Harpers Ferry, July 5, 2001

Part 4: Thomas Jackson’s Raid

Photo Credit: Jon Bilous Shutterstock

The Ranger led his audience back to the foundations of the arsenal building.

"The machinery in the Federal armory for making muskets and rifles was state of the art.  The Confederacy knew that it would be important to keep the machinery in order to make rifles and muskets for the war they knew was coming, but they lacked the means to move it to a place of safety.

"Although Virginia has seceded from the Union, the situation remains fluid, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad continues to send 60 trains a day across the river through Harpers Ferry, between Virginia and Maryland, at all hours of the day and night.  Thomas J. Jackson, who was now in charge of the Confederate garrison at Harpers Ferry, wrote a letter to Mr. John Garrett, the President of the Railroad, and said, Mr. Garrett, your trains coming through Harpers Ferry at all hours of the day and night are disturbing my troops and interrupting their sleep.  In order to prevent these disturbances, I will cut off passage through Harpers Ferry unless the trains are limited to a two-hour period during the daytime.

"The Railroad agreed, and for a couple of weeks 60 trains ran through Harpers Ferry during a fixed two-hour period.  Then Jackson sprung his trap.  He held up the trains bound for Virginia into Maryland while permitting the trains coming from Maryland to pass into Virginia.  The two-hour windows was so brief that, before anyone knew what was happening, Jackson had bottled up 50 locomotives and over 300 cars.  He loaded the armory machinery onto these trains and shipped it south on another rail line that ran into the town.

"With the armory gone, the reason for Harpers Ferry to be a town was gone.  In 1860 about thirty-five hundred people lived in Harpers Ferry.  Most left, according to their loyalties.  Some armory workers and their families went north to the other principal Federal armory located in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Others followed Jackson’s trains south to the armories in Richmond, Virginia and in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Almost overnight, what had been a thriving and productive community was devastated – an early casualty of the war."

The Ranger turned and led his audience up one of the back streets of the lower town.

By the time the Ranger was done, about an hour after he started, he had collected an audience of about 75 people.  Distant thunder that had started to rumble about mid-way through his tour kept drawing closer, and rain started to sprinkle as the Ranger collected his people onto the covered back porch of the house from which Union General Phil Sheridan directed the 1865 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley.  The Ranger rested the butt of his musket on the ground and talked about Harpers Ferry at the end of the war while the rain fell more heavily with lightning and thunder. 

When he was done, the Ranger reshouldered his musket, turned and marched away, the sound of our applause melting into the sound of the rain.


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