Thursday, September 6, 2007

September 6, 2007 Harpers Ferry, WV

We traveled to Harpers Ferry, WV, this morning. This was about an hours drive through the Shenandoah Valley. This is an old town built on the high rising banks of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. The Shenandoah forms from the Potomac here. This is the town that the raid by John Brown actually led to the beginnings of the Civil War. This raid led to heated discussions, succession and then the actual war. He was an abolitionist who led a band of several, including Afro-Americans in an attempt to free slaves. Harpers Ferry was on the waters where the two rivers are together and the railroads also were here. Because of its proximity to the railroads and rivers, the United States Government created one of two arsenals and armories here to manufacture its arms and ammunition. The armory was located on the banks of the river. After the war began, both sides knew the strategic and logistic value of Harpers Ferry and the town changed hands eight times during the war, all but destroying the armory and much of the town. Today, the armory is gone but much of the town still stands. Coming into town on High Street is a real treat - old homes and shops coming right up to the narrow street. The old buildings which housed general stores, taverns, rooming houses and the Provost Marshal's office are open to the public. The National Park Service has restored and takes very good care of this downtown area. The old town, the portions along the rivers and immediately downtown, are where the restorations have taken place. A tree in an open area near the old armory has a tag identifying it as being from 1775. It is gnarled but still stands. In a book written about Civil War battles that we have read, the author suggests that one stand at a location near the former armory called The Point and imagine the feelings that a person would have had when the enemy was firing heavily at the city from the high mountains along the rivers. It was an awe inspiring experience. It was not difficult imagining what the workers, soldiers and townspeople must have seen and felt under this bombardment. Since the town changed hands eight times, it must have been bombarded at least eight times. This position would have been much simpler to conquer and almost impossible to defend. From the high ground, all could be seen and destroyed. Once again, we learned so much in a short period of time. We now have seen the origins of the much storied and sung about Shenandoah River. Also, the town is part of West Virginia, which was part of Virginia and withdrew from the CSA because the majority of the people in these parts believed in abolition during a time that slavery was prevalent.

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