Before the Civil War, 3,000 people lived and worked in the prosperous industrial town of Harpers Ferry. Benefitting from abundant natural resources and situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, this area was advertised as “one of the best situations in the United States for… factories.” The town’s largest source of industry, the United States Armory, had over 20 factory buildings and 400 employees. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal also provided a steady flow of people and commerce throughout the town. These assets made the town strategically important to both sides during the war. The town changed hands eight times but remained under control of the Union for 80 percent of the war.
April 12 — Fort Sumter bombarded at Charleston, SC.
April 15 — President Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.
April 17 — Virginia secedes from the Union.
April 18 — Virginia militia march on Harpers Ferry, VA. Federal soldiers torch the US Armory and Arsenal, destroying over 15,000 weapons.
April 28 — Colonel Thomas J. (later “Stonewall”) Jackson takes his first command of the war at Harpers Ferry, VA. Over the next seven weeks, all machinery and tools from the armory are removed and shipped south to Richmond, VA, and Fayetteville, NC, to produce weapons for the Confederacy.
June 14 — The B&O Railroad bridge and the US Armory buildings burned by evacuating Confederates.
June 28 — Confederate raiders burn Hall’s Rifle Works and the Shenandoah Bridge.
July 4 — First civilian death occurs in Harpers Ferry when businessman Frederick Roeder is shot by a Union soldier on Maryland Heights.
July 21 — Union troops occupy Harpers Ferry.
August 17 — Union troops withdraw from the town to the Maryland shore. Harpers Ferry is not occupied by either side again until February 1862.
October 16 — Battle of Bolivar Heights. Five hundred Confederates under the command of Colonel Turner Ashby clash with six hundred Federals under the command of Colonel John Geary. Ashby’s forces fall back towards Charles Town and Union flags are planted on the ridge. Some of Ashby’s men later return to burn a prosperous flour mill on Virginius Island owned by a unionist citizen.
February 7 — Union soldiers burn the commercial area near “The Point” in retaliation for the death of a Federal scout killed by Confederate snipers.
February 25 — Federals occupy the town to maintain communication and supply lines along the B&O Railroad and to deter invasion from the Shenandoah Valley. Eventually, 14,000 Union soldiers named the “Railroad Brigade,” are stationed here.
May — In response to Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, US Army and Navy forces construct a naval artillery battery on Maryland Heights.
May 29-30 — "Stonewall" Jackson’s troops approach Harpers Ferry from Bolivar Heights and charge to within a few hundred yards of Union fortifications on Camp Hill before withdrawing. Union General Rufus Saxton is awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of Harpers Ferry.
September 9 — At Frederick, MD, General Lee issues Special Orders 191, boldly dividing his army into four parts, sending three columns to capture or destroy the garrison at Harpers Ferry.
September 13 — Under command of “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederates take strategic positions on the hills surrounding Harpers Ferry, surrounding the Union garrison on three sides.
September 14 — The Battle of South Mountain delays the advance of the main Federal army while “Stonewall” Jackson’s artillery hammers the Harpers Ferry garrison. During the night, Jackson orders General A.P. Hill’s division to the Chambers’ Farm to outflank the Union position on Bolivar Heights. Also under the cover of darkness, 1,500 Union cavalry cut through Confederate lines to escape the tightening noose around Harpers Ferry.
September 15 — Approximately 12,500 Federal troops surrender to “Stonewall” Jackson. It was the largest surrender of Federal troops in American history until the fall of Bataan during World War II.
October 1-2 — Lincoln reviews the Union troops on Bolivar Heights and Maryland Heights.
January 1, 1863 — Lincoln revises and reissues the Emancipation Proclamation, expanding the scope of the Union war effort to include abolition of the institution of slavery and authorizing the recruiting and training of United States Colored Troops.
July 11-12 — Early fights on the outskirts of Washington at the Battle of Fort Stevens. Unable to pierce the city’s defenses, he withdraws and returns to the Shenandoah Valley.
August 6 — Union General Philip Sheridan arrives at Harpers Ferry to mount a major offensive to destroy Early’s army and conquer the Shenandoah Valley. Supply trains leave for the “front” regularly, always under threat of attack from Colonel John S. Mosby’s Partisan Rangers or other Confederate guerillas.