Harpers Ferry to reenact Christmas as celebrated in 1864

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Harpers Ferry to reenact Christmas as celebrated in 1864
Visitors walk Potomac Street during Christmas in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. — On December 3 and 4, 2022, visitors to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park are invited to explore a historical reenactment of the town during the 1864 Christmas season when it was a Union-garrisoned community.

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Park staff and volunteers will portray Federal soldiers and civilian workers who will talk about the town’s transformation from a war-torn community to a successful war machine for Union General Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

n the shade of the Blue Ridge, Harpers Ferry ices over in winter.
In the shade of the Blue Ridge, Harpers Ferry ices over in winter. (Courtesy Cindy Parsons Dunn)

Visitors will encounter a tempered holiday celebration as it was then overshadowed by realities of war titled “Captain Flagg’s U.S. Quartermaster City: Prospects of Peace.”

Harpers Ferry was the main staging area for U.S. Army operations in the Shenandoah Valley. According to Leah Taber, public affairs specialist for the park, everything the army needed to fight came in and moved out of the town’s former armory site.

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At least 60,000 troops and their supplies advanced from Harpers Ferry via railroad or wagon train, Tabler said, and the same means of transportation brought back a steady stream of prisoners along with the dead and wounded.

Town buildings morphed into hospitals and the headquarters for the Christian Commission and Sanitary Commission, organizations that provided charity, aid, and comfort to soldiers spending the holidays far from home. Civilians experienced a Yuletide dampened by concerns for loved ones fighting on other battlefields.


Saturday, December 3

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Living history exhibits open (Historic Lower Town)

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – “Decking the Halls: Ornaments for the Tree.” Make 19th century tin tinsel and tin spiral decorations and edible ornaments to use on your tree at home. (Tent on the Green, Shenandoah Street)

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Noon – “The Perfect Gift, 1864.” Visit the shopkeeper, a Civil War veteran, to discover what this last Yuletide of the War means and the types of gifts Americans hope to receive. (Dry Goods Store, Shenandoah Street)

2 p.m. – "Caught Yesterday, French Bill, Notorious Murderer, and Bushwacker." Follow the Provost Marshal as they deal with the crime and punishment of a well-known Union Army deserter. A guided tour includes a historic-weapons firing demonstration. (Begins at the tent on the Green, Shenandoah Street)

3 to 5 p.m. – "A Grand Military and Citizen's Ball." Join the 34th Massachusetts officers and their wives as they host a Victorian dance. Dance instruction was provided by the Victorian Dance Ensemble to period dance music by Wheaton's Parlor Orchestra. (Tent on the Green, Shenandoah Street)


Sunday, December 4

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Living history exhibits open (Historic Lower Town)

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Noon – "A Visit from St. Nicholas, 1864." This is the most famous and well-remembered American poem of all time. A program for young and old alike! (Dry Goods Store, Shenandoah Street)

2 p.m. – "Caught Yesterday, French Bill, Notorious Murderer and Bushwacker." (Begins at the tent on the Green, Shenandoah Street)

3 p.m. – "Wagons, Ho-Ho-Ho!" Seen as a great gift from the Army to its soldiers fighting in the Shenandoah Valley, the US Quartermaster pulled 1,000 supply wagons with more than 6,000 mules from Harpers Ferry to the front. Meet the soldiers and the animals and inspect a wagon representing a once-vast, six-acre operation along Potomac Street. (Market Street next to the park's wagon)


Traffic flow in historic Lower Town will be modified from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, December 3 and 4:

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Traffic eastbound on Shenandoah Street will close to vehicles at the intersection of Shenandoah Street and Shoreline Drive. Traffic will be rerouted to Shoreline Drive for park visitors or to US 340/Washington Street for Olde Tyme Christmas event attendees.
Traffic westbound on High Street and Washington Street will close to vehicles between Shenandoah Street and Henry Clay Street. Hog Alley and Public Way will be closed to vehicle traffic.

We recommend parking in the Visitor Center parking lot and taking the park shuttle bus. Bus service to Lower Town will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, December 3 and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, December 4.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is one of more than 400 national parks cared for by the National Park Service. The 3,500-acre park preserves and interprets the nationally significant history of Harpers Ferry, including the topics of natural heritage, industry, transportation, John Brown’s Raid, the Civil War and African American history.

Harpers Ferry is an hour's drive from Washington, D.C., and a 3.5-hour drive from Pittsburgh. The park features more than 20 miles of hiking trails in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/hafe.

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