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BGen Julius White's Official Reports

Reports of September 1862, on Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry

J. White

[author biography]

[The various Reports and other correspondence of Brigadier General Julius White, U. S. Army, commanding, of the evacuation of Martinsburg and the siege of Harper's Ferry]

September 16, 1862.

Major-General WOOL.

I have the honor to state that this place has been defended for several days against an attack by the divisions of Jackson, A. P. Hill, Lawton, Walker, and McLaws, amounting in all to at least 40,000 men, with over fifty pieces of artillery.

After expending all our artillery ammunition, except that for short range, and defeating two attacks of the enemy's infantry, Colonel Miles, with the advice of his brigade commanders, reluctantly surrendered.

I regret to say that the gallant Colonel Miles is so severely wounded that his recovery is not probable. I march to-day, with the command, and will report to you in detail the events which have occurred since my last communication.




Chief of Staff and Asst. Adjt. General, Eighth Army Corps.

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that on the 11th instant, being then at Martinsburg, Va., in command of the troops at that place, in there detained to Camp Chase, Ohio, by rail, under guard of 1 lieutenant and 10 men. There were 29 prisoners, and as the enemy were advancing, I sent an additional guard of a lieutenant and 30 men to go with them as far as Sir John's Run, and then to return, that being the dangerous portion of the road.

On the night of the same day, the enemy having crossed the Potomac into Virginia, the railroad communication west was cut off, but I have every reason to believe that the prisoners were safely transported. For the above reason neither of the guards were able to rejoin their commands.

On the 11th instant reports reached me, through scouts and others, that the enemy were crossing the Potomac into Virginia at or about Williamsport and Cherry Run in force; also, that they were passing to the west of Martinsburg, between it and North Mountain, thus cutting of our retreat in that direction.

It being ordered by major-General Wool that the place should be held to the last extremity, at noon on the 11th instant I sent out one section of Captain Phillips' battery and four companies of the Sixty-fifth Illinois, together with half a company of cavalry and two teams, with axes, &c., the whole under command of Colonel Cameron, if the Sixty-fifth Illinois, with orders to proceed out upon the Williamsburg [Williamsport road, as far as practicable, and to obstruct the roads, tear up the brigades, and in every way possible, retard the advance of the enemy.

At night-fall, it having been well ascertained that the enemy were between us and North Mountain, and were in very large force near Falling Waters, on the Williamsport road, some 7 miles from Martinsburg, and were still crossing, it became evident that with the small force at my disposal the position could not longer be held.

Colonel Cameron's party wa accordingly recalled, and every exertion made to convey the public property to Harper's Ferry, that being the only line of retreat left open.

The railroad agent had, the previous day, sent off some 11 empty cars, in defiance of my orders for them to be retained, but I had detained the train up from Harper's Ferry that day, consisting of but 6 cars, and I caused all the surplus arms, clothing, ammunition, and camp equipage to be conveyed to the railroad depot, to be sent thence by rail to Harper's Ferry that day, consisting of but 6 cars, and I caused all the surplus army, clothing, ammunition, and camp equipage to be conveyed to the railroad depot, to be sent thence by rail to Harper's Ferry, as but one of the regiments under my command was provided with transportation. This was done mostly by the men themselves, the transportation (being divided as equally as possible between the several regiments) being wholly insufficient for the purpose.

The railroad train was loaded to the extent of its capacity and sent to Harper's Ferry, where it arrived in safety. The transportation was then employed to haul the most valuable property remaining, and the troops and wagons took up their line of march at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 12th.

But little public property was abandoned, consisting mostly of tents and cap equipage, which could not be conveyed with the means at disposal.

Upon the march, the pickets of the enemy were encountered at Halltown, but they were driven back to Charlestown, the command arriving safely at Harper's Ferry on the afternoon of the 12th. The enemy's advance entered Martinsburg but about three hours after its evacuation, their force being some 15,000 or 18,000 men.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,




September 22, 1862.

Chief of Staff and Assistant Adjutant-General.

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that on the 12th instant I arrived at Harper's Ferry, va., from Martinsburg, with the troops under my command at that place.

At the time of my arrival, skirmishing had already commenced upon the Maryland Heights, between our forces and those of the enemy.

I at once addressed the following note to Colonel D. S. Miles, commanding the post, viz:

September 13, 1862.

Commanding Harper's Ferry:

COLONEL: I have the honor to state that I arrived at this post last evening with my command, consisting of the following named troops: Twelfth Illinois Cavalry; Sixty-fifth Illinois Infantry; One hundred and twenty-fifth New York Infantry; Phillips' battery (four guns), Second Illinois Artillery.

On an occasion prior to this, I was ordered by Major General J. E. Wool, commanding, to repair to Martinsburg and take command at that post, thus leaving you in command here, which I consider an indication that the general desires you to retain this command.

Your familiarity with the topography of the vicinity, the fact that the troops and the guns have been placed under your direction, coupled with the additional important fact that the enemy is in heavy force in the immediate vicinity, and skirmishing with their advance already commenced, render it improper, at least for the present, to deprive you of the command for the sole reason of superior rank, believing that the interests of the service would not be subserved thereby.

Meanwhile I respectfully tender my services and those of the officers of my staff to render any aid in our power in the defense of the position.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


The propositions extended in this letter were accepted by Colonel Miles by his order of the same day, of which the following is a copy, viz:


Numbers 42. Harper's Ferry, September 13, 1862.

Brigadier-General White, with a magnanimity equal to his valor, proffers to the undersigned, commanding officer of the post, his services and those of the troops brought with him, for its defense in its present necessity. This act of high-toned chivalric generosity, of which there are but few percents in our army, overwhelms me with the deepest gratitude.

I cheerfully accept the invaluable assistance of the gallant general, and will assign his troops to important positions.

It is hereby ordered that, wherever present during the siege of this post, the troops will obey implicitly and with alacrity all orders given by General White.

Colonel Second Infantry, Commanding.

At this time the Maryland Heights were held by a brigade commanded by Colonel Thomas H. Ford, of the Thirty-second Ohio, which consisted of the Thirty-second Ohio, three companies First Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, the Seventh Squadron Rhode Island Cavalry, and two companies of the First Maryland Cavalry, together with Captain McGrath's battery of two 9-inch columbiads and one 50-pounder rifled gun.

The other troops were places upon Camp Hill, in the town of Harper's Ferry, and upon Bolivar Heights, their left resting upon the Charlestown turnpike, and protected by the woods and ravines between it and the Shenandoah.

The enemy, who had closely followed us form Martinsburg, had taken position along our front, on the north, was, and south, across the base of the peninsula between the Potomac and the Shenandoah.

No forces of ours whatever were places upon Loudoun Heights. The enemy has a signal station there, and men were to be observed at work, apparently planting a battery. They were dislodged by our shells, thrown from Camp Hill.

At night Captain Russell, of the First Maryland Cavalry, with 6 men, was dispatched to make his way to our forces in Maryland, if possible, and inform them of our condition.

On the morning of the 13th fighting recommenced upon maryland Heights, by the enemy advancing upon the northern and eastern slope sand attempting to dislodge our forces there stationed. It continued, with varying success, until 3.30 o'clock p. m., when the enemy advanced in overwhelming force, and the position was abandoned, first spiking the heavy guns and rolling them down the crag. The battery of four brass pieces was also spiked and abandoned. Being upon duty on the extreme left of our line, I was nor cognizant of the abandonment at the time, and I attach hereto the report of Colonel Ford, giving full particulars of the occurrence.

It will be noticed that Colonel Ford claims to have been ordered by Colonel Miles to evacuate the heights. Colonel Miles, however, denied to me ever having giver such an order, but said he gave orders that if it became necessary to abandon the heights, the guns were to be spiked and dismounted. Upon the abandonment of the Maryland Heights, the troops crossed the Potomac upon the pontoon bridge and took position upon Bolivar Heights, as assigned them. The enemy took possession of the summit above Maryland Heights, and now opened two batteries from the summit of Loudoun Heights, their fire being mostly directed upon Camp Hill. They were replied to by the guns upon Camp Hill and Captain Von Sehlen's battery, upon Bolivar Heights.

Two guns of Captain Rigby's battery were advanced upon the Charlestown turnpike, and shelled the woods, where the enemy was establishing himself. In the evening the entire cavalry force, consisting of the Twelfth Illinois, the Eighth New York, the Seventh Squadron Rhode Island, and two companies of the First maryland, were ordered to cross direction of Sharpsburg, to cut their way out if possible, there being no forage and they being useless in the defense of the place. Under an experienced guide, they succeeded in so doing, and captured a portion of General Longstreet's ammunition train and some prisoners on the way.

On the morning of the 14th our troops held the bridges across the Potomac, Camp Hill, and the line of Bolivar Heights, together with the ridge on the prolongation of the heights between the turnpike and the Shenandoah. The bridges were defended by eight companies of the First Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, the Eighty-seventh Ohio, and one section of Captain Potts' battery, all under the command of Colonel Maulsby, of the first named regiment.

Camp Hill was occupied by Captain Graham's battery; four guns of Captain Potts' battery, two 24-pounder howitzers and two 20-pounder Parrott guns, supported by the Twelfth Regiment New York State Militia, under command of Colonel Ward.

The right of Bolivar Heights was held by the brigade under command of Colonel D'Utassy, of the Thirty-ninth New York, consisting of the Thirty-ninth, One hundred and eleventh, and One hundred and fifteenth New York, the Sixty-fifth Illinois, and Captains Phillips and Von Sehlen's batteries. A slight earth-work was constructed upon the right, to protect the men of the batteries. The left of Bolivar Heights was held by the brigade commanded by colonel Timble, of the Sixtieth Ohio, consisting of the Sixtieth Ohio, Ninth Vermont, and One hundred and twenty-sixth new York, with Captain Rigby's battery. A slight earth-work was constructed upon the left, on the Charlestown turnpike, to protect that battery.

The ground to the southeast of the turnpike, and between it and the Shenandoah, was held by the Third Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Downey. The other troops were placed upon the plateau adjacent to Bolivar Heights, and under cover of ravines as much as possible.

Early in the morning the enemy opened form their batteries upon Loudoun Heights and from a battery planted during the night upon the summit of the Maryland Heights, directing their fire mostly upon Camp Hill. This fire was returned by the guns there, with spirit, and by Captain Von Sehlen's battery upon Bolivar Heights. This fire continued with brief intervals throughout the day, disabling for us one 20-pounder Parrott and three other guns and blowing up two caissons.

About noon, two companies of the Thirty-ninth New York and two of the Sixty-fifth Illinois, all under command of Major Wood, of the last-named regiment, recrossed the Potomac and ascended to our batteries upon the Maryland Heights and brought off the brass pieces abandoned there. They returned without any loss.

In the afternoon the enemy opened a battery from beyond the Charlestown turnpike, shelling our skirmishers thrown out to the front, in the woods. Late in the afternoon, a division of the enemy, under General A. P. Hill, made an assault upon the extreme left, advancing with great spirit.

Colonel Miles not being present, I took command for the time, and ordered the Ninth Vermont to support Colonel Downey, and subsequently re-enforced them with the Thirty-second Ohio and one section of Captain Rigby's battery. The attack continued until after dark, the firing being very sharp and the troops engaged behaving very had-sorely, when the enemy was repulsed.

The fire now cease, but during the night the enemy obtained a lodgment upon and beyond our extreme left. During the engagement I had ;placed the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York in the rear of the line as a reserve, with a section of Captain Pott's battery on the turnpike and another section on our left, as a support, if needed.

At daylight on the morning of the 15th the enemy opened from their batteries previously mentioned, and from the following, which he had planted during the night, viz: Two upon the plateau at the foot of Loudoun Heights, on the east side of the Shenandoah; one of the guns upon a knoll to the front of our extreme left, enfilading our works upon Bolivar Heights; one upon the Charlestown turnpike, in a belt of woods; one opposite the center of Bolivar Heights, and one upon our extreme right, near the Potomac; in all about fifty guns. Their fire was mostly concentrated upon Captain Rigby's battery, in the work on our and placed in position to reply to the batteries in front. Both of these sustained a heavy fire with the utmost gallantry, and replied rapidly and well. The preceding day a line of rifle-pits had been thrown up along the crest of Bolivar Heights, and the infantry were protected in them and the ravines to our left. The long-range ammunition had now almost entirely failed, and it became evident that, from the grant preponderance of the enemy's artillery and his ability to keep up a fire at long range to which we were no longer able to reply, our ability to hold the position became a mere question of time, and that our defense could only be continued at a great sacrifice of life without any corresponding advantage.

Colonel Miles, at about 9 o'clock a. m., called a council of the officers commanding brigades, and conferred with them upon the propriety of surrendering without further resistance. It was the unanimous opinion of the officers present that it was useless to attempt to hold the position long, and that, if reasonable terms could be obtained, it was best to surrender at once. By order of Colonel Miles, the white flag wa accordingly displayed along our lines, and I was requested by him to arrange the terms of capitulation, which duty I accepted. I met Maj. General A. P. Hill, who was appointed by Major-General Jackson to arrange the terms of capitulation with me, and agreed with him upon the terms of surrender, the original of which agreement is herewith submitted.

In addition to the terms expressed in the articles of capitulation, two days' rations for the entire command were allowed us, which was very nearly all the subsistence on hand. The men were also allowed to retain their overcoats and blankets, and we were allowed the use of two teams to each regiment to convey the officers' baggage, &c., agreeing to return the same. The refugees from the Valley and maryland, of whom there were several hundred in the place, it was stipulated should not be molested, but allowed to return to their homes, which was done.

The enemy did not perceiving our signals, and some time after the flags were exhibited Colonel Miles was struck by a shell in the leg and mortally wounded. He was at once borne from the field. Many others were the enemy had ceased. The entire command was paroled, and marched out on the 16th, arriving at Frederick, Md., the same day. By order of Major-General Wool, we then marched to this place, arriving on the 21st.

During the siege the conduct of the troops, most of whom were new levies who had never before been under fire, was good. Some disorder occurred among one or two new regiments when exposed to a galling conduct of officers came under my observation, it was unexceptionable. Of all who deserve it, space will not allow me to speak. I cannot omit to mention, however, as distinguished for their gallantry, Col. F. G. D'Utassy, Colonel Trimble, Colonel Ford, and Colonel Ward, commanders of brigades; Colonel Maulsby and Lieutenant Colonel S. W. Downey, of the First and Third Maryland Potomac Home Brigades, who, with the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York, a most gallant and accomplished officer; Colonel Stannard, Lieutenant-Colonel Andross, and Major Stowell, of the Ninth Vermont, a regiment, though but just enrolled, whose conduct was worthy of veterans; the gallant Colonel Sherrill, of the One hundred and twenty-sixth New York, who was severely wounded while rallying his men; Colonel Cameron, Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, and Major Wood, of the Sixty-fifth Illinois; Lieutenant-colonel Hixon and Major Marley, of the Sixtieth Ohio; Major Hewitt, of the Thirty-second Ohio; Colonel Banning, of the Eighty-seventh Ohio.

The conduct of the several batteries was, without out exception, admirable. Captains Rigby, Potts, McGrath, Graham, Phillips, and Von Sehlen, under their accomplished and efficient chief of artillery, Major McIlvaine, acquitted themselves in the most honorable manner.

To Captain Henry Curtis, Jr., adjutant, and Captain Randolph Botts, quartermaster,on my own staff, I was indebted for a prompt and fearless discharge of their duties at all times during the siege.

Of the staff of Colonel Miles, Lieutenant Reynolds, adjutant, and Lieutenants Binney and Willmont, aides, I can only say that each and all, so far as their duties brought them under my observation, were diligent and zealous, exhibiting a readiness to encounter whatever danger or toil their respective positions required.

I cannot close this report, general, without saying that the conduct as well as the words of the late Colonel Miles, who commanded during the siege, was that of a brave and loyal officer. The surrender was determined upon unanimously by a council of war when further resistance seemed useless, inasmuch as the commanding positions were held by the enemy in a force of not less than 40,000 of all arms in front, on both flanks, and in rear. I was prompted solely by a sense of duty in not assuming the command, and not from a desire to avoid responsibility. Of the obloquy, if any there be, which attaches to the surrender I expect to assume my share, and scorn to shelter myself behind the funeral pall of an officer who, whatever his military errors, died in defense of our country.

I have applied to the Adjutant-General for a court of inquiry to investigate the causes of the surrender and to determine whether it was justifiable or not, and trust the court will be ordered. The forces of the enemy were as follows:
In front and on right flank the divisions of Generals jackson, A. P. Hill, and Lawton (Ewell's); on the left flank, Loudoun Heights, General Walker's division, and in rear, Maryland Heights, General McLaws-about 40,000 in all, under the chief command of General Jackson.

The topography of Harper's Ferry and its surroundings exhibits the fact that Maryland, Loudoun, and Bolivar Heights are separated from each other by more than 2 miles of distance, with a great natural barrier, either the Potomac or Shenandoah, separating each from the others. To properly defend it, requires a force sufficient to hold all these heights, and very much larger than we had. The separation of a command as small as ours, to hold all these heights, would insure its speedy destruction. It was necessary to choose one of the heights, and defend that; that was done. I append hereto a report of the killed and wounded, so far as any returns have been made.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,




September 15, 1862.

Terms of capitulation this day entered into between brig. General Julius White, of the United States Army, commissioner upon the part of the United States, and Major General A. P. Hill, of the Confederate States Army, commissioner upon the part of the Confederate States:

I. The garrison of Harper's Ferry, including all the troops at present under command of Colonel D. S. Miles, with all munitions of war and public property of every description belonging to the United States, will be surrendered to Maj. General A. P. Hill, commissioner appointed by Major-General Jackson, of the Confederate States Army.

The officers and men to be paroled, not to serve against the Confederate States until regularly exchanged. The officers to be allowed to retain their side arms and personal property.

II. It is also agreed upon the part of the two commissioners that these terms of surrender do not include those soldiers of the Confederate States who, having been regularly enlisted in the service of the Confederate States, have deserted the same, and taken service in the United States Army.

Major-General, C. S. Army.

Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.

Brigadier-General White proposed the following, which is not admitted, viz:

Provided that no person shall be considered a deserter whose prior service against the United States has been compulsory.

Brigadier-General White therefore protests in the name of the United States against any construction of the terms of this capitulation other than as proposed by him.


Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.


SEPTEMBER 20, 1862

General White informs me that no one was derived under the second article.




September 22, 1862.

Brigadier General LORENZO THOMAS,
Adjutant-General, U. S. Army:

GENERAL: I have the honor to state that, in my judgment, the public interests require an investigation into the causes of the recent surrender of Harper's Ferry, with the garrison stationed there, and do therefore respectfully request that a court of inquiry be ordered for the purpose.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,




September 25, 1862.

Brigadier General LORENZO THOMAS,

GENERAL: Having been permitted to amend the report of the events which occurred at Harper's Ferry, including the surrender of that post, I respectfully submit the inclosed, which I ask may be appended and made a part of the report.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.


Immediately after my arrival at Harper's Ferry, in a conversation with Colonel Miles as to his plan of defensive operations, he stated that his orders were to hold Harper's Ferry to the last extremity. I suggested that Maryland Heights appeared to be the key to the position, and offered the only feasible line of retreat should that become necessary, as well as the most defensible position should it become necessary to concentrate the entire force at any one point, and that it should be defended at all hazard and with the entire force if necessary.

To this view he assented, and informed me he had erected defenses on the summit, the position of our naval battery being about half-way down the southwestern slope.

I was requested by him to assume the direction of affairs on the left of the line, at Bolivar Heights. So soon as I had heard of the evacuation of Maryland Heights, I sought Colonel Miles, as before stated, and proposed retaking the position. He informed me, however, that that heavy guns had been spiked and thrown down the mountain, and that the four brass field-pieces were spiked, the spokes cut from the wheels, and, therefore, they could not be removed and were utterly useless.

Without the heavy guns, which would have covered the crossing, the transfer of the forces across the Potomac was deemed by him impracticable.

The considerations which prompted me to concur in the judgment of the council of war, when the surrender was decided upon, were as follows:

1st. The loss of Maryland Heights and their occupancy by the enemy in a force greatly superior to our own entire force.

2d. The commanding officers of the batteries composed of our best guns reported their ammunition expended, except canister, &c., for short range.

3d. All hope of re-enforcement had departed, the firing during the engagements of Major-General McClellans's forces with the enemy having, day by day, receded north westerly.

4th. The enemy in front, exclusive of his strength on Loudoun and Maryland Heights, was double our own, the preponderance of available artillery being still greater.

5th. There appeared no good object to be attained by that sacrifice of life without a reasonable hope of success.

6th. The council of war was unanimous in the opinion that further resistance was useless.

I was verbally informed by Major McIlvaine, Colonel Miles' chief of artillery, that the post had forty-six pieces, exclusive of seven small guns, known as Ellsworth guns.

On Sunday night, the evening before the surrender, I proposed to sendt to the front all the guns at Camp Hill (the interior work), and was informed there were neither horses nor harness to move them.

On Sunday afternoon I ordered the Twelfth New York Militia to be left front, to participate in the engagement. It was ordered back by Colonel Miles, as I am informed, on the ground that Camp Hill must be held by a part of our force. This position was protected on all sides by our outer line.

Respectfully submitted

Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.


Source: OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, Vol 19, Part 1 (Antietam - Serial 27), Page 524 - 531


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