"The people for the most part were tongue-tied with terror...overwhelmed with ruin..."
Porte Crayon, war correspondent
April 18, 1861
The armory and arsenal's destruction signaled the beginning of the war and the end of prosperity in Harpers Ferry. On April 18, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded from the Union, Virginia militia awaited reinforcements on this ridge while preparing to seize Harpers Ferry. At 10:00 p.m. the out-numbered Federal garrison blew up the arsenal and attempted to burn the armory before retreating into Maryland.
War correspondent Porte Crayon, wrote: "There was a sudden flash that illuminated for miles around the romantic gorge where the rivers meet.... The flashes and detonations were several times repeated; then a steadier flame was seen rising from two district points, silently and rapidly increasing in volumes until each rock and tree on Loudoun and Maryland Heights were distinctly visible, and the now overclouded sky was ruddy with the sinister glare."
Col. Thomas J. Jackson arrived ten days after the arsenal's destruction to assume his first command of the Civil War. He drilled thousands of Virginia volunteers encamped here on Bolivar Heights into a disciplined military unit that soon became famous as the "Stonewall Brigade." In mid-June 1861, Maj. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston ordered the Confederate forces to abandon Harpers Ferry, pronouncing the area "untenable."
On October 16, 1861, exactly two years after John Brown raided Harpers Ferry, 500 Confederates led by Col. Turner Ashby attacked 600 Union soldiers commanded by Col. John White Geary on this ridge. Ashby ordered repeated assaults on the Union position. After six hours of fighting, Geary's troops ultimately repulsed the Confederates. The "Battle of Bolivar Heights" ended as Ashby's troops fell back toward Charles Town and Union flags were planted on the ridge.