The small town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, played a significant role in United States history, even before the state of West Virginia separated from Virginia during the Civil War. In 1859, John Brown, an abolitionist, (someone who wanted to see slavery abolished), led a raid on the town. He hoped to use weapons seized from the U.S. Armory and Arsenal to free slaves in the area. Brown then planned to launch similar raids elsewhere from the surrounding hills. He did not succeed, but the raid contributed to tensions leading to the Civil War.
During the Civil War, both the Confederate and the Union armies wanted control of Harpers Ferry. Not only did it have an arsenal and armory (a place to store weapons), but also the town was located at the meeting point of important railroads and at the meeting of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. In fact, Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times during the war, which shows just how much both sides wanted to control it.