Saturday, September 15, 2012

Battle of Harper's Ferry – Day 3

Having spent the previous day dragging the artillery into position on the heights around Harper's Ferry, the Confederate artillery was ready to open fire 150 years ago today. In the morning an artillery barrage of 50 guns opened on the Federals in the town. Dixon Miles realized that the situation was hopeless. He had not received McClellan's message that relief was on the way, and after holding a council of war ordered that the white flag be raised. Many of troops were not happy about this decision, and shouted to Miles, "For ——'s sake, Colonel, don't surrender us. Don't you hear the signal guns? Our forces are near us. Let us cut our way out and join them." "Impossible" Miles replied, "They will blow us out of this place in half an hour."
Harper's Ferry

Just momets later, as the white flag was being raised, Miles was struck in leg by an artillery shell which exploded near by. The men were so disgusted with Miles's conduct that for a while no one would take him to the hospital. He was mortally wounded, and died the next day. Meanwhile, his troops were being surrendered. The Union had lost 44 killed and 173 wounded in the fighting, but now 12,419 men were surrendered along with 13,000 weapons, 200 wagons and 73 cannon. It was the largest surrendered of Federal forces in American history until World War II. Harper's Ferry was lost in large part due to the incapacity of Miles. He failed to hold the high ground and refused to make an attempt to recapture it. This victory was won with little cost to the Confederates. Jackson lost 39 killed and 247 wounded mostly from the fighting on Maryland Heights.

The capture of Harper's Ferry had a vast impact on the campaign. With the Federal victory at South Mountain the day before Lee had decided to abandon his plans for invasion and pull his army back across the river. However, he received a message that changed his mind. "Through God's blessing," Jackson wrote, "Harper's Ferry and its garrison are to be surrendered." With the fall of Harper's Ferry Jackson was free to move, so Lee determined to assemble the army just upriver at Sharpsburg, Maryland, to prepare to fight a battle on Union soil.


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