A Few Words on Sources

Why has such an exploit received such little attention from historians? The primary reason is that it is often lost in the clutter of the battles at Crampton’s and Turner’s Gaps and the larger battle of Antietam a few days later. A second is the attention focused on the surrender of the Harper’s Ferry garrison and the subsequent official inquiry. A third is the lack of an official report of the escape. Colonel Davis never made a report, or if he did it was lost. There is information in Volume 19 of the Official Records, but it is contained in other reports on the campaign, not specifically reports on the escape.

There are sources available, however, it just takes a bit of digging to find them. Since one of the purposes of this blog is education, I thought I would include a few clues on where to look for those interested in more information on the escape.

Among the primary sources:

“The Surrender of Harper’s Ferry”, by Brigadier General Julius White, in Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, Volume II. White provides a first-person account of the movement of his command from Martinsburg to Harper’s Ferry, and the events leading up to the departure of the cavalry.

“The March of the Cavalry from Harper’s Ferry, September 14th, 1862,” by Captain William M. Luff, in Military Essays and Recollections: Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Illinois, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Volume 2, A.C. McClurg and Company, 1894. Luff provides the best first-person account that I’ve found on the escape so far. Luff commanded Company A during the escape as a lieutenant because his commander had been wounded during the fight at Darkesville the week before.

There were two other first-person accounts that I haven’t yet been able to locate. These were accounts by the chaplain of the 12th Illinois (The Private Journal of Abraham Joseph Warner, ed.Herbert B. Enderton, San Diego: Colonel Herbert B. Enderton, 1973) and a corporal of Company B, 7th Squadron Rhode Island Cavalry (“The Cavalry Column from Harpers Ferry in the Antietam Campaign” in Civil War Catalog Number Twenty Two, ed. Dennis E. Frye, Dayton, OH: Morningside Press, 1987).

The best secondary source I have located so far is Samuel M. Blackwell’s excellent history of the 12th Illinois Cavalry, In The First Line of Battle. Blackwell presents a detailed and well-researched look into the escape, including a couple of maps.

Other secondary sources:
Bailey, Ronald H. The Bloodiest Day. Alexandria: Time-Life Books Inc., 1984.

Frye, Dennis E. “The Siege of Harpers Ferry.” Blue & Grey Magazine (September 1987)

Norton, Henry. Deeds of Daring: or History of the Eighth New York Volunteer Cavalry. Norwich, NY: Chenango Telegraph Printing House, 1889.

Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1983.

Starr, Stephen Z. The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, Volume I: From Fort Sumter to Gettysburg. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1979.

Tischler, Allan L. The History of the Harpers Ferry Cavalry Expedition, September 14 and 15, 1862. Winchester: Five Cedars Press, 1993. This is the only book-length study of the expedition that I’m aware of. It’s probably an excellent source, I just haven’t yet obtained a copy.


I think I’ve learned more compiling this series of posts than I have on any of my other projects to date. This started as a simple summary post that I had intended to post commemorating the anniversary of the escape, but has taken on a life of its own. As with most small Civil War research projects, one thread led to another thread, which led to another source, etc. And so this project has become a work in progress. I’m relatively happy with what I’ve turned up so far, but the cave has proven deeper than initially expected since I turned on the flashlight. I believe there is still more to be unearthed on the escape, and will continue to investigate as time and resources permit.