Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is situated in a deep valley at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. George Washington thought it to be the perfect place to have the Southern Arsenal and armory. It became a very industrial town with over three thousand inhabitants making rifles and ammunition.
In 1859 John Brown and twenty-one associates took the town, hoping that the slaves would rebel against their masters. His was an ill-fated move for two reasons. First you cannot hold a town of three thousand angry residents with only twenty-one men. Second, the slaves did not take the bait. Colonel RE Lee and J.E.B Stuart came with the US Marines to retake the town. Jeb went to Brown’s makeshift fort, the fire station, with papers for surrender. When Brown refused Jeb threw down his ornate hat as a sign to attack. The rest is history.
When Virginia seceded from the Union, the governor wanted to take over the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Commander Jones, the commandant of the arsenal, had other plans. He blew up the place and destroyed most of the weapons and ammo. Because the primary industry was gone, the population of the town dropped to three hundred, which it is today. The town today is a combination of historical park and actual working town, whose major industry today is tourism. Young people in period dress give living history in many of the buildings in the historical park.
During the war, Harpers Ferry was a strategic property. It was at the northern edge of the southern breadbasket, the Shenandoah Valley and the entrance to the northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania and only forty miles from Washington DC. Jackson said that he would rater take Harpers Ferry ten times rather than defend it one time. It was impossible to defend.
Two days after the CSA took Harpers Ferry the bloodiest one day battle of the war took place a short seventeen miles to the north at a creek called Antietam, or the town of Sharpsburg.