What Happened to the Escaped Slaves When Harpers Ferry Fell to Stonewall Jackson?

The principal story of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s victory at Harpers Ferry on September 15, 1862, is already well-known. Two days earlier than the epic Battle of Sharpsburg, Md., Jackson succeeded in capturing the important thing twin-river Union bastion in close by Virginia, forcing 12,500 Federal troops to give up whereas dropping barely 300 killed and wounded of his personal. Sometimes ignored is that, within the course of, Jackson’s males additionally seized 1000’s of refugee slaves and freemen who had been sheltering with Colonel Dixon Miles’ Harpers Ferry command.

No official Accomplice report on the Harpers Ferry operation made point out of those prisoners, which Northerners and Southerners alike known as “contrabands” on account of their authorized standing as property. Happily for posterity, The Richmond Dispatch lined their seize and transportation to the Accomplice capital in some element, mentioning the prisoners for the primary time in an article that appeared on September 18, 1862. Stating “The entire garrison…surrendered on Sunday morning,” the Dispatch famous how “our forces captured about one thousand negroes.” Seven further reviews then appeared within the Dispatch and The Richmond Enquirer over the following 5 days outlining the story of what occurred to those unlucky human spoils of conflict after they fell into Insurgent fingers.

Following the Federal garrison’s give up, Jackson assigned Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill to parole enemy troopers and acquire captured property for transportation to the rear. Hill commenced these duties on September 15, and by September 16 1000’s of Union prisoners started the lengthy march from Harpers Ferry to Frederick, Md., and factors past. On the similar time, a few of Hill’s males scoured the city for all of the Blacks they may discover, rounding them up for switch south.

A witness to those occasions named Abba Goddard described them in her journal, writing, “Each nook, cranny, barn, and stye has been searched and males, ladies, and little youngsters in droves have been carried off…our hospital laundresses, and our males servants, with out a phrase of warning, had been seized upon” and brought.

An unidentified Accomplice main even tried to grab the Black males employed by Federal regiments, slightly than allow them to go together with the column of parolees heading to Frederick. This try and separate the Blacks led to a confrontation between the main and Colonel William H. Trimble of the 60th Ohio Infantry. Trimble had secured a cross for the Black non-combatants in his regiment, however once they tried to go away city the Accomplice main tried to separate them from the column anyway. Trimble pulled his sidearm in response and compelled the officer to step apart at gunpoint, saving the Black personnel in his command from being seized.

By September 20, in keeping with The Richmond Dispatch, the variety of contrabands Hill collected had ballooned to as many as 2,500—a lot of whom had been marched to Winchester, Va., together with the weapons, ammunition, and different materiel captured at Harpers Ferry. Extra particulars of the operation started to appear within the Dispatch by September 22, which reported that “numerous contrabands…had taken refuge with the Yankee thieves…[including] negroes [who] belonged to residents of Jefferson and adjoining counties. A letter earlier than us states that one gentleman from Clarke [County], who had misplaced 31 negroes, discovered 28 of them on this lot.”

Subsequent reviews on September 23 and 24 additionally famous that the contrabands had been captured “slaves” and “negroes, whom the Yankees had stolen.”

This Edwin Forbes sketch for Harper’s Weekly depicts a well-known wartime sight: enslaved folks fleeing to Union territory. (Library of Congress)

In accordance with one report that appeared in Southern newspapers, a few of these people returned to their masters. “I met to-day tons of of negroes taken at Harper’s Ferry going residence with their house owners,” the report’s writer wrote from Winchester below the pseudonym ACCOMAC. “Most of them appeared in superb spirits, singing ‘Carry me again to Outdated Virginia,’ &c.” Main Andrew Wardlaw of the 14th South Carolina had the same private expertise whereas having fun with the hospitality of the native Bell household, who “had been delighted to see the Southern Military [and] had fifteen negroes at Harpers Ferry.” No fewer than “1200 negroes had been captured & restored to their house owners,” confided Wardlaw to his diary, together with the useful “Mrs. Bell [who] obtained 10 of hers.”

Nonetheless different contrabands ended up being confiscated by the Accomplice military slightly than returned to their house owners. In accordance with The Richmond Dispatch on September 24, this occurred as a result of their “masters suggest to supply them on the market in Richmond, not deeming them fascinating servants after having related to the Yankees.” Lastly, on that very same day, the Dispatch famous how “[t]wo automobile a great deal of negroes arrived on this metropolis yesterday by the Central Railroad.” The lads liable for finishing this process belonged to the brigade of Colonel Edward L. Thomas, in keeping with A.P. Hill’s Maryland Marketing campaign report. Noting that he “remained at Harper’s Ferry till the morning of the 17th…at 6.30 a.m., I obtained an order from Common Lee to maneuver to Sharpsburg. Leaving Thomas, together with his brigade, to finish the elimination of the captured property, my division was put in movement at 7.30 a.m.”

Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill left Harpers Ferry the morning of September 17, reaching Sharpsburg in time to foil a possible Union victory. (Library of Congress)

A rich planter earlier than the conflict, Thomas commanded 4 regiments of troops from Georgia, together with the 14th, 35th, 45th, and 49th Infantry, so it was seemingly these males who oversaw the switch of the contrabands from Harpers Ferry to Richmond.

There may be proof that others within the Military of Northern Virginia knew about these occasions at Harpers Ferry. As an illustration, a letter written by Colonel Francis H. Smith of the ninth Virginia to Virginia Governor John Letcher on September 16 additionally appeared within the Dispatch on September 20. Writing that the Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry had surrendered unconditionally, together with “10,000 males, with all of the arms, fifty items of artillery, ammunition, 100 wagons, quartermaster and commissary shops, and plenty of vehicles, a few of which had been loaded,” Smith counted “600 negroes” amongst these seized.

Smith’s regiment belonged to Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead’s Brigade in Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s Division of Longstreet’s command. As such, the ninth Virginia handed by means of Harpers Ferry on the best way to Sharpsburg. It didn’t take part within the processing and elimination of prisoners and materiel after the Federal garrison’s give up. Thus, Smith both noticed for himself, or obtained phrase from others, vital variety of Blacks had been captured.

A commissary sergeant with the 13th Georgia, a part of Brig. Gen. Alexander Lawton’s Brigade in Jackson’s command, additionally wrote residence in regards to the occasion, informing his fiancée that after Jackson had compelled the Federals “to give up on the 15th September….We took 11,700 prisoners & small arms, 76 cannons, 3000 ‘contrabands’ and plenty of shops of all types.”

When Confederates entered Harpers Ferry, they discovered this “contraband camp” on Washington Road, one in all a number of established by escaped slaves searching for safety inside United States strains. (Library of Congress)

Phrase additionally traveled by means of the civilian populace, as famous by Joseph Addison Waddell, a former newspaper editor and wartime clerk within the military quartermaster’s workplace in Staunton, Va. Recording in his diary that “Maj[.] Yost has simply arrived from Harper’s Ferry,” Waddell confirmed “that…Gen. Jackson…had captured at Harper’s Ferry 11,000 prisoners and 1500 negroes, 50 items of artillery, all their ammunition, commissary and Quartermaster’s shops.”

Equally, a short point out of “1000 negroes” captured at Harpers Ferry made it into the native newspaper of Camden, S.C., in late September 1862, proving that some within the South removed from the entrance heard in regards to the occasion. The matter-of-fact language used within the article signifies, nonetheless, that it raised no particular curiosity.

This outstanding incident demonstrates how on the similar time they had been preventing a conflict for Southern independence, Common Robert E. Lee’s males additionally enforced standing state property legal guidelines regarding captured contrabands. The elimination and sale of the Harpers Ferry captives would show to be a foreshadowing of occasions to return when, in the course of the Gettysburg Marketing campaign, Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell’s Second Corps seized and shipped south Black males, ladies, and kids in Pennsylvania with little regard for his or her authorized standing. 

Alex Rossino writes from Boonsboro, Md. He’s the writer of Their Maryland: The Military of Northern Virginia From the Potomac Crossing to Sharpsburg in September 1862 (Savas Beatie, 2021), from which this text is tailored.

This text first appeared in America’s Civil Warfare journal

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