Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interesting find at Harpers Ferry today!

Winter Camp
I hear that it was 45 degrees back home in Minnesota today. It was 88 here and humid! So to honor our Minnesota friends and family, we started the day checking out the Civil War exhibit right in the campground - Winter Camp. It was really awesome to see how the Union soldiers would have set up their quarters for camp during the winter.

They would have placed logs or most likely fence posts, to build up a 2 foot wall to fit the bottom of their "wedge tent" an then dug out the ground inside a foot or two deep. They would have made stairs out of boxes to get inside, lined the floor with straw, and added a rock or brick fireplace on one end to keep warm. Jeff was inspired. We might end up with one of these at deer camp!

There was no door, the floor was dug about 2 feet deep and there were
 steps on the inside to climb down into the tent. Really cool!
Union soldiers were better outfitted than the Confederates,
they would have likely had the tents to create their quarters.
Harper's Ferry, WV
Even though my g-g-grandfather, George W Ordner was not in Harpers Ferry during the Civil War, we knew it was an interesting place and were so close so we wanted to visit. Harpers Ferry was founded in 1734 along the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. In 1796 the US government purchased a part of it and constructed an armory and arsenal that produced small arms for the US army. In 1804 William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) outfitted their group at Harpers Ferry, including purchasing a Harpers Ferry rifle. During the Civil War it was passed back and forth between the Federals and Confederates several times until the Arsenal was finally destroyed in 1861.

When we arrived at the visitor center, we were very surprised to learn that there were 21 original buildings and museums to visit in the town! So we tried to see them all.
Inside of White Hall Tavern that existed in 1859...way cool!!! Total favorite!

John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was an attempt by the white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt in 1859 by seizing a United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry. On Sunday night, October 16 in 1859, John Brown along with 20 men seized hostages in the town, stopped a B&O Railroad train and ended up with the hostages in the Engine building near the Arsenal, at a stand off with the town. (There is lots of information online about the details of the raid.)

George had a cousin, Charles E Ways, (born August 13, 1838 died January 2, 1914), from over in the town of Frederick, MD (where his mother and father were both born). This cousin had started working as a telegraph operator for the B&O Railroad when he was 13 years old and was offered a position at Frederick Junction when he was 15 years old. From there he went to Martinsburg where he was working in 1859. Here is what was recalled by Charles E. Ways later, that we found in the Maryland Genealogical and Memorial Encyclopedia of the State of Maryland, Volume 1 in his own words!

John Brown's Fort - the Engine House at Harpers Ferry.
"I was operator at Martinsburg, West Virginia, at the time John Brown captured the Government armory at Harper's Ferry. Having nothing to do after the wires were cut I went with the Martinsburg militia to the scene of action. The second day after the arrival there, I was instructed to open an office, which I did in a one-story brick building located alongside the Winchester Branch track and directly facing the engine house, or fort as it is called, in which Brown and his men were barricaded.

"My selection of a location for the instrument table was in the middle of the room and the door being open all the time, I had a full view of the Brown fort, and it appears he had a full view of me and my instruments, for it was not more than twenty minutes later I had gotten wot work before two Sharp's rifle balls in quick succession passed within six inched of my head and buried themselves in the wall back of me. I can recall very vividly the whistle of the balls as they passed my head, and it did not take me very long to move my instruments to a safe place. Brown had portholes on all sides of the building and his men shot anything that came in sight.

"It was this recklessness that caused the death of old Mr. Beckham, the [B&O railroad] agent at Harpers Ferry at this time. He walked out of this office up the platform and put his head out to look a the fort when a Sharps rifle ball put an end to his life in a moment. He was a well loved old gentleman and his death caused much greater ill-feeling toward Brown and his men. From a point on the platform near where Mr. Beckham was killed I witnessed the storming of the fort by the United States troops commanded by General Robert E. Lee, then a colonel, and the capture of Brown after he and his men had fired a half a dozen volleys through the doors of the fort into the troops, only one of them was killed, as I recall it, though I was several fall wounded and carried away. The old man looked the picture of misery as he was dragged out to a spot under the Star-Spangled Banner which floated from a pole in the middle of the armory yard..." - Charles E. Ways

WOW. First hand witness of the event from a family member. There was more in his account that went on to recall the Confederate troops in Harpers Ferry and witnessing Nathaniel Banks and his troops retreating over the Potomac back to Maryland later during the Civil War. Mr. Ways also set up the first railroad telegraph office in Washington during the inauguration of Mr. Abraham Lincoln.

What a great family historical find! Do you suppose, since he was only a few years older than GWO, that Charlie told him all about his witnessing this event? Perhaps...fascinating to ponder. Maybe this event spurred George to be passionate enough for the Union to enlist?

Then on to Frederick, MD
After Harpers Ferry, we headed back to Frederick, MD to check out the Historical Society records for family genealogy information and to visit the Civil War Medical Museum. I wanted to learn all about how the wounded were cared for during the war...what they used, what it was like in the field hospitals, where George with his wound after Bull Run would have been tended.

Life-size diorama at the Civil War Medical Museum in Frederick, MD
showing how soldiers had bullets removed and limbs amputated right
on the field. Chloroform was used 95% of the time, good to know!
The museum was really interesting and we saw lots of items that were used on the battle field to tend the wounded. They also had an exhibit that showed the items they had specifically for amputees in the hospitals - knife/fork utensils, small pots with spouts for drinking soup and coffee, etc.

They were getting ready to close the museum right when we finished going through the exhibits. I asked the museum director if they happened to have any books specifically about the medicines soldiers would have had access to or used during the Civil War. They didn't. However I did find a used book on the sale shelf that I am excited to read: Field Medical Services at the Battles of Manassas (Bull Run) by Horace H. Cunningham. Didn't expect to find one so specific to precisely what I was looking to understand in order to write about George's experience being wounded on the battlefield.

All in all it was a really great day full of really awesome finds!!!

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