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       Harper's Ferry- 17/18 April 1861

Confederate Commander

Captain Turner Ashby

Forces Engaged:



Captured or Missing:


April 17-18, 1861

Jefferson County, Virginia

Confederate Victory


Union Commander

Lieutenant Roger Jones

Forces Engaged:



Captured or Missing:


Lieut. B. Jones

Mounted Riflemen

Congratulatory Letter from United States Secretary of War

Lt. Col. William Maynadier

US Ordnance Department

With Fort Sumter surrendering to the South Carolina militia, President Lincoln called for troops from the Union States. Virginia immediately called a convention to meet in Richmond on April 16th. The outcome of the convention was held in secrecy in order to capture the Federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, VA. 1

          During the convention and expecting the outcome to be secession, Virginia militia officers met with the presidents of the Virginia Central Railroad and Orange and Alexandria and Manassas Gap railroads. The railroad presidents agreed to have the railcars ready to carry the troops to Harper’s Ferry. 2 As the trains were leaving Richmond, a Northern traveler overheard a discussion between the officers. The traveler hired a Negro to take a message to the telegraph office. The Negro was followed and the message was retrieved. This action prevented Union troops reinforcing those located at Harper’s Ferry. 3

          As the Virginia militia was heading north, Alfred Barbour, ex-superintendent of the armory, was heading north. Being familiar with the mechanics at the armory, he was able to convince most of the mechanics to stay and join the Confederacy. 4  While Barbour was talking to the mechanics, Lt. Roger Jones got word of what was happening, including the coming of the Virginia militia.

          During the afternoon of April 17th, the Virginia militia had arrived in Halltown, nearly four miles away. With the militia nearing, Lt. Jones and his men deployed gunpowder throughout the armory. However, the mechanics loyal to the South was able to wet down the powder, rendering it useless. Meanwhile, Lt. Jones fled across the Potomac River into Maryland and eventually Pennsylvania.

          Seeing the armory was on fire, General Harper entered Harper’s Ferry. His men worked to put out the fire, but over 15,000 rifles and pistols were destroyed. The militia did recover over 5,000 useable rifles. 5 Machinery was also captured intact. The machinery for the U.S. Rifle Model 1841 (Mississippi Rifle) was shipped to the captured arsenal in Fayetteville, NC. The machinery for the US Rifle Musket, Model 1855 was sent to the Richmond Armory and Arsenal. 6

          Within a week of capturing Harper’s Ferry, there were 1,500 troops stationed there. On April 27, Colonel Thomas Jackson was appointed commander of the troops at Harper’s Ferry.


  1. Jed Hotchkiss. Virginia. Confederate Military History: Volume III. Ed. Clement A. Evans. Atlanta: Confederate Publishing, 1899. rpt Holmes, PA: Weider History Group, 2008.

  2. John D. Imboden. Jackson at Harper’s Ferry in 1861. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: The Opening Battles. Eds. Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel. New York: The Century Company, 1884-1887. rpt. Holmes, PA: Weider History Group, 2010. p 112

  3. Ibid, 113.

  4. Ibid, 117.

  5. William C. Davis, Ed. First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life, 1983. p 17

  6. Mark M. Boatner III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: David McKay, 1959. p. 376

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