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9th Vermont Infantry

Harper's Ferry

Memories of the Ninth Vermont at the
Tragedy of Harper's Ferry, Sept. 15, 1862.


we welcomed the night that brought protection from that powerful artillery fire, and the cessation for the time of hostility; those blessed hours when the wicked ease from troubling you and, weary, you try to rest. Six months of Arctic night would have suited our needs just then, so terrible, so inevitable was the hopeless struggle to come with the dawn.

Under cover of this Sunday night the cavalry performed the only brilliant exploit of the siege. Under the lead of Lieutenant-Colonel B. F. Davis, of the 8th New York Cavalry, they got out. As there was no chance to use them, and in case of surrender the horses would be invaluable to remount Stuart's men, Miles gave a tardy and reluctant consent. Fifteen hundred of them crossed the pontoon at nine o'clock without arousing the enemy, and made their way up the river under Maryland Heights, and by morning were in Lee's rear beyond Sharpsburg, having threaded their way between his divisions. They were lucky enough to fall in with and capture Longstreet's reserve ammunition train of sixty wagons and six hundred and seventy-five men, and turned up at Greencastle, Pennsylvania. The infantry clamored loudly for permission to go out also, now that the defence was so hopeless, but Miles replied:

"I am ordered by General Wool to hold this place, and God damn my soul to hell if I don't hold it against the enemy."

He repeatedly express the idea that his orders were to be construed literally; commanding the place from the Heights did not cover his orders; he was to hold the town itself and it was disobedience to leave. On the trial, however, General Halleck testified that he sent Colonel Miles the following order:

"September 12th. You will obey orders from General McClellan. You will endeavor to open communications with him, and unite your forces to his at the earliest practicable moment."

(I do not see how this was sent as we were then cut off.) On the other hand General McClellan says, in his report,

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