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Six Years of Hell: Harpers Ferry During the Civil War

Six Years of Hell: Harpers Ferry During the Civil War

by Chester G. Hearn

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LSU Press

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Beginning with a vivid account of John Brown's raid in 1859 and continuing through the early days of Reconstruction in 1865, Hearn familiarizes us with the miserable existence endured by the citizens of Harpers Ferry, Va., and its environs. Young Bvt. Col. Robert E. Lee arrived after Brown's raid, leading the list of prominent names (Stonewall Jackson, Joseph E. Johnston, Ambrose Burnside, George B. McClellan, Philip H. Sheridan) who held temporary command as the contending armies traded occupation of the town 14 times before the war's end. Hearns's account of the surrender of the Union Army at the Ferry by Col. Dixon S. Miles in September 1862 is superbly written. Was Miles a traitor, or merely incompetent? The travails of the citizens of Harpers Ferry do pale by comparison with such high drama. Also, however necessary Hearn's account of the strategies of both armies might be, sublimation of military tactics would have made for a more taut narrative line, allowing greater attention to the lives of the desperate inhabitants of a place where war made its home for six long years. By concentrating on the collision of events that took place on that small stage in northwestern Virginia, now West Virginia, Hearn provides a dramatic focus for a richly textured understanding of one part of the larger conflict. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Hearn (The Capture of New Orleans: 1862, Louisiana State Univ., 1995) has put together an outstanding historical account of the effects of the Civil War upon the town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He begins with the John Brown raid in 1859 and carries the action through the end of the war. Harpers Ferry was constantly occupied by either Confederate or Union forces; the author diligently describes the action that proceeded each takeover. Twenty-eight different commanders controlled Harpers Ferry during the war, and Hearn details the pros and cons of each. He also brings in the effects of this constant occupation on the civilian population as well as the vote to give statehood to the State of West Virginia. Overall, Hearn's work is a well-written, interesting account of one of the pivotal towns caught in the middle of the Civil War. For all Civil War collections.-W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., Ruston (ret.)
Kirkus Reviews
A vivid rendering of the experience of the inhabitants of Harpers Ferry, after abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid on the US armory and gun factory there hastened the coming of the Civil Way.

Prolific Civil War writer Hearn (The Capture of New Orleans, 1862, 1995, etc.) has set out to explore how the residents of Harpers Ferry, a small, thriving industrial town nestled in a beautiful scenic area, coped with six years of life spent on or near the front lines. Their story begins in 1859, when Colonel Robert E. Lee, of the United States Army, and First Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, with 90 US Marines and some Virginia militia, restored order after the bloodletting brought on by Brown, who was summarily tried and hanged. When war came, Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston, aided by Colonel Thomas Jackson (not yet known as "Stonewall") destroyed the town's factories, bridges, and railroad tracks. The town changed hands repeatedly during the war. Battles large and small were fought nearby. Armies poured through its streets. And even when they moved elsewhere, the townspeople were harassed by Southern mounted guerrillas led by Confederate officers Mosby and Mobley, who stole food, horses, and other property while destroying bridges and rail facilities. Friendly Union occupation troops who kept order and prevented further looting swayed many civilians to support the northern cause. As a result, West Virginia was carved out of secessionist Virginia and voted into the Union.

Hearn's lively narrative recreates this extraordinary experience from letters and memoirs, providing a powerful reminder that war is hell for civilians as well as soldiers.

Product Details

Louisiana State University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.69(d)

Meet the Author

Chester G. Hearn is the author of many books on the Civil War, most recently Ellet's Brigade: The Strangest Outfit of All and When the Devil Came Down to Dixie: Ben Butler in New Orleans. He lives in Erie, Pennsylvania.

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