Apr. 20 Letter from Thomas M. Isbell to Gov. John Letcher

HARPER’S FERRY, April 20, 1861.

Governor of Virginia:]

MY DEAR SIR: I learn here that you have ordered the machinery of the armory at this place to be removed up the valley. I presume this order has been issued under the impression that military necessity requires it. Would it not be well to suspend for a short time the execution of the order, for the following among many other reasons: Harper’s Ferry is a place which must be permanently occupied by a military force during the present war. The machinery is immense and very valuable, much of which cannot be removed without total loss, or at all events unfit for future use. The armory is now in condition for actual operation, and could in a short time turn out many thousand stand of arms. The machinery if removed could not be put in operation and prepare guns in a year or two, as I am informed by the officers of the establishment. Operatives in all its departments are here ready to work, and thus furnish arms for the troops of the State, which we very much need in this quarter. Maryland resisting the Federal authority removes in a great measure the reason on which your order was based. If she does not, the rifle works here are far up the Shenandoah, and would be protected from a battery on the Maryland shore by high intervening hills. There are a great many unfinished guns here which could be ready for use in a short time if operations be not suspended. As
for some ebullition of temper on the part of the operatives here, Your Excellency should not regard it. The workmen here will be as loyal to Virginia as they have ever been to the United States. The master armorer says that within three weeks (so Mr. Kitzmiller, military secretary to General Carson, informs me), with the present force, he can furnish fifty guns a day with appendages ready for firing. It is supposed that the cost of taking down, transporting, and re-erecting will be immense. Writing in a crowd, and with but few minutes before Mr. Barbour leaves, I furnish a rather confused statement of reasons against the removal of the machinery, at least for the present, but thus calling your attention to the subject,

I remain, yours, truly,



The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. LI, Part II. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1897.