Friday, September 10, 2010

To Gettysburg or Not To Gettysburg

    At the crack of dawn on Tuesday, I packed up my gear and headed out of Shenandoah.  I thought I’d be able to get to Gettysburg by 10am, but when it took almost an hour just to get out of the park, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  I had heard good things about Harpers Ferry, so when I got there at around ten, I decided to check it out.
From Harpers Ferry Album
    Harpers Ferry is a unique historical tourist destination because such a wide variety of things happened their.  Harpers Ferry sits at the intersection of two rivers and three states.  In early colonial times, there was this guy Robert Harper who decided to run a ferry back and forth across one of the rivers to try to get the area settled.  The town is very small today, but people are still living there despite all the flooding that devastated the city a few times.  It was home to one of the first mechanically operated gun factories.  The machines powered by the rivers could supposedly make a gun ten times faster than a person doing it by hand.  The Union’s second largest armory was there and is where Meriwether Lewis acquired guns for his expedition across the country.  He also had a couple of collapsible boats he designed made there.  They worked on the test run, but failed on the journey.
    Harpers Ferry was also home to a pretty significant civil war battle.  I’ll summarize the park ranger’s rendition of it.  A group of young, inexperienced soldier’s from New York arrived in Harper’s Ferry by boat.  The commanding officer looked around at the men when they arrived and asked where their guns were.  They didn’t know.  After they walked ashore, the commander pried open one of the “benches” they’d been sitting on and found they were actually crates full of guns.  Meanwhile, Robert E Less, Stonewall Jackson, and the boys had been fighting battle after battle and their confederate troops were becoming quite experienced.  Lee split his troops into four groups and surrounded Harpers Ferry in what the ranger said was the worst Union defeat up to that point in history (and would remain so until a WWII Pacific front battle).  Thousands surrendered.
    What Harpers Ferry is probably most famous for is the John Brown raid.  John Brown is this guy front the Midwest who is very religious.  He decides, based on the (albeit somewhat conflicting messages in his view) Bible scriptures, that slavery is immoral and must be eliminated.  Many people shared this view and many people talked and talked about how wrong it was, but he was really the first one to take serious action against it.  His plan was to raid the armory at Harpers Ferry and incite a slave rebellion, creating a fierce army.  He and a couple dozen or so men stormed Harpers Ferry, took a few hostages including a nephew of GW (huge mistake), and thirty-six hours later were surrounded by a group of marines in a firehouse.  The marines barged in with bayonets under the orders of Lee (ahem, irony), and arrested him.  The actual raid itself was considered a huge failure on all accounts except that it began the process of turning words into actions leading to the start of the Civil War about eighteen months later.  Brown was hanged in front of a huge crowd in a town nearby.
    I toured a small building that contained the history of African Americans in the area.  It had lots of quotes which I like of course.  Even more interesting though was the story of Storer College and the Niagara Movement.  The Niagara Movement was a group of African American’s under W.E.B. Du Bois who met for the first time on American soil there to discuss civil rights issues.  Storer College was a school intended to be open to all races and sexes, but turned into a black school.  The thing that made me think the most during that whole day was this quote: “In this enlightened age there are few, I believe, but what will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.”  It’s not so much the words as who said it: Robert E. Lee, December 1856.
    I walked around on my own quite a bit and discovered I was actually in West Virginia.  The AT runs through Harper’s Ferry and I hiked that some on my tour of Storer College.  There’s also a rock where Thomas Jefferson scratched his…chin…or something.  It’s actually the spot where he admired the view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meeting along the mountains and wrote some nice description of it, but to me it’s just too large an opportunity to make fun of a rock being named because one guy stood on it for probably a minute or so.
    After a nice stroll along the bank of the Shenandoah River , I headed out of the park at around six.  I had dinner in Frederick, Maryland and camped in Cunningham Falls State Park.  When I was in my tent listening to the night chirpers, I felt the urge to do something that didn’t involve hiking, history or war in the near future.


artistaggie said...

Lovin' your recent pics.. keep posting! :-)

Ryan Fuller said...

Words do all the work, pictures get all the credit. Just kidding, glad you like them.

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