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