Weekends in Military History: Harpers Ferry

It’s Labor Day weekend. Venture out with every other minivan and Mini Cooper known to man. Some gems are tough to pass up.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is one such find. It is a tiny place a little more than 60 miles from Washington, D.C. So close and yet so far, it is a world or two away from the gridlock that is the nation’s capitol. It is a place of beauty and wonder as well as a time capsule of military history.

Harpers Ferry was first home to a major U.S. armory and arsenal. Work on the armory began in 1799. Hundreds of thousands of muskets for the U.S. Army were manufactured there before the Civil War. The convergence of the Potomac and mighty Shenandoah rivers provided a power source. Canals and later railroads provided means for moving goods. It worked, until abolitionist John Brown’s famous raid on the arsenal in 1859. The Marines (it seems they were closest) were sent to take down Brown.

The Civil War hit Harpers Ferry hard. The town, a part of Virginia in 1860, changed hands no fewer than eight times. Other Civil War sites dot the countryside including Antietam/Sharpsburg in neighboring Maryland.


Now a National Historic Park, Harpers Ferry overlooks the beauty of the two rivers. Thomas Jefferson wrote of the area’s splendor in 1783. The town remains small and pristine. Parking can be a challenge, refreshments are marginal, but the scenery and history make it worth the day or even an afternoon.

And if you want to link your history with more physical pursuits, hiking and biking are big – The C&O Canal Trail as well as the Appalachian Trail pass by town. Kayaking is big as is the pastime of tubing—a pursuit I have never understood.


Why are you a Harpers Ferry fan? What are your favorite destinations rich in military history?

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