Friday, September 14, 2012

Battle of Harper's Ferry - Day 2

On September 13th, 150 years ago yesterday, the Confederates were able to occupy the high ground around Harper's Ferry. The Federals had given them the key to the position, but it would take time to make the most of it. Jackson ordered that guns be placed on the heights, and that none open until they could open fire all at once. This required a lot of hard work dragging heavy guns up the steep mountain sides. It took 200 men per gun to place four Parrott rifles on the summit of Maryland Heights. Walker was able to get his guns on Loudoun Heights placed fairly quickly, and impatient at the slowness of the preparations, opened fire at 1 pm. However, alone these guns were ineffectual and they soon ceased fire. The Federals realized they didn't have much time left. However, no effort was made to recapture the heights. If they had attacked Maryland Heights, it is likely that it would have been successful, as all of the troops there had been withdrawn except for one regiment to join the battle of Crampton's Gap.

Dixon Miles, Union commander, did allow another movement to be made. Colonel Benjamin Franklin “Grimes” Davis, commander of the 12th Illinois Cavalry and other mounted Union units in Harper's Ferry, proposed an attempt to break out. The cavalry would be useless in a siege, but at first Miles dismissed the idea as impractical, but Davis finally convinced him. Davis led his 1,400 cavalry across the Potomac and around the base of Maryland Heights. They had several close calls with rebels, but they were able to avoid detection. On their way back to Union lines they encountered a wagon train. It was Longstreet's reserve supply of ammunition. Unprotected by Confederates, it was an easy prey. They were able to trick the drivers into following them in a different direction, drove off the escort in the rear of the column, and brought the 40 wagons back to Union lines. Up to this point in the east Stuart's Confederate troops had literally ridden circles around the Yankees, but now, without loosing a man, Davis had performed the first great cavalry exploit of the Union army.


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