Should it occur to the reader that there is a slight discrepancy between the language of Mr. Cameron's report as already quoted, and the terms of this order, I must refer him to that ex-official for an explanation. And it would also be satisfactory if a copy of “the orders of the government,” which were “executed in such a handsome and successful manner,” could be furnished at the same time by the Secretary. Before leaving Washington, Captain Kingsbury received verbal instructions from General Scott. On the morning of the eighteenth of April he assumed control of the armory. The ordinary operations of the post were continued until after the arrival of the first passenger train from the east. On that train came the late Superintendent of the armory with a few friends, and their advent was signalized by a disloyal demonstration on the part of a crowd in attendance upon the depot. The cry, “Virginia will take care of Harper's Ferry!” was loudly and defiantly repeated. An intense excitement soon prevailed in the village, and extended to the shops. It was evident, from the confidence of the traitors, that in their opinion the place would soon be in their possession, and if it was to be defended no time must be lost in organizing the Union forces. The shops were accordingly closed, by order of Captain Kingsbury; the men were assembled, and in a brief address the commanding officer described the situation, and called for volunteers. The workmen had been formed into military companies since the John Brown raid. All who were faithful to their allegiance, and willing to protect and defend the property of the United States, were directed to assemble with their company organizations at one o'clock P. M. The order was received with applause; the men dispersed, as was supposed, for their arms and equipments; but the appointed hour arrived, and brought with it no such force as had been expected. Only a small number of the men employed responded to the appeal, and it was uncertain, in view of the active and evil influences then at work around them, how many of these could be relied on at the decisive moment. To attempt to defend the post with the small detachment of regulars, would have been preposterous; for before one o'clock it was believed, on the authority of a telegram from Washington, that an armed force was en route from Richmond to capture the place, and secure the fifteen thousand arms which were still in store, and which Floyd and his coadjutors had been unable to dispose of. There was then but one alternative by which to defeat the purpose of the traitors, and the destruction of the arms became a military necessity. About three o'clock P. M. a report was received that several Virginia companies were marching from Charlestown to the Ferry, and it was also ascertained that the agents of the railroad to Winchester had been specially instructed to keep the track clear that night, which was an unusual order, as only day trains were habitually run upon that road. As the necessity for active measures arose much sooner than had been anticipated the preparations were necessarily hastily made; and as the civil employees of the government could not be relied upon, the details of the affair were of course confided to Lieutenant Jones and his men. The powder belonging to the armory was in the magazine on the heights, and orders were given by Captain Kingsbury to have it transferred where it would be at once available. Government powder is packed in barrels, holding one hundred pounds each, and these, from their size, could not be conveyed to the storehouses containing the arms without revealing the fact, and possibly exciting suspicion as to the object of the transfer. Fortunately several small kegs were found, which proved to have been carried thither by John Brown, and which were admirably adapted to the holy and patriotic purpose for which it was now wanted. The boxes containing the arms were so arranged as to be most favorable to ignition, the fagots were piled and the powder distributed, ready for the application of the fire at the given signal. Care was taken in the arrangement of the powder to prevent, as far as practicable, any injury to private dwellings or their occupants by the explosion; and as the prime object of the Virginia expedition was plainly the seizure of the arms, their destruction was considered of such importance as not to be hazarded by a diversion of the means to other parts of the establishment. It therefore became necessary to rely upon the natural combustibility of the materials for the destruction of the workshops and machinery. Between nine and ten o'clock P. M. a gentleman arrived from the direction of Charlestown, and reported that about two thousand men were within a short distance of the place. As this information appeared reliable, the match was soon applied to the trains already laid in the arsenals, and to the combustible materials in the carpenter's
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.