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Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of Armistead M. Ball

Pp. 52-54

January 10, 1860.

Armistead M. Ball sworn and examined:

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you state where you reside, and what is your occupation?
Answer. I reside at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. I am master armorer of the United States armory at that place.

Question. Were you there at the time of the invasion by Brown and his armed party?
Answer. I was.

Question. Were you one of his prisoners?
Answer. I was.

Question. At what time in the day, and whereabouts were you taken?
Answer. I was taken near the arsenal, about five o'clock on the morning of Monday, the 17th of October, 1859.

Question. By how many men?
Answer. I was approached by three men bearing three Sharp's rifles. They presented them to my breast, and said I must march into the armory yard.

Question. Will you state whether there is habitually a police guard of any kind at the armory, or in the armory yard?
Answer. Nothing more than fire watchmen, as they are termed, in the armory service.

Question. How many of them are there?
Answer. Generally two or three. I think three is the usual number -- one posted near the armory gate, the other two distributed about at equal distances throughout the whole length of the armory, the whole distance being, I suppose, three eighths of a mile in length.

Question. Do you call them fire watchmen?
Answer. Yes, sir. So that it may be fully understood by the gentlemen of the committee, I will say that the object of that watch is to pass through the shops after the workmen have left them, after working hours, to see that the fires in the forges and all necessary fires kept up in the workshops are put out, so that there may be no danger from fire, and also to prevent any individuals who might come in during the night to pilfer. They are generally not armed, however. They might be considered civic watchmen.

Question. They are only on duty at night?
Answer. Only at night.

Question. Are there watchmen in any of the other buildings except the armory buildings?
Answer. None other.

Question. Are there none at the arsenal?
Answer. None.

Question. Are there any at Hall's works?
Answer. We regard them as a portion of the armory. There are two watchmen there of similar character.

Question. Do you mean by armory, the place where the arms are manufactured?
Answer. We do; we designate the place of deposit of arms as the arsenal, which is a separate building, on the other side of the street; not in the armory inclosure.

Question. Is there any watch or police of any kind at night at the arsenal?
Answer. None.

Question. Are those four watchmen appointed by regulations made at the armory, or are they by any directions of the War Department?
Answer. I am not able to say, but I am inclined to think that it is required by the Ordnance Department. That is my opinion, but I have no positive information to that effect.

Question. Then these watchmen are the only watch, or police, or guard of any kind that are at the works?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Is there any ceremonial of hoisting the flag there during the day?
Answer. None at present -- only upon the visit of an officer of high command.

Question. Whose duty then is it to hoist the flag?
Answer. The assistant of the military storekeeper.

Question. Did you see any of the citizens who had been killed, after they were killed at the Ferry?
Answer. No, sir; I did not personally see any of them, I believe.

Question. Were you confined all day in the watch-house?
Answer. Not closely confined. I was kept within the armory yard under guard until probably the middle of the day. I cannot be precisely accurate as to the hour, but near about the middle of the day, when the report came that the Harper's Ferry bridge was in possession of a military force from some quarter -- we did not know of course, being prisoners -- but from some quarter of Virginia or Maryland, at that time ten of us were selected as hostages, and placed in close confinement in the engine-house.

Question. Did you remain there until you were rescued by the marines on the following morning?
Answer. Yes, sir; but under varied circumstances. I suppose other gentlemen who were confined have stated them.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. I should like to ask Mr. Ball, whether any of the hired men were subject to do duty at night as a guard; whether any of them except the watchmen were subject to do duty at night as a guard?
Answer. No, sir; none prior to the outbreak.

Question. Are the workmen hired by the piece or the day?
Answer. Generally the great majority of the men working at the Harper's Ferry armory work by the piece; but there are a number of men constantly employed by the day.

Question. Could they, under their contract as workmen, be employed as a guard day or night, instead of working. Are they so employed that they may be put to anything the superintendent may please, such as a guard with arms?
Answer. Any individual, I presume, who is working by the piece or by the day, could enter into a contract with the superintendent.

Question. I do not mean that; I mean under the present organization would they be required to do so?
Answer. Unquestionably not. Their labors cease with the ringing of the bell, and can only be called into requisition by another contract until the ringing of the bell the following morning.

Question. How long have you been master armorer?
Answer. At the time that I was captured I was master machinist of the armory; I am now master armorer, but prior to that time, and at that time, I was master machinist.

Question. How long have you been connected with the armory?
Answer. About twenty-five years.

A.M. Ball.


Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History