February 14, 1862
The burning of Harper's Ferry--Federal account.
Sandy Hook, Md., Feb. 8.
--On Thursday night, about 1 o'clock, Major Tyndall's pickets, stationed on the Maryland side of the Potomac, and along the village of Sandy Hook, were alarmed by a gunshot from the foot of Londoun Heights, just below the embouchure of the Shenandoah, followed by female shrieks of murder and cries for help--Colonel Geary, who was at the Major's quarters, immediately ordered a corps of riflemen to concentrate opposite the point whence the cries emanated, and fire continuously on the level of the road at the foot of the mountain, and on both sides of the house where the cries were heard. The order was obeyed, and when the morn broke it was learned that the house of the widow Slipes had been broken into and ransacked for salt, tea, and sugar, by a gang of eighteen or twenty men, supposed to belong to Captain Baylor's guerrillas; also, that the woman had been maltreated because a signal shot had been fired by her son.
About seven o'clock yesterday morning a flag of truce was displayed in a landing arch in the railroad wall, just above the recent Harper's Ferry Bridge, where an angular flight of steps led from the town side of the stone embankment, under the railroad track to the river. The person waving the flag and calling for a boat to come over was the only one in sight, and he was "colored." A boat, with the ferry man and a gentleman named George Rohr, (a loyal Virginian, whose property had been destroyed because of his Union sentiments,) went over to respond to the summons of humanity. As the boat neared the arch Rohr remarked to the ferryman, that the man with the flag of truce was not a negro, but a white man painted; nevertheless it was decided to land and see what was wanted. The boat was pushed stern foremost into the arch, Rohr being seated in the stern. By the dim light it was discovered that the stairway was thronged with men, and before the boat could be started forward a man, pronounced by the deceased to be Capt. Baylor, fired a musket, the ball taking effect in Rohr's right thigh, passing through the leg, and coming out just above the knee. The wounded man, finding he had been entrapped, fired his musket into the recess, when a second ball struck him on the shoulder, and passing downward, came out below the right breast.
When it became known on this side that Rohr had been shot, our riflemen poured volley after volley into the landing arch, and such places as the enemy might conceal themselves. The battery on the Maryland heights opened on the houses in the rear, and the pickets in Sandy Hook discovered a squadron of cavalry and footmen pushing up the Shenandoah road in the direction of Charlestown. A squad of foot soldiers were also discovered on the Londoun side of the Shenandoah, behind the abutment of the burned bridge, but beyond the range of our rifles.
The buildings which had concealed the party of murders from view, and sheltered them from the riflemen, had long been the rendezvous, day and night, of the enemy's scouting parties, who were thus enabled to approach unseen and fire upon our pickets. Their destruction had heretofore been contemplated, but desisted from out of consideration of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, who had a considerable interest therein. Col. Geary, however, ordered their immediate destruction by fire, and failing to ignite by shells, Major Tyndall detached Lieut. Greenwalt, of company "F" of the 28th Pennsylvania regiment, with ten men, to proceed to the other side and set fire to them, which they speedily accomplished, bringing back several trophies dropped in hasty retreat by the murdering party, among which was a splendid Minnie musket, loaded, but not capped.
The houses fired were the Wager, Galt and Railroad Hotels, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot, the Winchester Railroad depot, Welch's store, the telegraph office, and the dwelling- houses of Mrs Wager, Mrs. Darin, Mrs. Ellen Chambers, George Chambers, and Wm. J. Stevens, none of which were occupied.
The destruction of the block now gives our pickets and battery men a view of the Shenandoah road from Charlestown, and will enable our men to protect the village in daylight from any clandestine occupancy by the [ eneemy's ] forces, as well as give them a warm reception if they should attempt to advance in force by their favorite and hitherto protected route. The conflagration was magnificent, the volume of smoke and flame almost concealing the surrounding mountain heights, and enveloping the doomed town. Occasionally a concealed shell or gun would explode in the burning buildings, and give a temporary relief to our cannoneers and riflemen by a hope that they were the guns of an approaching enemy.
The once populous town of Harper's Ferry now contains but seven families — all good Unionists--numbering perhaps forty souls, all told. During the shelling, these, as has long been customary, hung out white flags, and their domiciles were accordingly respected by our cannoneers.
When your correspondent ascended the Maryland Heights, in the afternoon, none of the rebels were visible except a squad of cavalry stretched across the road at a small woods behind Bolivar, nor were more than a dozen citizens seen in the three villages of Harper's Ferry, Camptown and Bolivar for several hours. Squads of the enemy's cavalry were occasionally seen on the read near Charlestown, but their numbers did, not indicate any important movement.
At five o'clock P. M. three of the enemy's cavalry came down the Charlestown road, and, dismounting, entered the ferry. A few moments later one made his appearance with a flag of truce on a platform car, standing directly over the landing arch, where his associates had committed the murder in the morning by the use of an emblem hold sacred in war, even by the most barbarous and debased nations of the earth. Immediately two hundred cocked Enfield rifles covered his form, and two twelve-pounders, loaded with Scriber's patent cartridges, (railroad spikes and iron slugs,) were trained to bear upon the same spot. The men were almost insane to revenge the death of their late comrade, but were prevented by a gesture from Col. Geary. The bearer of the flag come from Charlestown, and was sent to request that the body of young Carlisle, a deceased volunteer in the disunion ranks from Maryland, might be sent over for interment to-day. The Colonel responded that Maryland soil was no fit resting place for the bodies of traitors, and as the flag of truce had been violated in the morning, that game could not be played on him twice in one day. The flag responded that the act of the morning was unauthorized, and would be punished. Col. Geary responded that the first shot was fired by the officer in command, and that he had no confidence in any such assertions. "I will give you five minutes." said the Colonel, "to get beyond the reach of my guns. I have no more to say." The bearer of the flag and his companions were suddenly on the Charlestown road, and promptly at the expiration of the five minutes, one of the 12 pounders discharged its iron messengers in the line of their retreat.
It was subsequently ascertained that the bearers of the flag were Baylor's men; that it was Baylor who fired the first shot at Rohr, and the flag man was disguised and painted as a negro to decoy our boat into the trap.
Some time ago Rohr was driven from Harper's Ferry (where he owned a handsome property and was carrying on a flourishing carriage manufactory business) on account of his fidelity to the Union. His property was destroyed and confiscated, and he, after securing the retreat of his wife to this side, devoted his whole time to the Government in designating the Secessionists from the Union people who sought to cross into Maryland. He was highly esteemed and honored by all our officers. His widow, who is now destitute, is a Pennsylvania lady, and deserves the consideration of the Government and the Union people.
During the morning two of the enemy were killed outright by our shells, and others were wounded.
During the conflagration a man in citizens dress was seen walking to and fro between the abutment of the Shenandoah bridge and near the house of Widow Kipes. After witnessing his motions for some time, Colonel Geary ordered a squad of his sharpshooters to try the range upon him — the distance being not less than one thousand two hundred yards. At the first volley the fellow ran up the road and fell — he affected to rise and fell again — a cloud of smoke momentarily hid him from view, and when it rose he was nowhere to be seen. Near where he fell a fissure in the rocks was discovered, and a boat with six men crossed and went up the road at the double quick; arriving at the rock the man was discovered, unharmed, snugly ensconced in the opening of the rock, and the squad returned with him as prisoner. On being interrogated, he stated that he belonged to the Virginia militia at Leesburg and came up to visit an uncle Col. Geary, believing him to be a spy, thought he had better be turned over to Uncle Sam. He gave his name as Henry Demory. A deserter from Leesburg, named Samuel Cain, previously found his way to the river, opposite Sandy Hook, and was ferried over.
Yesterday morning a considerable body of foot and mounted men were discovered on the road at the east side of Londoun Heights, but they retreated without coming within range.
Jackson is reliably reported to be still at Winchester. On returning there from his late tour, he denounced his officers as a set of "damned cowards," his men as half traitors, and sent his resignation to Richmond. The authorities there requested him to withdraw it, and he will probably do so, under a promise of a higher position.
Brig. Gen. Lander, at last accounts received here, was at Romney with five thousand men.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: February 1862