Strother Grieves the End of His Country – April 18-19, 1861 Harpers Ferry

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VIDEO: Strother Grieves The End of His Country – TRT: 4:58

David Hunter Strother

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. With the ashes of the arsenal cooling, Strother perceived in the light of the next day, the enormity of the events: I must confess that I felt this morning like a man wandering in a maze. . . So, .it seemed that the sudden gust of emotion, excited by the lowering of our starry flag, had swept away the mists of speculation and revealed in its depth and breadth the abyss of degradation opened by secession. Yesterday I was a citizen of the great American republic. My country spanned a continent. Her northern border neared the frigid zone while her southern limit touched the tropics. Her eastern and her western shores were washed by the two great oceans of the globe. Her commerce covering the most remote seas, her flag honored in every land. The strongest nation acknowledged her power, and the most enlightened honored her attainments in art, science, and literature. Her political system, the cherished ideal toward whose realization the noblest aspirations and efforts of mankind have been directed for ages. The great experiment which the pure and wise of all nations are watching with trembling solicitude and imperishable hope. It was something to belong to such a nationality. This was yesterday. To-day, what am I? A citizen of Virginia. Virginia, a petty commonwealth with scarcely a million of white inhabitants. What could she ever hope to be but a worthless fragment of the broken vase? A fallen and splintered column of the once glorious temple. But I will not dwell longer on the humiliating contrast. Come – harness up the buggy and let us get out of this or I shall suffocate.

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April 18, 1861 – On that fateful night after Virginia’s conditioned vote to secede from the United States, many local militiamen were already en route to Harper’s Ferry to take control of the federal arsenal, basing their action on a word-of-mouth understanding that their action was legal and officially sanctioned. The acting militia commander, a 31-year-old, professionally-trained officer from Summit Point named James Allen, was confronted and cautioned by locally born but ardent Unionist, David Hunter Strother. As the local militia moved towards Harper’s Ferry at the urgings of Turner Ashby on the night of April 18th, Strother, a lifelong friend of those present, intervened arguing that no formal, written order had been produced to authorize the militias to move on the Federal arsenal in the lower town and capture its estimated 16,000 weapons and weapons-making equipment. (In fact, the vote by the popularly-elected Virginia Secession Convention had occurred the previous day in Richmond voting 85-55 to secede, BUT only after the results were known of a referendum scheduled for the following month). Just as Col. Allen was taking Strother’s point to heart and ordered his militia only so far east as Halltown pending the substantiation of his orders, when there erupted from the lower town out of their line-of-sight. Strother saw: flashes and detonations 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.