Foto de l'autor

Obres de Dennis E. Frye

Etiquetat

Coneixement comú

Encara no hi ha coneixement comú d'aquest autor. Pots ajudar.

Membres

Ressenyes

Most people only know of Harpers Ferry as the town in present day West Virginia where John Brown, a zealous if mercurial abolitionist, set out to launch an ill-fated slave insurrection by seizing the national armory located there, an attempt which was completely crushed, sending John Brown to the gallows and his body “a-mouldering” in the grave shortly thereafter. Those more familiar with the antebellum are aware that many historians consider that event to be the opening salvo of the Civil War, as hyper-paranoid southern planters—who no longer as in Jefferson’s day bemoaned the burden and the guilt of their “peculiar institution,” but instead championed human chattel slavery as the most perfect system ever ordained by the Almighty—imagined the mostly anti-slavery north as a hostile belligerency intent to deprive them of their property rights and to actively incite the enslaved to murder them in their sleep. Brown was hanged seventeen months prior to the assault on Fort Sumter, but some have suggested that first cannonball was loosed at his ghost.
Those in the know will also point out that the man in overall command when they took Brown down was Colonel Robert E. Lee, and that his aide-de-camp was J. E. B. Stuart. And perhaps to underscore the outrageous twists of fate history is known to fashion for us, they might add that present for Brown’s later execution were Thomas J. (later “Stonewall”) Jackson, John Wilkes Booth, Walt Whitman, and even Edmund Ruffin, the notable Fire-eater who was among the first to fire actual rather than metaphorical shots at Sumter in 1861. You can’t make this stuff up.
But it turns out that John Brown’s Raid in 1859 represents only a small portion of the Civil War history that clings to Harpers Ferry, perhaps the most quintessential border town of the day, which changed hands no less than eight times between 1861 and 1865. Both sides took turns destroying the successively rebuilt Baltimore & Ohio bridge—the only railroad bridge connecting northern and southern states across the Potomac. Harpers Ferry was integral to Lee’s invasion of Maryland that ended at Antietam, and had a supporting role at the outskirts of the Gettysburg campaign, as well as in Jubal Early’s aborted march on Washington. There’s much more, and perhaps the finest source for the best immersion in the big picture would be Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town in the American Civil War [2012], by the award-winning retired National Park Service Historian Dennis E. Frye, who spent some three decades of his career at Harpers Ferry National Park. Frye is a talented writer, the narrative is fascinating, and this volume is further enhanced by lavish illustrations, period photographs, and maps. Even better, while the book is clearly aimed towards a popular audience, it rigorously adheres to strict standards of scholarship in presentation, interpretation, and analysis.
West Virginia has the distinction of being the only state to secede from another state, as its Unionist sympathies took issue with Virginia’s secession from the United States. But it had been a long time coming. The hardscrabble farmers in the west had little in common with the wealthy elite slaveholding planter aristocracy that dominated the state’s government. This is not to say those to the west of Richmond were any less racist than the rest of the south, or much of the antislavery north for that matter; it was a nation then firmly based upon principles of white supremacy. For Virginia and its southern allies, the conflict hinged on their perceived right to spread slavery to the vast territories seized from Mexico in recent years. For the north, it was about free soil for white men and for Union. West Virginia went with Union. But back then, when John Brown took his crusade to free the enslaved to Harpers Ferry, it was still part of Virginia, and while some residents might have feared for the worst, most Americans could not have dreamed of the scale of bloodletting that was just around the corner, nor that the cause of emancipation—John Brown’s cause—would one day also become inextricably entwined with the preservation of the Union.
Harpers Ferry is most notable for its dramatic topography, which has nothing to do with its armory and arsenal—the object of Brown’s raid—but everything to do with its persistent pain at the very edge of Civil War. Strategically situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, where today the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet, the town proper is surrounded on three sides by the high grounds at Bolivar Heights to the west, Loudoun Heights to the south, and Maryland Heights to the east that define its geography and the challenges facing both attackers and defenders. It is immediately clear to even the most amateur tactician that the town is indefensible without control of the heights.
I was drawn to Harpers Ferry Under Fire by design. I had already registered for the Civil War Institute (CWI) 2023 Summer Conference at Gettysburg College, and selected Harpers Ferry National Historic Park as one of my battlefield tours. While I have visited Antietam and Gettysburg on multiple occasions, somehow I had never made it to Harpers Ferry. These CWI conference tours are typically quite competitive, so I was pleased when I learned that I had won a seat on the bus. And not only that—the tour guide was to be none other than Dennis Frye himself! I have met Dennis before, at other Civil War events, including a weekend at Chambersburg some years ago with the late, legendary Ed Bearss. Like Ed, Dennis is very sharp, with an encyclopedic knowledge of people and events. I assigned myself his book as homework.
The original itinerary was scheduled to include a morning tour of the town, designated as the Harpers Ferry Historic District—which hosts John Brown’s Fort as well as many restored nineteenth century buildings that have been converted into museums—and an afternoon tour focused on the battles and the heights. Inclement weather threatened, so Dennis mixed it up and had us visit the heights first. In retrospect, in my opinion, this turned out to have been the better approach anyway, because when you stand on the heights and look down upon the town proper below, you understand instantly the strategic implications from a military standpoint. Later, walking the streets of the hamlet and looking up at those heights, you can fully imagine the terror of the citizens there during the war years, completely at the mercy of whatever side controlled that higher ground.
The most famous example of that was when, during Lee’s Antietam campaign, he sought to protect his supply line by splitting his forces and sending Stonewall Jackson to seize Harpers Ferry. Jackson’s victory there proved brilliant and decisive, a devastating federal capitulation that turned more than twelve thousand Union troops over to the rebels—the largest surrender of United States military personnel until the Battle of Bataan eighty years afterward! This event is covered in depth in Harpers Ferry Under Fire, but given Dennis Frye’s passion for history, the story proved to be a great deal more compelling when gathered with a group of fellow Civil War afficionados on Bolivar Heights, spectacular views of the Potomac River and the Cumberland Gap before us, while Dennis rocked on his heels, pumped his arms in the air, and let his voice boom with the drama and excitement of those events so very long past. While Dennis lectured, gesturing wildly, I think all of us, if only for an instant, were transported back to 1862, gazing down from the heights at the tiny town below through the eyes of a common soldier, garbed in blue or gray. The remainder of the day’s tour, including John Brown’s Fort and the town’s environs, was a superlative experience, but it was that stirring moment on Bolivar Heights that will remain with me for many years to come.
It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the Fort, where John Brown’s raid ended in disaster, ten of his men killed, including two of his sons, and the badly wounded Brown captured, along with a handful of survivors. The original structure, which served as the Armory’s fire engine and guard house, was later dismantled, moved out of state and rebuilt, then dismantled again and eventually re-erected not far from the location where Brown and his men sought refuge that day, before it was stormed by the militia. It is open to the public. Walking around and within it today, there is an omnipresent eerie feeling. Whatever Brown’s personal flaws—and those were manifold—he went to Harpers Ferry on a sort of holy quest and was martyred for it. The final words he scribbled down in his prison cell—"I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood”—rang in my ears as I trod upon that sacred ground.
If you are a Civil War buff, you must visit Harpers Ferry. Frye himself is retired, but if you can somehow arrange to get a tour of the park with this man, jump on the chance. Failing that, read Harpers Ferry Under Fire, for it will enhance your understanding of what occurred there, and through the text the authoritative voice of Dennis Frye will speak to you.

A link to Harpers Ferry National Park is here: Harpers Ferry National Park
More on the CWI Summer Conference is here: Civil War Institute Summer Conference
Review of: “Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town in the American Civil War, by Dennis E. Frye” – Regarp Book Blog https://regarp.com/2023/08/20/review-of-harpers-ferry-under-fire-a-border-town-i...
… (més)
 
Marcat
Garp83 | Aug 20, 2023 |
this book had a lot of description in it.
½
 
Marcat
ejohnson421 | Oct 13, 2008 |

Premis

Estadístiques

Obres
7
Membres
106
Popularitat
#181,887
Valoració
½ 4.4
Ressenyes
2
ISBN
7

Gràfics i taules