The following is a post by Valentine Brkich, RMU senior writer, who along with 27 other RMU staff members, students, alumni, and friends, is taking part in a 300-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Over the next two days, leading up to and in honor of Memorial Day, Val will be writing about each stop along the way and its connection to the Civil War, which began 150 years ago…
Hancock (Md.) to Harper’s Ferry (W. Va.)
Harpers Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all come together. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) headquarters is also located here, making it one of the few towns that the Appalachian Trail passes through directly.
Surrounded by rocky, higher ground, Harpers Ferry is a picturesque town that is best known for John Brown's raid on the local armory in 1859. This doomed attack served as one of the precursors to the Civil War.
Because of the town's strategic location, it was coveted by both the North and South during the war. In fact, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times from 1861 to 1865.
During the war, as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces moved north into Maryland, the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry decided to stay and try to hold the town because of its strategic importance for Union supply lines. Confederate forces under Gen. Stonewall Jackson converged on the town on Sept. 15, 1862, and placed artillery on the heights overlooking the town. Recognizing that his position was defenseless, Union commander Col. Dixon S. Miles, who was mortally wounded in the battle, surrendered his more than 12,000 troops. From here Jackson led most of his men to join with Lee at the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md.
This is my second time in Harpers Ferry (my first visit coming in May 2010 with RMU’s Civil War Study Tour), and I’m still taken by its natural beauty and the power of the town’s storied history.
Well, this is it. Just one more day to go. Next stop Washington, D.C.!