Top Menu

The Maryland Campaign Part 2: An Impossible Situation: Defending Harpers Ferry

A BGES Civil War Field University Program

November 30 – December 2, 2018

With Tom Clemmons from Frederick, Maryland

After his arrival in Maryland, Robert E. Lee quickly concluded that western Maryland was not receptive to his army of “Liberation” and that there was little purpose in remaining near Frederick. After deciding to enter Pennsylvania, he examined the logistics of such an operation and realized that a large Federal garrison stationed at Harpers Ferry would be astride his lines of supply through the Shenandoah Valley.

Plans were drawn up and distributed for an operation that would stage his forces to enter the Keystone State while eliminating the threat to his operations. Stonewall Jackson was assigned the lead role under a very strict timeline. It called for converging operations with supporting forces under the command of General John Walker occupying Loudon Heights overlooking the town of Harpers Ferry from Virginia and Georgians under the command of Lafayette McLaws clearing and occupying Maryland Heights while Jackson corked the bottle by maneuvering and occupying Bolivar Heights. Once established there would be no succor for the embattled Union garrison. A bombardment would reduce the town to rubble and the Federal garrison would be forced to evacuate or surrender. Once done Lee’s forces would reunite near Hagerstown and enter Pennsylvania. Time was of the essence. This second program in the 1862 Maryland Campaign series is devoted to the objective that caused the battle at Antietam on September 17, 1862.


Friday, November 30, 2018

6:00 PM Check in at headquarters hotel for a meet, greet and to pick up your reading books. Tom Clemens’ opening lecture will discuss the Confederate move into Maryland and the political ramifications of the effort. The failure of the citizens of Maryland to rally to the Confederate banners left Lee in need of a decisive operation that would justify his invasion. The balance of the presentation will examine those plans in depth. The result was Special Orders #191. Enjoy a pizza party with beverages and snacks during the “meet and greet.”

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Our 8:00 start will return to the camps of Robert E. Lee on the banks of the Monocacy River to recap the campaign from September 10-13th. We will discuss Lee’s Special Orders #191 and the Confederates move to implement them. We will spend the balance of the day putting place to the words of SO #191, paying particular attention to the challenges facing the maneuvering Confederate forces and the response of Federals in their way. Our travels will take us along the back roads with John Walker to Loudon Heights and along McLaws’ route to Maryland Heights and along Jackson’s long circuitous route to Bolivar Heights. Past experience has shown us that only the truly Hale and Hearty should attempt the climb to the top of Maryland Heights and we will not do that but we will go part way up the monolithic mountain which will give you a significant appreciation of the site. From the lower perspective we will discuss McLaws fight for the control of the heights. We will then return to the hotel with a 6 PM Q&A with Tom and guest historian (s). Afterwards, we will enjoy a group dinner Lunch and dinner included.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

This morning we will start at 8:30 and head to Harpers Ferry where we will spend the day in the town and on Schoolhouse Ridge for an excellent full day examination of the fighting that took place. The battlefield has been largely preserved over the years and is now a first rate interpretative experience. We will not overlook the historical significance of the town and while there we will use the opportunity to tell the story of John Brown and his dramatic raid in 1859.

Jackson was successful in his efforts to take the town and the resulting surrender of nearly 15,000 Union soldiers was the largest surrender of US troops until Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. The operation took longer than Lee intended and after the rear guard action at South Mountain on September 14th he determined to abort the campaign. Jackson’s guarantee of the garrison’s surrender on September 15th led Lee to decide to pluck the fruits of Jackson’s efforts by camping along the banks of the Antietam. The price of success at Harpers Ferry was the unprecedented carnage at Antietam on September 17th. Was it a good trade off? That will be addressed in part 3 of the campaign series in 2019 led by Tom and Scott Hartwig. Lunch included.

About the Faculty:

Tom Clemens has been studying the Maryland Campaign for nearly 30 years and edited and annotated the 1,800 page manuscript of the campaign written by the official historian: Ezra Carman. That series has been published by Savas-Beatie Press. He earned his doctoral degree at George Mason University where he studied and was advised by the legendary historian Joseph Harsh. Recently Clemens proved that McClellan’s headquarters was never at the Pry House. He is the long standing President of the highly respected Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

Hotel Information

This program will be based in Frederick, Maryland. The hotel will be posted on this site. The headquarters hotel room block will likely be in the $110 a night range and it will be close to the interstate.


The servicing airports are Washington Dulles [IAD], Washington-Baltimore International (BWI) or Washington National (DCA). Traffic is awful around Washington and on I-95. I strongly recommend that you time your travel to arrive before 3:00 PM. Traffic becomes a problem around 3 PM and remains so until after 7 PM. If you can avoid DC all together you are well advised. If you need a rental car, perhaps you can find a dirt cheap rental car on

Key Publications and Recommended Reading

You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. We recommend the following books to enhance your preparation for this tour. has a program to support non profits IF YOU SIGN UP to support Blue and Gray Education Society (EIN 54-1720582) at AmazonSmile. When you sign up there rather than the normal Amazon site one half of one percent of your purchase price is provided to BGES as a donation from Amazon. This will apply not only on this purchase but others you may make at other times.

  • David S. Hartwig: To Antietam Creek, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862
  • Ezra A. Carmen & Thomas Clemens: The Maryland Campaign of 1862, Volume 1 : South Mountain (contains 70 pages on Harpers Ferry operation)
  • Joseph L. Harsh, Taken at the Flood, Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign


Registration includes two lunches, welcoming reception, one dinner, a reading book with maps, the academic program, support of a professional historian, tour director and transportation appropriate to the registration which will be limited to three vans: 29 people. We will also provide snacks, bottled water and a limited selection of sodas.

Register for this program online using our secure Sutler’s Tent ecommerce site: Register for The Maryland Campaign Part 2.

Register by mail, or fax

Download a printable itinerary and registration form.