Dennis Frye – General Jackson at Harper’s Ferry in 1861

504 words

VIDEO: Dennis Frye – General Jackson at Harper’s Ferry – TRT: 4:15

Dennis Frye

Well, the Virginia militia, of course, is citizen soldiers. It would be like our national guard today, but with this difference: many of these militiamen that would start to stream into Harper’s Ferry in the early days of the war right after April the 18th, right as Virginia occupied fully Harper’s Ferry, many of these men had practiced as militiamen, drilled as militiamen, but certainly had never been soldiers before, certainly never soldiers in battle. So, hundreds and, then thousands – ultimately up to eight thousand men – start to descend on Harper’s Ferry in the opening weeks of the war. Now remember that the population of Harper’s Ferry, Bolivar and Virginius Island – all combined – was only about 2.900 citizens. The town’s population almost triples within a month as a result of all these soldiers massing at Harper’s Ferry. Initially, these soldiers were commanded by Virginia militia generals with very gaudy uniforms and very colorful. They brought with them their big staffs and they had lots of whiskey and whiskey became the principal liquid nourishment of the day for many of these soldiers as they came into town as favors would be asked and favors would be passed. It really was a circus. In fact, Henry Kyd Douglas, who lived in Maryland, opposite Shepherdstown, decided to cast his lot with the new confederacy. (He) would cross the Potomac, come to Shepherdstown, joined company B – the Hamtramck guard of the 2nd Virginia infantry and would come to Harper’s Ferry. A lawyer who would volunteer as a private and he would report in the early days of the war that nothing was serious, yet everything was a joke.

Well, this would soon end – this joke. A serious face and a serious person would soon arrive and his name is Jackson – Thomas Jonathan Jackson; yes, same as “Stonewall” Jackson, but in April of 1861, he isn’t known as “Stonewall.” He is known as a Professor Jackson, a professor at the Virginia Military Institute where he taught physics and he taught artillery to the men, the young students there at VMI. Virginia needed someone who had experience to command at Harper’s Ferry and to take these militia – these citizen soldiers and make them real battle-hardened soldiers. Jackson himself was battle-hardened. Jackson himself was a graduate of West Point. Jackson had fought in Mexico and had fought with great bravery in Mexico and was acknowledged for his bravery as an artilleryman while fighting in the Mexican war. Of course, he had come to Lexington where he had lived for just about 10 years prior to the outbreak of the civil war. But when Virginia seceded, Jackson, who himself was opposed to secession just like Robert E. Lee, Jackson would cast his future with his home state, with Virginia, and his very first assignment of the civil war would be to take command at Harper’s Ferry. No one then knew that the famous – soon to become very famous – Stonewall Jackson had arrived.