A River Runs Through It by Brian Knight
Fact: I love DC.
Fact: I love this photo that was taken in Harpers Ferry.
Fact: Harper’s Ferry is in West Virginia, not in DC.
Can’t we all just get along?
I’ve been to Harpers Ferry a few times since I moved to DC a few years ago. It’s only about an hour drive outside of the city, and a scenic one at that. You pass fields of wildflowers, quaint little towns, and pumpkin patches along the way, as well as a bunch of Taco Bells which is an added bonus.
Forget what you may have heard about West Virginia. There are no banjos or moonshine distilleries in this little historic town which is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Instead you’ll find people tubing down the river (or fishing as seen above), a scenic railroad bridge, small shops to buy local goods in (like a “monkey farts” scented soy candle), cozy restaurants to eat mediocre cheeseburgers in, and more Civil War history than you can shake a stick at. From Wikipedia:
The Civil War was disastrous for Harpers Ferry, which changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865. When Virginia seceded in April 1861 the US garrison attempted to burn the arsenal and destroy the machinery. Locals saved the equipment, which was later transferred to a more secure location in Richmond. Arms production never returned to Harpers Ferry.
Because of the town’s strategic location on the railroad and at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, both Union and Confederate troops moved through Harpers Ferry frequently. The town’s garrison of 14,000 Federal troops played a key role in the Confederate invasion of Maryland in September of 1862. General Robert E. Lee did not want to continue on to Pennsylvania without capturing the town, which was on his supply line and would control one of his possible routes of retreat if the invasion did not go well. Dividing his army of approximately 40,000 into four sections, he used the cover of the mountains and sent three columns under Stonewall Jackson to surround and capture the town.
The Battle of Harpers Ferry started with light fighting September 13 to capture the Maryland Heights to the northeast while John Walker moved back over the Potomac to capture Loudoun Heights south of town. After an artillery bombardment on September 14 and 15, the Federal garrison surrendered. Lee, because of the delay in capturing Harpers Ferry, and the movement of Federal forces west, was forced to regroup at the town of Sharpsburg, leading two days later to the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in American military history. Without the distraction of Union forces at Harpers Ferry during the Antietam campaign, the ability of Union forces to turn back the Confederate invasion at Antietam is debatable.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, Harpers Ferry, along with all of both Berkeley and Jefferson Counties, was separated from Virginia and incorporated into West Virginia. The inhabitants of the counties as well as the Virginia legislature protested, but the federal government went ahead anyway, forming the West Virginia “panhandle” of today.
More importantly, when you’re in Harpers Ferry you’re surrounded by beauty. When I saw this photo, most likely taken from the railroad bridge above the river, I wanted to be that fisherman, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city with only one task at hand. The color of the river water, the placement of the man in the frame, the whip action of the fishing line, and the ripples in the water – this man is in truly his element. The only thing missing is a trout leaping out of the water and chomping down on the end of the line.
So if you’re looking for a day trip out of DC (the fall colors will be on display very, very soon), look no further than Harpers Ferry. Oh, and be sure to buy some freshly popped kettle korn on the side of the road to eat as a snack on your drive home – you can thank me later for that.