We meet at 9 AM NOT in the NPS Visitors Center Parking (that has a fee) but we park at the County Visitors Center located on the “town” side of Route 340 at the light in Harper’s Ferry.
Prior to the tour, you might enjoy watching some of these videos that I created with others about Harper’s Ferry. Many were made possible with the generous, community-minded support of American Public University System:
Hilltop House Hotel of Harper’s Ferry & “The Lovett Way” TRT: 35:41 (20:42 Video before Sources)
CORRECTION: (at 20:46) “After watching the YouTube video, my sister said that a name was noted as “Daniel A. Mercer” but was actually “A. Mercer Daniel” (full name Allen Mercer Daniel, son of Allen P. Daniel). Sharing for possible correction in the film’s notes.” Notice from descendants of Thomas Lovett.
The history of Thomas Smith Lovett and the early history of the great Hotel that he ran until 1926. Video goes up to when the Hotel was sold to Swan Investors in the early 21th century. Posted bibliography is incomplete.
The Capture of Harper’s Ferry, Va. Sept., 1862 with Dennis Frye TRT: 45:15
This is part of a documented narrative of the time in Jefferson County, West Virginia between February and December, 1862. During this tumultuous period, Federal forces under Gen. Nathaniel Banks invaded the area; then, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson drove them back through this immediate region in May, 1862. Jackson then attempted to also capture Harper’s Ferry from a Federal force in May 30, 1862 – but failed, leaving that redoubt as the only foothold left to the Federal armies in the Shenandoah Valley. But the major incursion in September into Maryland by Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia included another attempt to capture Harper’s Ferry, still protected by up to 14,000 Federal troops. This time, Jackson’s men succeeded. Jackson’s capture of the town and the surrender of the Federal force also created grim and dark prospects for the hundreds, maybe, by one account of up to 5,000, once-enslaved, protection-seeking African-Americans who were in the town. Their fates and the human drama surrounding the actual surrender process will be the focus of soon-to-come third installment of this series, which has been titled “The Fall of Freedomland.”
Chief Historian Dennis Frye for the Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park, gives his time-tested, well-informed account of how this capture unfolded, caused to a great degree by a few individual lapses in judgement.
Special appreciation to the donated synthecizer composition by Professor Kevin Williams of Shepherd University; the brilliant, contracted services of acoustic artist Shana Aisenberg http://shanasongs.com” (guitar) and the late, wonderfully gifted Freyda Epstein (violin) of “Trapezoid” fame.
NOT ABOUT HARPER’S FERRY BUT JUST A GREAT SONG
Lorena – the Civil War’s most beloved song – by Jim Surkamp with Shana Aisenberg on mandolin TRT: 6:56
NOTE: According to Lloyd Hutchins in an email dated September 13, 2015,
the fate of the composer is NOT “lost in the mists of time.” He wrote more background material can be found in the June 10, 1984 edition of the Zanesville (OH) Times Recorder newspaper feature story about the song. It appears on the front page of section D.
He adds: The article spells the Ella’s last name as “Blocksom”. Rev. Webster served as pastor at several mid-Western Universalist churches after his Zanesville assignment where he met Ella (“Lorena”). He married a Miss Sarah Willmot Feb. 4, 1850. He died in Chicago Nov. 4, 1896.
More at Lorena https://civilwarscholars.com (970 words).
Oh, the years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the ground again.
The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow’rs have been.
But the heart beats on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
A-down affection’s cloudless sky.
A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, ’twas flowery May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.
We loved each other then, Lorena,
Far more than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our loving prospered well —
But then, ’tis past, the years are gone,
I’ll not call up their shadowy forms;
I’ll say to them, “Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life’s pelting storms.”
The story of that past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
They lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e’en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now;
For “if we try we may forget,”
Were words of thine long years ago.
Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
They burn within my memory yet;
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
‘Twas not thy woman’s heart that spoke;
Thy heart was always true to me:
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.
It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
But there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.
Dennis Frye: Stonewall is Stopped, Harper’s Ferry May 30, 1862 by Jim Surkamp TRT: 15:43
Dennis Fry: (in closing)
This was, perhaps, one of the first instances that the United States will use the railroad in a rapid troop deployment – to move troops during an emergency from one location – Washington, in this case – to another – Harper’s Ferry – to stop an enemy advance. They succeed. If it had not been for the railroad, there was no way they could have gotten those Union soldiers out here quickly, and Jackson, indeed, probably would have forced the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry and cleared the Shenandoah Valley of all Union soldiers. Only here was Stonewall Jackson stopped.
Flickr Set (47 images with citations):
“Was John Brown Insane?” – Dennis Frye September, 2021 TRT: 4:45
Video link: https://youtu.be/wqYia06HiAA
Dennis Frye – The Great Train Robbery – Harpers Ferry, May 23rd, 1861 October, 2021 TRT: 4:22 Video link: https://youtu.be/mZxxtOYv6lw
Dennis Frye – Virginia Militias Attack Harper’s Ferry Arsenal – April, 1861 October, 2021 TRT: 4:48
Video link: https://youtu.be/DYwWt50ecgw
Dennis Frye – Stonewall Jackson at Harper’s Ferry – 1861 October, 2021 TRT: 4:03
Dennis Frye – Did John Brown Succeed? October, 2021 TRT: 4:34
Video link: https://youtu.be/D_TK2Dfyndo
Dennis Frye – Did John Brown Have A Military Plan in 1859 in Harper’s Ferry? September, 2021 TRT: 5:25
Video link: https://youtu.be/0r5JzYXOAr4
Dennis Frye – Why Did Virginia and Not The Federal Gov’t Try John Brown in 1859? September, 2021 TRT: 4:04
Video link: https://youtu.be/o1-Kn3qENeY
P. Douglas Perks – January, 1861 – Delegates to the Dramatic Virginia Secession Convention September, 2021
On Monday January 21st 1861, according to professor Millard Bushong, one of the most important meetings ever held in Jefferson County took place at the Jefferson County courthouse. The electorate of Jefferson County met to begin to discuss who would represent Jefferson County at the Virginia Secession Convention. As it turned out, there are essentially two groups: a group that supported the Constitution and remaining in the union and a group which favored secession. Each group nominated two men to stand for election and then the the county would vote to determine who would represent Jefferson County at the convention. The Constitutional Union Party nominated two men – Alfred Madison Barbour who was at the time superintendent of the United States armory at Harpers Ferry. They also nominated a local farmer from Kabletown – Logan Osburn. So Osburn and Barbour were the Constitutional Union or pro-union candidates; the secession candidates or the secession side nominated William Lucas, who resided just outside of Halltown at Rion Hall. The election was held and you can imagine that the 1800 men who had gone to the polls just 18 weeks before were back at the polls, this time far, far, far more serious matter.
Again I think sometimes we we think that these things happen without a lot of thought and that’s not the case here and overwhelmingly the pro-Union candidates were elected from Jefferson County.
Barbour got 1433 votes; Logan Osburn got 1350 votes; Hunter got 467 and William Lucas was 430. So you can see, that the mood of the county was “we’re staying in the Union. we’re opposed to secession. They also voted a resolution which instructed those candidates to vote against the session and in favor of remaining in the Union when they went to the convention on February the 13th. So Jefferson County by this vote decided overwhelmingly that it wished to remain in the Union.
Doug Perks is a Jefferson County native, a graduate of Charles Town High School, received a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University, and a master’s degree from James Madison University. After 30 years service he retired from Jefferson County Schools. He is currently the Historian of the Jefferson County Museum, a Harpers Ferry Certified Park Guide, Vice Chair of the Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission, serves on the museum committee of the Historic Shepherdstown Commission, is a director of the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, and Historian of the Elmwood Cemetery Association, Incorporated. Doug is a frequent lecturer on the History of Mr. Jefferson’s County, a contributing author to The Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society, writes the column “Mr. Jefferson’s County” in the Jefferson County Historical Society newsletter The Guardian, and contributes the weekly column “This Week in History” to the Spirit of Jefferson newspaper.
Video link: https://youtu.be/3mdBwxNk0pQ
George Koonce – “Mr. Jefferson County, West Virginia” by Jim Surkamp October, 2021
The man who represented Jefferson County, Virginia at the Wheeling conventions to create the new state of West Virginia. Jefferson County was included with Koonce despite a greater number of electors in the county – initially opposed to secession as late as January, 1861 but then supported it following the outbreak of hostilities. That the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad threaded through the eastern Panhandle, the Federal government needed it to not be under any control of and running through a hostile, foreign country.
“Mr. George Koonce. a man of great activity and personal courage, and Mr. Wilson, who is also a man of great nerve, were very prompt in volunteering their aid to Lieutenant Jones, and the latter put great confidence in them.” – Joseph Barry
That night of April 17th, 1861 Constable George Koonce, his family back home, led armed townsmen and some of the forty- federal men from the armory, up the steep hill from Harper’s Ferry and the arsenal with its 20,000 new weapons – to face an enemy at Smallwood’s hill, who they believed was as many as three thousand.
Earlier around noon, Koonce watched as excited words spilled out of the mouth of Alfred Barbour, who, en route, had given his resignation in Washington D.C., as the armory and arsenal’s superintendent, and came on to Harpers Ferry to announce to everyone the certain seizure of the arsenal – all this barely before the ink had dried on the Ordinance of Secession in Richmond. The vote was taken as former Governor Henry
Wise waved his dueling pistol over his head to menace the delegates against rebelling.
The vote was taken and western Virginia delegates who opposed seceding rushed away for their lives to catch a train. Men were prowling their hotel with lynching rope. Secessionist John Imboden described – an informal meeting, organized by Henry Wise, for 7 PM April 16th at Exchange Hotel Richmond. They agreed to a movement to capture Harper’s Ferry, beginning the next day, the 17th.
After midnight early the morning of the 17th, Imboden led some of the group to Virginia Governor John Letcher’s house and woke him up, “arousing him from his bed” and warmly sought his support for their plan to capture the Harper’s Ferry armory, its arms and the machinery. Imboden advised him to make sure the vote would take place as scheduled for later that day and that he would agree to sign off on it with its implications.
Skipping the Secession vote for the morrow, Barbour left by train post-haste to Harper’s Ferry with Virginia government official John Seddon with his proclamation of secession. The vote was taken in secret session so the world wouldn’t know at once. Delegate John S. Burdett wrote later: The ordinance was passed on the 17th of April, and we recalcitrants lit out on first trains we could catch — some twelve or fifteen
of us — Carlisle, Clemens, Dent and others.
A dispatch from Governor Letcher failed to arrest us at Fredericksburg. When we got to Washington, some went North. I came to my home on the Baltimore & Ohio, and John Seddon and Alfred Barbour sat in my front, with bottles of whiskey. When they saw me, they said: “Burdett, you seceded at Richmond, did you?” They were members and on the way to Harper’s Ferry to grab the armory and open up revolutionary devilment.
Barbour was a member from Jefferson County, in which Harper’s Ferry is situated.
John Goode stopped off at Washington with Alf. Barbour, so Barbour could resign the office of Superintendent of the Armory at Harper’s Ferry. Once at Harper’s Ferry, Barbour, stepped off the train and said something and up went a tumultuous shout. I stepped off and said: “Barbour, what did you say?” He did not reply, and to avoid arrest I stepped back on the train and guessed he was there to grab the arsenal and steal all its valuable
and costly machinery.
It turned out that way. Revolutionary devilment took the locks off our mouths Imboden later wrote: About noon the 17th Alfred Barbour reached Harpers Ferry from Washington after submitting his resignation: collecting mechanics in groups and informing them that the place would be captured within 24 hours by Virginia troops. He urged them to protect the property and join the Southern cause. Federal Lieutenant Roger Jones, commanding
45 men, at once took measures to destroy the place.
That evening of the 17th, coming from Charles Town were local militias under James Allen, heading towards Harpers Ferry, stopping short at Halltown where argument ensued with to-be Union man, David Hunter Strother. Then Seddon who had arrived on the train with Barbour produced written proof of their incursion’s legitimacy. “I was so stunned by these revelations that I had scarcely breath to utter the usual and appropriate ejaculation of astonishment – ‘The Devil’”.
They only had 340 men including the cavalry and some artilleries with an old iron six-pounder not Turner Ashby’s number of 3,000 men “acomin’.” Their commander Col. Allen, a local man too, ordered his men, virtually all local, to not make another step forward. He’d gotten word that townsmen, such as Koonce and arriving U.S. troops would be there to defend the town, the arsenal, the armory and their contents. While the Virginia militia officers were thus discoursing, and looking toward the town, there was a sudden flash that illuminated for miles around the romantic gorge where the rivers meet.
Then followed a dull report, reverberating from mountain to mountain until it died away in a sullen roar. The flashes and detonations were several times repeated; then a steadier flame was seen rising from two distinct points silently and rapidly increasing in volume until each rock and tree on the Loudoun and Maryland Heights were distinctly visible and the now over-clouded sky was ruddy with the sinister glare. This occurred I think between nine and ten o’clock. Some thought they heard artillery.
But the more skillful presently guessed the truth and concluded that the officer in command had set fire to the arsenals and abandoned the town. Roger Jones’ written remembrance of April 17th at the Ferry to the editors of Battles & Leaders: Finally, shortly after nine o’clock when troops from Halltown had advanced to within less than a mile from the armory – in time less than five minutes – the torch was applied, and before I could withdraw men from the village, two arsenal buildings with about a 20,000 stand of rifles were ablaze.
Then, the undisciplined hothead, Ashby – much revered later by Virginia sentimentalists but who as a soldier was stupid and reckless beyond belief – leaving bodies of the enemy mutilated; advising his men that the best protection against artillery shells was to “sit perfectly still in your saddle;” and costing Stonewall Jackson his only defeat at Kernstown by giving him grossly wrong estimates of the enemy — he simply ignored Allen and galloped with his unruly bunch towards town. Jones: But very few arms were saved for the constantly recurring explosions of powder kept the crowd aloof.
George Koonce’s men, however, saw Ashby coming with the object of saving as much weapons and machinery he could and, however, also knew that Jones and the Federals, after setting the blaze and explosions that they just heard – were skedaddling over the river and by rail into Maryland and points beyond. So, threatened ahead and abandoned behind, Koonce and all his men scattered every which a way. James Henry Burton, one of their inventors, made sure the machinery created with the revolutionary ideas of John Hall – making the parts all made to be interchangeable with one another – these interconnected machines were successfully taken south and Burton would later oversee the armories of the Confederacy.
In the next few days, Koonce’s home was seized by Ashby, just as Ashby, the self-appointed local enforcer seized the home of Union man, McQuilkin in Berkeley both under the charge of “treason.” But Koonce sided with all those who hated Virginia’s secession, as something forced on them, first, by the first act of aggression by the South Carolinians at Fort Sumter, causing Lincoln to call for 75,000 Federal volunteers – the two actions that turned the vote around in Richmond in favor of secession.
This egregious turn to secession fever forgot that the Virginia’s electors, in a very recent, calmer moment the previous November, wanted the opposite: a majority of Virginia’s voters voted for John Bell – the non-secession candidate. Those men who fled Richmond, just with their lives and enraged by the injustice from a virtual coup – began meeting in their home areas where secession was reviled and arms were taken up against it.
In time, the life of George Koonce out-shine the example of Turner Ashby.
Koonce would live to a ripe old age in his home county. The hapless, relentless, chest-beating Ashby died long ago with a bullet in his heart charging at, and shouting “Follow me men!” a clutch of Pennsylvania sharpshooters, and he was armed only with a saber and a dead horse. Koonce took the train to Washington in 1861 – and stayed. While there, he likely met with Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a fierce warrior
against the secessionists – these childhood playmates in Steubenville Ohio.
They both agreed how there had to be – in order to protect the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, that ran clear to Wheeling in a fraction of the time it took before 1852 and very crucially with part of its double track dipping listlessly like loose string into and through the eastern Panhandle, Virginia. If no corrective action was taken, the B&0 would be controlled by a hostile, foreign country. Berkeley and Jefferson HAD, for the sake of
the B&O and the Federal war effort, be in a state that was part of the United States.
That pro-Union Virginia jurisdiction was being worked on hours, days and nights with a group of western Virginians, many escaping from the Richmond debacle. J.W. Paxton of Ohio County submitted the following: Resolved That a the people of Northwestern Virginia have long and patiently borne the position of political inferiority forced upon them by unequal representation in the State Legislature and by unjust, oppressive and
unequal – but that the so-called ordinance of secession, passed by the Convention, which met in Richmond on the 13th of February last, is the crowning act of infamy which has aroused them to a determination to resist all injustice and oppression, and to assert and forever maintain their rights and liberties in the Union and under the Constitution of the United States.
In considering matters that before us for action here, it is very difficult, but very important that we all realize the actual existence of war – civil war. We must not forget, sir, that we are now engaged in a struggle for the nation’s very existence, that our differences are not now being settled as heretofore at the ballot box, peacefully and quietly, but by the bayonet, and at the cannon’s mouth. You, sir, and I and every American citizen this day are parties to this struggle on one side of the other.
And when they took votes towards that end all through that summer of 1861 in Wheeling and Clarksburg, George Koonce (Koontz) was there in the proceedings casting his vote in the name of Jefferson County four times.
On June 20, 1863 WV was declared, with Jefferson County within its domain. Koonce was back in Harper’s Ferry with his second wife — once the Union re-occupied the town in late July, 1861. But, he left again for Washington in early September as Lee’s large army crossed the Potomac starting his fateful Maryland Campaign
climaxed with the bloodiest day, the battle of Antietam.
Wrote his wife Bettie Brittian Koonce in her diary: Harper’s Ferry, Sept. 5th 1862. Friday – George left. After leaving him on the street, I went up on the Hill at the Powder House to see if I could see him go over the Ravine. After some time I thought I recognized but did not know whether it was or not, watched him with streaming eyes until I could see him no more. Koonce was able to be home regularly in the late fall of 1862 and thereafter, running his store in his new state – the one that he help to make – a state that outlawed handling and harming a fellow human being as if they were just property.
Ever a challenge and a concern. Following the war, Koonce became active in politics once again, serving as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates (1865-1867) and a member of the West Virginia Senate (1870-1871),
running on the Radical ticket. He was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Koonce died at 90 in Halltown, WV. in 1908.
NAACP Begins by Jim Surkamp (Originally mid-1990s) January, 2009 TRT: 10:36
The second Niagara Movement meeting at Harpers Ferry in 1906 launched the NAACP.
Video link: https://youtu.be/_Qp087rYWzY
Harpers Ferry Flood – 1870 – 1 by Jim Surkamp (Originally mid-1990s) January, 2009 TRT:4:13
Harpers Ferry Flood – 1870 – 2 by Jim Surkamp (Originally mid-1990s) (Originally mid-1990s) January, 2009
Video link: https://youtu.be/k-mNWKhw3p0
Osborne Anderson 1 by Jim Surkamp March, 2011 TRT: 5:29
Freed black Osborne Anderson escaped from the Harpers Ferry raid site in 1859 and wrote the only account by a surviving raider of what happened
Video link: https://youtu.be/QWQV3w2GY0k
Osborne Anderson 2 by Jim Surkamp March, 2011 TRT: 6:05
Video link: https://youtu.be/Y6TUEZ_x5sM
The Escape of Osborne Anderson & the John Brown Raid by Jim Surkamp March, 2011 TRT: 6:25
Video link: https://youtu.be/X9KlfB3SXLY
The B&O – May-June, 1861 – The Molten Pyres of the Camel Engines by Jim Surkamp April, 2012 TRT: 19:02
Video link: https://youtu.be/DgLp6m1vRcc
They Moved 18 Locomotives 38 Miles . . . With No Rail! (1861-2) by Jim Surkamp June, 2012
The remarkable story of how men and horses managed to move 18, captured, 50-ton locomotives down the 38 miles stretch from Martinsburg, Va. to Strasburg, Va under order of Gen. Stonewall Jackson – in the summer and fall of 1861 and into early 1862.
Video link: https://youtu.be/zKjQgTQ5gTs
They Moved 18 Locomotives 38 Miles . . . With No Rail!! (1861-2) Pt. 2 by Jim Surkamp June, 2012
Video link: https://youtu.be/mO5KmgP-970
Humble Harvest Part 5 by Jim Surkamp September, 2016
This series of five videos follows William McCarter an Irishman in the Irish Brigade, Farmer Charles Aglionby, Va. cavalrymen George Neese; northern nurse and writer, Mary Clemmer Ames: Harpers Ferry little-girl, Annie P. Marmion, Gen. St. Clair Mulholland, the amiable Heros von Borcke, and local young wife, Anne Willis Ambler – all during a dramatic few days in mid-October, 1862 – and all within the same few square miles in Jefferson County. Dramatic and very moving and with beautiful, powerful eye-witness writing.
Researched, written and produced by Jim Surkamp
UPDATED The Humble Harvest, Eternal Voices – Pt. 5 – Conclusion TRT: 28:00/53:34 (incl. Credits)
The Humble Harvest Part 4 – Skirmish TRT: 23:35/33:48 (incl. Credits)
The Humble Harvest, Eternal Voices Part 3 TRT: 14:08/26:14 (incl. Credits)
The Humble Harvest, Eternal Voices Part 2 TRT: 21:48/27:40 (incl. Credits)
Video link: https://youtu.be/p6hwPfDmokU
The Humble Harvest, Eternal Voices Part 1. TRT: 17:25/21:14 (incl. Credits)
Video link: https://youtu.be/su57_BUz8O4
Video link: https://youtu.be/PtkWqSSVHGs
John Hall Who Changed the World from Harpers Ferry Whom You’ve Never Heard Of by Jim Surkamp April, 2022 Lifelong Learning Shepherd University April 18, 2022
Video link: https://youtu.be/VC4Kg2I7kXg
Peter Stephens, Harpers Ferry’s first settler – 1 by Jim Surkamp (Originally mid-1990s) December, 2008 TRT: 3:34
Peter Stephens, Harpers Ferry’s first settler – 2 by Jim Surkamp (Originally mid-1990s) December, 2008 TRT: 4:14
Video link: https://youtu.be/fLey1lU1oHs
Peter Stephens, Harpers Ferry’s first settler – 3 by Jim Surkamp (Originally mid-1990s) December, 2008 TRT: 4:48