2615"Siege" of Harpers Ferry?
- Feb 25, 2006One of those little irksome items, like seeing triggers "pulled"
or "jerked," rather than "squeezed" (and UNC in "Dur'm"): I'm
seeing, it seems, more and more refs to the "siege" of HF in
the "sideshow to the big show" (as Gen Stackpole or someone called
it). The last straw was seeing that Dennis Frye is speaking on the
subject in April. (Maybe in the talk he will reject the title.) My
contention is that this is not a proper use of the term, "siege," in
the classic military sense (to which Scott's 1861 "Mil Dict" devotes
some 8 pages).
Lee did not order a siege, nor was the prospect of a siege operation
in his concept of operations (or time table). His detached forces
were not equipped for a siege--they had none of the armament (siege
guns, mortars), specialty troops (pioneers, engineers), or equipment
(LOTS of shovels, picks, etc.) for conducting a siege. They did not,
upon arrival, settle in to "lay siege" on a protracted basis or cut
off Bolivar Hgts/HF from the outside world (witness the departure of
Grimes Davis and the Union cavalry).
I have not seen evidence that the Union commander, Col. Miles,
considered himself in a siege situation--e.g., that he declared
martial law for the area, or that his deployment of troops implied
siege defense. (Clearly he recognized that he was being squeezed by
a superior force, and that it would be over in a matter of time, if
Per SO 191, McLaws's arty (field guns) on Md Hgts was to have been
adequate to force the surrender. (Walker's "demi-brigade" was placed
to block a break-out down-river. Jackson--at Martinsburg--was to
discourage a break-out to the north. When White chose to shift to
HF, followed by Jackson, troop deployment created an "investment" of
HF--a prerequisite to a siege, true, but hardly a siege per se.)
The components of a classic siege are the surrounding and
increasingly tighter closing-in on the "fortress," while keeping it
under fire and guarding against sorties. Usually a siege represents
a lengthy duration (cf. 7 weeks at Vicksburg vs. a day or so at HF).
I suggest that we stop using the term, "siege," in respect to HF,
Sep '62, and gently correct others who do. If you differ,
please "gently disagree" with me and show me the error of my ways.
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