Last week, we travelled to Washington, D.C. to visit Jane’s brother’s family. Since we homeschool our youngest 4 kids, we also got to count our 4 days of sightseeing as school days.
Day 1 – Harper’s Ferry
Harper’s Ferry was an important town in the 19th century. The Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet there, providing water power which was necessary to industry in the days before electricity. The biggest industry in town was the arsenal, which produced about 10,000 muskets per year. The town was prosperous and had 3,000 people right before the Civil War.
in 1859, John Brown, a radical abolitionist, began a revolt here. He hoped to seize the armory at Harper’s Ferry, and then arm slaves to start a revolution. His initial attack killed 7 men (the first man killed was a black man) and injured 10 more, but not a single slave answered his call to revolt, and within 36 hours all his men had been captured. Both Democrats (the pro-slavery party) and Republicans (founded on an anti-slavery platform) denounced the attack, and John Brown was quickly tried and hanged for treason.
Robert E. Lee commanded the military forces that captured John Brown, and Jeb Stuart appproached the raiders to request their surrender. Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth were both at his execution.
The raid and its aftermath increased the tensions that led to the Civil War.
During the Civil War, the town was a strategic location. At first the Armory was important, but after it was destroyed the town was still in an important location, and it changed hands 8 times during the Civil War. The war caused the town to decline, and in 1870 there was a great flood that destroyed much of the town’s industry.
We got to spend two hours looking at the town, with many of its buildings restored to pre-Civil War appearance. It would have been good to see the areas around the town where the Civil War battles happened, but we didn’t have the whole day to spend.
Here is the view from Jefferson Rock. The church in the picture is the Catholic Church, which flew the union Jack flag during the various battles to show their neutrality, and survived the Civil War mostly undamaged. The Episcopal church near it was used as a military hospital and was severely damaged.