A Soldier’s View of Harper’s Ferry

John Brown's Raid

Harper's Ferry Arsenal Ruins
Runs of the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, photographed in October 1862, shortly after Favill’s visit

Following the battle of Antietam, as the Army of the Potomac made its slow way northward, the Union II Corps found itself, on September 21, 1862, encamped atop Bolivar Heights near Harper’s Ferry. Lt. Josiah Favill of the 57th New York Infantry described the day’s march as “very pleasant, the road being good and the weather superb.”

Late in the day, Favill took time to do a little sightseeing. “Harper’s Ferry,” he wrote in his diary, “is one of the picturesque spots in America, delightfully situated in the gap of the Blue Ridge mountains.”

The Shenandoah here unites with the Potomac, and together they flow between the range of the mountains on the way to the deep blue sea. Away off to the southwest the Blue Ridge Mountains, with their thickly wooded slopes, form an impenetrable wall on the easterly side of the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah, and to the equally fertile Louden valley on the opposite side of the range.

The town lays in the hollow, at the foot of the heights, and is now of no importance, except as the place where the celebrated John Brown and his followers immortalized themselves. The old blackened walls of the government arsenal, destroyed at the very beginning of the war, stand like grim skeletons in the hideousness, and with the exception of a few straggling huts, is all there is of the place.

From Josiah Favill’s Diary of a Young Officer (Chicago: R. R. Donnelly & Sons Company, 1909), 191-2.

1 Response to A Soldier’s View of Harper’s Ferry

  1. John Wilkes Booth was present at John Brown’s hanging. He traveled to Charles Town with the Richmond Grays, later Company G of the 12th Virginia Infantry, the Petersburg Regiment.
    “…Booth charmed the Grays on the train ride up to Charles Town. He stood as a supernumerary in the company’s ranks at the hanging, about thirty feet from the gallows. Around the same height as Booth, the Grays’ Pvt. Philip Whitlock stood next to him. ‘When the drop fell, I noticed that he got very pale, and I called his attention to it,’ remembered Whitlock, a native of Poland and a clerk in civilian life. ‘He said that he felt very faint and that he would give anything for a good drink of whiskey.'”
    The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War: A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry from John Brown’s Hanging to Appomattox, 1859-1865 (Savas Beatie, 2019).

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