Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood
April 18, 1861

Richmond Enquirer
April 23, 1861

Destruction of Buildings and Property at Harper's Ferry

We learn by a passenger who arrived in Richmond on Saturday that John Seddon, Esq., (member of the Virginia Legislature from Stafford county,) had been detailed with a body of Virginia troops to visit Harper's Ferry, and proceeded to that place on Friday last.

When Mr. Seddon arrived at Harper's Ferry, the citizens of that place, under the impression that the State authorities were about to make an unlawful seizure of their property, to the number of some two hundred and fifty or three hundred, opposed the supposed invasion of their rights. On the arrival of three hundred Virginia troops, the Federal troops fearing they would be overpowered, fired the armory and evacuated it. As soon as this was done, the citizens of Harper's Ferry saw the mistake they had made and with the State troops, rushed forward to extinguish the fire and save the property within the armory, which they succeeded in doing in a great measure.

All of the machinery was saved uninjured, and 5,000 of the improved patent muskets were saved, and are now on the way to Richmond.

All of the buildings at Harper's Ferry, and 9,000 of the old smooth bore muskets were destroyed.

There are now 2,300 State troops guarding Harper's Ferry.

Staunton Spectator
April 23, 1861

Harper's Ferry.

Before our gallant companies could get to Harper's Ferry, the Government guard stationed there burnt up the best arms and left in "double quick time." When they heard of the approach of the Virginia forces, they did not "stand upon the order of their going, but went at once."---For more particulars, see the news in another column.

Staunton Spectator
May 7, 1861

Affairs at Harper's Ferry.

The 18th of April, says the Charlestown Free Press, proved another great event in the history of Harper's Ferry. A rumor was in circulation that several thousand Northern men were to arrive on that day to take control of the United States Armory. This rumor created much excitement, and caused the calling out of the 2nd Regiment of Volunteers, under col. Allen. This report, however, was not sustained by fact.---On Thursday morning Col. A. M. Barbour, a member of the State Convention from Jefferson county, and John Seddot, Esq., a member of the Legislature from Stafford county, arrived there and stated that the convention had passed an Ordnance of Secession, and that the Governor of Virginia had ordered the Volunteers out for the purpose of repelling the Federal authorities in the event of an effort to re-inforce the command already there, and that Virginia intended taking possession of the Armory, &c.

This caused much excitement, as the citizens of that place were under the impression that an unlawful seizure of the property was to be made, and were determined to oppose the supposed invasion. In the meantime, however, troops were gathering from all parts of the Valley; and Lieut. Jones, commander of the Federal forces who had been stationed for several months at Harper's Ferry, finding that he would be compelled to evacuate, commenced his preparations for the destruction of the property.

A Mr. Kingsbury, a member of the Ordnance department, had been some 30 hours before sent there as Superintendent in place of Col. Barbour, who had resigned. He and Lieut. Jones had been busily engaged in their designs for the destruction of the property. The operatives were directed to leave the shops, with the assurance that they should resume work the next day.---The gates leading to the Armory were then closed upon them, and sentinels posted, whilst the Superintendent and Lieut. Jones employed their forces in removing foot bridges, from the canal to prevent ingress, and preparing for blowing up the buildings by placing kegs and sacks of powder in them. This was done without the knowledge of those outside. Powder was conveyed in bed ticks to the Arsenal buildings, whilst great quantities had been scattered over the floors of the shops, and barrels of it placed in such position as to demolish the entire establishment as well as destroy those who might approach.

After this, they placed sentinels some two or three miles at different points to watch the approach of the Virginia forces en route for the Ferry. A sentinel hailed col. Allen and his command, and when the Col. Ordered to charge upon him, he rode off rapidly, and before the Regiment reached the Ferry, Lieut. Jones had fired the buildings, and he and the Superintendent made tracks for Pennsylvania. The two arsenal buildings with about 14,000 guns were destroyed. Only a portion of one of the shops was injured, although a deep laid plan had been made to destroy the entire Armory. The wheel for forcing the water was placed in operation, and by the great exertion of the citizens and military, the flames were prevented from spreading, although at much risk of life, as trains of powder had been spread in every direction. The fire broke out about 10 o'clock on Thursday night.

Had the scheme of Lieut. Jones succeeded, there is no telling the loss of life which would have ensued. Hundreds, perhaps would have been killed or wounded in the explosion which he contemplated.

Several thousand guns were not injured, and are in possession of Virginia.

The greater portion of the Machinery of the Armory has been taken down and removed. In a short time the shops will present nothing but an open space---and stand as a monument of the past. It is to be regretted that such a move was made, as one company of volunteers might have been armed every day.

Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: April 1861

West Virginia Archives and History