John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
10,395
Location
East Texas
#1
Harpers Ferry on the Potomac
126.JPG

The Potomac River seen from The Point where the Shenandoah flows in from the right; Maryland Heights is at left.

October 15 - 18 marks the 155th anniversary of a seminal event in the coming of the Civil War, the raid by abolitionist John Brown and his tiny so-called Provisional Army of the United States on the small manufacturing community of Harpers Ferry, ( then ) Virginia. Their targets were the United States Armory and Arsenal and nearby Hall Rifle Works in order to seize weapons with which to arm the slave revolt Brown believed would occur once his presence and purpose became known.

Harpers Ferry had been selected by President George Washington as the site for the armory for the manufacture of muskets and later rifles because it was well inland from possible foreign incursion and on the Potomac where it penetrated the Blue Ridge and had considerable force with which to operate the necessary machinery. The location had been settled as early as the French and Indian War period; Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that the view from the rock below which bears his name was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic."

200.JPG


Jefferson Rock and the view that Jefferson was so enamored with, below. The stone supports were added to stabilize the rock by one of the superintendents of the U. S. Armory in the antebellum period.

196.JPG


Since the town that grew up around Robert Harper's ferry and the subsequent armories and arsenal where guns were stored was in a gorge, building spaces were at a premium; there were only three main streets in the small town: Potomac Street and Shenandoah Street which paralleled the rivers of those names; and Washington Street, which as it neared The Point between them split into High Street and Clay Street. Below is a row of buildings between High and Clay streets.

194.JPG


195.JPG


Many of the buildings were perched on rocks and terraces, like the ruin of the Episcopal Church above which was used as a hospital during the Civil War. The Catholic Church below has fared better and is still used for services, though its appearance was much altered following the war into the Gothic style seen today.

129.JPG


Next, Enter John Brown.
 
Last edited:

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
10,395
Location
East Texas
#2
The Kennedy Farm
152.JPG


John Brown did not simply barge into Harpers Ferry; instead, he followed a carefully laid ( if grievously flawed! ) plan, largely hatched here in the Maryland countryside at the farm of the late Dr. R. F. Kennedy which Brown had rented for $35 in gold. At first, only his daughter Annie and son Oliver and Oliver's wife Martha lived here, in order to avert suspicion; but they were soon joined by other individuals and small groups of two or three men, including John Brown and others of his numerous sons. Eventually there were nearly twenty persons crammed into the small house and its few outbuildings.

153.JPG


Brown himself arrived in the area July 3, 1859, and while he plotted, most of the other members of his "army" tried to keep quiet and hidden from sight during the days. As might be expected in such cramped quarters, they began to get on each other's nerves and disagreements occurred. While the men ate their meals in the main room, Annie and Martha kept a lookout in case any nosy neighbors suddenly appeared. Before the raid, Annie and Martha were sent away for their own safety, but when the time came, three of the men were left behind here to continue loading weapons into a wagon.

151.JPG


Finally, after much plotting and bickering among the restive "soldiers", Brown announced that the night of Oct. 15, 1859, they would begin the long-awaited raid. Weapons included Sharps rifles with which each man was armed; and a wagon-load of pikes Brown had contracted for back in Kansas but had only finished paying for in the spring of that year. About 8 pm they left the farm for the last time, Brown riding in the wagon and his men marching behind it the five miles south towards Harpers Ferry.
 
Last edited:

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
10,395
Location
East Texas
#3
John Brown's Raid
125.JPG

The famous guardhouse and fire engine house grandiosely known as John Brown's Fort has stood in no fewer than four locations in and around Harpers Ferry: its original location on the grounds of the U. S. Armory is across the street from its present location near the Point and tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, but by the time it was moved to this hopefully final location, a railroad embankment was built over the first and much of the site of the armory itself. In between, it had been torn down to be exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair; when it returned, it was briefly on the Murphy-Chambers Farm before being moved to the grounds of Storer College on Camp Hill where I first saw it in the 1960's.

When Brown and his followers arrived, they crossed the Potomac on the B&O Railroad bridge, taking control of it and stopping at least one train on its way to Baltimore. Foolishly, Brown ordered it released when dawn broke, and its crew gave the warning when they arrived at Monocacy Junction; soon militiamen were hurrying from as far away as Shepherdstown, Frederick, Winchester, and even Baltimore. There was another wagon bridge near the postwar pilings below which led across the Shenandoah to Loudon Heights. Brown divided his party, sending three men down Shenandoah Street to capture the nightwatchman at the Hall Rifle Works.

127.JPG


Other members of his band rounded up several local citizens to be held as hostages. One party was sent several miles west to the farm of Col. Lewis Washington, grand-nephew of George Washington, who owned one of his ancestor's pistols presented to him by Lafayette and a sword said to have been given to him by Frederick the Great. Brown wanted these trophies to give credence to his role as Liberator. On the way back, the group stopped at the nearby Allstadt House on South Schoolhouse Ridge whose ruins are seen below, adding its owner to Washington and his heirlooms and liberating several more slaves who were likewise brought along as "enlistees" in Brown's army.

209.JPG


Meanwhile, back in Harpers Ferry itself the first blood had been shed when one of Brown's men shot and mortally wounded the first victim, ironically a free Negro named Heyward Shepherd who was an employee of the B&O Railroad. His monument, erected jointly by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans, is a lightning rod today for those who object to the promotion of the idea that Brown and his men were common terrorists, as suggested by the monument. Whether justified or not, it serves to demonstrate that as with our current crop of modern-day terrorists, Brown was a fanatic to whom the lives of individuals were suborned to the greater objective. He had issued orders that lives were to be spared, but Shepherd's fate didn't seem to worry him overmuch. Shepherd was tended for a while before he died by his friend and employer Fontaine Beckham who was also the town mayor.

128.JPG


Mayor Beckham foolishly exposed himself while trying to get a better view of what was going on in the Armory grounds, when he was struck and killed by a rifle ball. His death sent the growing number of townsmen into a rage and they soon began to exact revenge, killing one of the raiders who they had captured under a flag of truce. High Street below dead-ended at the arsenal buildings where completed guns were stored and became a battlefield as growing numbers of armed militiamen began to arrive, driving Brown and his followers and their captives into the tiny engine house near the Armory main gate. At least forty citizens had been made hostage, but many of them were rescued by a rush of militia around dusk of the 16th. Eleven of the most prominent like Washington and Allstadt were still held by the raiders in the one room of the "fort" they continued to occupy along with two of Brown's sons who lay dying.

144.JPG


Whatever his intentions, by noon of Oct. 17, Brown had attempted in vain to negotiate his escape in return for the release of his prisoners; the Hall works had been recaptured and its three captors killed, and those remaining on the Maryland side whose job had been to bring the pikes witnessed the failure of the raid and themselves had fled, as had the two inside the armory buildings who mingled with the crowd and made their escape. The arrival of ninety U. S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. J. E. B. Stuart around 11pm merely clinched the fate of Brown and his remaining followers, few of whom remained uninjured. Lee replaced the rowdy militiamen with Marines and waited until morning provided light enough to attack and free the remaining hostages. When morning came, Col. Lee offered the opportunity of storming the engine house to the commanders of the Maryland and Virginia militia, by now numbering in the hundreds, but they each declined, saying it was the business of the Marines.

124.JPG


When Stuart approached the engine house carrying a white flag he was at last able to see and confirm that the leader of the raiders was indeed his old adversary from Bleeding Kansas, John Brown. With the expected failure of negotiations, Stuart jumped aside waving his hat as a signal for the Marines to begin their assault. Using a convenient ladder as a battering ram they soon broke down the door; Marine Lt. Israel Greene was the first man inside. One of his Marines named Luke Quinn was killed but the others soon subdued the raiders using bayonets only in order to avoid harming any of the hostages; Brown was felled by several strokes from Greene's smallsword that gave him nasty head and neck wounds, and two of his men were bayonetted. Inside was like a charnel house; of Brown's entire party, ten had been killed, five were captured, and only four escaped; on the other side, four townsmen, freedman Shepherd, and Pvt. Quinn were also dead. An additional two of the escaped raiders were subsequently captured in Pennsylvania and returned to Virginia for trial with Brown and the others.

Next, John Brown's trial and execution.
 
Last edited:

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
10,395
Location
East Texas
#5
Trial at Charles Town
134.JPG

Today, the Jefferson County Courthouse where the trial was held looks almost exactly the same as it did 150 years ago.

Now with Brown and four of his men securely in Federal hands, President James Buchanan lost no time in ridding himself of the problem by offering them to Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, who just as gladly accepted. It was realized that Brown had operated with financial backing from the North, so a speedy trial was planned in case any plot to rescue the raiders was found to be underway. Each of the raiders was charged with treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia, fomenting slave insurrection, and murder, and each plead not guilty and requested a separate trial. Brown's trial was scheduled first, and began Oct. 27, in the nearby courthouse at Charles Town, only ten miles from Harpers Ferry; it lasted only 3 1/2 days.

137.JPG


Rejecting his court-appointed lawyers' suggestion of an insanity plea which might have saved his life, Brown also dismissed the two Virginia attorneys, trusting instead to three lawyers sent by friends in the North. The trial degenerated predictably into what for the time became a media circus for the few days it lasted. During the trial, Brown for most of the time lay on a cot, still incapacitated by the wounds he had received. Unsurprisingly, after only 45 minutes' deliberation the jury rendered a guilty verdict on all three charges. On Nov. 2, presiding Judge Richard Parker sentenced Brown to be hanged exactly one month later on Dec. 2, 1859. Subsequent trials of the remaining six raiders were equally swift and predictable in their outcomes.

136.JPG
 
Last edited:

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
10,395
Location
East Texas
#6
The Hanging of John Brown
130.JPG


The morning of Dec. 2, 1859, John Brown was led from his cell in the jail at Charles Town and seated in the rear of a wagon upon his own coffin and driven to the outskirts of town to a field in which a scaffold had been erected. Crowds of spectators were kept back by units of Virginia militia; in one company from Richmond was actor John Wilkes Booth. At the foot of the scaffold stood two companies from the Virginia Military Institute led by one of their professors, Major Thomas J. Jackson. In the watching crowd was Virginia agriculturist and rabid secessionist Edmund Ruffin, who would later claim to have fired the first shot of the Civil War at Ft. Sumter.

131.JPG


Brown mounted the scaffold unassisted and waited while preparations were completed, commenting to the executioner, "Be quick." At 11:30 am, the trap was sprung and Brown seemingly died instantly. A watching colonel of the militia said, "So perish all such enemies of Virginia! All such enemies of the Union! All such enemies of the human race!" Before his death, Brown had left his own postscript on the affair in the form of a letter written to his guards:

Charlestown, Va, 2,d December, 1859

I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.


132.JPG


Now in a pleasant residential area only four blocks from the Jefferson County Courthouse where he had been tried, the site is well-marked and nicely kept.

133.JPG
 
Last edited:
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Messages
9,596
#12
Great thread, James!

Private Luke Quinn, USMC monument at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia

View attachment 49621
Yo, Bill,
I am beginning to wonder if there is ANYTHING related to the Civil War or its participants that you haven't photographed! You sure do get around! I think I can speak for many others when I say that I sure appreciate your contributions, too.
Pat
 

Buckeye Bill

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Joined
Jul 29, 2013
Messages
4,725
Location
Cincinnati, Ohio
#13
Yo, Bill,
I am beginning to wonder if there is ANYTHING related to the Civil War or its participants that you haven't photographed! You sure do get around! I think I can speak for many others when I say that I sure appreciate your contributions, too.
Pat
Thanks, Pat.....

My mom calls me her traveling fool! lolol

I still have a couple of spots to photograph and most of these sites are located in the state of North Carolina.

We will be touring these venues next May.

Bill
 

kholland

Captain
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 13, 2011
Messages
6,216
Location
Howard County, Maryland
#18
Harper's Ferry is a little gem of a town. So much history and beauty in one little corner of the world. If you haven't been there you should go.
I have always enjoyed this town, especially during the fall. Took a ghost tour some years ago and you almost expect to see John Brown riding through town. My wife and I saw the Antietam luminaries in December once and stopped off in town for a bite to eat. There were reenactors everywhere and it gave quite an ambiance.
 

James N.

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
10,395
Location
East Texas
#19
The Harpers Ferry Bureau of Tourism owes you one, James. Having seen your pictures, I must go there to visit and spend some money on food and lodging, etc.
Lodging can be something of a problem, owing to the ongoing limitation of space within the Historic District. My friend Mike and I stayed at an interesting place called Town's Inn which had been built in the 1840's and retained much charm but also a lot of problems, like the short walk down the hall to bathrooms! The greatest problem, however was parking: there was NO lot, and it was necessary to walk down a rather lengthy flight of outside wooden stairs to get to the parking spaces on Potomac Street, placed conveniently near the aromatic dumpsters of several nearby eateries. Other accommodations and several restaurants are available nearby in Charlestown or Bolivar, however.

121.JPG
 

Specster

Sergeant Major
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
Messages
2,015
Location
Mass.
#20
When people talk about, not wanting to kill someone for fear of them becoming a "Martyr" I always thought it was hogwash, but w/ JB it appears 2 have been true. When Lee stormed the firehouse he gave instruction of "No firearms" -bayonetts and blades only. Brown was sliced several times w/ an honorary Marduke blade - not ment for battle. Yet, he sutained some serious injuries. Once captured he was given wide access 2 the press and, at least 2 the North, after his trial and execution, he was a martyr. Really, prior 2 the war he did more than his share of killing in the west and 2 attack a federal armory and trying start an insurrection among slaves, are these noble pursuits? Fresh in the minds of southerners was an uprise 30 years hence in which over 50 women and children were killed in a short period of time. When his casket went North he was put in a new coffin and train and made what we would call today a whistle stop tour. Thousands came out to see him in his death. Yet, people even in the South incuding Lee held him in esteem for his charctor - which was said to be rife with Southern virtues. In the end, he was widely considered a hero. How do people, in general feel about that?? Im a little uncomfortable w/ his willingness to take the lives of non combatant, even if his cause was good.
 

Similar threads




(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top