"Harpers Ferry Raid"
Negro Insurrection at Harpers Ferry~John Brown's dedication to the abolition of slavery prompted Frederick Douglass to write the following: "Did John Brown fail? John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.." Frederick Douglass
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John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid
On October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown and several followers seized the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The actions of Brown's men brought national attention to the emotional divisions concerning slavery.
John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800 and became interested in the abolitionist movement around 1835. In 1855, Brown and several of his sons moved to Kansas, a territory deeply divided over the slavery issue. On Pottawotamie Creek, on the night of May 24, 1856, Brown and his sons murdered five men who supported slavery, although none actually owned slaves. Brown and his sons escaped. Brown spent the next three years collecting money from wealthy abolitionists in order to establish a colony for runaway slaves. To accomplish this, Brown needed weapons and decided to capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
In 1794, President George Washington had selected Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and Springfield, Massachusetts, as the sites of the new national armories. In choosing Harpers Ferry, he noted the benefit of great waterpower provided by both the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. In 1817, the federal government contracted with John H. Hall to manufacture his patented rifles at Harpers Ferry. The armory and arsenal continued producing weapons until its destruction at the outbreak of the Civil War.
In the summer of 1859, John Brown, using the pseudonym Isaac Smith, took up residence near Harpers Ferry at a farm in Maryland. He trained a group of twenty-two men, including his sons Oliver, Owen, and Watson, in military maneuvers. On the night of Sunday, October 16, Brown and all but three of the men marched into Harpers Ferry, capturing several watchmen. The first victim of the raid was an African-American railroad baggage handler named Hayward Shepherd, who was shot and killed after confronting the raiders. During the night, Brown captured several other prisoners, including Lewis Washington, the great-grand-nephew of George Washington.
There were two keys to the success of the raid. First, the men needed to capture the weapons and escape before word reached Washington, D. C. The raiders cut the telegraph lines but allowed a Baltimore and Ohio train to pass through Harpers Ferry after detaining it for five hours. When the train reached Baltimore the next day at noon, the conductor contacted authorities in Washington. Second, Brown expected local slaves to rise up against their owners and join the raid. Not only did this fail to happen, but townspeople began shooting at the raiders.
Armory workers discovered Brown's men in control of the building on Monday morning, October 17. Local militia companies surrounded the armory, cutting off Brown's escape routes. Shortly after seven o'clock, a Harpers Ferry townsperson, Thomas Boerly, was shot and killed near the corner of High and Shenandoah streets. During the day, two other citizens were killed, George W. Turner and Harpers Ferry Mayor Fontaine Beckham. When Brown realized he had no way to escape, he selected nine prisoners and moved them to the armory's small fire engine house, which later became known as John Brown's Fort.
With their plans falling apart, the raiders panicked. William H. Leeman tried to escape by swimming across the Potomac River, but was shot and killed. The townspeople, many of whom had been drinking all day on this unofficial holiday, used Leeman's body for target practice. At 3:30 on Monday afternoon, authorities in Washington ordered Colonel Robert E. Lee to Harpers Ferry with a force of Marines to capture Brown. Lee's first action was to close the town's saloons in order to curb the random violence. At 6:30 on the morning of Tuesday, October 18, Lee ordered Lieutenant Israel Green and a group of men to storm the engine house. At a signal from Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, the engine house door was knocked down and and the Marines began taking prisoners. Green seriously wounded Brown with his sword. Brown was taken to the Jefferson County seat of Charles Town for trial.
Of Brown's original twenty-two men, John H. Kagi, Jeremiah G. Anderson, William Thompson, Dauphin Thompson, Brown's sons Oliver and Watson, Stewart Taylor, Leeman, and free African Americans Lewis S. Leary and Dangerfield Newby had been killed during the raid. John E. Cook and Albert Hazlett escaped into Pennsylvania, but were captured and brought back to Charles Town. Brown, Aaron D. Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, and free African Americans John A. Copeland and Shields Green were all captured and imprisoned. Five raiders escaped and were never captured: Brown's son Owen, Charles P. Tidd, Barclay Coppoc, Francis J. Merriam, and free African American Osborne P. Anderson. One Marine, Luke Quinn, was killed during the storming the engine house. Two slaves, belonging to Brown's prisoners Colonel Lewis Washington and John Allstadt, also lost their lives. It is unknown whether or not they voluntarily took up arms with Brown. One drowned while trying to escape and the other died in the Charles Town prison following the raid. Local residents at the time believed the two took part in the raid. To discredit Brown, residents later claimed that these two slaves had been taken prisoner and that no slaves actually participated in the raid.
John Brown, still recovering from a sword wound, stood trial at the Jefferson County Courthouse on October 26. Five days later, a jury found him guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Judge Richard Parker sentenced Brown to death and he was hanged in Charles Town on December 2. Before walking to the scaffold, he noted the inevitability of a national civil war: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." Following additional trials, Shields Green, John A. Copeland, John E. Cook, and Edwin Coppoc were executed on December 16, and Aaron D. Stevens and Albert Hazlett were hanged on March 16, 1860.
Northern abolitionists immediately used the executions as an example of the government's support of slavery. John Brown became their martyr, a hero murdered for his belief that slavery should be abolished. In reality, Brown and his men were prosecuted and executed for taking over a government facility. Still, as time went on, Brown's name became a symbol of pro-Union, anti-slavery beliefs. After the Civil War, a school was established at Harpers Ferry for African Americans. The leaders of Storer College always emphasized the courage and beliefs of John Brown for inspiration. In 1881, African-American leader Frederick Douglass delivered a classic speech at the school honoring Brown. Twenty-five years later, W.E.B. DuBois and Martinsburg newspaper editor J.R. Clifford recognized Harpers Ferry's importance to African Americans and chose Storer College as the site for a meeting of the Second Niagara Movement, which later became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Those in attendance walked at daybreak to John Brown's Fort. In 1892, the fort had been sent to the Chicago World's Fair and then brought back to a farm near Harpers Ferry. Today, the restored fort has been rebuilt at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park near its original location.
The Raid on Harpers Ferry
The following summer, after a one-year delay, Brown was eager to get underway. He rented a farm in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry. Here he assembled his arms and waited for his "army" to arrive.
The delay had an adverse effect on Brown's plan. Many of the men he had recruited the previous year had changed their minds, moved away, or simply didn't think the plan would work. Even Henry Highland Garnet, the radical abolitionist who advocated insurrection, didn't have faith in the plan, believing that slaves were unprepared. Brown also met with Frederick Douglass in August of 1859, when Brown told his friend of his intentions of seizing the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry rather than staging guerilla warfare from the mountains. Attacking the arsenal was in effect attacking the federal government and, in Douglass' estimation, a grave mistake. "You're walking into a perfect steel-trap," he said to Brown, "and you will never get out alive."
On October 16, Brown set out for Harpers Ferry with 21 men -- 5 blacks, including Dangerfield Newby, who hoped to rescue his wife who was still a slave, and 16 whites, two of whom were Brown's sons. Leaving after sundown, the men crossed the Potomac, then walked all night in heavy rain, reaching the town at 4am. They cut telegraph wires, then made their assault. First they captured the federal armory and arsernal. They then captured Hall's Rifle Works, a supplier of weapons to the government. Brown and his men rounded up 60 prominent citizens of the town and held them as hostages, hoping that their slaves would join the fight. No slaves came forth.
The local militia pinned Brown and his men down. Under a white flag, one of Brown's sons was sent out to negotiate with the citizens. He was shot and killed. News of the insurrection, relayed by the conductor of an express train heading to Baltimore, reached President Buchanan. Marines and soldiers went dispatched, under the leadership of then Colonel Robert E. Lee. By the time they arrived, eight of Brown's 22-man army had already been killed. Lee's men moved in and quickly ended the insurrection. In the end, ten of Brown's men were killed (including two blacks and both of his sons), seven were captured (two of these later), and five had escaped.
Brown, who was seriously wounded, was taken to Charlestown, Virginia (now Charles Town, West Virginia), along with the other captives. There they were quickly tried, sentenced, then executed. John Brown's statements during his trial reached the nation, inspiring many with his righteous indignation toward slavery. The raid ultimately hastened the advent of the Civil War.
"Harpers Ferry" Headline
News of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry stunned northerners and southerners alike. Adding to the hysteria were early newspaper reports with their sensational headlines, including this one from the October 18 issue of the New York Herald, which spoke of "Extensive Negro Conspiracy in Virginia and Maryland." Southerners were especially frightened, fearing that widespread insurrection was imminent. They drove out northerners and suspected antislavery sympathisers,1 and when they learned that northerners were mourning Brown's death and even depicted him as a martyr, they became incensed. The raid prompted the Richmond Enquirer to state that, "[the] invasion has advanced the cause of disunion more than any other event that has happened since the formation of [our] government."
Fearful and Exciting Intelligence.
Negro Insurrection at Harpers Ferry.
Extensive Negro Conspiracy in Virginia and Maryland.
Seizure of the United States Arsenal by the Insurrectionists.
Arms Taken and Sent into the Interior.
The Bridge Fortified and Defended by Cannon.
Trains Fired inot and Stopped --- Several Persons Killed --- Telegraph Wires Cut --- Contributions Levied on the Citizens.
Troops Despatched Against the Insurgents from Washington and Baltimore . . . .
John Brown was a man of action -- a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery. On October 16, 1859, he led 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal was thwarted, however, by local farmers, militiamen, and Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Within 36 hours of the attack, most of Brown's men had been killed or captured.
John Brown was born into a deeply religious family in Torrington, Connecticut, in 1800. Led by a father who was vehemently opposed to slavery, the family moved to northern Ohio when John was five, to a district that would become known for its antislavery views.
During his first fifty years, Brown moved about the country, settling in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York, and taking along his ever-growing family. (He would father twenty children.) Working at various times as a farmer, wool merchant, tanner, and land speculator, he never was finacially successful -- he even filed for bankruptcy when in his forties. His lack of funds, however, did not keep him from supporting causes he believed in. He helped finance the publication of David Walker's Appeal and Henry Highland's "Call to Rebellion" speech. He gave land to fugitive slaves. He and his wife agreed to raise a black youth as one of their own. He also participated in the Underground Railroad and, in 1851, helped establish the League of Gileadites, an organization that worked to protect escaped slaves from slave catchers.
In 1847 Frederick Douglass met Brown for the first time in Springfield, Massachusetts. Of the meeting Douglass stated that, "though a white gentleman, [Brown] is in sympathy a black man, and as deeply interested in our cause, as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery." It was at this meeting that Brown first outlined his plan to Douglass to lead a war to free slaves.
Brown moved to the black community of North Elba, New York, in 1849. The community had been established thanks to the philanthropy of Gerrit Smith, who donated tracts of at least 50 acres to black families willing to clear and farm the land. Brown, knowing that many of the families were finding life in this isolated area difficult, offered to establish his own farm there as well, in order to lead the blacks by his example and to act as a "kind father to them."
Despite his contributions to the antislavery cause, Brown did not emerge as a figure of major significance until 1855 after he followed five of his sons to the Kansas territory. There, he became the leader of antislavery guerillas and fought a proslavery attack against the antislavery town of Lawrence. The following year, in retribution for another attack, Brown went to a proslavery town and brutally killed five of its settlers. Brown and his sons would continue to fight in the territory and in Missouri for the rest of the year.
Brown returned to the east and began to think more seriously about his plan for a war in Virginia against slavery. He sought money to fund an "army" he would lead. On October 16, 1859, he set his plan to action when he and 21 other men -- 5 blacks and 16 whites -- raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
Brown was wounded and quickly captured, and moved to Charlestown, Virginia, where he was tried and convicted of treason, Before hearing his sentence, Brown was allowed make an address to the court.
. . . I believe to have interfered as I have done, . . . in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done."
Although initially shocked by Brown's exploits, many Northerners began to speak favorably of the militant abolitionist. "He did not recognize unjust human laws, but resisted them as he was bid. . . .," said Henry David Thoreau in an address to the citizens of Concord, Massachusetts. "No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature. . . ."
John Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859.
John Brown Holds Hostage at Bay with Rifle
Brown and his men would capture 60 men and hold them as hostages. This image depicts a few of the hostages.
Last Words From John A. Copeland to Family
John A. Copeland, a member of John Brown's band of men who raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by a court in Charlestown, Virginia (now Charles Town, West Virginia).
In a letter written to his parents, brothers, and sisters from within a Charlestown jail cell -- just a few hours before his execution -- Copeland explained that he blamed no one but himself for his fate and that "we shall meet in heaven, where we shall not be parted by the demands of the cruel and unjust monster Slavery."
Dear Father, Mother, Brothers Henry, William and Freddy and Sisters Sarah and Mary:
The last Sabbath with me on earth has passed away. The last Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday that I shall ever see on this earth, have now passed by. God's glorious sun, which he has placed in the heavens to illuminate this earth -- whose warm rays make man's home on earth pleasant -- whose refulgent beams are watched for by the poor invalid, to enter and make as it were a heaven of the room in which he is confined -- I have seen declining behind the western mountains for the last time. Last night, for the last time, I beheld the soft bright moon as it rose, casting its mellow light into my felon's cell, dissipating the darkness, and filling it with that soft pleasant light which causes such thrills of joy to all those in like circumstances with myself. This morning, for the last time, I beheld the glorious sun of yesterday rising in the far-off East, away off in the country where our Lord Jesus Christ first proclaimed salvation to man; and now, as he rises higher and his bright light takes the place of the pale, soft moonlight, I will take my pen, for the last time, to write you who are bound to me by those strong ties, (yea, the strongest that God ever instituted,) the ties of blood and relationship. I am well, both in body and in mind. And now, dear ones, if it were not that I knew your hearts will be filled with sorrow at my fate, I could pass from this earth without a regret. Why should you sorrow? Why should your hearts be wracked with grief? Have I not everything to gain, and nothing to lose by the change? I fully believe that not only myself, but also all three of my poor comrades who are to ascend the same scaffold -- (a scaffold already made sacred to the cause of freedom by the death of that great champion of human freedom -- Captain John Brown) are prepared to meet our God.
I am only leaving a world filled with sorrow and woe, to enter one in which there is but one lasting day of happiness and bliss. I feel that God, in his Mercy, has spoken peace to my soul, and that all my numerous sins are forgiven.
Dear parents, brothers and sisters, it is true that I am now in a few hours to start on a journey from which no traveler returns. Yes, long before this reaches you, I shall, as I sincerely hope, have met our brother and sister who have for years been worshiping God around his throne -- singing praises to him and thanking him that he gave his Son to die that they might have eternal life. I pray daily and hourly that I may be fitted to have my home with them, and that you, one and all, may prepare your souls to meet your God, that so, in the end, though we meet no more on earth, we shall meet in heaven, where we shall not be parted by the demands of the cruel and unjust monster Slavery.
But think not that I am complaining, for I feel reconciled to meet my fate. I pray God that his will be done, not mine.
Let me tell you that it is not the mere fact of having to meet death, which I should regret, (if I should express regret I mean) but that such an unjust institution should exist as the one which demands my life, and not my life only, but the lives of those to whom my life bears but the relative value of zero to the infinite. I beg of you, one and all, that you will not grieve about me; but that you will thank God that he spared me to make my peace with him.
And now, dear ones, attach no blame to any one for my coming here, for not any person but myself is to blame.
I have no antipathy against any one. I have freed my mind of all hard feelings against every living being, and I ask all who have any thing against me to do the same.
And now, dear Parents, Brothers and Sisters, I must bid you to serve your God, and meet me in heaven.
I must with a very few words close my correspondence with those who are the most near and dear to me: but I hope, in the end, we may again commune never more to cease.
Dear ones, he who writes this will, in a few hours, be in this world no longer. Yes, these fingers which hold the pen with which this is written will, before today's sun has reached its meridian, have laid it aside forever, and this poor soul have taken its light to meet its God.
And now, dear ones, I must bid you that last, long, sad farewell. Good by, Father, Mother, Henry, William and Freddy, Sarah and Mary! Serve your God and meet me in heaven.
Your Son and Brother to eternity,
JOHN A. COPELAND
December 16, 1859
John Brown's Black Raiders
Dangerfield Newby, a strong, 6'2" African American, was the first of Brown's men to die in the fighting. Born a slave in 1815 but later freed by his white, Scottish father, Newby married a slave who was still in bondage in Virginia. A letter found on his dead body revealed his motive for joining Brown. . .
Dear Husband: I want you to buy me as soon as possible, for if you do not get me somebody else will. The servants are very disagreeable; they do all they can to set my mistress against me. Dear Husband,. . . the last two years have been like a troubled dream to me. It is said Master is in want of money. If so, I know not what time he may sell me, and then all my bright hopes of the future are blasted, for there has been one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles, that is to be with you, for if I thought I should never see you, this earth would have no charms fo me. Do all you can for me, which I have no doubt you will. I want to see you so much.
Newby's wife was sold after the raid and moved farther to the south.
Lewis Sheridan Leary also died at Harpers Ferry, although he did survive for eight hours after receiving his wounds. Originally from North Carolina, Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where he married Mary S. Patterson. She did not know Leary's plans when he left her and their six-month-old child to rendezvous with Brown. Leary did, however, manage to send his family messages before he died.
A fugitive slave of pure African ancestry, Shields Green accompanied Frederick Douglass to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where the great abolitionist spoke to John Brown for the last time. Brown was unsuccessful in convincing Douglass to join him in the raid; he did, however, recruit the young Green. Green was captured at Harpers Ferry and later executed. He was reportedly only 23 years old.
Born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1834, John Anthony Copeland, Jr. moved to Oberlin, Ohio, in 1842, where he later attended Oberlin College. In September of 1859 he was recruited to John Brown's army by his uncle and fellow black raider, Lewis Sheridan Leary. Copeland's role in the assault was to seize control of Hall's Rifle Works, along with John Kagi, a white raider. Kagi was killed while trying to escape from the factory. Copeland was captured alive. During his trial, in which he was convicted and sentenced to death, he managed to impress many of those with whom he came in contact. Speaking of Copeland, the trial's prosecuting attorney said. . .
From my intercourse with him I regard him as one of the most respectable persons we had. . . . He was a copper-colored Negro, behaved himself with as much firmness as any of them, and with far more dignity. If it had been possible to recommend a pardon for any of them it would have been this man Copeland as I regretted as much if not more, at seeing him executed than any other of the party."
This dignity continued to be evident. On his way to the gallows he was heard to say, "If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause -- I had rather die than be a slave!"
Of the five black raiders, only Osborn Perry Anderson would escape and remain free. He fled to Canada, but came back to the U.S. and enlisted with the Union army in 1864. Anderson would write the only eye-witness account of the raid, which was published two years after the raid. He died in 1872.
John Brown's Address to the Court
Charged with murder, insurrection, and treason against the state of Virginia, John Brown -- leader of the raid on Harpers Ferry -- lay wounded on a cot in the courtroom. He had requested that the proceedings be delayed by one day to allow time for his lawyer to arrive. The request was denied, and he was assigned a lawyer who, against Brown's wishes, set out to prove his client insane.
The court found Brown guilty and asked if there was any reason why a sentence of death should not be pronounced. Although not prepared to make a statement, Brown stood up and, in a mild and composed manner, addressed the court.
He stated that he had never intended to kill, or destroy property, or incite slaves to rebellion. He referred to the Bible. "[T]o have interfered as I have done," he stated, ". . . in behalf of His despied poor, was not wrong, but right."
John Brown was hanged one month later, on December 2, 1859.
Address of John Brown to the Virginia Court at Charles Town, Virginia on November 2, 1859
I have, may it please the court, a few words to say.
In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, -- the design on my part to free slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to do the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.
I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), -- had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends -- either father, mother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class -- and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
The court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done -- as I have always freely admitted I have done -- in behalf of His despied poor, was not wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments. -- I submit; so let it be done!
Let me say one word further.
I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected. I feel no consciousness of my guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention, and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of any kind.
Let me say also, a word in regard to the statements made by some to those conncected with me. I hear it has been said by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.
Now I have done.
Another Account of the Raid
Brown tried to persuade his friend Frederick Douglass to join him. He described the scenario: They would attack the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and capture the guns. Emboldened by the news, a spontaneous army of slaves would rush to join them. They would then drive south, and the revolution would snowball.
Of this meeting, Douglass would later write: "I at once opposed the measure. It would be an attack upon the federal government and array the whole country against us. All his descriptions of the place convinced me that he was going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in he would never get out alive."
Brown found 21 men to join him. In a farmhouse a few miles outside of Harpers Ferry, the small army gathered and waited for the time to strike. The group included a fugitive slave, a college student, and free blacks. Three of the men were Brown’s sons.
On the evening of October 16, Brown gathered his men together and set out for Harpers Ferry. At first the raid went like clockwork. They cut telegraph wires, then easily captured the federal armory and arsenal, which was being defended by a lone watchman. They rounded up hostages, including Col. Lewis Washington, great-grand-nephew of George Washington.
Their problems began when a train approached town. The baggage master ran to warn the passengers. Brown’s men shouted at him to halt, then fired. The first victim of John Brown’s war against slavery was Hayward Shepherd, a free black man. Then, inexplicably, Brown allowed the train to continue on its way. News of his raid made its way to Washington by late morning.
Farmers, militiamen, and shopkeepers took potshots down at Brown’s men from the heights behind town. The raiders were pinned down in the armory buildings. As shots rang off the walls, John Brown quietly ordered breakfast from a hotel for his hostages.
Historian Dennis Frye comments: "Brown still controls his own destiny. He commands the approaches in and out of Harpers Ferry.… So the question is, why didn’t John Brown leave?"
"He stayed and he stayed and it seems to me a deliberate, resigned act of martyrdom," says author, Russell Banks.
Whatever his intention, John Brown’s revolution was coming apart. At noon, a company of militiamen stormed into town. They charged over the bridge, and the only true escape route was gone.
Eight raiders were dead or dying; five others were cut off. Two had escaped across the river. Brown gathered those who were left in a small brick building, the engine house.
The next morning, the raiders gazed out on a chilling sight: the armory yard was lined with a company of U.S. Marines, under the command of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee. They were completely surrounded.
A young lieutenant, J.E.B. Stuart, approached under a white flag. Stuart handed over a note: if the raiders surrendered, their lives would be spared. Brown refused. Marines stormed the building; the door was breached. One Marine tried to run Brown through, but the blade struck the old man’s belt buckle. Brown was then beaten unconscious.
"If Brown had died on that brick floor in that engine house," says Dennis Frye, "I believe he would’ve been noted in history, but only with a few sentences. Maybe even only a footnote. Brown’s real effect came in his failure at Harpers Ferry. His real meaning is in what happens after his capture."
John Brown was taken to Charlestown, Virginia along with four other captives. His statements during his trial reached the nation, inspiring many with his righteous indignation toward slavery. The hanging would make Brown an abolitionist martyr.
John Brown's dedication to the abolition of slavery prompted Frederick Douglass to write the following: "Did John Brown fail? John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.." Frederick Douglass
Farm in Maryland
Seven Points About the Harpers Ferry Raid~"Not the Alamo"
With a small band of men, white and black, Brown seized the federal armory--the only government armory in the South--as well as the arsenal and took prisoners while his men rounded up local enslaved men to assist them on the ground. Much of what has been otherwise said of the raid has been skewed and misrepresented by slavemasters, Democrats and Republicans, and a host of hostile and/or ignorant journalists and historians over the past century-and-a-half.
Here are 7 points about the Harper's Ferry raid you should know:
- It was well planned and reasonable. Brown did his homework and knew that the armory/arsenal was not guarded by the military and hardly guarded at all. He took both the armory and town of Harper's Ferry completely by surprise by invading late at night on Oct. 16 and held an advantage throughout the night and into the early morning hours. Even Frederick Douglass was wrong when he predicted it was necessarily a "perfect steel trap." Douglass over-estimated the defense and defenders--although he may have had a prophetic sense of Brown's tragic delay, which is really what cost him the raid--and his life.
- The raid was not an act of terrorism and Brown was not a terrorist. Had it been an act of terrorism, Brown would not have failed, for the reason the raid did not succeed was because he paid too much concern to his hostages, including some whining slave masters, and undermined himself in trying to negotiate with them. Would a terrorist allow his prisoners to go home and see their families under guard and send out for their breakfast? This is also what Brown did while holding Harper's Ferry under his control. Indeed the raid was designed to have symbolic and strategic value, as the jump-start of his planned mountain-based campaign to gather enslaved people from the depths of the South.
- Brown's actual plan was reasonable. He intended to spread out in small groups of raiders throughout the vast mountain system of the eastern U.S. that stretches from north to south, and make (by stealth) invasions of farms and plantations to lead enslaved people off, thus swelling his forces and de-stabilizing the southern economy. His intention was to fight only in self-defense, not to make deliberate war upon slave masters and their families (insurrection). Brown explicitly and repeatedly denied that he intended an insurrection, yet historians, following the reactionary tenor of slave masters, continue to say this was his purpose. It would have been virtually impossible to stop a movement consisting of small groups of men and women working in the mountain system or to prevent large numbers of people from escaping from slavery to join them. Nor was the U.S. military equipped, trained, or prepared for a guerilla war if it came to such fighting. If initiated, Brown's movement would have at least festered and upset the South in an unprecedented manner.
- It is NOT true that enslaved people did not support the raid. For the relatively small number of enslaved people in this town and vicinity of the upper south, the evidence is that a good many more enslaved men actually came into town to support John Brown. Slave masters afterward denied this in order to sustain the southern myth of the loyal slave. Since 1859, politicians, journalists, and historians have favored the testimony of southern whites and largely ignored what Brown's own men have said, particularly Osborne Anderson, a black raider who actually wrote a short history of the raid.
- Strategically, Brown did not want fugitives from slavery to participate in the raid on Harper's Ferry. This puts to rest the hackneyed, erroneous notion that the "slaves did not support Brown." His intention was to rendezvous with them outside of the town after the raid, withdrawing with them to the mountains. There are at least two substantial testimonies and additional supportive evidence that many more fugitives--hundreds, perhaps more, were beginning to gather outside of town. However they had to withdraw because Brown delayed and became caught in a trap that could easily have been avoided had he left town by early morning Oct. 17.
- Despite a good plan, Brown defeated himself. His overly ponderous nature and worries over the welfare of his captives (perhaps too he was seeking to negotiate the emancipation of their slaves) gave local militia enough time to gather and cut off escape routes. Yet it took another day and the help of the U.S. marines to actually capture John Brown, his raiders, and the surviving enslaved men who supported them. Had he kept to his own plan and schedule, he and his fugitive allies would have almost walked away from Harper's Ferry without facing any significant opposition, and could have easily retreated to the mountains as planned. Contrary to the notion that he was a crazy man and a killer, it seems that John Brown was actually too tender-hearted and still hoped to resolve some of the issue by negotiation. This was his greatest error.
- Even though Brown failed to initiate his plans and was hanged, historians like Jean Libby and Hannah Geffert have shown that the black community in Jefferson County and surrounding counties were heavily impacted by his presence. The census of 1860 shows that slavemasters lost their "property" in great numbers following the raid--a direct result of black people's determination to make good out of Brown's death. Local enslaved people poisoned the livestock and set fires on the property of slave owners and even some of the jurors in John Brown's trial. Jean Libby has uncovered evidence that local blacks tried to communicate with Brown while he was in jail, and we can even see an imprisoned Brown conversely playing down the extent of their involvement him out of concern for their welfare (southerners historically unleashed violent fury on the enslaved community even when they successfully put down uprisings, etc.). Brown, his men, and the enslaved community were far more networked than conventional historians want to acknowledge.
In contrast, the Harper's Ferry raid was the effort of a small band which, to a man, involved people with unusually high principles and convictions regarding justice and human liberation. There was no self-interest in the group, except for Dangerfield Newby, who was fighting in the hopes of freeing his enslaved wife and family. The goal of the raid was not to seize territory and extend slavery but to deflate and collapse the slave economy. Brown believed that a civil war was inevitable, even imminent, and hoped to defuse it by undermining the infrastructure of the South with minimal violence. Historians have often "credited" him with the start of the Civil War, although it had been his hope of avoiding it. To suggest (as did some 20th century historians) that the War would have been avoided were it not for Brown, is ridiculous. The problem of slavery had to be dealt with, and to suggest that another half-century of "moderation" was needed is unrealistic with respect to Southern militancy. Too, to suggest that slavery should have been phased out in time is to join with many others who have temporized over doing justice for reasons of prejudice. The Harper's Ferry raid represented the best interests of our nation's founders, many of whom were stymied by their own racism and hypocrisy (like Thomas Jefferson) being both prophets of freedom and slave masters. Brown--not the floundering late-born emancipator Lincoln--represents the prophetic single-minded corrective to Washington and Jefferson's double-mindedness.
John Brown was a "bible Christian" who acted out of interest in the freedom of an oppressed and victimized people. He believed something had to be done and at least he tried. To impugn him for using "violence" is hypocrisy since our nation used violence in order to subdue, control, and "settle" this land. To condemn him for not allowing the "problem" to be resolved by governmental leadership is also a farce. First, this is precisely what Brown and many other anti-slavery people did throughout the first half of the 19th century. By 1850 things had actually gotten worse for the cause of freedom. The government was in the hands of pro-slavery forces and there was secession (and continued slavery) on the lips of powerful southerners. Furthermore the North was hardly driven by concern for free blacks, let alone enslaved black people in the South. As long as slavery was contained, people like Abe Lincoln would have been contented.
All things considered, the Harper's Ferry raid, failure and all, was exactly what was needed in the long run. There was no other way to deal with slavery except by ending it, and there was no other way to end it than by a program using a measure of violence. Brown tried a program of minimalist bloodshed and happily went to the gallows believing that his death would at least snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. "I failed," John Brown told one of his Virginia guards, "but it is only delay, for as certain as the sun shines, the negroes will soon be set free." John Brown was prescient in his vision of slavery's end. Lincoln began his presidency by defaming Brown but ended it by doing a political imitation of him.
How one views the Alamo and Harper's Ferry is not a matter of historical trivia. It is a barometer of one's sense of justice in history and probably in the contemporary sense as well.Louis A. DeCaro Jr., Ph.D.
Edwin and Barclay Coppock
Some time in the 1950s, young Tom Stratton came to visit his Grandfather George and Granmother Melva Stratton at what today is Stratton House Inn. While there, he found a rifle tucked behind the door in the entrance-way to the house. When Tom asked his Grandmother about the rifle, she dismissed it, saying, "It had been owned by one of the Coppock cousins, and may have been used at Harpers Ferry."
At the time, Tom didn't know who the Coppocks were, but he remembered what his grandmother had told him, and he continued to have an interest in the rifle. It subsequently was moved from the entrance-way, and placed under the floor-boards in the attic. That's where the rifle was being stored when it was retrieved a few years later, and given to Tom's father -- who, in turn, gave it to Tom.
"As near as I can tell at this point, the rifle is not rifled, the barrel is octagonal and appears to be cut down to 32"; and the caliber appears to be .38 or .40. There is a patch box on the stock, so I suspect that it originally was a flintlock and that it was converted to a percussion cap. I feel pretty certain that the gun was made somewhere around 1840, probably by a small local gunmaker in Central Pennsylvania - Bedford, Chambersburg, Lancaster area. There is a name, C. Weber, on the patchbox. Weber appears to be a common name in that part of PA. The caliber is too small to have been used regularly as a military weapon. The gun was probably meant for small game up to deer."
Pennsylvania, which contained 200 Sharps rifles, an equal number of pistols, and a thousand pikes. After establishing his base of operations on a farm about five miles outside Harper's Ferry, Brown had this "freight" delivered to the farm.
It is possible that Barclay carried the rifle found in Stratton House with him to Harper's Ferry. There, even though later armed with a Sharps rifle and a pistol, he may have carried this trusted rifle as a backup.
conspiracy to bring him up-to-date on developments. Barklay noted that five raiders had escaped, namely Owen Brown, Charles Plummer Tidd, Francis Jackson Meriam, Osborn Perry Anderson, and himself.
Barklay stated that three of them stayed together until they reached Centre County, Pa., where they bought a large shipping box and packed up all heavy luggage, such as the rifles they had salvaged from the farm near Harper's Ferry. Barklay stated that at that point, Owen Brown and Charles Plummer Tidd "went on foot towards the north-western part of Pennsylvania" while he [Barklay] took the large box by train back to Ohio. See photo of Barclay at right.
In a book published in 1861, "A Voice from Harper's Ferry," Osborn Perry Anderson confirms that Barclay Coppock accompanied the "box of rifles" back to Ohio. What happened to them there is unknown.
Two days before Edwin's execution, he wrote a "last" letter to his Uncle Joshua Coppock, in Salem Ohio. That letter is included elsewhere in this entry. For this reason, the following geneology also includes Joshua Coppock. See photo of Edwin at right.
Edwin Coppoc was born near Salem, Ohio, on 30 June 1835. His father died when he was a child. Edwin lived many years with his grandfather, going to district school and working on a farm. He is described as a studious, industrious boy of cheerful disposition. His eyes and hair were brown and his skin fair. He was fond of athletic sports and was intelligent, active, brave, loyal and the soul of honor. He had winning manners, was amiable, generous and kind.
Anne Brown says of Edwin: "He was a rare young fellow, fearing nothing, yet possessed of great social traits, and no better comrade have I ever met."
His mother was a woman of unusual intelligence and force of character. She strongly opposed the determination of her sons to enlist in the desperate enterprise. She had married again and her sons were living with her in Springdale, Iowa, when John Brown and his men came there to prepare for the Virginia invasion. Her boys eagerly listened to the story of the wrongs and cruelties inflicted upon the helpless slaves, as eloquently told by John Brown, and longed to help them to freedom.
Edwin and his younger brother, Barclay, at last determined to join the young men who were drilling at the Maxson farm and to follow wherever the old liberator should strike the nest blow for emancipation. On the 15 July a letter came from John Brown requesting them to come on to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. On the 25th they bade their mother goodby and started ostensibly for Ohio. But their mother was not deceived; she knew too well their destination and expected never to see them again.
Order No. 9, made out by Captain Brown the day of the attack, details "Lieut. Albert Hazlett and Edwin Coppoc to hold the armory opposite the engine house after it is taken, remaining there until morning, when further orders will be given."
Edwin Coppock's Last Letter -- to His Uncle Joshua Coppock
CHARLESTON, Dec. 13, 1859.
My Dear Uncle -
I seat myself by the stand to write for the first and last time to thee and thy family. Though far from home and overtaken by misfortune, I have not forgotten you. Your generous hospitality towards me, during my short stay with you last spring, is stamped indelibly upon my heart, and also the generosity bestowed upon my poor brother who now wanders an outcast from his native land. But thank God he is free. I am thankful it is I who have to suffer instead of him.
The time may come when He will remember me. And the time may come when He may still further remember the cause in which I die. Thank God the principles of the cause in which we were engaged will not die with me and my brave comrades. They will spread wider and wider and gather strength with each hour that passes. The voice of truth will echo through our land, bringing conviction to the erring and adding members to that glorious army who will follow its banner. The cause of everlasting truth and justice will go on conquering and to conquer until our broad and beautiful land shall rest beneath the banner of freedom. I had fondly hoped to live to see the principles of the Declaration of Independence fully realized. I had hoped to see the dark stain of slavery blotted from our land, and the libel of our boasted freedom erased, when we can say in truth that our beloved country is the land of the free and the home of the brave; but that cannot be.
I have heard my sentence passed, my doom is sealed. But two more short days remain for me to fulfill my earthly destiny. But two brief days between me and eternity. At the expiration of those two days I shall stand upon the scaffold to take my last look of earthly scenes. But that scaffold has but little dread for me, for I honestly believe that I am innocent of any crime justifying such punishment. But by the taking of my life and the lives of my comrades, Virginia is but hastening on that glorious day, when the slave will rejoice in his freedom. When he can say, "I too am a man," and am groaning no more under the yoke of oppression. But I must now close. Accept this short, scrawl as a remembrance of me. Give my love to all the f amily. Kiss little Joey for me. Remember me to all my relatives and friends. And now farewell for the last time.
From thy nephew,
The Coppock Rifle
Tom Stratton provides this photo and describes the rifle as follows:
"As near as I can tell at this point, the rifle is not rifled, the barrel is octagonal and appears to be cut down to 32"; and the caliber appears to be .38 or .40. There is a patch box on the stock, so I suspect that it originally was a flintlock and that it was converted to a percussion cap. I feel pretty certain that the gun was made somewhere around 1840, probably by a small local gunmaker in Central Pennsylvania - Bedford, Chambersburg, Lancaster area. There is a name, C. Weber, on the patchbox. Weber appears to be a common name in that part of PA. The caliber is too small to have been used regularly as a military weapon. The gun was probably meant for small game up to deer."
Response to "Not the Alamo--Seven Points About the Harpers Ferry Raid
Jean Libby, another John Brown historian, takes issue with a few points raised by DeCaro and presents her views on the historic event and some of the personalities involved, below. Jean Libby is editor of the website Allies for Freedom.org.Dr. DeCaro concludes:
How one views the Alamo and Harper's Ferry is not a matter of historical trivia. It is a barometer of one's sense of justice in history and probably in the contemporary sense as well.
I have been asked by a correspondent whether or not I agree with it. Even though I think Lou DeCaro is an outstanding scholar, and I am personally praised in this piece, and on his excellent blogsite of issues and news items about John Brown, my answer is "No."
The reason for my disagreement is not Lou's depiction of the John Brown raid. Although I have some disagreement with his Seven Points (especially that of the reason for Brown's delay in leaving Harpers Ferry), those can be dismissed as historians' quibbles.My problem is (1) that I remember the Alamo differently than Louis A. DeCaro and (2) I also have a fundamental difference in analysis of the participation of Dangerfield Newby as "self-interest" in comparison with the other members of Brown's army because he was seeking to free his family.
The Alamo: although iconographic in U.S. History, the siege of the Alamo took place in 1836, nine years before the entry of Texas as a slave state into the United States and the Mexican-American War. To say that Texas was "an anti-slavery state" before the battle of the Alamo and the implication that this was part of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 is a distortion.Tejas was a province of Mexico following the Revolution of 1821 which overthrew Spain, a slave country. One of the high marks of the Mexican Revolution was the abolition of slavery. Slavery does not overturn in a day, not where it has been entrenched for over 400 years (longer than in the U.S.) and in a huge and diverse area that was virtually ungovernable. The Mexican Revolution turned on itself and assassination and intrigue was the rule instead of law. The Constitution of 1824 was negated by 1836 and a new one substituted. This totalitarian had taken power (Generalissimo Santa Anna) and declared himself president for life. In his earlier career he had brutally policed the Indians and assisted in the capture of Hidalgo, the Father of Mexico, who was subsequently executed. Santa Anna changed sides at the end of the Revolution to support Iturbe. To say that "Mexico justly suppressed these proto-Texans at the Alamo" is like saying President Bush is defending democracy. It just isn't true.
Dangerfield Newby and Shields Green: this response is to the statement that "there was no self-interest in the group, except for Dangerfield Newby, who was fighting in the hopes of freeing his enslaved wife and family." Shields Green, who was with Frederick Douglass and John Brown when Douglass described Harpers Ferry as "a perfect steel trap" decided to "go with the old man" when Douglass wisely refused to participate in the kidnapping of hostages and attack on federal property. Shields Green, a fugitive, also had a wife and child who were still enslaved.
Carl Westmoreland of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center wrote to me in 2001 that what is important in African American thinking about John Brown is that he truly believed in racial equality, and this was without patronization. I think it is certain that Dangerfield Newby was participating in the raid on abolition grounds as much as the others. Scholar Ian Barford has found evidence, which he shared with this group, that Newby was in Ashtabula when he was recruited by Brown, not in Bridgeport, in southeastern Ohio. From handwritten notes in the carpetbag letters found at the Kennedy Farm and used as evidence in the trials of John Brown and the surviving raiders, both Dangerfield and "G"(his brother Gabriel) were part of the Underground Railroad and that is how they found out about the Ashtabula center of abolition activity. They went there to join the plan, and Gabriel may have been on his way to Virginia on August 27, 1859.Shields Green, the forgotten man (whose actual name was Esau Brown) was assigned the role intended for Frederick Douglass in notifying the local black population of the liberation movement on the night of October 16. He went with Charles Tidd, one of the whites who had misgivings about the soundness of the plan, to take the armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Tidd went back to Maryland after cutting telegraph wires outside Charles Town and Green went south to Wheatland, the farm of George Turner (later killed by Dangerfield Newby in the fighting) and back along the new macadam road by the Shenandoah River to the Rifle Works with at least three slave recruits. At least two were killed; all three are listed as fugitive in the census of 1860, when George Turner is dead. Shields/Esau had the opportunity to stay with the outside positions, according to Osborne Anderson's account. But he risked fire to go back into the engine house to fight alongside Brown and his sons and related Thompson brothers. It is Osborne Anderson who tells us that Green has said, twice, that he will stay with John Brown. The John Brown story with these words by Green is not published by Douglass until his last autobiography. Henry Organ has written of this in John Brown Mysteries. Every year on December 16 Henry writes to me to remember the execution of Shields Green two weeks after that of John Brown.
Both Newby and Green, I believe along with Carl Westmoreland and Henry Organ, are revolutionary thinkers and planners with Brown, whom he trusts, and they do not let him down. If Newby were there for self-interest, he would not be placed in the most vulnerable position, he would have taken off for Warrenton when the town was secured.Louis A. DeCaro is generous with praise about the work of Hannah N. Geffert and myself on regional black involvement in the John Brown raid that is recently in Prophets of Protest edited by Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer and published by The New Press (2006). It has taken thirty years for this concept of black participation first articulated by Osborne Anderson, who saw it, and by W.E.B. Du Bois, who believed him. Lou DeCaro has written of this fundamental belief by Du Bois in comparison with Oswald Garrison Villard, who defends the white raiders as "fine American boys" but calls the black man a liar.
I know that it is very ungrateful of me to remember the Alamo in a different way than an example of white supremacy, and the Mexican government as one of justice. I am sorry, but I must.
Charles White's Account of John Brown's Raid and Capture
Published as "John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry: An Eyewitness Account By Charles White," ed. Rayburn S. Moore, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 67 (October, 1959):387-395.
Recently, a graphic eyewitness account of the raid has come to light. It is contained in a letter written several weeks after the affair by Charles White, minister of the Presbyterian Church at Berryville, Virginia, to his brother- in-law John Felt, of Salem, Massachusetts. The Reverend Mr. White also served the Presbyterian congregation in Harpers Ferry, where on the Sunday evening of October 16 he had preached his regular biweekly sermon and then spent the night. In the early morning hours of October 17 he was awakened by his host, A. H. Herr, and informed of the disturbance in the town. Shortly thereafter he went out to investigate the report, and from that time until the capture of John Brown early on the morning of October 18, White was a minor participant and eyewitness to much that happened. In his letter he describes in detail what he saw and did. Unfortunately, a section of four pages is missing, but the eight pages and maps remaining contain valuable information concerning the raid.Berryville Nov 10th 1859.
I have been intending for a long time to write to you, but have been called away so much that I could not find a convenient time. Since the world renowned H Ferry affair I have desired particularly to write-but have been travelling and sick all the time. I was to a very small extent a participator in the scenes-and an eye witness of a good deal. Brown and his men must have been in town as accurately as we can discover about Eleven oclock Sunday night-as the watchman in the bridge who was taken by them a prisoner had stuck his last peg at half past ten.As you know I preached there that night. Edward and myself slept together on what is called the 'Island'-which lies between the Rifle works and the Armory and arsenal. We knew nothing until daylight when the gentleman with whom we were staying came into our room and notified us. After breakfast we went out to reconnoitre-and found we were guarded on both sides by Sharps rifles-revolvers and pikes-and not a single available gun or other weapon of defense in all our part of the town which was isolated from all the other part there being a mountain in front-the river behind-and on each side these bands of men at Rifle works and Armory. And we had no idea how many there were. Of course we could do nothing just then. These men were passing two or three at a time all the morning just in front of us. They could have been easily killed if we had had guns. I was about as far from Rifle works as from your store to the depot-perhaps a few rods further. All we could do was to wait. About one o clock the men of Bolivar (the part of the town over hill) got guns from an isolated building of the Armory works. It was the stock house. A few weeks before-during the high water-providentially as I was told a number of guns had been removed from their usual place in front of the armory yard to this stock house which was the last house back of the yard. The insurgents supposed thes had all the guns-but the men of Bolivar who are mostly armorers- knew of the stock house guns. When they succeeded in getting them towards the middle of the day they came down the hill or over it rather and fired so heavily upon the insurgents at the Rif[l]e factory that they had to run. But I will just roughly represent where I was to give you a very imperfect idea
When the villains ran they crossed the Winchester Rail- road and made for the river. One ran towards us with his pike (slave of Mr Alstadts)-and beckoned us to come to him. We ran immediately toward the whole of them-the Bolivar men pressing on them from the mountain - we on one side. One or two of our men had by this time procured guns. One negro was drowned-a slave-the only one of whom we have doubts as to his complicity with them-& that because he ran with them. When Alstadts man who ran towards us came up-I asked him how came he there & what he was doing with the pike-he said they had taken him and his master the night before-brot them down-& told him if he didn t keep guard at Rifle factory they would kill him. I beleive he was innocent. While talking a reckless fellow came up-levelled his musket at the negro's head within an inch or so-and was about to pull the trigger. I asked him not to fire as did others. He swore he'd kill him & that he had orders from the Captain of Charlestown Company. I told him no matter what the Capt said we had the man prisoner-perhaps he was innocent-he was ours-and stepping between the two, I ordered him not to fire. Several then took hold of his gun & saved the negro Perhaps you laugh at my orders. Of course I had no delegated authority- but so enraged were the multitude that it was with difficulty they were restrained from hanging & shooting several on the spot. I did all I could to prevent it. The other 3 men I saw shot in the river-Kagi the Sec of War was shot dead-one a mulatto from Ohio died next morning in Herrs Cooper Shop.The other mulatto I think from Pennsylvania is in jail at Charlestown.
The next four pages (five through eight) of the letter are unfortunately lost. When John Felt returned the letter in May 1899 to William C. White, Charles White's son, he remarked that he could not find the missing pages. That they contained valuable information (presumably abut the capture of Brown on the morning of October 18) is clear not only from the content of this letter but also from another written by Charles White in 1883. This latter communication is discussed later in the article.
[page nine begins] . . . Stevens are wretched-degraded looking bandits. I was at first inclined to think Brown a brave man-of some remnant of a generous nature-but the more I see and hear of his devilish designs, the more thoro' becomes my contempt and horror of him-and all his abettors & sympathizers, including Cheever, Beecher & co. During the affair the negroes about H F were terribly alarmed and clung as closely as they could to master & mistress. One negro hid under a water wheel in the armory canal and didn't come out till Tuesday-and then was afraid Brown might catch him. One slave has since died of fright-whom Browm had prisoner. Some one or two slaves whom B had taken and given pilees ln the engine house-on that fearful night, true to their natures dropped the pikes and went to sleep. Not one slave that we can discoser was willingly with them-unless it be the one drowned. This shows well for the slaves I think. Those who were taken-escaped to their homes as soon as they got a chance. And not one woman was taken or freed - which is rather singular, when they had so good an opportunity-and loved them so. There is of course a great deal of excitement-and to add to it several stock yards-barns etc have been burnt in the last week in our county- and several masters have been beaten or attacked by their servants. But I beleive the majority of servants have no evil intentions-or desire any movement. They know & say they are better off where they are & as they are. We have patrols out every night. Ch[arle]stown is guarded every night at every point. I do not think you need be uneasy about us. Have you seen Wendell Phillips speech in H. Ward Beechers church) It is the most atrocious-treasonable & murderous piece of villa[i]ny I have ever read. I suppose Beecher is as bad. I do not know that the Devil would display such malignity. There are a great many incidents etc I might mention- but it would perhaps be tedious. If you think of anything in regard to this you would like to ask-I shall be glad to answer. I wish I could see you all. You had better come down & take a look at the scene of action. These men must doubtless be hung. Cook I ought to have told you taught for several weeks a small school on his own hook entirely-in the basement of my church at H F-but I never saw him.I have been exceedingly unwell with a severe cold ever since the affair. Mary has a very bad cold-it has fallen in her eyes and they are inflamed and swollen. Willi also has a cold. All getting better however. Tell Mg our box came from Philada last night with a no. of Salem articles. Nothing going on here except talk of Brown's invasion. Patrol[s] were here last night. Mary will write soon I suppose. Give our love to all and write soon.
Excuse my drawing. I was in too big a hurry to be particular
NOTES TO MAP B
Beginning at the top left and moving to the right and thence to the bottom of the page, these notes attempt to elucidate Charles White's sketch.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the most detailed map of ithe raid drawn by any eyewitness present during most of the action on October 17 and 18. a. The men shot in the Shenandoah River were J. H. Kagi and Lewis Leary, who, together with John A. Copeland, Jr. and one or two captured slaves, had occupied the rifle works but had been forced by heavy fire from higher ground to evaacuate their position. Copeland was captured and one of the slaves was drowned. See also Villard, John Brown, pp. 444-445. b. Bolivar Heights provided the high ground from which the "men of Bolivar," as White characterizes them, were able to use their newly acquired fire power to force Kagi and his party to leave the rifle works. c. Herr's Mill was located on Virginius Island, which was separated from the town by a canal.
d. Jefferson's Rock was located on a hill not far from Charles White's church and was a familiar landmark in Harpers Ferry. It was from this vantage point that Thomas Jefferson reputedly observed the surrounding territory and described it in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).
e. As he walked down High Street early in the afternoon of October 17, George W. Turner, a prominent farmer and slaveholder who lived in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry, was shot and killed instantly by one of the raiders. See Alexander R. Boteler, "Recollections of the John Brown Raid. By a Virginian Who Witnessed the Fight," The Century Magazine, XXVI (July 1883), 406 and Villard, John Brown, pps. 440-441.
f. The arsenal buildings were captured by Brown and his men soon after they entered the town on Sunday night. They were guarded thereafter (at one time or other) by Albert Hazlett, a native of Pennsylvania and a liestenant in Brown's command; Edwin Coppoc, another of Brown's lieutenants and a resident of Iowa; and Osborn P. Anderson, a Pennsylvania Negro who served as a private in the raiding force. Hazlett and Anderson escaped, though the former was later arrested in his home state and returned to Virginia for trial. Coppoc was captured with Brown and a few others in the fire-engine house of the armory on October 18, 1859. For the details, see Villard, John Brown, pp. 430, 439, 682, 685. Dangerfield Newby, a freed slave from Virginia who, like Anderson, served as a private in the insurgent band was killed in or near the arsenal yard as he retreated from his post on the Maryland bridge to join Brown's group in the armory (Boteler, "Recollections of the John Brown Raid," p. 406).
g. Since Fontaine Beckham was the agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Harpers Ferry, his office was railroad property. Stevens, one of Brown's ablest officers and Watson Brown, a younger son of the leader of the raiders, were both mortally wounded as they attempted to arrange a parley with the citizens who opposed them. Stevens was carried into the Wager House, a local hotel, and given medical attention and Brown managed to return to the engine house in the armory (Villard, John Brown, pp. 439-441)
h. John Brown himself had early taken command of the armory buildings. In the afternoon of October 17 he was forced by militia troops to retreat to the fire-engine house with "the remnants of his band, the slaves he had armed, and eleven of the most important prisoners," the remaining prisoners being released by the militia (Villard, John Brown, p. 439). See also Boteler, "Recollections of the John Brown 0 Raid," pp. 406-407. It was from this position that Brown and the others were taken on October 18 by marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee.
i. William Thompson, a young friend and follower of Brown from New York, was captured shortly before Stevens and Watson Brown were wounded. After the shooting of Fontaine Beckham by one of the insurgents, several citizens, including Henry Hunter, the son of Andrew Hunter who later became special prosecutor in the trial of John Brown, took Thompson's life in reprisal. See Villard, John Brown, pp. 441-443; Boteler, "Recollections of the John Brown Raid," p. 407; and D. H. Strother, "The Late Invasion at Harper's Ferry," Harper's Weekly, III, 713 (November 5, 1859)
j. The hotel in the sketch is apparently the Wager House.
k. Fontaine Beckham had not only been agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for twenty-five years but he was also mayor of Harpers Ferry and a benefactor of the Negro (Villard, John Brown, pp. 441-442). When he was shot without cause near the water station (also referred to as water tank), his friends and fellow townsmen tok justice in their own hands and summarily executed William Thompson.
l. The heavy dot marks the spot where Charles White stood on the morning of 0ctober 18 when Brown and his little group were captured.
m. John E. Cook (sometimes spelled Cooke) had come to Harpers Ferry as an advance agent, and during the preparation for and activities of the raid he served as a captain in the "Provisional Army." On the morning of October 17 he was put in charge of some wagons and sent by Brown to the base in Marryland to bring up guns and ammunition and thus was absent during part of the raid. He managed to escape when the cause was lost, but was captured on October 25 and hanged on December 16, two weeks after John Brown's own execution (Strother, "The Late Invasion at Harpers Ferry," p. 714, and Villard, John Brown, pp.435, 680-68I).
The Capture of John E. Cook and Albert Hazlett
Seven conspirators managed to escape from the engine house. Five, Owen Brown, Francis Meriam, Charles Tidd, Barclay Coppoc and Osborn Anderson, were never captured. John Cook and Albert Hazlett were not so fortunate, and were arrested near Chambersburg, PA. where Cook's wife resided, several days later. As one might expect, their capture generated considerable exictement in the town. An October 26 Valley Spirit editorial expressed dismay that the conspirators had used Chambersburg as a staging area. It went on to describe Cook and Hazlett's capture near Carlisle by some local citizens. Details were somewhat sketchy however, as they had only been taken a few days earlier.
The next edition of the Valley Spirit, November 2, contained more information. The third page of the paper was crowded with articles linking the raid to Chambersburg. One article described Cook and Hazlett's capture by Messrs. Claggett Fitzhugh and Dan Logan, of Quincy, detailing the papers found on Cook's person, while another reported on the transfer of the prisoners to Charlestown, for "Rumors," either. In "Capt. Kagi," the editors express doubt that Kagi, a former Chambersburg resident, and Tidd were actually killed during the raid. Local fears were not assuaged by the discovery of rifles, ammunition, books and bandages in Beatty's woods. The following week finds the Spirit refuting allegations that Cook had been mistreated while in prison.
News of Cook's apprehension spread through Virginia as well. The November 1 Staunton Spectator contained a report from Chambersburg, detailing Cook's capture and providing a biographical sketch of him. But people from Augusta county were to become even more involved in the story, when their local militia company, the West Augusta Guard was called up to keep the peace during the trials at Charlestown.
Recollections of the John Brown Raid~Alexander Boteler
This account originally appeared in the Century Magazine 26, (July, 1883): 399-411. It was followed by F. B. Sanborn's "Comment by a Radical Abolitionist": 411-415.
STORER COLLEGE, at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, a flourishing institution "for the education of colored youth of both sexes," owes its existence to the philanthropic gentleman of New Engand whose name it has taken. At its fourteenth annual commencement on May 30, 1881, Frederick Douglass, who is un- doubtedly the most gifted orator of his race, delivered a eulogistic address on old John Brown, in which he claimed for him " the honor" of having originated the war between the Northern and Southern sections of our Union,-summing up his conclusions on this point in the following expressive language: "If," said he, "John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did, at least, begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places, and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia,-not Fort Sumter, but Harper's Ferry and the arsenal,-not Major Anderson, but John Brown began the war that ended American slavery, and made this a free republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy, and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes, and compromises. When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared,-the time for compromises was gone,-the armed hosts of freedom stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union, and the clash of arms was at hand."
These words, uttered with an emphasis belonging to a strong conviction of their truth, will be accepted by the public as an authentic but somewhat tardy confession of one who, as a confidential coadjutor of Brown in his conspiracy against the South, is understood to have been fully acquainted with his plans and purposes; and the avowal thus frankly made by him is sufficiently confirmed by the contemporaneous facts to which it refers. For, when a complete and impartial history of our late civil war shall be written, it will be seen that the "John Brown Raid," at Harper's Ferry, in the latter part of 1859, was indeed the beginning of actual hostilities in the Southem States; that then and there the first shot was fired and the first blood was shed-the blood of an unoffending free negro, foully murdered while in the faithful discharge of his duty! It will be further seen that there and then occurred the first forcible seizure of public property; the first attempt to "hold, occupy, and possess" a military post of the Government; the first outrage perpetrated on the old flag; the first armed resistance to national troops; the first organized effort to establish a Provisional Government at the South, in opposition to that of the United States; the first overt movements to subvert the authority of the constitution and to destroy the integrity of the Union.
Looked at in the light of subsequent events these facts,with their antecedent and attendant circumstances, are so significant that few now can fail to see and none need hesitate to say that "the abolition affair at Harper's Ferry," in the fall of '59, was an appropriate prelude to that gigantic war which was so soon to follow it, and which, conducted on a scale commensurate with the magnitude of the work to be accomplished, effectually completed what old John Brown so fatally began -a work concerning which the friends of Brown now boast that "Lincoln with his proclamations, Grant and Sherman with their armies, and Sumner with his constitutional amendments, did little more than follow in the path which Brown had pointed out." [F. B. Sanborn, in "Atlantic Monthly," April, 1875.] But whatever difference of opinion yet exists as to who fired the first hostile gun in the South,-John Brown or General Beauregard, -one thing is certain: If it had not been for a comparatively small class of factious and implacable politicians in both sections,-the active abolitionists of the North and the secessionists per se of the South,-there would have been no fratricidal civil war, especially if it had depended on the aforesaid extremists to go to the front and do the fighting. But it is enough for us to know what was actually done during a maddened and misguided epoch and what our obvious duty is in these improving times of restablished peace, and, it is to be hoped, restored fraternity.
Passing by the question then, as to whether the Harper's Ferry outbreak was "a legitimate consequence of the teachings of the Republican party," as was claimed at the time of its occurrence by some of the prominent leaders of that party; disregarding also the kindred inquiry as to whether the forcible extinction of slavery in the South was the logical consummation of a foregone conclusion in the North, where it had long been labored for by a constantly increasing faction, who, professing to be governed in their political action by a "higher law" than the constitution, were willing to "let the Union slide " for the sake of abolition, and who, likewise, on that account, opposing all compromises, persistently urged war at a time when many patriots, North and South, were nobly striving to avert that calamity,-I will confine myself here to outlining some of the scenes and incidents that occurred, partly under my personal observation, at the time of Brown's hostile incursion, for which he and his deluded followers paid the forfeit of their lives, and from which the people of the unfortunate town selected for his midnight raid may date the beginning of the end of their former prosperity.
On the morning of the raid, Monday, Oct. 17, 1859, I was at my home near Shepherdstown (ten miles west of Harper's Ferry), and had hardly finished breakfast when a carriage came to the door with one of my daughters, who told me that a messenger had arrived at Shepherdstown, a few minutes before, with the startling intelligence of a negro insurrection at Harper's Ferry!
She could give no particulars, except that a number of armed abolitionists from the North-supposed to be some hundreds- had stolen into "the Ferry " during the previous night, and, having taken possession of the national armories and arsenal, were issuing guns to the negroes and shooting down unarmed citizens in the streets. Ordering my horse, I started at once for Harper's Ferry, by way of Shepherdstown, where I found the people very much excited. Their first feeling, on hearing the news, had naturally been one of amazed and, with some, of amused incredulity, which, however, soon gave place to an intense and pardonable indignation.
The only military organization of the precinct-a rifle company, called "The Hamtramck Guards "-had been ordered out, and as I rode through town the command was nearly ready to take up its line of march for the Ferry, while a goodly number of volunteers, with every sort of fire-arm, from old Tower muskets which had done service in colonial days to modern bird-guns, were joining them. I observed, in passing the farms along my route, that the negroes were at work as usual. When near Bolivar,-a suburb of Harper's Ferry,-I saw a little old "darky " coming across a field toward me as fast as a pair of bandy legs, aided by a crooked stick, could carry him. From the frequent glances he cast over his shoulder and his urgent pace, it was evident that the old fellow was fleeing from some apprehended danger, and was fearfully demoralized.
I hailed him with the inquiry:
"Well, uncle, which way?"
"Sarvint, marster! I'se only gwine a piece in de country for ter git away from de Ferry."
"You seem to be in a hurry," said I.
"Yes, sah, I is dat, an' it's 'bout time ter be in a hurry when dey gits ter shootin' sho 'nuff bullets at yer."
"Why, has any one been shooting at you?"
"No, not exactly at me, bless de Lord ! kase I didn't give 'em a chance ter. But dey's been a-shootin' at pleanty folks down dar in de Ferry, an' a-killen of 'em, too."
"Who's doing the killing?"
"De Lord above knows, marster! But I hearn tell dis mornin' dat some of de white folks allowed dey was abolitioners, come down for ter raise a ruction 'mong de colored people."
And on inquiring if any of the colored peo- ple had joined them, "No-sah-ree!" was his prompt and emphatic answer, at the same time striking the ground with his stick, as if to give additional force to the denial.
I insert this colloquy simply because it tends to illustrate the fears and feelings of the negroes at Harper's Ferry as well as in the surrounding region, at the time of Brown's abortive attempt to secure their aid. Somewhat relieved by the assurance that the negroes had nothing to do with the trouble, I continued on my way to Harper's Ferry, arriving a little before noon.
It is necessary here to give a summary of the day's doings up to the time of my arrival at the Ferry, together with a preliminary explanation of Brown's plans and preparations. From facts which are fully admitted by his friends, it is now known that for more than five and twenty years Brown had cherished the idea of making slavery "insecure " in the States where it existed by a preconcerted series of hostile raids and servile insurrections, and that at least two years previous to his raid on Harper's Ferry he had selected it as a suitable place for the initial attack. His three principal reasons for choosing the Ferry as his point d'appui were: (1) The presence of a large slave population in what is known as "the Lower Valley," which is that fair and fertile portion of the great valley of Virginia embraced within the angle formed by the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers before their confluence at Harper's Ferry; (2) the proximity of the Blue Ridge range of mountains, where, in their rocky recesses and along their densely wooded slopes, he would be comparatively safe from pursuit and better able to protect himself from attack; (3) because of the location at Harper's Ferry of the United States armories and arsenal, in which were always stored many thousand stands of arms without sufficient guard to protect them.
His plan was to make the Blue Ridge Mountains his base of operations and, descending from them at night with his armed marauders, to attack the unprotected villages and isolated farm-houses within his reach, wherever and whenever his incursions would probably be least expected.
These raids were to be made on the Piedmont side of the Blue Ridge, as well as in the Valley,-"his forces acting as infantry or cavalry," according to circumstances, and to have no scruples against taking the horses of the slave-holders and other needed property.
As many of the slaves as could be induced to abandon their homes were to be armed and drilled, and, by recruiting his "army of occupation " in this way, he expected soon to raise a large body of blacks, reinforced by such white men as he could enlist, with which he believed he could maintain himself successfully in the mountains, and, by a predatory war, so harass and paralyze the people along the Blue Ridge, through Virginia and Tennessee into Alabama, that the whole South would become alarmed and slavery be made so insecure that the slave-holders themselves, for their own safety and that of their families, would be compelled to emancipate their negroes. It was, also, a part of his plan to seize the prominent slave-owners and hold them prisoners either "for the purposes of retaliation," or as hostages for the safety of himself and his band, to be ransomed only Upon the surrender of a specified number of their slaves, who were to be given their freedom in exchange for that of their masters.
When Brown went to Europe in 1848, to sell Ohio wool, it is said that he inspected fortifications on the Continent, "with a view of applying the knowledge thus gained, with modifications of his own, to mountain warfare in the United States"; and though not much given to books, he read all he could get that treated of insurrectionary warfare. Plutarch's account of the stand made for years by Sertorius, the Spanish chieftain, against the combined power of the Romans, it is said, was frequently referred to by him in c onversation with his friends, as also the war against the Russians by Schamyl, the Circassian chief; that against the United States by Osceola, in the Everglades of Florida; and that so successfully fought by Toussaint L'Ouverture and Dessalines, in St. Domingo. He likewise regarded his own bloody experiences in Kansas as so many practical lessons on the skirmish line; and he also believed himself to be an appointed agent of Deity in the work he intended to do.
He allowed few of his friends besides his immediatc followers to know his plans; but there were certain pseudo-philanthropists in the North who knew all about them, and who now boast that, with a full knowledge of his intentions, they "were indifferent to the reproach of having aided him" with means for their execution. While the self-sacrificing bravery of Brown has a claim to our respect and admiration, however much we may condemn his unlawful and treacherous attack, Southern people can feel only abhorrence and contempt for the cowardly conspirators who encouraged his design without having the manliness to share its dangers.
John Brown's first appearance south of Mason and Dixon's line was on June 30th, I859, at Hagerstown, in Maryland. Com- ing from Chambersburg, in company with a man named Anderson, who was one of his "lieutenants," they remained over night there, " passing themselves off for Yankees going through the mountains in search of minerals."
On July 3, he appeared at Harper's Ferry, under the assumed name of Smith, with his two sons-Watson and Oliver -and "Lieutenant" Anderson, passing that night at a small tavern in Sandy Hook, a hamlet on the left, or Maryland, bank of the Potomac, about a mile below the Ferry. The next day, July 4, a farmer, whom I knew very well, met them on a mountain road above the Ferry, when, in reply to his remark: "Well, gentlemen, I suppose you are out hunting minerals ? " Brown said, "No, we are not; we are looking for land." He said they were "farmers from the western part of New York," whose crops had been so "cut off" by the frosts, that they had concluded to settle farther south.
Subsequent conversations directed Brown's attention to a small tract further up the road, about five miles from the Ferry, belonging to the heirs of Dr. Booth Kennedy, and a few weeks later he rented a portion of it, includ- ing "the improvements," which consisted of a plain two-storied log-house with a high basement, and a small outhouse or shop, which was also of logs; for which, with the right to fire-wood and pasture for a horse and cow, he paid, in- advance, thirty-five dollars, taking the property until the first of March fol- lowing. The place was admirably adapted to the purposes of concealment, being somewhat remote from other settlements, surrounded by dense forests, with its houses some distance back from the rarely traveled public road in front of them, and almost entirely hidden from view by undergrowth.
Having thus secured a suitable hiding-place, his men began to gather there,-coming from the North, one or two at a time, at intervals, and generally in the night. Meanwhile, there also arrived quietly from the same quarter- great precautions being used to conceal their destination as well as their contents-a number of boxes filled with guns, pistols, pikes, powder, and percussion caps, together with fixed ammunition, swords, bayonets, blankets, canvas for tents, tools of all kinds, maps and stationery,; so that few camps were ever more fully supplied for an active campaign than was Old John Brown's mountain aerie.
Sunday night, October 16th, was fixed for the foray; and at eight o'clock that evening, Brown said to his companions: "Come, men, get on your arms; we will proceed to the Ferry." They took with them a one-horse wagon, in which were placed a parcel of pikes, torches. and some tools. including a crow-bar and sledge-hammer, and in which also Brown himself rode as far as the Ferry.
Brown's actual force, all told, consisted of only twenty-two men including himself, three of of whom never crossed the Potomac. Five of those who did cross were negroes, of whom three were fugitive slaves. Ten of them were killed in Virginia; seven were hanged there, and five are said to have escaped, viz., two of those who crossed the river, and the three who did not cross. Six of the white men were members of Brown's family, or connected with it by marriage, and five of these paid the forfeit of their lives to the Virginians. Owen Brown is the only one of the whole party who now survives.
Alexander Boteler's Account~Page 2
When Brown's party arrived opposite the Ferry at the entrance to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge over the Potomac, along the side of which there was, as now, a wagon road,-two of the number (Cook and Tidd) were detailed to tear down the telegraph wires, while two more (Kagi and Stevens), crossing the bridge in advance of the others, captured the night - watchman, whose name was Williams, and who was entirely too old to make any effective resistance. Leaving Watson Brown and Stewart Taylor as a guard at the Virginia end of the bridge, and taking old Williams, the watchman, with them, the rest of the company proceeded with Brown and his one-horse wagon to the gate of the United States armory, which was not more than sixty vards distant from the bridge.
Finding it locked, they peremptorily ordered the armory watchman, Daniel Whelan, who was on the inner side of the gate, to open it, which he as peremptorily refused to do. In his testimony before the U. S. Senate committee, of which Mr. Mason of Virginia was chairman, Whelan described this scene so graphically that I here quote a part of it, as follows:
- "'Open the gate!' said they. I said 'I could not if I was stuck,' and one of them jumped up on the pier of the gate over my head, and another fellow ran and put his hand on me and caught me by the coat and held me. I was inside and they were outside, and the fellow standing over my head upon the pier. And then, when I woulel not open the gate for them, five or six ran from the wagon, clapped their guns against my breast, and told me I should deliver up the key. I told them I could not, and another fellow said they had not time now to be waiting for a key, but to go to the wagon and bring out a crowbar and a large hammer and they would soon get in."
After telling how, with their crowbar and sledge, they broke the fastenings of the gate, Whelan went on to testify:
- "They told me to be very still and make no noise, or else they would put me to eternity. * * * After that, the head man of them, Brown, said to me: 'I came here from Kansas, and this is a slave State. I want to free all the negroes in this State; I have possession now of the United States armory, and if the citizens interfere with me I must only burn the town and have blood."
Edwin Coppic and Hazlett were next sent across the street to break into the United States arsenal, which stood within another inclosure and where there was no guard whatever; while, at the same time, Oliver Brown and William Thompson occupied the bridge over the Shenandoah near the arsenal, and Kagi, with John Copeland, went up the Shenandoah to the Government rifle-works, about half a mile above, where there was another superannuated and unarmed watchman to encounter, whom they likewise captured, and then they took possession of "the works."
It was now near midnight. Brown's next step was to dispatch Stevens, Cook, and others, six in all, to the country to capture my life-long friend and college-mate Colonel Lewis W. Washington, and also to kidnap his negroes. In capturing Colonel Washington, they also seized the historic dress-sword which had been given by Frederick the Great to George Washington, with the memorable words: "From the oldest soldier to the greatest" together with one of a pair of pistols presented by La Fayette to General Washington, and some other valuable arms. They brought Colonel Washington to Harper's Ferry in his own carriage, and his negro men in his four-horse farm-wagon,-stopping on their way at the house of another farmer, Mr. Alstadt, whom they likewise took prisoner, together with his son and men-servants, all of whom were taken under guard to Brown at the armory, arriving there before daylight.
In the meantime, the eastern-bound passenger train on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad arrived at the Ferry after midnight, and was detained there until daylight by Brown's order, his son Watson stopping the train as it approached the station. The passengers were at a loss to comprehend the cause of the delay, some of them supposing it to be a strike of railroad hands, and others thinking it was an emeute among the armorers. While they were yet in ignorance of the real cause, an incident occurred at about half-past one o'clock which served sufficiently to show, at least, the murderous character of the insurgents.
Shepherd Haywood, one of the most respectable free negroes in the county and the regular railroad porter, employed to look after the luggage of passengers, had occasion to see the night-watchman, Williams, whose post of duty was on the bridge.
This was the first victim of the foray, and there is a suggestive significance in the fact that it was an inoffensive free negro, and that his assassination was as cowardly as it was cruel and uncalled for. This firing was the first intimation that any of the citizens of the Ferry had-except, of course, the captured watchmen-that there was an enemy in their midst. Several persons living near the bridge were awakened by it, some of whom got up and looked out of their windows to ascertain the cause. But as they heard nothing more, and it was too dark to distinguish objects a few feet from them, they concluded that the noise had been occasioned by midmgnt revelers shooting off their pistols in sport, and they returned to their beds.
One of these awakened citizens, however, Dr. Starry, was not so easily contented to lie down again without looking a little further into the matter, as he had heard a cry of distress following the shots, and his professional instincts prompted him to go to the relief of the sufferer. The wounded negro had managed to make his way back to the office of Mr. Beckham, the railroad agent, where the Doctor found him lying upon the floor, writhing in agony. After doing what he could to make him more comfortable, and having learned from him the circumstances under which he had been shot, the Doctor started out to investigate more fully the situation.
When he had watched the movements of the raiders for some time and from different points of observation, he was enabled to form an idea of what they had done and were then doing, though not of their ulterior designs; for he thought that their only object was robbery. With this idea in his mind he determined to arouse Mr. Kitzmiller, the chief clerk, who, in the absence of Colonel Alfred H. Barbour, the superintendent, had official charge of the armories. So, getting out his horse, he made his way to Kitzmiller's house, which was in quite a different part of the town; and having informed him of the condition of of things at the armory, he rode on to Bolivar and elsewhere, arousing the people as he went. By this time it was broad daylight, and some of the citizens were appearing in the streets. Such of them, in the lower part of the town near the Government works, as had occasion to pass down Shenandoah and High streets, were surprised to see them picketed near their intersection, and, as may be supposed, their surprise was not diminished on being rudely told they were prisoners and being unceremoniously marched to a building in the armory yard which Brown had appropriated as headquarters for himself and as a "calaboose" for his captives, of whom some thirty or forty altogether were thus taken and held by him.
One of the citzens by the name of Boerley, -a well-to-do grocer, and an Irishman by birth,-when walking quietly along not far from his residence, happened to get within range of a picket,-a black fellow who called himself Dangerfield Newby,-whereupon the negro raised his rifle and without a word of warning shot him dead, with as little compunction as if he had been a mad dog.
It was now about seven o'clock, by which time most of the people of the town had been warned of the raid and its real object. Accordingly, messengers were sent for assistance to the neighboring towns, while prompt and effective steps were taken by the citizens of the Ferry to resist the insurgents, whose force was supposed to be far greater than it really was, from the fact of Brown's making an ostentatious display of sentinels outside of the armory buildings while keeping up from their interiors a desultory fire upon the citizens, when any of them appeared in sight.
There was unavoidable delay in the preparations for a fight, because of the scarcity of weapons; for only a few squirrel guns and fowling-pieces could be found. There were then at Harper's Ferry thousands and tens of thousands of muskets and rifles of the most approved patterns, but they were all boxed up in the arsenal, and the arsenal was in the hands of the enemy. And such, too, was the scarcity of ammunition that, after using up the limited supply of lead found in the village stores, pewter plates and spoons had to be melted and molded into bullets for the occasion.
By nine o'clock a number of indifferently armed citizens assembled on Camp Hill and decided that the party, consisting of half a dozen men, should cross the Potomac a short distance above the Ferry, and, going down the tow-path of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal as far as the railway bridge, should attack the two sentinels stationed there, who, by the way, had been reinforced by four more of Brown's party. Another small party under Captain Medler was to cross the Shenandoah and take position opposite the rifle works, while Captain Avis, with a sufficient force, should take possession of the Shenandoah Bridge, and Captain Roderick, with some of the armorers, should post themselves on the Baltimore and Ohio Railway west of the Ferry just above the armories.
These movements and dispositions were made with commendable promptness under the general direction of Colonels Robert W. Baylor and John T. Gibson-the former being we ranking officer by right of seniority. Thus ras cut off Brown's retreat to the mountains in Maryland across the Potomac, or to those in Virginia across the Shenandoah. Shortly after the first of the above-mentioned parties had crossed the Potomac and driven the enemy's sentinels from the Maryland end of the bridge too its Virginia entrance, the "Jefferson Guards," under Captain Moore, and the "Botts Greys," under Captain Lawson Botts, arrived at the Ferry from Charlestown; and the former company being immediately sent over the river at the "Old Furnace," to reinforce those who had crossed before them into Maryland, as soon as they had reached the railway bridge charged across it, killing one of the insurgent sentinels and capturing another (William Thompson), whom they confined in the railway hotel facing the bridge.
Cook and Tidd, of Brown's party, were at this time in Maryland, having been sent early in the morning to the Kennedy farm with Colonel Washington's farm-wagon and some of his servants to bring down the boxes of Sharpe rifles, Ames pistols, pikes, etc., to a school-house about a mile above the Ferry, which was intended to be a convenient depot of supplies for the raiders in the event of their falling back into Maryland. So, of course, as the bridge was no longer in possession of the insurgents, they were unable to rejoin their companions now cooped up in the armories and rifle works. Just after the Botts Greys reached the Ferry, a man reported to its captain that he had come from the "Gault House " (a small tavern situated near the arsenal at the junction of the two rivers commanding the mouth of the bridge and a view of the armory yard), where there was but one man, its proprietor (George Chambers), who was maintaining an unequal skirmish with the raiders, had but one load left for his gun, and wanted reinforcements.
Captain Botts called for twenty volunteers to go with him, and more than twice the number stepped out from the ranks. They had great difficulty in getting to the tavern, being obliged, in order to avoid a raking fire from the raiders, to make a detour around the base of the hill under "Jefferson's Rock," and along the bank of the Shenandoah, and then to climb up a wall thirty feet high so as to enter the house by a cellar window, reaching their destination just as Chambers fired his last shot,which wounded the insurgent Stevens.
About the same time, Mr. George Turner, who had the respect and esteem of the entire community, was killed. He was a graduate of West Point. When he heard that his friend, Colonel Lewis Washington, had been forcibly abducted by a band of ruffians, and was a prisoner in their hands, he started at once for the Ferry. As he rode into the upper part of the town, some one handed him a shotgun for his protection. Dismounting from his horse, he walked down High street, which runs parallel with and only a few paces from the long range of buildings in the armory grounds. When he had approached within some fifty yards of the corner of High and Shenandoah streets, the same negro- Dangerfield Newby-who had killed Boerley, saw him coming, and, taking deliberate aim, shot him dead. But the assassin himself was soon made to bite the dust. For one of the armorers, by the name of Bogert, a few minutes afterward got the opportunity of a shot at him from an upper window of Mrs. Stephenson's house at the corner of High and Shenandoah streets, and killed him on the spot. I saw his body while it was yet warm as it lay on the pavement in front of the arsenal yard, and I never saw, on any battle-field, a more hideous musket-wound than his. For his throat was cut literally from ear to ear, which was afterward accounted for by the fact that the armorer, having no bullets, had charged his musket with a six-inch iron spike.
As already mentioned, it was a little before noon when I reached Harper's Ferry on the day of the raid. By that time Brown and those of his party who were with him in the armory buildings were completely hemmed in. The bridges over both rivers, north and east, together with the western or upper end of the armory grounds, were in possession of the citizens, WhO occupied every "coign of vantage" from which they could get a fair shot at the insurgents, who, on their part, fighting from under cover of the buildings, were equally on the alert to retaliate in kind, so that there was a lively little skirmish going on when I got there, which I watched for some time from an open space on High street overlooking the lower part of the armory yard. Seeing that there was no probability of the escape of the insurgents, surrounded as they were on all sides,-with the volunteer citizens on both flanks, the Potomac in their front, and in their rear the town, which was becoming rapidly filled with people from every portion of the county, and ascertaining, also, that no attempt would be made to take the armories by assault before the arrival of the volunteers from Martinsburg and Shepherdstown,-I returned to the upper part of the town, where I had left my horse, and rode around toward the rifle-works, getting there in time to see the assault made on them which drove Kagi and his party pell-mell out of the rear of the build- ing into the Shenandoah River, where a very exciting scene occurred; for, as soon as the in- surgents were recognized attempting to cross the river, there was a shout among the citizens, who opened a hot fire upon them from both banks.
The river at that point runs rippling over a rocky bed, and at ordinary stages of the water is easily forded. The raiders, finding their retreat to the opposite shore intercepted by Medler's men, made for a large flat rock near the middle of the stream. Before reaching it, however, Kagi fell and died in the water, apparently without a struggle. Four others reached the rock, where, for a while, they made an ineffectual stand, returning the fire of the citizens. But it was not long before two of them were killed outright and another prostrated by a mortal wound, leaving Copeland, a mulatto, standing alone and unharmed upon their rock of refuge.
Thereupon, a Harper's Ferry man, James H. Holt, dashed into the river, gun in hand, to capture Copeland, who, as he approached him, made a show of fight by pointing his gun at Holt, who halted and leveled his; but, to the surprise of the lookers-on, neither of their weapons were discharged, both having been rendered temporarily useless, as I afterward learned, from being wet. Holt, however, as he again advanced, continued to snap his gun, while Copeland did the same.
Reaching the rock, Holt clubbed his gun and we expected to see a hand to hand fight between them; but the mulatto, showing the white feather, flung down his weapon and surrendered. Copeland, when he was brought ashore, was badly frightened, and well he might be in the midst of the excited crowd who surrounded him, some of whom began to knot their handkerchiefs together, with ominous threats of "Lynch law." But better counsels prevailed, and he was taken before a magistrate, who committed him to jail to await his trial.
When I returned to my former place of observation on High street, the expected reinforcements from Martinsburg and Shepherdstown had arrived, as also a small body of cavalry under Lieutenant Hess, the latter of whom (dismounted) were, with the Shepherdstown company, posted on Shenandoah street near the armory gate at the lower or eastern end of the grounds,while the men from Martinsburg and those under Roderick prepared to charge the raiders from the upper or western end.
Boteler's Account~Page 3
When I returned to my former place of observation on High street, the expected reinforcements from Martinsburg and Shepherdstown had arrived, as also a small body of cavalry under Lieutenant Hess, the latter of whom (dismounted) were, with the Shepherdstown company, posted on Shenandoah street near the armory gate at the lower or eastern end of the grounds,while the men from Martinsburg and those under Roderick prepared to charge the raiders from the upper or western end.
The charge, which I witnessed, was spirited and made in the face of the concentrated fire of Brown's party, who were forced to retreat into the engine-house near the armory gate, where nine or ten of the most prominent of the prisoners had been previously placed by Brown as hostages for his own safety and that of his companions. Watson Brown was wounded when this charge was made, also several of the citizens, among whom was a gallant young man by the name of George Wollet, whom I particularly noticed among the foremost of the Martinsburg men until he was disabled by a shot in his wrist. A young lawyer, also from Martinsburg, George Murphy, was wounded in the leg, and an old gentleman of the county, Mr. Watson, who was seventy-five years of age, had the stock of his gun shattered as he raised it to his shoulder to shoot. Thomas P. Young, of Charlestown, who was permanently disabled during the day, got his wound, too, I think, in this charge; but of this I am not so certain.
Brown, having now barricaded himself and prisoners in the engine-house,-a small but substantial building of brick, still standing,- said to "Phil," one of Alstadt's kidnapped servants, " You're a pretty stout-looking fellow; can't you knock a hole through there for me?" at the same time handing him some mason's tools with which he compelled him to make several loopholes in the walls through which to shoot. He also fastened, with ropes, the large double door of the house so as to permit its folding leaves (which opened in- ward) to be partly separated so that he might fire through that opening.
These arrangements having been hurriedly made, Brown and his men opened an indiscriminate fire upon the citizens. While they were thus shooting at every one they saw without regard to his being armed or not, Mr. Fountain Beckham, station agent, who was then mayor of the town, happened to walk out upon the depot platform near his office; when, incautiously exposing himself, he was instantly shot down, though it was evident he was unarmed, as he had his hands in his pockets at the time. This was the fourth victim of the foray.
When Mr. Beckham's friends upon the platform saw him fall dead in their presence,- shot through the heart without a word of warning,-killed without having taken any part in the fight, notwithstanding the special provocation he had received that morning in having his favorite servant murdered by the men who had now caused his own death,- their rage became uncontrollable, and they impulsively rushed into the railroad hotel to take summary vengeance on the prisoner, Thompson, who was confined there. But the lady of the house, Miss Christine C. Fouke, a most estimable woman, placing herself in front of the prisoner, declared that as long as he was under the shelter of her roof she would protect him, with her life, from harm,-which for a time saved the prisoner from death. But the respite was a brief one, for the maddened crowd soon brought him forth upon the platform where he was immediately shot, and his body thrown over the parapet of the bridge into the river below.
One of the raiders, Leeman, was discovered trying to escape across the river; and having been fired on and wounded, an excited volunteer from Martinsburg waded out to where he was in the water and killed him, it was said, after he had surrendered.
Shortly after, the charge was made whichr brought Brown to bay in the engine-house;: and while I was yet standing at the point on High street whence I had witnessed the fight, where there was an unobstructed view across the river, I heard the hum of a ball as it went singing by me, and presently it was followed by another which passed in unpleasant proximity to my head. There were several persons with me at the time who were armed and who, discovering by the smoke that the shots, so evidently meant for ourselves, had come from a clump of small trees on the mountain side across the river, fired a volley in that direction which silenced the unseen marksman. I refer to this trifling incident only because it was mentioned by Cook in his "Confession," as follows:
"I saw," said he, "that our party were completely surrounded, and as I saw a body of men on High street firing down upon them, though they were about half a mile distant from me, I thought I would draw their fire -upon myself; I therefore raised my rifle and -took the best aim I could and fired. It had the desired effect, for the very instant the party retumed it. Several shots were exchanged. The last one they fired at me cut a small limb I had hold of just below my hand, and gave me a fall of about fifteen feet, by which I was severely bruised, and my flesh somewhat lacerated."
It was now near nightfall, and the gathering gloom of a drizzly evening began to obscure surrounding objects, making it so difficult to distinguish them that, as if by common consent on both sides, active operations were suspended.
At this time a conference was held by three or four of the principal officers in command, to which two or three civilians, including myself, were invited,-the object of the consultation being to determine whether or not to take the engine-house by assault at once, or to wait until morning.
It was represented to us by the prisoners whom Brown had released, when he selected out of their number nine or ten to be held as hostages in the engine-house, that, if an attempt should be made to carry it by storm at night, it would be impossible to distinguish the hostages from the insurgents; and that Brown would probably place the former in fron of his own party as a protection, and thereby cause them to receive the brunt of the attack.
It was also urged that the raiders were then as securely imprisoned in their place of refuge as if incarcerated in the county jail and could be taken in the morning withou much risk to our friends. Before deciding the question under consideration, it was thought proper, at any rate, to send Brown a summons to surrender, and a respectable farmer of the neighborhood, Mr. Samuel S----- was selected to make the demand,-a duty which he undertook very willingly, although it was not unattended with danger, as the usages of ordinary warfare had been more than once disregarded, during the day, by the belligerents on both sides. Mr. S. was man of indomitable energy, undoubted courage, and of such a genial disposition as to make him a general favorite; but he was somewhat eccentric and so fond of using sesquipedalia verba that, occasionally, he was betrayed thereby into those peculiarities of speech which characterized the conversation of Mrs. Malaprop.
Tying a white handkerchief to the ferrule of a faded umbrella, he went forth upon his mission with a self-imposed gravity becoming his own appreciation of its importance.
Marching up to the door of the enginehouse, he called out in stentorian tones.
"Who commands this fortification?"
"Captain Brown, of Kansas," was the answer, from within the building.
"Well, Captain Brown, of Kansas," continued Mr. S., with his voice pitched in the same high key, "I am sent here, sir, by the authorities in command, for to summon you to surrender; and, sir, I do it in the name of the Commonwealth of old Virginia-God bless her!"
"What terms do you offer?" inquired Brown.
"Terms!" exclaimed S. "I heard nothing said about them, sir, by those who sent me. What terms do you want?"
"I want to be allowed," said Brown, "to take my men and prisoners across the bridge to Maryland and as far up the river as the lock-house [which was about a mile above] where I will release the prisoners unharmed, provided no pursuit shall be made until I get beyond that point."
To which S. replied by saying:
"Captain, you'll have to put that down in writing."
"It's too dark to write," answered Brown
"Pshaw !" said S.; " that's nonsense,--for you needn't tell me that an old soldier like you hasn't got all the modern conveniences. So, if you don't write your terms down, in black and white, I wont take 'em back to those who sent me."
Thereupon, a light was struck in the engine-house, and presently a piece of paper was handed out to S., on which Brown had written what he wished to have accorded him.
The proposed terms were, of course, inadmissible; and after the paper containing them had been read by two or three of us it was handed to Lawson Botts, who threw it contemptuously upon the floor, and placing his foot on it, said:
"Gentlemen, this is adding insult to injury. I think we ought to storm the engine-house, and take those fellows without further delay."
But the representations of the released prisoners, already mentioned, caused the contemplated assault to be postponed for the night.
The next morning the first thing I learned was that Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart (both of whom subsequently gained fame as Confederate leaders) had arrived about midnight with a small body of marines from Washington, and that Colonel Lee had assumed command of all the forces assembled in the place. Having the pleasure of his acquaintance, I lost no time in calling upon him, when he informed me that he intended at once to take Brown and his party. Accordingly, at about seven o'clock, a detachment of marines -three of whom had heavy sledge-hammers-were marched up to the west end of the " watch-house" which hid them from the insurgents, and which was under the same roof as the engine-house, being separated from it only by a brick partition. Colonel Lee himself (who was not in uniform) took a position outside of the armory gate, within thirty paces of the engine-house, but protected from those within it by one of the heavy brick pillars of the railing that surrounded the inclosure.
All now being in readiness, Colonel Lee beckoned to Stuart, who, accompanied by a citizen displaying a flag of truce, approached the engine-house.
A parley then ensued between Stuart and Brown, which was watched with breathless interest by the crowd.
Although from the position I occupied (which was, probably, some sixty paces from the engine-house) I could not hear the conversation between them, I often afterward heard it detailed by Stuart, when sharing his tent or sitting with him by his camp fire, and therefore am enabled to confirm the correctness of the report of it, made by my friend and former comrade, Major John Esten Cooke, in a graphic account given by him. Stuart began by saying:
"You are Ossawattomie Brown, of Kansas?"
"Well, they do call me that sometimes, Lieutenant," said Brown.
"I thought I remembered meeting you in Kansas," continued Stuart. "This is a bad business you are engaged in, Captain. The United States troops have arrived, and I am sent to demand your surrender."
"Upon what terms?" asked Brown.
"The terms," replied Stuart, "are that you shall surrender to the officer commanding the troops, who will protect you and your men from the crowd, and guarantee you a fair trial by the civil authorities."
"I can't surrender on such terms," said Brown; "you must allow me to leave this place with my party and prisoners for the lock-house on the Maryland side. There I will release the prisoners, and as soon as this is done, you and your troops may fire on us and pursue us."
"I have no authority to agree to such an arrangement," said Stuart, "my orders being to demand your surrender on the terms I have stated."
"Well, Lieutenant," replied Brown, "I see we can't agree. You have the numbers on me, but you know we soldiers are not afraid of death. I would as leave die by a bullet as on the gallows."
"Is that your final answer, Captain?" inquired Stuart.
"Yes," said Brown
This closed the interview. Thereupon Stuart bowed, and as he turned to leave made a sign, previously agreed upon, to Colonel Lee, who immediately raised his hand, which was the signal of assault. Instantly the storming party under Lieutenant Green, consisting of a dozen marines, sprang forward from behind the angle of the wall that had concealed them, and for perhaps two minutes or more the blows of the sledge-hammers on the door of the engine-house sounded with startling distinctness, and were reechoed from the rocky sides of the lofty mountains that rose in all their rugged majesty around us.
As yet, to our surprise, there was no shot fired by the insurgents, nor any sound heard from within the engine-house. Unable to batter down its doors, the men with the sledges threw them aside, at a sign from Stuart, and withdrew behind the adjoining building. Then there was a brief pause of oppressive silence, as some twenty-five or thirty more marines were seen coming down the yard with a long ladder that had been leaning against one of the shops. Nearing the engine-house they started into a run, and dashed their improvised battering ram against the door with a crashing sound, but not with sufficient force to effect an entrance.
Falling back a short distance they made another run, delivering another blow, and as they did so a volley was fired by the conspirators, and two of the ma- rines let go the ladder-both wounded and one of them mortally. Two others quickly took their places, and the third blow, splintering the right-hand leaf of the door, caused it to lean inward sufficiently to admit a man. Just then Lieutenant Green, who had been standing close to the wall, sword in hand, leaped upon the inclining door-leaf, which, yielding to his weight, fell inside and he himself d isappeared from our view in the interior of the building. There was a shot, some inarticulate exclamations, and a short struggle inside the engine-house, and then, as our rescued friends emerged from the smoke that filled it, followed by marines bringing out the prisoners, the pent-up feelings of the spectators found appropriate expression in a general shout.
As Colonel Lewis Washington came out I hastened to him with my congratulations, and to my inquiry:
"Lewis, old fellow, how do you feel?"
He replied, with characteristic emphasis:
"Feel! Why, I feel as hungry as a hound and as dry as a powder-horn; for, only think of it, I've not had anything to eat for forty odd hours, and nothing better to drink than water out of a horse-bucket!"
He told me that when Lieutenant Green leaped into the engine-house, he greeted him with the exclamation: "God bless you, Green! There's Brown!" at the same time pointing out to him the brave but unscrupulous old fanatic, who, having discharged his rifle, had seized a spear, and was yet in the half-kneeling position he had assumed when he fired his last shot. He said, also, that the cut which Green made at Brown would undoubtedly have cleft his skull, if the point of his sword had not caught on a rope, which of course weakened the force of the blow; but it was sufficient to cause him to fall to the floor and relax his hold upon the spear, which, by the way, I took possession of as a relic of the raid.
Within the engine-house one of Brown's party was found lying dead on the floor, and another (Watson Brown) was stretched out on a bench at the right-hand side of the door, and seemed to be in a dying condition. John Brown himself had been brought out and was then Iying on the grass; but so great was the curiosity to see him that the soldiers found some diffculty in keeping back the crowd, and Colonel Lee consequently had him removed to a room in an adjoining building, strictly guarded by sentinels, where, shortly afterward, I had an interview with him, the particulars of which have remained distinctly impressed upon my memory.
On entering the room where he was I found him alone, lying on the floor on his left side, and with his back turned toward me. The right side of his face was smeared with blood from the sword-cut on his head, causing his grim and grizzly countenance to look like that of some aboriginal savage with his war-paint on. Approaching him, I began the conversation with the inquiry:
"Captain Brown, are you hurt anywhere except on your head?"
"Yes, in my side,-here," said he, indicating the place with his hand.
I then told him that a surgeon would be in presently to attend to his wounds, and expressed the hope that they were not very serious. Thereupon he asked me who I was, and on giving him my name he muttered as if speaking to himself:
"Yes, yes,-I know now,-member of Congress-this district."
I then asked the question:
"Captain, what brought you here?"
"To free your slaves," was the reply.
"How did you expect to accomplish it with the small force you brought with you?"
"I expected help," said he.
"Where, whence, and from whom, Captain, did you expect it?"
"Here and from elsewhere," he answered.
"Did you expect to get assistance from whites here as well as from the blacks?" was my next question.
"I did," he replied.
"Then," said I, "you have been disap- pointed in not getting it from either?"
"Yes," he muttered, " I have-been- disappointed."
I then asked him who planned his movement on Harper's Ferry, to which he replied: "I planned it all myself," and upon my remarking that it was a sad affair for him and the country, and that I trusted no one would follow his example by undertaking a similar raid, he made no response. I next inquired if he had any family besides the sons who had accompanied him on his incursion, to which he replied by telling me he had a wife and children in the State of New York at North Elba, and on my then asking if he would like to write to them and let them know how he was, he quickly responded:
"Yes, I would like to send them a letter."
"Very well," said I, "you will doubtless be permitted to do so. But, Captain," I added, "probably you understand that, being in the hands of the civil authorities of the State, your letters will have to be seen by them before they can be sent."
"Certainly," said he.
"Then, with that understanding," con- tinued I, " there will, I'm sure, be no objections to your writing home; and although I myself have no authority in the premises, I promise to do what I can to have your wishes in that respect complied with."
"Thank you-thank you, sir," said he, repeating his acknowledgment for the proffered favor and, for the first time, turning his face toward me.
In my desire to hear him distinctly I had placed myself by his side, with one knee resting on the floor; so that, when he turned, it brought his face quite close to mine, and I remember well the earnest gaze of the gray ye that looked straight into mine. I then remarked:
"Captain, we too have wives and children. This attempt of yours to interfere with our slaves has created great excitement, and naturally causes anxiety on account of our families. Now, let me ask you: Is this failure of yours likely to be followed by similar attempts to create disaffection among our servants and bring upon our homes the horrors of a servile war?"
"Time will show," was his significant reply. Just then a Catholic priest appeared at the door of the room. He had been administering the last consolations of religion to Quinn the marine, who was dying in the adjoining office; and the moment Brown saw him he became violently angry, and plainly showed, by the expression of his countenance, how capable he was of feeling "hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness."
"Go out of here-I don't want you about me-go out!" was the salutation he gave the priest, who, bowing gravely, immediately retired. Whereupon I arose from the floor, and bidding Brown good-morning, likewise left him.
In the entry leading to the room where Brown was, I met Major Russell, of the marine corps, who was going in to see him, and I detailed to him the conversation I had just had. Meeting the major subsequently he told me that when he entered the apartment Brown was standing up-with his clothes unfastened -examining the wound in his side, and that as soon as he saw him he forthwith resumed his former position on the floor; which incident tended to confirm the impression I had already formed, that there was a good deal of vitality left in the old man, notwithstanding his wounds,-a fact more fully developed that evening after I had left Harper's Ferry for home, when he had his spirited and historic talk with Wise, Hunter, and Vallandigham.
Between the time of his raid and his execution I saw Brown several times, and was sitting near him in the court-room when sentence of death was pronounced upon him, during which he was apparently the least interested person present. Of course, I did not witness his execution, as I had seen quite enough of horrors at Harper's Ferry, little dreaming of those, ten thousand times more terrible, which I was yet to witness as among the results of the John Brown raid.
Alexander R. Boteler
The Capture of John Brown by Israel Green
This account originally appeared in The North American Review, December 1885:
At noon of Monday, October 18,1859, Chief Clerk Walsh, of the Navy Department, drove rapidly into the Washington Navy-yard, and, meeting me, asked me how many marines we had stationed at the barracks available for immediate duty. I happened to be the senior officer present and in command that day. I instantly replied to Mr. Walsh that we had ninety men available, and then asked him what was the trouble. He told me that Ossawatomie Brown, of Kansas, with a number of men, had taken the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and was then besieged there by the Virginia State troops. Mr. Walsh returned speedily to the Navy Department building, and, in the course of an hour, orders came to me from Secretary Tousey to proceed at once to Harper's Ferry and report to the senior officer; and, if there should be no such officer at the Ferry, to take charge and protect the government property. With a detachment of ninety marines, I started for Harper's Ferry that afternoon on the 3:30 train, taking with me two howitzers. It was a beautiful, clear autumn day, and the men, exhilarated by the excitement of the occasion, which came af ter a long, dull season of confinement in the barracks, enjoyed the trip exceedingly.
At Frederick Junction I received a dispatch from Colonel Robert E. Lee, who turned out to be the army officer to whom I was to report. He directed me to proceed to Sandy Hook, a small place about a mile this side of the Ferry, and there await his arrival. At ten o'clock in the evening he came up on a special train from Washington. His first order was to form the marines out of the car, and march from the bridge to Harper's Ferry. This we did, entering the enclosure of the arsenal grounds through a back gate. At eleven o'clock Colonel Lee ordered the volunteers to march out of the grounds, and gave the control inside to the marines, with instructions to see that none of the insurgents escaped during the night. There had been hard fighting all the preceding day, and Brown and his men kept quiet during the night. At half-past six in the morning Colonel Lee gave me orders to select a detail of twelve men for a storming party, and place them near the engine-house in which Brown and his men had intrenched themselves. I selected twelve of my best men, and a second twelve to be employed as a reserve. The engine-house was a strong stone [actually brick] building, which is still in a good state of preservation at the Ferry, in spite of the three days' fighting in the building by Brown and his men, and the ravages of the recent war between the States. The building was . . . perhaps thirty feet by thirty-five. In the front were two large double doors, between which was a stone abutment. Within were two old-fashioned, heavy fire-engines, with a hose-cart and reel standing between them, and just back of the abutment between the doors. They were double-battened doors, very strongly made, with heavy wrought-iron nails.
Lieutenant J.E.B. Stewart [Stuart], afterwards famous as a cavalry commander on the side of the South, accompanied Colonel Lee as a volunteer aid. He was ordered to go with a part ot the troops to the front of the engine-house and demand the surrender of the insurgent party. Colonel Lee directed him to offer protection to Brown and his men, but to receive no counter-proposition from Brown in regard to the surrender. On the way to the engine-house, Stewart and myself agreed upon a signal for attack in the event that Brown should refuse to surrender. It was simply that Lieutenant Stewart would wave his hat, which was then, I believe, one very similar to the famous chapeau which he wore throughout the war. I had my storming party ranged alongside of the engine-house, and a number of men were provided with sledge-hammers with which to batter in the doors. I stood in front of the abutment between the doors. Stewart hailed Brown and called for his surrender, but Brown at once began to make a proposition that he and his men should be allowed to come out of the engine-house and be given the length of the bridge start, so that they might escape. Suddenly Lieutenant Stewart waved his hat, and I gave the order to my men to batter in the door. Those inside fired rapidly at the point where the blows were given upon the door Very little impression was made with the hammers, as the doors were tied on the inside with ropes and braced by the hand-brakes of the fire- engines, and in a few minutes I gave the order to desist. Just then my eye caught sight of a ladder, Iying a few feet from the engine-house, in the yard, and I ordered my men to catch it up and use it as a battering-ram. The reserve of twelve men I employed as a supporting column for the assaulting party. The men took hold bravely and made a tremendous assault upon the door. The second blow broke it in. This entrance was a ragged hole low down in the right-hand door, the door being splintered and cracked some distance upward. I instantly stepped from my position in front of the stone abutment, and entered the opening made by the ladder. At the time I did not stop to think of it, but upon reflection I should say that Brown had just emptied his carbine at the point broken by the ladder, and so I passed in safely. Getting to my feet, I ran to the right of the engine which stood behind the door, passed quickly to the rear of the house, and came up between the two engines. The first person I saw was Colonel Lewis Washington, who was standing near the hose-cart, at the front of the engine-house. On one knee, a few feet to the left, knelt a man with a carbine in his hand, just pulling the lever to reload.
"Hello, Green," said Colonel Washington, and he reached out his hand to me. I grasped it with my lef t hand, having my saber uplif ted in my right, and he said, pointing to the kneeling figure, "This is Ossawatomie."
As he said this, Brown turned his head to see who it was to whom Colonel Washington was speaking. Quicker than thought I brought my sbaer down with all my strength upon his head. He was moving as the blow fell, and I suppose I did not strike him where I intended, for he received a deep saber cut in the back of the neck. He fell senseless on his side, then rolled over on his back. He had in his hand a short Sharpe's- cavalry carbine. I think he had just fired as I reached Colonel Washington, for the marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes. The shot might have been fired by some one else in the insurgent party, but I think it was from Brown. Instinctively as Brown fell I gave him a saber thrust in the left breast. The sword I carried was a light uniform weapon, and, either not having a point or striking something hard in Brown's accouterments, did not penetrate. The blade bent double.
By that time three or four of my men were inside. They came rushing in like tigers, as a storming assault is not a play-day sport. They bayoneted one man skulking under the engine, and pinned another fellow up against the rear wall, both being instantly killed. I ordered the men to spill no more blood. The other insurgents were at once taken under arrest, and the contest ended. The whole fight had not lasted over three minutes. My only thought was to capture, or, if necessary, kill, the insurgents, and take possession of the engine-house. I saw very little of the situation within until the fight was over. Then I observed that the engine-house was thick with smoke, and it was with difficulty that a person could be seen across the room. In the rear, behind the left-hand engine, were huddled the prisoners whom Brown had captured and held as hostages for the safety of himself and his men. Colonel Washington was one of these. All during the fight, as I understood afterward, he kept to the front of the engine-house. When I met him he was as cool as he would have been on his own veranda entertaining guests. He was naturally a very brave man. I remember that he would not come out of the engine-house, begrimed and soiled as he was from his long imprisonment, until he had put a pair of kid gloves upon his hands. The other prisoners were the sorriest lot of people I ever saw. They had been without food for over sixty hours, in constant dread of being shot, and were huddled up in the corner where lay the body of Brown's son and one or two others of the insurgents who had been killed. Some of them have endeavored to give an account of the storming of the engine-house and the capture of Brown, but none of the reports have been free from a great many misstatements, and I suppose that Colonel Washington and myself were the only persons really able to say what was done. Other stories have been printed by people on the outside, describing the fight within. What they say must be taken with a great deal of allowance, for they could not have been witnesses of what occurred within the engine-house. One recent account describes me as jumping over the right-hand engine more like a wild beast than a soldier. Of course nothing of the kind happened. The report made by Colonel Lee at the time, which is now on file in the War department, gives a more succinct and detailed account than any I have seen.
I can see Colonel Lee now, as he stood on a slight elevation about forty feet from the engine-house, during the assault. He was in civilian dress, and looked then very little as he did during the war. He wore no beard, except a dark mustache, and his hair was slightly gray. He had no arms upon his person, and treated the affair as one of no very great consequence, which would be speedily settled by the marines. A part of the scene, giving color and life to the picture, was the bright blue uniform of the marines. They wore blue trousers then, as they do now, and a dark- blue frock-coat. Their belts were white, and they wore French fatigue caps. I do not remember the names of the twelve men in the storming party, nor can I tell what became of them in later life. We had no use for the howitzers, and, in fact, they were not taken from the car.
Immediately after the fight, Brown was carried out of the engine-house, and recovered consciousness while lying on the ground in front. A detail of men carried him up to the paymaster's office, where he was attended to and his wants supplied. On the following day, Wednesday, with an escort, I removed him to Charleston [Charles Town], and turned him over to the civil authorities. No handcuffs were placed upon him, and he supported himself with a self-reliance and independence which were characteristic of the man He had recovered a great deal from the effects of the blow from my saber, the injury of which was principally the shock, as he only received a flesh wound. I had little conversation with him, and spent very little time with him.
I have often been asked to describe Brown's appearance at the instant he lifted his head to see who was talking with Colonel Washington. It would be impossible for me to do so. The whole scene passed so rapidly that it hardly made a distinct impression upon my mind. I can only recall the fleeting picture of an old man kneeling with a carbine in his hand, with a long gray beard falling away from his face, looking quickly and keenly toward the danger that he was aware had come upon him. He was not a large man, being perhaps five feet ten inches when he straightened up in full. His dress, even, I do not remember distinctly. I should say that he had his trousers tucked in his boots, and that he wore clothes of gray-probably no more than trousers and shirt. I think he had no hat upon his head.
None of the prisoners were hurt. They were badly frightened and somewhat starved. I received no wounds except a slight scratch on one hand as I was getting through the hole in the door. Colonel Lee and the people on the outside thought I was wounded. Brown had, at the time, only five or six fighting men, and I think he himself was the only one who showed fight af ter I entered the engine-house. There were no provisions in the building, and it would have been only a question of time when Brown would have had to surrender. Colonel Washington was the only person inside the house that I knew.
I have been asked what became of Brown's carbine. That I do not know. My sword was left in Washington, among people with whom I lived, and I lost trace of it. A few years ago, after having come out of the war and gone west to Dakota, where I now live, I received a letter from a gentleman in Washington, saying that he knew where the sword was, and that it was still bent double, as it was left by the thrust upon Brown's breast. He said that it was now a relic of great historic value, and asked me to assent to the selling of it upon the condition that I should receive a portion of the price of the weapon. To me the matter had very little interest, and I replied indifferently. Since then I have heard nothing of the matter. I presume the saber could be found somewhere in Washington.
The Mauzy Letters on John Brown's Raid
HARPERS FERRY RESIDENTS GEORGE AND MARY MAUZY DESCRIBED THE EVENTS of John Brown's Raid in a series of emotion-packed letters to their daughter and son-in-law, James and Eugenia Burton, who were then living in England. James Burton had served as machinist, foreman, and Acting Master Armorer at the Harpers Ferry Armory between 1844-1854.
To Eugenia Burton, Enfield, England
October 17, 1859
Oh my dear friend such a day as this. Heaven forbid that I should ever witness such another.
Last night a band of ruffians took possession of the town, took the keys of the armory and made Captive a great many of our Citizens. I cannot write the particulars for I am too Nervous. For such a sight as I have just beheld. Our men chased them in the river just below here and I saw them shot down like dogs. I saw one poor wrech [sic] rise above the water and some one strike him with a club he sank again and in a moment they dragged him out a Corpse. I do not know yet how many are shot but I shall never forget the sight. They just marched two wreches [sic] their Arms bound fast up to the jail. My dear husband shouldered his rifle and went to join our men May god protect him. Even while I write I hear the guns in the distance I heard they were fighting down the street.
I cannot write any more I must wait and see what the end will be. —M.E. Mauzy
To Eugenia Burton, Enfield, England
October 18, 1859
This has been one of the saddest days that Harper's Ferry ever experienced. This morning, when the armorers went to the shops to go to work, lo and behold, the shops had been taken possession of by a set of abolitionists and the doors were guarded by Negroes with rifles. —George Mauzy
To Mr. & Mrs. James H. Burton
December 3, 1859
My dear Children:
Well the great agony is over. "Old Osawatomie Brown" was executed yesterday at noon – his wife came here the day before, & paid him a short visit, after which she returned here under an escort, where she and her company remained until the body came down from Charlestown, in the evening, after which she took charge of it and went home.
This has been one of the most remarkable circumstances that ever occurred in this country, this old fanatic made no confession whatever, nor concession that he was wrong, but contended that he was right in everything he done, that he done great service to God, would not let a minister of any denomination come near or say anything to him, but what else could be expected from him, or anyone else who are imbued with "Freeloveism, Socialism, Spiritualism," and all the other isms that were ever devised by man or devil.
There is an immense concourse of military at Charlestown, not less than 2000 men are quartered there, the Courthouse, all the churches & all the Lawyers offices are occupied. We have upwards of 300 regulars & 75 or 80 Montgomery Guards. These men were all sent here by the Sec. of War & Gov. Wise to prevent a rescue of Brown & his party by northern infidels and fanatics: of which they boasted loudly, but their courage must have oozed out of their finger ends, as none made their appearance. We are keeping nightly watch, all are vigilant, partys of 10 men out every night, quite a number of incendiary fires have taken place in this vicinity & County, such as grain stacks, barns & other out-buildings. —George Mauzy