John Brown's Raid
In the winter of 1857-58, John Brown, who had been a leader in and a promoter of lawlessness during the troubles in Kansas--undertaken, as he himself confessed, for the purpose of inflaming the public mind on the subject of slavery, that he might perfect organizations to bring about servile insurrections in the slave States----collected a number of young men in that territory, including several of his sons, and, with the use of funds and arms that had been furnished for his Kansas operations, placed these men under military instruction, by one of their number, at Springdale, in Iowa. In the spring of 1858 he took these men to Chatham, in Canada West, where, on the 8th of May, he assembled a "provisional constitutional convention," made up of those he brought with him and a number of resident free negroes. On the day of its assembling, this convention adopted a "provisional constitution and ordinances for the people of the United States," the preamble of which began: "Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion .... Therefore, we, citizens of the United States and the oppressed people who . . . are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect . . . ordain and establish for ourselves the following provisional constitution and ordinances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives and liberties, and govern our actions." On the 10th, after appointing a committee with full power to fill all the executive, legislative, judicial and military offices named in the constitution adopted, this convention adjourned, sine die, and Brown took his Kansas party to Ohio, where he disbanded them subject to call, but sending his Capt. John E. Cook, of Connecticut (who was subsequently executed), to stay at Harper's Ferry, Va., and make himself familiar with the surrounding country and its citizens, and especially with the negro slaves, for the information of his leader.
Brown, under the assumed name of Isaac Smith, appeared in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry about the 1st of July, 1859, and there is evidence to show that he extended his examination of the country for future strategic purposes, as far up the Shenandoah valley as Staunton, concealing his purposes by giving out that he was a farmer from New York, with his two sons and a son-in-law, desiring to rent or purchase land. Soon after his arrival at Harper's Ferry he rented the small Kennedy farm in Maryland, some four and a half miles from Harper's Ferry, where he did some little farming, and, to explain his secret movements, said he was accustomed to mining operations, and expected to find valuable mineral deposits in that mountain region. In the meantime he kept two or three of his party, under assumed names, at Chambersburg, Pa., who there received arms, ammunition. and other military stores, which had been collected for use in Kansas, and forwarded them from time to time to Brown's habitation.
On October 10, 1859, from "Headquarters War Department, Provisional Army, Harper's Ferry," John Brown, commander-in-chief, issued his "General Order No. I," organizing "the divisions of the provisional army and the coalition," providing for company, battalion, regiment, brigade and general staff organization. It is probable that at the time of issuing this order Brown had with him, at the Kennedy farm, his whole band of followers, including his spy Cook, and there formulated his final plans of invasion; and that soon thereafter he removed to a schoolhouse nearer Harper's Ferry, the hundreds of carbines, pistols, spears or pikes, and a quantity of cartridges, powder, percussion caps, and other military supplies, that he had gathered for arming the negroes when they rose to insurrection in response to his call and movements.
About 11 p.m., Sunday, October 16, 1859, Brown, accompanied by 14 white men from Connecticut, New York, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, Indiana and Canada, and 5 negroes from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, some 20 insurgents, all fully armed, crossed the Potomac into Virginia at Harper's Ferry, overpowered the watchmen at the Baltimore & Ohio railroad bridge, the United States armory and arsenal near the Baltimore & Ohio, and the rifle factory above the town on the Shenandoah, and placed guards at those points and at the street corners of the town. Brown established himself in the thick-walled brick building at the armory gate, one room of which was the quarters of the watchman and the other contained a fire-engine; he then sent six men, including the spy Cook, under Captain Stevens, to seize the principal citizens in the neighborhood and incite the negroes to rise in insurrection. This party broke into the house of Col. L. W. Washington, about five miles from Harper's Ferry, about 1:30 a. m. of the 17th, and forced him and four of his servants to accompany them to Harper's Ferry, he in his own carriage and followed by one of his farm wagons, which they seized. On their way back, at about 3 a.m., they captured Mr. Allstadt and six of his servants, placing arms in the hands of the latter. On reaching Harper's Ferry, Cook and five of the captured slaves were sent with Colonel Washington's four-horse wagon to bring forward the arms, etc., deposited at the schoolhouse in Maryland.
In the meantime Brown halted, for a time, an eastbound passenger train on the Baltimore & Ohio, one of his men killing the railroad guard at the bridge; he also captured, as they appeared on the streets in the early morning, some 40 citizens of Harper's Ferry, whom he confined, with Messrs. Washington and Allstadt, in one room of the gate or engine house which he had selected as his fort or point of defense.
News of these occurrences spread rapidly, and citizens and citizen soldiery, with arms, hastened from all the surrounding parts of Virginia and Maryland to resist this high-handed invasion of their homes and States. About 11 a.m., of the 17th, the Jefferson Guards, from Charlestown, arrived, soon followed by the Hamtramck and the Shepherdstown troop, from Shepherdstown, and Alburtis' company from Martinsburg. These, under the command of Col. R. A. Baylor, forced the insurgents within the armory enclosure, which they surrounded by a cordon of pickets. Brown then withdrew his men into the gate house, which he proceeded to loophole and fortify, taking with him ten of the most prominent of his Virginia and Maryland captives, which he termed "hostages," to insure the safety of his band. From openings in the building the insurgents fired upon all white people that came in sight.
After sunset of the 17th, Capt. B. B. Washington's company from Winchester, and three companies from Frederick City, Md., under Colonel Shriver, arrived; later came companies from Baltimore, under Gen. C. C. Edgerton, and a detachment of United States marines, commanded by Lieut. J. Green and Major Russell, accompanied by Lieut.-Col. R. E. Lee, of the Second United States cavalry (with his aide, Lieut. J. E. B. Stuart, of the First United States cavalry), who, happening to be at Arlington, his home, near Washington, had been ordered to take command at Harper's Ferry, recapture the government armory and arsenal, and restore order. Colonel Lee halted the Baltimore troops at Sandy Hook, about a mile and a half east of Harper's Ferry, directed the United States artillery companies (ordered from Fort Monroe) to halt in Baltimore, then crossed to Harper's Ferry with the marines, disposed them in the armory grounds so as to prevent the escape of the insurgents, and awaited dawn of the 18th before attacking Brown's stronghold, for fear of sacrificing the lives of the "hostages" in a midnight attack.
Soon after daylight of the 18th, after having posted the volunteer troops so as to completely invest the armory grounds, and prepared for an assault upon Brown's fort by the marines, Lee, under a flag by Lieutenant Stuart, made a written demand upon Brown to surrender himself, his associates and the prisoners they had taken, with the assurance that "if they will peaceably surrender themselves and restore the pillaged property, they shall be kept in safety to await orders of.the President .... That if he is compelled to take them by force he cannot answer for their safety." Stuart was instructed to receive no counter propositions from Brown, and to say that if they accepted the proffered terms they must immediately give up their arms and release their prisoners. As Lee expected, Brown spurned the offered terms of surrender. At a given signal to this effect from Stuart, Lee ordered forward twelve marines, led by Lieutenant Green, that he had put under cover near the engine-house, three of them supplied with sledge hammers to break in the doors, to attack Brown's party with bayonets, taking care not to injure the citizens held captive, nor the captured slaves unless they resisted. The storming party quickly attacked the doors, but Brown had barricaded them inside with the fire-engine and fastened them by ropes, so the sledges were of no avail. Lee then ordered forward reserves, with a heavy ladder for a battering ram, with which a portion of the door was dashed in and admission gained. Up to that time Brown's fire had been harmless, but at the threshold one marine was mortally wounded. The others quickly ended the contest, bayoneting the insurrectionists that resisted, Lieutenant Green cutting down Brown with his sword. The whole affair was over in a few minutes, and the captured citizens and slaves were released. A party of marines under Stuart was then sent to the Kennedy farm, which captured pikes (said to have been over 1,000), blankets, tools, tents, and other necessaries for a campaign, which Brown had there stored. A party of Maryland troops secured from the schoolhouse, where Brown had deposited them, boxes of carbines and revolvers, and the horses and wagon of Colonel Washington, which Brown had sent there to bring his military supplies to Harper's Ferry.
Colonel Lee in his official report to Col. S. Cooper, adjutant-general of the United States army, dated October 19th, stated, from information in papers taken from the insurgents and from their statements: "It appears that the party consisted of 19 men--14 white and 5 black. They were headed by John Brown, of some notoriety in Kansas, who in June last located himself in Maryland, at the Kennedy farm, where he has been engaged in preparing to capture the United States works at Harper's Ferry. He avows that his object was the liberation of the slaves of Virginia and of the whole South, and acknowledges that he has been disappointed in his expectations of aid from the black as well as the white population, both in the Southern and Northern States. The blacks whom he forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance. The servants... retained at the armory, took no part in the conflict . . . and returned to their homes as soon as released. The result proves the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which could only end in failure; and its temporary success was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers."
Lee, by order of Secretary of War John B. Floyd, turned over to the United States marshal and to the sheriff of Jefferson county, Va., Brown and two white men and two negroes. Ten of the white men and two of the negroes associated with Brown were killed during the combat with them; one white man, Cook, escaped, but was subsequently captured and executed; and one negro was unaccounted for. The insurgents killed three white men, Mr. F. Beckham, the mayor of Harper's Ferry, Mr. G. W. Turner, one of the first citizens of Jefferson county, and Private Quinn of the marine corps, and a negro railroad porter; they wounded eight white citizens and one of the marine corps. After this affair was over, great alarm was caused by a report, about sundown of the 18th, from Pleasant valley in Maryland, that a body of men had descended from the mountains. and was massacring the residents of that valley. Colonel Lee, though incredulous, promptly headed a body of marines and hastened to the locality named, only to find the alarm false. In concluding his report, Colonel Lee expressed his thanks to Lieutenants Stuart and Green and Major Russell "for the aid they afforded me, and my entire commendation of the conduct of the detachment of marines, who were at all times ready and prompt in the execution of any duty. The promptness with which the volunteer troops repaired to the scene of disturbance, and the alacrity they displayed to suppress the gross outrage against law and order, I know will elicit your hearty approbation." He enclosed to Cooper a printed copy of the provisional constitution and ordinances for the people of the United States, of which there was found a large number prepared for issue by the insurgents.
During the afternoon of October 18th, Gov. Henry A. Wise arrived at Harper's Ferry and took precautions for the protection of Virginia and the execution of her laws, Brown, having been turned over to the civil authorities of Jefferson county, was brought to trial at Charlestown on the following Thursday, October 20th, because on that day began the regular fall session of the circuit court. A grand jury indicted him upon the charges of treason and murder. His prosecution was conducted before an impartial judge and jury by Hon. Andrew Hunter; he was defended by able counsel from Virginia and other States, including Hon. D. W. Voorhees, of Indiana, and was condemned and convicted. His trial lasted nearly a month, and, as Brown himself admitted, was fair and impartial. He was condemned to be executed on the 2nd of December. His counsel asked the Virginia court of appeals for a stay of execution, on pleas presented, but this was refused.
After the condemnation of Brown and his associates, fearing from published threats that an attempt might be made by Northern sympathizers to rescue them, Governor Wise ordered Virginia troops to Charlestown to guard the prisoners until after their execution. Toward the last of November about 1,000 were there assembled, among them the cadets of the Virginia military institute, under command of Col. F. H. Smith, the superintendent. Maj. T. J. Jackson, the famous "Stonewall" Jackson of the war, was present in command of the cadet battery. He witnessed the execution of Brown about midday, December 2, 1859. In a letter to his wife he wrote of Brown, "he behaved with unflinching firmness," and of the execution: "My command was in front of the cadets, all facing south. One howitzer I assigned to Mr. Truehart, on the left of the cadets, and with the other I remained on the right. Other troops occupied different positions around the scaffold, and altogether it was an imposing but very solemn scene. I was much impressed with the thought that before me stood a man, in the full vigor of health, who must in a few moments enter eternity. I sent up the petition that he might be saved. Awful was the thought that he might in a few minutes receive the sentence, 'Depart, ye wicked, into everlasting fire!' I hope that he was prepared to die, but I am doubtful."
On the day of Brown's execution, bells were tolled and minute guns fired in many places in the North, and church services and public meetings were held for the purpose of glorifying his deeds and sanctifying the cause he represented, recognizing in him a martyr to the teachings of the abolitionists. Eventually his name became the slogan under which, as a battle hymn, the Northern troops invaded and overran the South.
In reference to Brown's invasion of Virginia, Hon. A. H. Stephens, in his history of the United States, says: "This act greatly inflamed the Southern mind, especially as it was lauded by the official authorities of those Northern States which had refused to comply with their obligations under the Constitution in the matter of the rendition of fugitive slaves."
It is interesting to note the men who appeared upon the scenes of these opening hostilities between the North and the South, and who subsequently became famous or celebrated characters in the great drama of the civil war. Among those who became Confederate generals were: S. Cooper, R. E. Lee, J. E. B. Stuart, John B. Floyd and Henry A. Wise; and among colonels, C. J. Faulkner and A. R. Boteler. In the committee of the United States Senate, appointed by resolution of December 14, 1859, to inquire into the facts attending this invasion, were Hons. Jefferson Davis and J. M. Mason, and this committee had before it as witnesses, Hons. W. H. Seward, J. R. Giddings, Henry Wilson and Andrew Hunter. John A. Andrews, of Massachusetts, secured funds to pay Brown's counsel.
Source: The Confederate Military History, Volume 3, Chapter II. Volume written by Jed. Hotchkiss
This Page last updated 11/22/03
|JEB Stuart At John Brown's Raid||Great little read taken from "The Life and Campaigns of Major General JEB Stuart, CSA.|