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This Day In History: Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Captures Harpers Ferry, Virginia

September 15, 2016

This day in history, September 15, 1862, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson captures Harpers Ferry, Virginia as well as 12,000 Union soldiers.

The Federal garrison inside Harpers Ferry was vulnerable to a Confederate attack after Lee’s invasion of Maryland. The strategic town on the Potomac River was cut off from the rest of the Union army. General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, sent messages to Union General Dixon Miles, commander of the Harpers Ferry garrison, to do whatever was necessary to hold the town.

McClellan promised to send help, but he had to deal with the rest of the Confederate army. Jackson rolled his artillery into place and began to shell the town on September 14. The Yankees were short on ammunition, and Miles offered little resistance before agreeing to surrender on the morning of September 15.

General Julius White rode to Jackson to negotiate surrender terms and one Confederate cannon continued to fire. Miles was mortally wounded by the last shot fired at Harpers Ferry.

The Yankees surrendered 73 artillery pieces, 13,000 rifles, and 12,500 men at Harpers Ferry. It was the largest single Union surrender of the war. The fall of Harpers Ferry convinced Lee to change his plans. After his forces had been defeated at the Battle of Crampton’s Gap and had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of South Mountain to the northeast of Harpers Ferry, Lee had intended to gather his scattered forces and return to Virginia.

With Harpers Ferry secure, he summoned Jackson to join the rest of his force around Sharpsburg, Maryland. Two days later, on September 17, Lee and McClellan fought the Battle of Antietam.