On September 14, 1862, Confederate artillery launched the opening barrage in the Battle of Harpers Ferry, initiating perhaps the most important Civil War conflict in present West Virginia.
Harpers Ferry was key to Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee’s strategy in invading Maryland. Union forces stationed at Harpers Ferry stood in the way of Lee’s supply line. Lee dispatched “Stonewall” Jackson to capture Martinsburg, which fell without a shot, and then take Harpers Ferry.
Jackson positioned his artillery on mountain heights that towered above Harpers Ferry. Union commander Dixon Miles had haphazardly allowed his troops to be trapped in a bowl in the middle of the heights. By the next morning, Jackson had pounded the Union garrison into submission. Miles was killed by a blast shortly after the surrender.
Jackson’s capture of nearly 13,000 Union forces was the largest surrender of a Northern army during the Civil War and the third largest surrender of a United States army in history.
Two days later, Confederate troops arrived from Harpers Ferry just in time to save the day for Robert E. Lee in the waning moments of the Battle of Antietam.