Fortifying Bolivar Heights
The shallow ditch to the side of the trail is the remains of an infantry trench line that extended the length of the ridge line. Originally only a couple of block houses reinforced the infantry trench. By 1864, five such block houses were erected to defend this approach to Harpers Ferry. By that time, the town was a supply base for a major campaign to drive the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley.
The nearby marker inscription reads:
"...the heights became dotted with tents, and at night...the neighboring hills were aglow with hundreds of watchfires..."
Joseph Barry, Harpers Ferry resident
After the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, General Lee withdrew his Confederate army back into Virginia. Instead of pursuing Lee, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan reoccupied the Harpers Ferry area with nearly 60,000 soldiers.
While McClellan paused to reorganize and re-equip his army, President Abraham Lincoln visited here on October 1 to review the troops on Bolivar Heights and encourage McClellan to move against the Confederates. The Federals advanced south one month after Lincoln's visit, leaving only 5,000 soldiers to garrison Harpers Ferry.
The Confederates invaded the North again in the summers of 1863 and 1864, forcing Union troops on Bolivar Heights to withdraw to stronger fortifications on Maryland Heights. This left Harpers Ferry open to the Confederates resulting in the destruction of the railroad bridge and capture of Federal supplies.
In August, 1864, Union Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's army occupied this area. Sheridan's men constructed a 2-mile line of earthwork defenses, connecting six artillery redoubts, along the crest of Bolivar Heights. These fortifications secured Harpers Ferry as a Union supply base for the rest of the war.