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Battle of Harpers Ferry

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Harper's Ferry 1865

The Battle of Harpers Ferry was fought September 12–15, 1862. It was part of the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War. As Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate army invaded Maryland, a portion of his army under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was sent to capture Harpers Ferry. His troops surrounded, bombarded, and captured the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). This was a major victory at relatively minor cost.

Background[edit | edit source]

During the Maryland Campaign of 1862, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia advanced north through the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland.[1] Lee planned to capture the garrison at Harpers Ferry to secure his line of supply back to Virginia.[1] The Confederate Army was being pursued at a leisurely pace by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac. Even though the Union Army outnumbering him more than two to one, Lee chose the risky strategy of dividing his army. He sent one portion to converge and attack Harpers Ferry from three directions. Col. Dixon S. Miles, Union commander at Harpers Ferry, insisted on keeping most of the troops near the town instead of taking up commanding positions on the surrounding heights. He had been ordered by McClellan to hold the town until McClellan could send more soldiers.[2]

The battle[edit | edit source]

The slim defenses of the most important position, Maryland Heights, first encountered the approaching Confederate on September 12.[3] But there was only a brief skirmishing. Strong attacks by two Confederate brigades on September 13 drove the Union troops from the heights.[4]

During the fighting on Maryland Heights, the other Confederate columns arrived. They were astonished to see that critical positions to the west and south of town were not defended. Jackson methodically positioned his artillery around Harpers Ferry and ordered Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill to move down the west bank of the Shenandoah River in preparation for a flank attack on the Federal left the next morning. By the morning of September 15, Jackson had positioned nearly 50 guns on Maryland Heights and at the base of Loudoun Heights. He began a fierce artillery barrage from all sides and ordered an infantry assault. Miles realized that the situation was hopeless. He agreed with his subordinates to raise the white flag of surrender. Before he could surrender personally, he was mortally wounded by an artillery shell and died the next day.[2] After processing more than 12,000 Union prisoners, Jackson's men then rushed to Sharpsburg, Maryland, to rejoin Lee for the Battle of Antietam.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Maryland Campaign of 1862". Central Maryland Heritage League. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Dixon S. Miles". Civil War Trust. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  3. Terry L. Jones, Historical Dictionary of the Civil War (Lanham MM; London: The Scarecrow Press, 2002), p. 629
  4. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862: Ezra A. Carman’s Definitive Study of the Union and Confederate Armies at Antietam, ed. Joseph Pierro (New York; London: Routledge, 2008), p. 189

Other websites[edit | edit source]

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