Harpers Ferry living history

May  2006

John Brown's engine house Harpers Ferry, West Virginia


May of 1861 was a time of momentous change. Just in the previous month the Virginia legislature had voted to leave the Union and join the fledging Confederate states. Also, a hitherto reasonably unknown professor from VMI who went by the name of Jackson had been sent to the US arsenal at Harpers Ferry, take charge of the militia forces encamped outside of the town and try and take over the arsenal in town with the 10,000 muskets and parts that lied within it. Now, a month later, the arsenal is in ruins and camped within the town is what is to be the nucleus of the fledgling Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley. Companies are being formed, made up from men living in the area and from all walks of life. They are giving up their normal lives and slowly becoming soldiers. They will be learning the rudimentary forms of drilling both with and without a musket, marching in step, and keeping their places while in line. It will be the responsibility of the newly promoted company commander and his staff of lieutenants and sergeants to whip the men into shape. Time will not be on their side and within a matter of weeks they will begin their journey. This is a journey in which many of them will fight on many a bloody battlefield. In the end, most will not return either whole or at all.

Photos courtesy of  Rich Taddeo