Civil War Transcendence, part 188


188 map

Harper’s Ferry, 1863, U.S. War Dept. Engineer Dept.


“Suffice it to say, Major, that I studied geography using borrowed books when I was a boy back in Arkansas” I spouted. This didn’t placate the major, but he accepted the explanation due to the crisis at hand. However, I could tell that there would be future interrogation.

Turning back to the map he informed me, “There are pickets along the Potomac at the crossings you mentioned. But what we need to know are the Union troop movements between here and South Mountain. Are you familiar with that landmark?” I nodded that I did, which caused another raising of the eyebrows.

“Major, do you think the Yanks are going to try and take Harpers Ferry?” I queried.

He slowly turned toward me and said, “That is what we have to find out.”

“May I make one impertinent observation?” I requested.

“It never has stopped you before,” he retorted.

“If we are to hold Harpers Ferry, we must have Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, and School House Ridge fortified, with enough supplies stockpiled to hold for a month.”

The major looked at me for a long time. Then he shifted his gaze to the map and said, “I know.”

I continued, “Do we have the resources to defend a siege on Ferry?”

Still looking down at the map, he said, “No. I have been trying to get the generals to move us to Winchester, which is a much more defendable area, but they won’t do it. They want to keep this river port open, plus have a commanding position over the C & O Canal.”

“What are we to do?” I contended.

The major stood up and I followed suit. He faced me and, with a grim expression, declared, “That is my problem. You need to get me information about the Yanks as soon as possible. You have your orders.”

Then, putting forth his hand and adopting a more friendly countenance, he said, “Be careful. I don’t want to lose you.”

I have to admit, I teared up as I shook his hand. Then I saluted and exited the tent.

I mounted Stonewall and rode to the pickets on the Shepherdstown Bridge.  I knew the Sergeant of the Guard by name, which was Richard Canes. I asked him if Boteler’s Ford had pickets. He said since it was in plain view of the bridge, any threat could be dealt with from the bridge.  I asked if he would be on duty at twilight tonight. He said he would. I informed him that I would be crossing the Potomac just after dark tonight and not to shoot me. He grinned and promised not to. Before I rode back to Hattie’s place he gave me the password, which was “Turkey in the Straw.” I raised my eyebrows at this information and he told me, “I don’t think up tha passwords. I just use ’em.” We both laughed and shook hands, and I rode away.

I let Stonewall meander slowly back home and asked myself, “What am I going to do? That is the $64,000 question.” However, I was starting to form a plan of sorts in my mind.

As he rode away from the bridge, she watched from the depths of the woods on the Maryland side of the Potomac and giggled.

About Civil War Reflections

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle.
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