Harpers Ferry Burned and Evacuated!

Friday, June 14, 1861

As soon as Confederate General Johnston got the word that he could use his discretion on whether or not to evacuate Harpers Ferry, he ordered Colonel Thomas Jackson to ready his brigade to move to Winchester.

Everything movable in the town that could be used for the army was to be moved. Everything else was to be destroyed. Throughout the night, the Confederate troops loaded explosive charges into buildings and under the iron B&O Railroad bridge that crossed the Potomac River into Maryland.

At 5am, the explosion rolled through the valley, blowing apart the bridge, cutting off Harpers Ferry from the Maryland side of the river. Other buildings in the town followed suit, as did the bridge across the Shenandoah River.

By afternoon the town was a smoldering, empty shell. Johnston and his men marched along the Charlestown Road [modern US 340 – more or less] towards Winchester, thirty miles away. A quick pace was kept as rumors of the invasion of Union General Patterson’s men from Pennsylvania swept through the upper ranks. Johnston’s destination was Bunker Hill, between Winchester and Martinsburg. Turning west out of Charlestown, they camped four miles outside of town. Bunker Hill would wait for the next day.1

Most of Patterson’s men, however, were still in Pennsylvania. Reports of the evacuation of Harpers Ferry traveled quickly to Chambersburg as the five Union brigades of troops readied themselves for their march into Maryland. Even though rumors were true enough, Patterson believed them to be just rumors, propagated to lure his men into a trap set by Johnston. 3,000 Confederate troops were thought to be occupying Maryland Heights ready to slaughter the unsuspecting Union men. Nothing of the sort was true.2

Union Col. Stone of the Rockville Expedition was warned by Washington that Harpers Ferry had been evacuated and that he should “look out for squalls.” Confederate troops numbering 300 were rumored to be on the Maryland side at Edwards Ferry.3

Stone sent a regiment towards Poolsville while he rode with his cavalry to near Edwards Ferry to check on the rumors.


Garnett Arrives in Western Virginia

Confederate General Robert Garnett was given command of all troops in northwestern Virginia. This included the Philippi veterans who had, under Colonel Porterfield, moved 11 miles south of Beverly to Huttonsville.

On this date, Garnett arrived in Huttonsville and found twenty-three companies of soldiers in a very sorry shape. They had few arms, little ammunition and even less discipline. From these companies, he formed two regiments. The first, the 25th Virginia, was put under Lt. Col. Heck, a lawyer from Moragntown who had been sent by General Lee to raise a regiment in that area. The second, the 31st Virginia, was commanded by Lt. Col. William L. Jackson (second cousin of Col. Thomas J. Jackson) from Parkersburg.

Garnett’s objective was to halt the Union invasion along the Laurel Mountains. The first position was at Laurel Hill along the Beverly-Fairmont Pike [modern US 250]. His second defense was at the western foot of Rich Mountain on the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, seven miles west of Beverly. These positions effectively blocked the two main roads into the northwestern country.4

  1. Stonewall Jackson by James I Robertson. []
  2. Official Records. Series 1, Vol. 2, p684. []
  3. Official Records. Series 1, Vol. 51 (part 1), p400. []
  4. Rebels at the Gate by Lesser as well as Lee vs. McClellan; The First Campaign by Newell. []
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Harpers Ferry Burned and Evacuated! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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