Invasion Stalled: Harpers Ferry and the Defense of Washington

Date: July 4-6, 2014
Description: This event will focus on the prelude of the Battle of Monocacy and Harpers Ferry's role in helping to delay Jubal Early's 1864 march on Washington. Activities will include living history, ranger conducted programs, and family/youth activities.

Event: Thunder in the Valley: Sheridan's 1864 Valley Campaign
Date: September 27-28, 2014
Description: This event will focus on Harpers Ferry's role as a staging ground and supply base during Philip Sheridan's 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Activities will include living history, ranger conducted programs, and family/youth activities.

Event: Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864
Date: October 11, 2014
Description: This event will explore Harpers Ferry's critical role in our nation's wartime presidential election. Activities will include living history, ranger conducted programs, and family/youth activities.

Event: Capt. Flagg's US Quartermaster City: Prospects of Peace
Date: December 6-7, 2014
Description: Learn the magnitude and scope of Harpers Ferry's role as Captain Flagg's 1864 US Quartermaster city that supplied Gen. Philip Sheridan's army in the Shenandoah Valley. Reflect on what the Civil War will determine; the Union of the States and eventual freedom of 4 million enslaved people.

Exhibit: The Freedman's Bureau, Educating the Newly Freed Slaved and the Prelude to Storer College
Date: February 1, 2015 through end of year
Description: This exhibit will launch a full year of activities that will highlight Harpers Ferry's role in the education of newly freed slaves post Civil War.

A downloadable version of this schedule is available as a PDF.


 

Overview of Harpers Ferry and the Civil War

The Civil War had a profound and disastrous effect on Harpers Ferry, leaving a path of destruction that wrecked the town's economy and forced many residents to depart forever. Because of the town's strategic location on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, Union and Confederate troops moved through Harpers Ferry frequently. The town changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865.

On April 18, 1861, less than 24 hours after Virginia seceded from the Union, Federal soldiers set fire to the Armory and Arsenal to keep them out of Confederate hands. The Arsenal and 15,000 weapons were destroyed, but the Armory flames were extinguished and the weapons-making equipment was shipped south. When the Confederates abandoned the town two months later, they burned most of the factory buildings and blew up the railroad bridge. [Learn more about the Armory & Arsenal]. The first Harpers Ferry citizen killed during the Civil War was Frederick Roeder. To learn more about him, click here.

Federal forces re-occupied Harpers Ferry in 1862. During the Confederacy's first invasion of the North, on September 15, 1862, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson surrounded and captured the 12,700-man Union garrison stationed here. When the Federals returned to Harpers Ferry after the Battle of Antietam, they began transforming the surrounding heights into fortified encampments to protect both the town and the railroad. In 1864, Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan used Harpers Ferry as his base of operations against Confederate troops in the Shenandoah Valley. [Learn more about the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry].

Additional Information:

Units at Harpers Ferry during the Civil War

Did You Know?

The present day view from Jefferson Rock is still breathtaking.

Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry in 1783 and wrote "The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature."