Saturday, October 17, 2009

John Brown's Raid, Part II

The town was secured. The midnight shot fired from the bridge by Oliver Brown at Patrick Higgins failed to rouse the suspicions of citizens quietly asleep in their homes. Brown waited at the Armory for his ‘captains’ Stevens and Cook to return with their hostages.

The Eastbound Train
At 1:25 A.M. the eastbound Baltimore Express passenger train arrived from Wheeling. Brown stepped out to the gate and the raiders watched the train as it passed the Armory grounds and slowed down in front of the loading dock at the Wager House. Conductor A. J. Phelps noticed the watchman was missing at the bridge and mentioned it to the engineer. He was about to continue over when Patrick Higgins, the wounded relief watchmen, excitedly warned Phelps that he was been attacked by men with rifles on the bridge. A railroad man, soon brought a light, and accompanied by a passenger and baggage porter Shephard Hayward proceeded down the track to investigate. The train followed slowly behind. When Phelps spotted four rifles leaning against a railing he ordered the engineer to reverse the train and back away from the bridge. Something was wrong.

While the train backed away the three men continued to the bridge. A voice from the shadows shouted “Halt!” Hayward, a large man, 6 feet tall with considerable strength, turned and ran back toward the loading platform at the hotel. The men on the bridge fired at him, one of them blasting Hayward in the back. The big porter reeled toward the loading platform shouting to Phelps, “Captain I’m shot.” Phelps and Patrick Higgins helped Hayward back to the loading platform. Then the conductor started for the doctor’s house. A railroad clerk named Throckmorton went with him. One of the raiders ran out of the bridge over to the Armory gate.

“There he goes now!” Phelps shouted.

Throckmorton aimed his rifle and fired. He missed. Two raiders at the Armory immediately fired back. For a few minutes Throckmorton exchanged shots with the invaders. Then Phelps and the clerk walked back to the railroad office. One of the parties on the bridge came out and said, “You can come over the bridge with your train.”

Phelps replied, “I would rather not, after these proceedings,” and asked, “What do you want?”

The raider answered, “We want liberty, and we intend to have it.”

“What do you mean?” asked Phelps.

“You will find out in a day or two;”

Suspecting sabotage, Conductor Phelps decided to wait until daylight before taking his train across the bridge.

Dr. John D. Starry heard the shots and Hayward’s painful moans through the bedroom window of his home not far away. He quickly dressed and hurried to the Wager House.

The doctor tended to Hayward as best he could. The bullet had entered Hayward in the back and come out below his left breast. Starry pronounced him ‘beyond medical help.’ Hayward lingered in agony until midday before he died. It is often pointed out that the first casualty of Brown’s raid to free the slaves was a free black man who lived and worked in Harper’s Ferry.

The train passengers observed the bridge and principal street corners were occupied by armed sentinels wrapped in blankets that were stationed or walking up and down. The worried passengers rumored about a railroad labor strike or pay roll robbery.

Both Dr. Starry and Conductor Phelps turned their attention to the strangers at the Armory gate. Phelps went to the rear of the train to observe them. Dr. Starry also tried to discern their motives. He told the worried passengers crowded in the station waiting-room that he would go to the Armory gate to see what was happening. There, he was challenged but did not get the information he sought. He was probably mistaken for a train passenger and told to wait with the others. He returned to the bridge and tried talking with the 3 raiders there but to little effect. Like Phelps he spent the rest of the night observing the invaders.

At 3 a.m. Brown released a prisoner to tell Conductor Phelps to move his train over the bridge. Phelps refused, again stating he would wait till daylight.

Cook & Tidd return with Hostages

About 4 a.m. hoof-beats and wagon wheels clattered down the street to the Armory gate. It was Cooke and Stevens returning with their prisoners. Col. Washington’s carriage was followed by his large wagon with Brown’s wagon behind. Washington reported: “We drove to the Armory gate. The person on the front seat of the carriage said: ‘All’s well;’ and the reply came from the sentinel at the gate, ‘All’s well.’ The gates were opened, and I was driven in and was received by old Brown. He did not address me by name, but said: ‘You will find a fire in here, sir; (nodding to the guard house) it is rather cool this morning.’  (Original site of the Armory, and Engine House, taken by Craig Swain)

When the large wagon with Allstadt pulled up his son remembered, “As we drove inside the Armory yard, there stood an old man. “This is John Brown,” said Stevens. Then he handed out pikes to our Negroes telling them to guard us carefully, “Keep these white men inside.”

“On entering the armory, said Washington, “I found some eight or ten persons, who recognized me. We were seated together and conferring, when the old man, whom we found by this time to be Brown, after asking our names, said, “It is now too dark to write, but when it is sufficiently light, if you have not paper and pens, I will furnish you, and I require that you shall each write to your friends to send a negro man apiece as ransom.”

Later Brown said, “I shall be very attentive to you, sir, for I may get the worst of it in my first encounter, and if so, your life is worth as much as mine. My particular reason for taking you first was that, as the aid to the Governor of Virginia, I knew you would endeavor to do your duty, and perhaps you would have been a troublesome customer to me; and apart from that, I wanted you particularly for the moral effect it would give our cause having one of your name, as a prisoner.”

The slaves who were told they were now free seemed confused. Many were reluctant to take the pikes. This reaction was important and may have effected Brown’s decision making later on. He expected the slaves to immediately revolt when given the chance. The reaction was tepid at best, although one of Col. Washington’s slaves was described as ‘fighting like a tiger’ when the violence broke out. One author states Brown was in a part of the south were slaves were primarily domestic help, better treated than the cotton workers in the Deep South. It was also a region with a smaller percentage of slaves and more anti-slavery sentiment than other parts of the south.

With his important hostages in hand and the town secure, Brown waited for his army of volunteers to appear. John Cooke was ordered into Maryland to capture Terrence Byrnes and his brother, slave holding neighbors of the Kennedy farm. Their slaves were to join the revolt. Then Cooke and Tidd were to help the three men left back at the Kennedy Farm, transport arms and supplies to the little school-house two miles from the Ferry. This was selected as the fall-back position for the raiders were arms would be distributed to those who joined his cause. The band of freedom fighters would then flee into the mountains.

Before leaving, Cooke entered the engine house to warm himself. The night was cold and he was chilled to the bone. Both Conductor Phelps and Dr. Starry noticed Cook’s squad cross the Potomac Bridge about 5 a.m. Cooke was driving Col. Washington’s large wagon with three men holding pikes riding along. Two men with rifles walked along side. They crossed the bridge and disappeared into Maryland.

As daylight neared Brown sent a messenger to the Wager House to barter for some food. In exchange for 45 breakfasts, for the hostages and men, he would release bartender ‘Uncle Watty’ Kemp captured earlier that morning. Kemp was not flattered at the price of his ransom being “20 breakfasts.” When the food was delivered few captives were interested. Lewis Washington and John Allstadt refused to eat thinking the hotel employees might have drugged it. After Brown’s man placed the order Conductor Phelps left the hotel to discern the meaning of this new development.

A raider directed him to their leader. “There is ‘Capt. Smith’ he can tell you what you want to know.”

At the engine-house the guard called to ‘Capt. Smith’ that somebody wanted to see him.
Brown appeared, and Phelps asked if he was in charge. Brown answered yes.
Phelps asked if he could cross the bridge, but Brown peremptorily responded, “No, Sir.” Irritated, Phelps pressed him, “What did you mean by stopping my train?”

Brown replied, “Are you the conductor on that train? I sent you word at 3 o’clock that you could pass.”

“After being stopped by armed men on the bridge I would not pass with my train.”

Brown then apologized and promised Phelps he would not be hurt. “It was not my intention that any blood should be spilled, it was bad management on the part of the men in charge of the bridge.”

Conductor Phelps was still dubious and asked Brown to walk with him over the bridge ahead of the train. Brown agreed.

Letting the train go was against the wishes of the most experienced raider, Aaron Stevens. Stevens argued with Brown that the conductor would raise a general alarm, but Brown expected to be miles away in the mountains with hundreds of ‘recruits’ before anything could be done to stop them.

About 5:30 the conductor was given 5 minutes to start his train. Just before the train left, Brown mounted one of the cars and told the passengers to go off quietly and quickly, and none of them should be hurt; but there was no telling what would be the consequence if they prolonged their stay. They were very glad to hear this, and started at once.

When a passenger attempted to accompany Phelps and Brown across the bridge he was ordered back into the train, or everyone would be taken prisoner. Brown and Phelps crossed the bridge in the cool morning fog, both men armed with rifles. The train followed close behind. Phelps noticed Brown's three armed sentries were still in place. Once across Brown said to Phelps, “You doubtless wonder that a man of my age should be here with a band of armed men, but if you knew my past history you would not wonder at it so much.”

Phelps bid good-morning to Brown, hopped onto the train and sped off toward Monocacy; the first stop with a working telegraph.

With the departure of the train the raid deteriorated rapidly.

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