Thursday, October 29, 2009

John Brown's Raid, Part V

Of the resources I’ve discovered, I’d recommend the book “John Brown, 1800-1859” by Oswald Garrison Villard, Houghton Mifflin, 1910; as the best objective detailed and accurate source for the Harper’s Ferry Raid.

When John W. Garrett, President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, got news of the raid the morning of the 17th he wired President Buchanan to send troops.  President Buchanan dispatched the militia of Frederick, Md., at once, then summoned Lieutenant-Colonel Robert E. Lee of the 2nd US Cavalry to Washington, from his home at Arlington. The only troops in Washington were 90 US Marines at the Navy Yard, commanded by Lieutenant Israel Green.  Buchanan ordered them to the Ferry. Buchanan informed Garrett of the deployments, but Garrett doubted the President had sent enough men to suppress the raiders reported to number 700 insurgents.  At 1:30 the President and the Secretary of War, met  with brevet Colonel Lee and ordered him to proceed to the Ferry to command all troops.  James Ewell Brown Stuart, or ‘Jeb’ Stuart, of the 1st US Cavalry was assigned as Col. Lee’s aide.  The two men left Washington by special train in the afternoon and rolled toward Harper’s Ferry.

Captain Thomas Sinn
At dusk the marines were still en route, but three companies of Frederick Militia had arrived, commanded by Colonel Robert Baylor.  More militia arrived in the night; a company from Winchester, Va. and 5 companies from Baltimore that bivouacked at Sandy Hook a mile from the Ferry.  In the early evening Captain Thomas Sinn of the Frederick Militia went to the engine house to talk with Brown, who was still using the alias ‘Captain Smith.’  Brown retreated to the building the afternoon of the 17th during his battle with local militia.  His small band of followers and captives were exhausted.  Brown repeated his demands for safe passage across the river.

He complained to Captain Sinn his men had been shot down like dogs in the street while carrying flags of truce.  Sinn indignantly replied that men who take up arms in such a way must expect to be shot down like dogs.  Brown replied that “he knew what he had to undergo before he came there, he had weighed the responsibility and should not shrink from it.”  Brown said his terms deserved consideration for he had treated his captives well, refrained from massacring citizens when he had the power to do so, and that his men did not shoot any unarmed citizens.  Captain Sinn informed Brown that Mayor Beckham was unarmed when killed.  For this, Brown expressed deep regret.  Brown mentioned the mortal wounds of his two sons.  His talk impressed Capt. Sinn who went to the Wager House and sent surgeon Dr. Taylor to the engine house to tend to young Watson Brown’s wounds.  The Dr. told John Brown he would return in the morning to follow up with the patient.

Captain. Sinn noted his disgust with the citizens about town, many hopelessly drunk, shouting threats and firing guns into the air.  He found several men taunting the severely wounded prisoner Aaron Stevens, leveling guns in his face and threatening to shoot him dead. But there was a mysterious power of will about Stevens who bravely lay motionless and stared down his tormentors.  Capt. Sinn drove the mob from the room shouting “if this man could stand on his feet with a pistol in his hand, you would all jump out of the window.”

Escape of Anderson & Hazlett
Two of the raiders made a miraculous escape from Harper’s Ferry. Osborne Anderson and Albert Hazlett had been posted by Brown at the Federal Arsenal building on the Ferry Lot.  During the afternoon they must have quietly hid out somewhere in the building.  Anderson claimed they escaped on Tuesday but that would have been impossible. It is generally believed they snuck out of the building at nightfall when all eyes were on the engine house.  From there Anderson wrote, they made their way along the Shenandoah River until they could climb the hill above the town. They laid low for another 3 hours.  Then they returned to town and found a boat along the Potomac River and crossed into Maryland.  The escape was an incredible accomplishment considering the number of troops and excitement in town.  They did make their way back to the Kennedy Farm from where they might track down their friends.

Night-time at the Engine House
There was no light over at the engine house, all was intensely dark.  The cold air chilled the inhabitants; some sprawled on the floor with painful wounds, others leaned against cold walls anxiously waiting the grey dawn.  Writer Oswald Garrison Villard described the scene, “Near his brother Watson lay quietly breathing his life away. Stuart Taylor shot like Oliver in the doorway of the engine house lay dead near by. There were left alive and unwounded but 5 men, J.G. Anderson, Dauphin Thompson and Shields Green,   Edwin Coppoc, and John Brown.”

Over in a corner, Oliver Brown was moaning in intense pain, begging his father to shoot him and end the suffering.   After repeated requests Brown coldly replied “Oh you will get over it, and if you must die, die like a man”

So Oliver suffered in silence. His father called to him after a time. No answer. “I guess he is dead,” said Brown.

Prisoner John E. P. Dangerfield spoke with Brown in the night, telling him he had committed treason against the country in the name of his cause.  Two of Brown’s men overheard this and asked their Captain if this was true.  “Certainly,” Brown replied.   Somehow this surprised the two raiders and they both exclaimed “If that is so, we don’t want to fight any more. We thought we came to liberate the slaves and did not know that that was committing treason.”  But it didn’t matter now, they were both killed in the morning.  The tired raiders had not slept for over 60 hours.  From time to time John Brown broke the silence of the night and called out, “Men are you awake!”

The Marines Arrive
Col. Lee’s train met up with Lt. Green’s Marines at Sandy Hook, Md. at 11 p.m.  They immediately marched to the town a mile away.  Lee closed all the saloons. The marines supervised the militia guarding the engine house.  At 2 A.M. Lee conveyed his plan of attack to Stuart.  Terms of surrender would be tendered to the raiders at dawn.  Expecting them to be refused, a signal would launch a team of handpicked men to storm the engine house and break open the doors.  Bayonets were to be used in the attack to protect the prisoners.  The storming party was cautioned to carefully distinguish the raiders from the hostages.

During the early morning hours Lee offered the honor of leading the attack to Colonel Shriver, of the Frederick Militia.  Shriver refused noting his men had families at home. He told Lee “I will not expose them to such risks.  You men are paid for doing this kind of work.”  Colonel Baylor also declined the honor for the same reasons. Lt. Green of the marines however, gladly accepted the honor of “taking those men out” as Lee put it.  Tipping his hat Lt. Green gave Col. Lee his sincerest thanks.

Taking the Engine House
At dawn, in front of 2,000 spectators, Col. Lee, dressed in civilian clothes, stood on a slight elevation 40 feet away and commanded the proceedings.  Lt. Jeb Stuart approached the engine house and summoned Brown.  The door opened four inches.  Brown leaned into the crack clutching a cocked carbine in his hands.  Stuart immediately recognized ‘Capt. Smith’ as Osawatomie Brown of Kansas.  Stuart presented Col. Lee’s terms:

“Headquarters, Harper’s Ferry,
October 18, 1859

Colonel Lee, United States army, commanding the troops sent by the President of the United States to suppress the insurrection at this place, demands the surrender of the persons in the armory buildings.

If they will peaceably surrender themselves and restore the pillaged property, they shall be kept safely to await the orders of the President.  Colonel Lee represents to them, in all frankness, that it is impossible for them to escape, that the armory is surrounded on all sides by troops; and that if he is compelled to take them by force he cannot answer for their safety.

Colonel Commanding United States Troops.”

 The parlay was a long one.  Brown repeatedly argued his case in different ways, but in the end all the same; safe passage for his armed men and their hostages across the river.  Stuart refused.  The hostages pleaded with Stuart to bring forth Col. Lee.  Stuart refused, anxiously anticipating the moment to signal Green to attack.  He assured the citizens and Brown that Col. Lee would never accede to any terms but those offered.

Then Stuart stepped to one side and waved his hat.   Twelve marines led by Lt. Green and Major W. W. Russell charged the engine house. Three men smashed at the heavy doors with sledge hammers.

Inside Brown remained cool and calm. “He felt the pulse of his dying son with one hand and held his rifle with the other,” said Col. Washington.  “Sell your lives dearly,” he instructed his men.

Spotting a heavy ladder nearby, Lt. Green ordered his men to use it as a battering-ram.  The second blow splintered a small ragged hole in the lower part of the right hand door.  Brown emptied his carbine, and his men fired too.  The blasts did no harm.  Green immediately crawled through the small opening.  “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 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.”  (photo by Craig Swain; 150th anniversary re-enactment).

“This is Osawatomie,” said Col. Washington, calmly pointing to Brown.

To paraphrase author Oswald Garrison Villard:
“Green sprang at Brown lunging at him with his light sword and brought him to his knees.  The sword bent double in stinging Brown’s belt or a bone; taking the bent weapon in both hands, Green showered blows upon Brown’s head, which laid him flat and brought the blood.”  Witnesses thought Brown’s skull was split.

Private Luke Quin followed Lt. Green through the hole in the door.  A shot fired and brought him down.  The man behind Luke was shot in the face.  The rest jumped over their fallen comrades in no mood for mercy. Lt. Green said, “They came rushing in like tigers… They bayoneted one man skulking under the engine and pinned another against the rear wall.  … 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 lasted not over three minutes.”


The eleven prisoners “were the sorriest lot of people I ever saw.  They had been without food for over 60 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,” said Green.

An accident of chance saved Brown’s life. When Lt. Green rushed from his quarters to leave for the Ferry the previous day, he had strapped on his light dress sword by mistake. His regulation sword would have killed Brown.  “The flimsiness of his blade permitted his enemy to live to thrill half a nation by his spoken and written word,” so wrote Villard.

Brown was carried to the armory paymaster’s office where his wounds were tended and found not to be as serious as they appeared.  The bodies of those killed in the fort were lined up outside the armory. Jerry Anderson who had been pinned against the wall didn’t die immediately. He vomited blood and writhed in pain on the brick outside the engine house. His face and body were kicked by angry spectators.  A farmer walked past him, disappeared a while then returned.  The farmer said “It takes you a hell of a long time to die.”  Then he spit a wad of tobacco into Anderson’s face.   Another raider’s body was stuffed into a too small barrel and taken away by some men to a medical school in Winchester.

Watson Brown was made comfortable but was beyond medical help. He lingered 20 hours before dying.  Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, and Shields Green were prisoners and would stand trial with their leader.

The Ones That Got Away
Of the seven raiders who escaped Harper’s Ferry, Albert Hazlett was captured. He and Osborne Anderson traveled together directly north from the Kennedy Farm on main roads until Hazlett claimed the blisters on his feet were slowing them down. He urged Anderson to go ahead.  Anderson made his way to safety. Hazlett was captured at Newville, PA, Oct. 22nd and sent to Charlestown, Va. to stand trial with the others.  John E. Cook, Charles, Tidd, and the 3 men who remained at the Kennedy Farm during the raid, had proceeded on a north westerly course through the mountains hoping to reach Western, PA.  Cooke had been successful in obtaining food for the party at a farmhouse, but when he boldly tried a second time in Chambersburg, PA, he was recognized and captured for the $1,000 reward money on his head.  His captors came to like Cook, and regretted their actions, but it was too late.  He also was sent to Charlestown to stand trial.  Five escaped.

Henry A. Wise, Governor of Virginia arrived at the Ferry after the Engine House was captured.  He met with Brown and upon his return to Richmond said of him:

“And they are themselves mistaken who take him to be a madman. He is a bundle of the best nerves I ever saw cut and thrust and bleeding and in bonds. He is a man of clear head, of courage, fortitude and simple ingeniousness. He is cool, collected indomitable, and it is but just to him to say that he was humane to his prisoners as attested to me by Colonel Washington and Mr. Mills, and he inspired me with great trust in his integrity as a man of truth. He is a fanatic, vain and garrulous, but firm, truthful and intelligent. His men, too, who survive, except the free negroes with him, are like him.”

At his trial, Brown’s eloquent speech and calm demeanor captured a nation.  Before he was executed he prophesied: “All of you people of the south, prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question. You may dispose of me very easily, I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled – this negro question I mean.  The end of that is not yet.”

The day of his execution he handed his jailor a prophetic note:
 “I John Brown am 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 verry much bloodshed it might be done.”

End Note
The raid foreshadowed the Civil War.  Two years later, in September, 1861, 16 men of Company I, 13th Massachusetts Volunteers, would appropriate the bell of the Engine House to send home as a souvenir of their visit to Harper's Ferry and the famous landmark, 'John Brown's Fort.'

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

John Brown's Raid, Part IV

The purpose of detailing John Brown’s Raid on this blog is to define for readers what happened at Harper’s Ferry and why the bell from the Engine House was such a significant symbol to the men of Company I, 13th Massachusetts who secured it in 1861 and eventually brought it home to Marlborough.

By 10 A.M. the morning of October 17th, armed citizens were taking pot-shots at the raiders in town. At mid-day the first militia companies arrived and drove Brown’s men from the 2 bridges they were holding. Watson Brown and Stuart Taylor abandoned the Shenandoah Bridge near Hall’s Rifle Factory and ran to join Brown’s main force on the Ferry Lot in the lower town. This left Brown’s captain John Henri Kagi with his two men at Halls Rifle works cut off and surrounded. All morning Kagi, and Aaron Stevens, Brown’s two most experienced military captains had urged Brown to retreat across the Potomac. Brown hesitated and no one really knows why. Many credit his hesitation to disappointment over the reactions of the ‘freed’ slaves to his raid. All morning he confidently asserted to Conductor Phelps and his captives, that he expected as many as 1500 men to flock to his rebellion. At mid morning Will Thompson and Will Leeman returned from the rendezvous point in Maryland, and reported none had come so far. When pikes were distributed at the Armory to slaves ‘freed’ by the raiders, the response was tepid. Witnesses reported the slaves were confused and even fearful when Brown asked them if they had ever heard of ‘Ossawatomie Brown.”. Col. Washington’s coachman Jim, however, took whole-heartedly to the rebellion and fought like a tiger. Whatever the reason, Brown’s waffling was fatal. By noon it was too late to retreat from the town; the raiders were surrounded.

The Charlestown militia formed three companies on Boliver Heights above the town and strategically deployed to surround the raiders. The first company, Captain William H. Moore commanding, crossed the Potomac in skiffs a mile west of the town and hurried down the Maryland side of the river to capture the Potomac Bridge; Will Thompson, Oliver Brown, and Dangerfield Newby were driven out. The second company under Capt. Botts came down Boliver Heights and took possession of the Shenandoah Bridge. The raiders guards Watson Brown and Stuart Taylor fled to the Armory Grounds. Bott’s militia then proceeded north to the Galt Saloon, near the Potomac Bridge and the Wager House (train station). The third company of militia commanded by Captain John Avis took positions in the houses and hills along High street across from the Armory Grounds.

Dangerfield Newby is Killed

Raiders Oliver Brown and Will Thompson escaped from the Potomac Bridge amidst a hail of shot. Their comrade Dangerfield Newby was killed leaving the bridge. A sharpshooter’s shot from the direction of High Street struck him in the neck creating an unusually large and ghastly wound. He died instantly. Newby had joined Brown’s raid with the dream of liberating his wife and children; slaves living about 30 miles south of Harpers Ferry.

Rumors spread that the raiders were abolitionists. Angry citizens dragged Newby’s dead body into an alley and horribly mutilated it. A Maryland journalist wrote his ears were cut off and his genitals. The crowd poked sticks into the wounds, kicked the corpse and shoved the body into a gutter where wandering hogs devoured it with gusto.

Meanwhile Brown calmly readied his men to resist the coming charge of the militia crossing the bridge. With the sword of Frederick the Great strapped to his side Brown lined his men in the Street, and walked amongst them giving orders, “Men be cool. Don’t waste your powder and shot, take aim and make every shot count. The troops will look for us to retreat on their first appearance be careful to shoot first.”

Osborne Anderson, the one raider who survived, continued to describe the scene:
“The troops soon came out of the bridge and up the street facing us, we occupying an irregular position. When they got within 60 or 70 yards Brown said ‘Let go upon them!’ We did when several fell. From marching in solid columns they became scattered, left several dead on the field and beat a retreat to bridge.”

Will Thompson is Captured
Following the brief stand off Capt. Moore’s company retreated to the Bridge and the Wager House; Brown’s men rallied near the Armory gate. With his escape route blocked Brown determined to negotiate. He sent out a messenger to request a cease fire and safe passage to Maryland. About 12:30 Raider Will Thompson accompanied by hostage Rezin Cross approached Captain Moore on the Potomac Bridge under a white flag of truce. Cross was to negotiate on behalf of his captors. The militiamen ignored the flag of truce, freed Cross, captured Thompson and confined him to a 2nd story room at the Wager House. Meanwhile Brown’s messenger sent to Kagi at Hall’s Rifle Works was cut off en route. He was going to tell Kagi to hold on for just a little longer. But it was too late for Kagi and his men.

Watson Brown is Mortally Wounded
After a while Brown wondered what had happened to Thompson and Cross. Archibald Kitzmiller, acting Armory Superintendent, and one of Brown’s prisoners offered to investigate. Brown accepted and sent Kitzmiller out to parlay under another flag of truce. Raiders Aaron Stevens and Watson Brown accompanied Kitzmiller. But the citizens were in no mood to negotiate. They hollered for Kitzmiller to step aside and peppered the raiders with bullets. Watson Brown was shot in the bowels. He dragged himself back to the engine house where he eventually bled to death hours later. Stevens dropped seconds later shot twice by Saloon Keeper George W. Chambers; once in the side and once in the breast. The citizens would have served Stevens the same way as Newby where it not for the interventions of one of Brown’s captives. Mr. Brua ran out and pleaded that Stevens life be spared. His efforts saved the badly wounded raider who was carried to the Galt Saloon and given medical attention. Mr. Joseph Brua returned to Brown.

William Leeman is Killed
William Leeman, age 20, Brown’s youngest soldier, had had enough of the raid and wanted to get away. He convinced Brown he could swim the Potomac and get a message to Cooke to hurry along with reinforcements. At about one o’clock he attempted to cross the river just above the Potomac Bridge. He was spotted and a dozen shots were fired at him as he ran toward the river. A witness described his death. “He partially fell, but rose again, then threw away his gun, drew his pistols and tried to shoot, but both of them snapped. He then unsheathed his bowie-knife, cut off his accoutrements, and plunged into the river. George Schoppart, one of the Virginia militia waded in after him.” Frantically seeking safety Leeman reached a rock in the river then turned and threw up his hands to surrender. “Don’t shoot!” Schoppart ignored Leeman’s plea and deliberately shot Leeman in the face. He “blew it into bloody fragments.” Leeman’s body remained on the rock all afternoon and was repeatedly riddled with bullets, serving as target practice for individuals and whole companies of militia.

Shoot Out at the Rifle Factory
About the same time Leeman was killed Kagi’s party at Hall’s Rifle Works met their end. Between 200 and 300 men armed with Sharps Rifles and revolvers, took up strategic positions around the Factory. One party of militia under Captain Henry Medler crossed the Shenandoah Bridge and took up positions facing the Rifle Factory on the Loudon side of the river. Another group posted near the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. Dr. Starry organized and sent forward a party to storm the rifle works under command of a young man named Irwin. At the first fire, Henri Kagi, Lewis Leary and John Copeland scrambled out the back door of the building and ran toward the Winchester & Potomac Railroad. They climbed up onto the railroad bed but were turned back by the militia posted there. They headed for a large flat rock in the stream. Not less than 400 shots were fired upon them. Kagi went down in the river, killed instantly, his body floated away. Lewis Leary was mortally wounded, shot in the breast and the stomach. Copeland made it to the rock and tried to shoot James M. Holt who was following after him. But his gun was wet and wouldn’t fire. Holt tried to shoot Copeland but his gun was also wet. Trapped, Leary surrendered just as Holt clubbed him with a pistol. Copeland was dragged ashore where an angry mob prepared to lynch him. Dr. Starry rode up and positioned his horse between Copeland and the mob to prevent the hanging. The Dr. continued to keep the crowd back until police arrived and escorted Copeland to a safer place. Leary was brought ashore and taken away a prisoner. Leary lingered 12 hours from his painful wounds before dying.

Death of George Turner and Mayor Beckham
As if the wild, hollering, uncontrolled, half drunken militia men hanging out at the Wager House and Galt House saloons needed more encouragement, the death of two prominent citizens roused them into a vengeful fury. Two armed men were standing in the midst of High Street when two raiders suddenly appeared around the corner and fired. A bullet struck George W. Turner in the neck. Turner, a very respected land owner had come to town after getting news of the raid and the capture of his friend Col. Lewis Washington. He was in the act of aiming his rifle from a porch fence when hit. It was thought by many that he was struck by accident because of the irregular path of the bullet. Turner died 45 minutes later. One of the bystanders, Mr. John McClean fired at Brown’s retreating men. His bullet struck the cartridge box of one of them, igniting a fireworks display as the man crossed the armory gate. Another esteemed citizen was killed soon after this.

Harper’s Ferry kindly and popular Mayor, Fontaine Beckham, was a magistrate, B&O railroad agent and best friend to Shephard Hayward, the porter shot on the bridge the previous night. All morning, from his railroad ticket office Beckham warned citizens to stay out of harms way until the danger had passed. In the meantime he looked after Hayward who died at noon. The death grieved him very much. About 3 o’clock, against his friends wishes he decided to see for himself the town’s invaders at the Armory. He crept along the railroad trestle towards a water tower opposite the engine house. To Edwin Coppoc sitting in the doorway of the watch-house, a small room adjoining the fire-engine room, Beckham appeared to be maneuvering for a position to shoot. Brown’s 18 year old prisoner Thomas Allstadt reported, ““Now Mr. Beckham went behind the water tank and began peering around its corner, as it might be to take aim. If he keeps on peeking, I’m going to shoot,” said Coppoc from his seat in the doorway. I stood close by him. Mr. Beckham peeked again and Coppoc fired but missed. “Don’t fire, man, for Gods sake! They’ll shoot in here and kill us all,” shrieked the prisoners from behind . But Coppoc was already firing again. This shot killed Beckham. Undoubtedly he would not have been fired upon but for his equivocal appearance. Coppoc fired no more from the watch-house, in fact no one remained in sight.”

Oliver Brown is Mortally Wounded
No one was visible from the watch-house but in the engine room next door, Oliver Brown spied someone peering over the stone wall of the railroad trestle carefully aiming a rifle. Oliver raised his gun and fired from the half open doorway, but was instantly struck in the abdomen by the sniper’s bullet. He sprawled on the floor with a painful mortal wound that would keep him in agony for 12 hours.

The Mob’s Revenge; Thompson is Executed
Coppoc’s shot killed Mayor Beckham instantly. The enraged half-drunken crowd at the bridge took their revenge on captured raider Will Thompson. Saloon Keeper George Chambers and Beckham’s nephew, Henry Hunter, led an angry mob to the 2nd story room of the Wager House were Thompson was confined. They barged into the room and leveled their guns at Thompson. Miss Christina Fouke, the hotel owner’s sister, threw herself in front of Thompson and begged them not to shoot, “Leave him to the laws, ” she pleaded. Thompson was seized by the throat and dragged from the room. ‘Though you may take my life, 80,000 will rise up to avenge me,” he exclaimed, “and carry out my purpose of giving liberty to the slaves.”

Chambers and Hunter carried Thompson to the railroad trestle, put their pistols to his head and fired. Before his body hit the ground it was riddled with bullets. His corpse was shoved into the river and pelted with more bullets. Like Will Leeman’s body on the rock in the Potomac, Will Thompson’s body in water near the bridge was used as target practice the rest of the day. Historian James Barry reported Thompson’s ghastly corpse could be seen at the bottom of the river for a day or two after the raid.

The crowd stomped to the Galt Saloon to serve prisoner Aaron Stevens the same way. But something unexplainable kept them back. One account says it was Stevens’s powerful, defiant stare. Another version said Stevens’ severe wounds spared him the wrath of the mob.

Mayor Beckham’s untimely death freed 5 slaves. He had purchased slave Isaac Gilbert, his wife and 3 children for the purpose of liberating them. He was amidst the legal process of doing so when killed. His will set them free.

Martinsburg Militia Attack the Engine House

Directly following Beckham’s shooting a swift and bloody attack from the west drove the rest of Brown’s men into the engine house for keeps. Captain E. G. Alburtis advanced his Martinsburg Militia, mostly B&O Railroad employees, from the rear of the armory grounds towards the engine house cutting off Brown’s last escape route. A few men from Harper’s Ferry and Charlestown joined the assault.

Most of Brown’s hostages were confined, unguarded, in the small watch-room which took up 1/3 of the structure. Brown herded eleven select prisoners into the adjoining fire engine room. He told them “Gentlemen perhaps you wonder why I have selected you from the others. It is because I believe you to be more influential; and I have only to say now, that you will have to have precisely the same fate that your friends extend to my men.”

The militia, armed with shot-guns and pistols, charged the raiders at close range. The outnumbered insurgents defiantly fought back with Sharps Rifles. During the fight Capt. Alburtis’s men discovered the prisoners in the unguarded watch-room. Several men ran to the building, smashed open the windows and called forth thirty to forty hostages who fled to safety. Overwhelmed, Browns insurgents were all driven into the adjoining fire engine room. They barred the doors and cut holes in the masonry to fire their rifles. Bullets pelted the side of the building and the doors, glass shattered into the room but the raider’s constant fire proved too deadly for Capt. Alburtis, who fell back with heavy casualties. Eight of his party received dangerous and bloody wounds during the scrape.

Alburtis said, “Had the other companies come up we could have taken the engine house then. Immediately after we drew off, there was a flag of truce sent out to propose terms which were that they sought to be permitted to retire across the river with their arms, and I think proceed as far as some lock on the canal, there to release their prisoners. These terms were not acceded to, and having understood that the US Marines and a number of troops from Baltimore were on their way, nothing further was done except to establish guards all around to prevent the desperadoes from escaping. We had a small piece of cannon, which we proposed to bring to bear on the engine house but were directed not to do so on account of endangering the prisoners.”

The flag of truce may have been carried by Mr. Israel Russel, one of Brown’s captives, who according to Joseph Barry, volunteered to negotiate a late afternoon cease fire between the insurgents and the militia. Mr. Russell did not return to captivity.

Following Alburtis’s attack two companies from Shepherdstown arrived and took positions near the Shenandoah Bridge.

Cooke and Tidd
Back in Maryland at the schoolhouse, John Cooke heard the shooting at the Ferry and became anxious for his friends. At 4 o’clock Charles Tidd returned from the Kennedy Farm with the second wagon load of arms to be unloaded. With Tidd present to guard the schoolhouse Cooke and a black companion hurried towards the town, two miles distant, to investigate. He met some friends at the lock house a mile below the Ferry who told him the raiders were all hemmed in and several had been shot. They warned Cooke he would be shot if he returned there. Cooke left the lock house and hurried down the road where he met 2 boys who repeated the warning. Troops from Charlestown, Martinsburg, Hagerstown and Shepherdstown had surrounded the raiders. This information panicked Cooke’s black companion who returned to the schoolhouse to inform Tidd of the dire situation at the Ferry.

Cooke continued toward Harper’s Ferry, then climbed the hill opposite the town to get a good look at the situation. He peered across the river and saw men on High Street firing down upon Brown’s men at the Armory. To draw their attention, Cooke climbed a tree, carefully aimed his Sharps Rifle and fired. His shot had the desired effect. The men on High Street redirected their fire at Cooke ½ mile across the river. For a few minutes the guns blazed away at each other until a bullet suddenly severed the branch Cooke was leaning on. He fell 15 feet and crashed to the ground. Cut and bruised he limped back to the school house to re-join Tidd and the other 3 raiders that had remained in Maryland. With their friends beyond help these men returned to the Kennedy Farm and planned their escape. The slaves they had liberated soon deserted them.

As the sun set, Colonel Robert W. Baylor arrived at Harper’s Ferry from Frederick, Maryland with 3 regular militia companies, the first uniformed troops on the scene. Col. Baylor assumed command of all the militia.

As night fell the regular militia picketed the engine-house. A citizen, Samuel Strider tied a handkerchief to his umbrella and delivered a summons to John Brown to surrender. Brown’s reply requested safe passage for his men and hostages, with all their arms, their horse and harness, across the river, at which point he would release his prisoners. Col. Baylor denied Brown’s request refusing to allow any hostages to be moved out of town.

At dark the militia waited for the arrival of the Marines steaming towards Harper’s Ferry on a special train sent from Washington. The raiders settled down in the cold dark engine house to await their fate.

October 17th was a bloody day. October 18th would be a bloody morning.

Monday, October 19, 2009

John Brown's Raid, Part III

The intention of these posts on John Brown's raid was to describe each days event on the anniversary of the actual raid. Unfortunately, after beginning, I found the different accounts of the raid so confusing, and contradictory that it became nearly impossible to give a reliable blow by blow description. I have forged ahead however, using many older sources that quote eye witnesses to the raid. I've tried to reconstruct the events in logical order. Many have tried before me. So the reader is forewarned. I apologize in advance for any discrepancies that come to light.

Part III
The Baltimore Express rolled across the railroad bridge and out of Harper’s Ferry around 6 A.M. The early morning light also spurred Dr. John Starry into action. Since Shephard Hayward’s shooting in the night, Dr. Starry was hanging around the Ferry Lot trying to discover the invaders intentions. With the dawn’s light he decided it was time for action. He went to the Gault House and encouraged the men to alert neighbors and gather up arms. He testified later, “I had sent a messenger to Charlestown in the meantime for Capt. Rowan, commander of a volunteer company there. I also sent messengers to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to stop the trains coming east, and not let them approach the Ferry, and also a messenger to Shepherdstown.”

He mounted his horse and rode to Archibald Kitzmiller’s house, acting superintendent of the Armory. After warning Kitzmiller, he rode up to Boliver Heights, the town above the Ferry. Like Paul Revere he rode on through the town rousing citizens from house to house. His next stop was down the hill to Hall’s Rifle works. He observed armed men on the property and boldly spurred his horse closer for a better look. At 25 yards he noticed three armed guards hovering about the grounds. He started back to the Ferry to assemble a citizen militia.

At 7 a.m. the Baltimore Express rolled into Monocacy. Conductor Phelps wasted no time wiring William Prescott Smith, Master of Transportation for the railroad, of the danger at Harper’s Ferry. “About 150 “armed Abolitionists” had taken Harper’s Ferry, killed the porter, and intended to liberate the slaves. They say they have come to free the slaves and intend to do it at all hazards. The leader of those men requested me to say to you that this is the last train that shall pass the bridge either East or West. If it is attempted it will be at the peril of the lives of those having them in charge… It has been suggested you had better notify the Secretary of War at once. The telegraph wires are cut East and West of Harper’s Ferry and this is the first station that I could send a dispatch from.” After sending the message Phelps steamed toward his next stop. Smith’s reply would anger him.

Back in the town, Mr. Alex Kelly came to the corner of High and Shenandoah Streets to take a shot at the raiders. It was a bit before 7 a.m. But, no sooner had he turned the corner that two shots were fired at him, one knocked off his hat. Next up, Thomas Boerly a local grocer came to the corner with the same purpose. Boerly fired at the party standing about the Arsenal Gate. One of the raiders crouching behind the fence fired back tearing a ghastly wound in Boerly’s groin. Boerly collapsed in a pool of blood. He died a few hours later.

Just after Boerly was shot Dr. Starry arrived on Camp Hill and ordered the bells of the Lutheran Church to be rung to assemble a crowd. It was found that a shortage of weapons would delay any action that could be taken by the citizens against the raiders. Brown’s men controlled the arsenal building and the armory. The only weapons found so far were a couple squirrel guns and some shotguns. ‘Keep looking’ must have been the order at hand, as Dr. Starry decided to ride himself to Charlestown 8 miles distant, to hurry the advance of Captain Rowan’s militia to Harper’s Ferry.

The morning hours were the quiet before the storm. The ringing of the Lutheran Church bell and the coming of daylight increased Kagi’s anxiety down at Hall’s Rifle Works. It must have been excruciating to wait endlessly for orders from Brown with the town astir, and no plan of action. Via messengers Kagi urged a retreat across the river. Brown counseled patience and according to Osborne Anderson, (a raider who survived Harper’s Ferry) re-enforcements were sent to Kagi. This report is corroborated by Master Machinist Daniel J. Young who arrived for work at the rifle works and found 4 or 5 armed men at the gate instead of the familiar watchman, Samuel Williams.

A fierce looking man denied Young’s admittance and informed him, “he had got possession of the Rifle Works by authority from the Great Jehovah and that their mission was to free the slaves.”

Young replied, “If you derive your authority from the Almighty I must yield as I get my right to enter only from an earthly power – the government of the United States. I warn you, however, that before this day’s sun shall have set, you and your companions will be corpses.” Machinist Young then turned away from the gate to alert others arriving for work.

At the Arsenal they were taking prisoners. The first to arrive for work was James Darrell, the bell ringer. His position made it necessary that he arrive early. He was arrested at the Armory gate. Others that followed were gobbled up including Armistead Ball, Master Machinist; Benjamin Mills, Master Armorer; and John P. Daingerfield, armory clerk. Acting superintendent Archibald Kitzmiller was also captured.

Joseph Barry, a chronicler of Harpers’ Ferry history relates a humorous personal story. After the raiders had stopped taking prisoners, (having all they could manage) Barry unwisely strolled to the Armory gate out of curiosity. There he was greeted by two guards who inquired if he owned any slaves. Replying in the negative they informed him a great movement was underfoot to benefit all non slave-holders. Barry passed on; then recognized a friend among the captives. While speaking with his friend, the leader of the raiders approached and ordered Barry off the street, “It was against military policy to talk with prisoners.”

The intemperate Barry refused the order when Brown leveled a pistol at his breast. Barry ducked behind a fence pillar. Brown commanded the same two guards not thirty yards off, to shoot or arrest the man. Barry dodged up the alleyway that ran along the sidewall of the armory and zigzagged down the passageway hoping to confuse their aim. Hannah, a slave belonging to Mrs. Margaret Carroll ran from her doorway into the narrow alley between Barry and the raiders, and waving her hands shouted ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.” Her brave demonstration may have saved the life of the future historian.

With the raid discovered and town’s people agitated it is strange that Brown sent Will Thompson to deliver a message to Owen Brown and John Cooke in Maryland, that all was going well. After leaving the Ferry in the early morning hours in Col. Washington’s wagon, Cooke and his squad had taken Terrance Byrnes prisoner at his home in Maryland. Byrnes was a slave holding farmer, who lived about 3 miles from the Ferry. Brown ordered him captured and his slaves liberated. The wagon was sent on to the Kennedy Farm to rendezvous with Owen Brown and his two men. They loaded the wagon with arms stockpiled over the summer, then returned to the Byrnes’ Farm. The squad then proceeded to the schoolhouse, a rendezvous place selected as a departure point for the raiders to enter either the mountains of Maryland or Virginia. Willie Leeman continued on foot toward the Ferry with his prisoner Terrance Byrnes, while Cooke and Tidd unloaded weapons from the wagon at the schoolhouse. (pictured) This is when Cooke reported Will Thompson showed up at the schoolhouse with a message from John Brown that everything at the Ferry was alright. After delivering the message, Thompson retraced his steps to catch up with Leeman. Between nine and ten o’clock Leeman and Thompson returned to the Arsenal with their prisoner. Brown was perhaps expecting to hear that all the arms had been moved to the school house. When Brown inquired of Leeman how many ‘recruits’ had come to join the cause, the answer was ‘none.’

Tidd and Cooke continued transporting arms to the schoolhouse from the Kennedy Farm.

Over at the train station Shephard Hayward writhed in pain from his early morning wounds. He askedPatrick Higgins for water. At the water pump Brown’s man, William Thompson approached from the bridge and asked for a drink. Higgins handed him the bucket. Thompson gestured to his comrades on the bridge saying they were thirsty too. Higgins generously complied with the request and went out to the bridge and met the raiders. Oliver Brown* recognized Higgins and said, “You’re the buck that hit me last night, eh? Well you did an unwise thing; it was only this leg that saved you.” He showed Higgins a nasty gash on his left knee which he rec’d on striking the bridge from Higgins’s blow.

Higgins asked, “What’s all this fuss about, anyhow?”

“Oh, it’s a darkey affair, laughingly replied Thompson pointing to the smiling negro. “I am one and here’ another,” Thompson pointed to his comrade.

“I’m on a darkey affair, too,” said Higgins, “and that’s to get water for a negro whom you have shot.”

Chastised, Oliver replied, “All right, go along. He brought it on himself by refusing to obey orders.”

Meanwhile, Conductor Phelps was furious to read the telegraph message waiting for him at Ellicott Mills about 9 a.m. Smith replied to Phelp’s message, “Your dispatch is evidently exaggerated and written under excitement. Why should our trains be stopped by Abolitionists, and how do you know they are such and that they numbered one hundred or more? What is their object? Let me know at once before we proceed to extremities.”

Phelps wired back, “My dispatch is not exaggerated; I have not made it half as bad as it is. The captain expects a reinforcement of 1500 men to liberate the slaves.”

Smith was still dubious but Railroad President John W. Garret saw the message and took it seriously. Garret notified President James Buchanan. President Buchanan sent a messenger to summon Colonel Robert E. Lee of the 2nd US Cavalry at Arlington. Then the President called at the Navy Yard to ask if Lieutenant Israel Green could muster a company of marines for immediate duty. Green responded with 90 men and two howitzers. When Lee arrived in Washington at 11 o’clock, Buchanan put him in charge of the detachment and ordered them to proceed to Harper’s Ferry. Green’s detachment left by train at 3 p.m. Stuart & Lee missed the train so another was especially ordered to pick them up.

The newspapers got wind of the news and mid morning headlines were blazing “Negro Insurrection at Harper’s Ferry.”

It was an anxious morning for the town’s people. Men searched for arms to repel the strangers. The armory and arsenal were in control of the raiders. Weapons were desperately sought after when around 9 a.m. it was remembered that a lot of guns were removed from the armory to a storehouse on higher ground when the river flooded. This lot of arms was enough to supply many of the citizens. They were duly distributed shortly before the Jefferson Guards began arriving from Charlestown.

Before noon two companies of the Jefferson Guards arrived on foot at Boliver Heights above the town, under command of Colonel John Thomas Gibson. Gibson immediately ordered his more experienced soldiers to cross the Potomac River a mile west of Harpers Ferry and come down the Maryland side of the river and take the Potomac Bridge into town. Later, “The Command under Capt. Botts was ordered to pass down the hill below Jefferson’s Rock, and take possession of the Shenandoah Bridge, to leave a strong guard at that point, and to march down to the Galt House, in the rear of the arsenal building, in which we supposed their men were lodged. Captain Avis command was ordered to take possession of the houses directly in front of the Arsenal. By this movement we prevented any escape.” The Colonel reported his troops arrived about noon.

The fight was about to begin.

*Osborn Anderson wrote in his (exaggerated) account of the raid, that Watson Brown & Stuart Taylor were posted at the Potomac Bridge, and that Oliver Brown & Will Thompson were posted at the Shenandoah Bridge. Will Thompson is definitely placed at the Potomac Bridge. Anderson either mixed up the bridge names or the names of Brown’s two sons. Both sons died in the raid. Higgins account names Oliver, so I will assume Oliver and Thompson were at the Potomac Bridge and Watson and Taylor were at the Shenandoah Bridge.

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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

John Brown's Raid, Part I

The John Brown Bell forever linked the history of the 13th Mass Volunteers with abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. October 16th 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the raid and I wanted to post a detailed narrative of the event. While preparing the post I found myself ensnared in a tangle of discrepancies. The story has been re-told many times, but in each version details differed; identities are confused, the order of events is jumbled, and the puzzle must be re-assembled with each re-telling. Initially I relied on two Books, “Six Years of Hell: Harper’s Ferry During the Civil War,” by Chester G. Hearn, Louisiana State University Press, 1996; and “John Brown Abolitionist” by David S. Reynolds, Knopf; 2005. When I came across differences in these two accounts I was forced to look deeper, and I found some of the original sources they quote. I found many of them but not all, so I am still indebted to both these authors for my version, and want to give them full credit.

John Brown had long wanted to invade the South to free the slaves. In August, 1857 when Kansas seemed to be well on its way to becoming a free state, Brown turned his attention to planning the raid in earnest. In July of 1859 he rented the Kennedy Farmhouse near Sandy Hook, on the Maryland side of the Potomac River and gathered together his weapons, supplies and small army of followers. Around the town he assumed the identity of ‘Isaac Smith,’ prospector of minerals. The party took long rambles over the mountains in the vicinity. One of Brown’s followers from Kansas days, John E. Cook, had settled in Harper’s Ferry a couple of years prior to the raid to familiarize himself with the town and surrounding area. Cook married into a respectable local family and held many jobs, including schoolmaster and Lock Keeper on the C & O canal. He was also supposed to be gauging support from the slave population for the coming insurrection. He often boasted to citizens of his participation in events in “Bloody Kansas” when Free-Staters battled pro-slavery Border Ruffians for control of the state. Cooke was an avid gun enthusiast and befriended Col. Lewis Washington, a prominent citizen of the town, who shared the same passion. He was also a loose talker and had told friends at the Ferry there would soon be a ‘disturbance’ or ‘active uneasiness’ among the darkies.*

Brown’s objective was to capture the thousands of rifles at the Federal Armory and Arsenal in the town, take hostages, gather together a band of freed slaves and head into the mountains of Virginia with the captured weapons where they would insight a general slave insurrection in the heart of the south. It was hoped slaves would flee to the mountains to join the rebellion, and the weapons used only in self defense. Cooke had reported the local slaves were willing when the time came to join the rebellion. Brown’s philosophy was, “give a slave a pike and you make him a man. Deprive him of the means of resistance and you keep him down.” To facilitate this he had 950 pikes manufactured in New England and delivered to the Kennedy Farm. He believed the slaves longed to revolt and were just waiting for a chance to rise against their masters. It didn’t happen.

The Raid

At 8 p.m. on the chilly, drizzly night of October 16, John Brown set out from the Kennedy Farm for the town of Harper’s Ferry six miles away. Three men remained behind to guard arms and supplies left at the farm house until they could be moved to the school-house two miles from the Ferry on the Maryland side of the Potomac, selected as a rendezvous point for those who flocked to the army of the liberators.

Brown lead the band in a wagon filled with pikes, torches and tools while his men followed behind, in pairs, several paces apart. . When the party approached the town about 10 p.m. two men John Cooke and Charles Tidd fell out to cut the telegraph lines east and west. At the Potomac Bridge into town the men capped their rifles and mounted bayonets. The bridge was maintained by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It had a wagon path and a railroad tracks. Brown’s two most experienced men, ‘Captains’ Aaron Stevens and John Henri Kagi ran ahead and took watchman Bill Williams prisoner. Surprised, Williams thought they were joking. He recognized John Cooke and the man known as Isaac Smith, when they approached over the wagon road. The Sharps carbines leveled at his breast proved they were serious and that he was their prisoner. Oliver Brown and Will Thompson remained on the bridge to guard passage in and out of the town. The rest of the party crossed the bridge onto the Ferry Lot. They moved past the Potomac Restaurant and Wager House, a hotel and railroad station, and preceded to the Armory grounds. The gate was locked. The guard Daniel Whelan stepped out to investigate. Brown ordered him to open the gate.

“I couldn’t if I was stuck,” replied Whelan. One man began to climb the fence, another man seized Wheelan through the bars and pinned him against the iron gate demanding a key.

“We haven’t got time to bother with a key,” Stevens said. He grabbed a crow bar from Brown’s wagon and twisted the chain lock until it snapped. Wheelan began to shout.

Brown told the watchman to keep quiet. “I have come 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.”

Two men, Albert Hazlett and Edwin Coppic ran across the Ferry Lot and occupied the Federal Arsenal building. Brown posted guards at the armory, then lead a party of men down Shenandoah street. Watson Brown and Stewart Taylor took their position as guards the bridge over the Shenandoah River. Further down the raiders captured the elderly night watchmen Sam Williams, at Hall’s Rifle Works. Sam Williams was Bill Williams’s father. John Henri Kagi, and Anthony Copeland posted at the rifle works, then Brown and his men, with some prisoners captured on the streets, returned to the Armory. The town was secure. Everything worked smoothly. His men controlled the Federal Armory grounds, the Federal Arsenal, the two bridges into town, and Hall’s Rifle works. Stevens, Cooke, and Osborne Anderson, with five others were then dispatched in the wagon to the home of Colonel Lewis Washington on the Charlestown road. Word of the rebellion was to be spread among any slaves encountered along the five mile route.

Colonel Lewis Washington was Great Grandnephew of George Washington. He would be an important hostage. About midnight the raiders arrived at the family estate and broke into the back entrance of the home with a fence rail. Stevens called out for the Colonel who soon appeared in his night clothes. He was the only member of the family home. At first he thought the intruders to be friends of his. Stevens explained to him ‘that they would take his slaves not his life and that he must go to the ferry as their prisoner.’* Col. Washington kept his composure, coolly observing the party as he changed clothes and prepared to leave. Stevens asked for two particular artifacts, both family heirlooms that had belonged to George Washington. The first was the sword of Fredrick the Great, the other a pistol given to the President by Lafayette. Brown wanted the artifacts handed over to Osborne Anderson, a colored man as a symbolic gesture of the great cause of freedom that was underway. John E. Cooke, who had befriended Col. Washington, told Brown about the artifacts.

Outside the Colonel found his own carriage parked in front of his large farm wagon and a four horse team loaded with his slaves and armed men. The slaves had been told to come and fight for their freedom. The party set out next for the home of Planter John H. Allstadt, two miles from the Ferry on the same road. The wagons rattled down the road and stopped in front of Allstadt's house. Mr. Allstadt looked out and saw Col. Washington in his carriage. In the big wagon were three of his slaves and two men on the seat with guns in their hands. They didn't make any explanation, but made him call out his negroes. He and his six slaves were bundled into the wagon and driven away down the Pike. Allstadt's 18 year old son joined them in order to look after his father.

Brown waited at the armory.

At midnight, Patrick Higgins of Sandy Hook, relief watchman for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad arrived at the Potomac Bridge. Finding everything dark he called out for Bill Williams. There was no answer. Higgins picked up a lantern and started down the tracks. About ½ ways over the bridge a voice from the shadows ordered him to halt. He ignored the command and was suddenly seized by the coat and told ‘come along.” Taking a few steps with the mysterious captor Higgins spied several guns and pikes stacked up on the bridge. Frightened, he knocked his attacker in the temple then shoved him aside. Higgins fled toward town.

Oliver Brown** was thrown off balance a moment, then aimed his rifle and fired. Higgins hat flew off as the bullet grazed his skull. He quickened his pace and stumbled into the Wager House. Bleeding, he told the night clerk armed men were on the bridge and Bill Williams was missing. The clerk attributed Higgins ranting to drinking too much bad whisky and told him as much. An argument followed with Higgins repeating his story. The clerk remained steadfast. Later, the aged and infirm bartender of the saloon, Walter “Uncle Watty” Kemp went out to investigate and was gobbled up by the raiders.

Near the Armory gate, John Brown heard the hollow report of the riffle and wondered if anyone else did. He listened and watched intently in the darkness.

*David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist, p.303.
*Hinton, John Brown and His Men.
**There is confusion as to the identity of Brown’s two sons, Watson and Oliver. I have favored the accounts that state Oliver was on the Potomac Bridge.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Visit to Mrs. Ensminger's

Late on a summer’s night in 1892, a carriage pulled up and stopped in front of Mrs. Elizabeth Snyder’s residence in Williamsport, Maryland. Six men descended from the coach and crossed the lawn to the front door. The ‘old lady’ was asleep in bed when she heard the knocks at the door. It was 11:30 at night, who could it be at this hour? Williamsport was a small town on the Potomac River, an important stop along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. At times the characters about town could be pretty rough. She may have been a little tentative when she came to the door and asked, “Who’s there?”

“We’re looking for Mrs. Ensminger,” was the reply from the six gentlemen on the landing. “We are her ‘boys’ of 1861, James Gleason, Lysander Parker, William Alley, and others from Company I of the 13th Massachusetts.”

A smile of recognition must have crossed her face as she opened the door to welcome them. It was thirty years since they had last met. “My boys,” she cried, “what brings you here after so long a time?”

The small party of comrades explained they had traveled from Massachusetts to attend the Grand Army of the Republic National Encampment in Washington, D.C. After the event they decided to make an unscheduled visit to the town of Williamsport, fifty miles up river, where during the winter of 1861-62 they had spent four months picketing the Potomac for the Union Army. They planned to look up old friends still living in the town - but not necessarily in the middle of the night. The hotel-keeper at Williamsport was an un-reconstructed Rebel with no tolerance for 6 former Yankee soldiers seeking lodging at his establishment. When they arrived he refused to put them up. Turned away, they decided to search out Mrs. Ensminger’s house. Williamsport was a small town and they soon found their way to the large home on East Church Street.

It was a long time since the war when they had made her acquaintance. Back then, she and her husband owned and managed two or three boats on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Mrs. Ensminger was an excellent cook and the boys engaged her to bake bread for Company ‘I’, while they remained encamped nearby. From October through February the boys of the 13th Mass’ picketed strategic points along the canal, and made friends with the local population.

Surprised and happy to see her boys again, the ‘old lady’ invited them inside her home and agreed to put them all up. Her name was Snyder now, she explained. She had remarried after her first husband’s death.

Early next morning, James Gleason was down in the kitchen talking over old times with her, inquiring about people they had known when they were there. Then James asked, “Whatever happened to the bell Company ‘I’ left with you?”

“I still have the bell, I have kept it for you,” Mrs. Snyder replied. Gleason was incredulous.

In the early part of November, 1861, Captain Moses Palmer, Lieutenant William Alley, Corporal Smith, Alfred G. Howe, James Gleason, and drummer boy ‘Dixie’ Parker with other members of Company ‘I’, delivered the bell to Mrs. Ensminger and her husband for safe-keeping until called for. It was a heavy piece of equipment they had brought with them to Williamsport via canal boat, from their previous post at Harper’s Ferry. They intended to ship it home to Marlboro, Massachusetts for use at the fire department, from which many members of Company ‘I’ had enlisted, but the meager pay of the soldiers was such that they never acquired the appropriate funds to follow through. The bell was too heavy to take with them on the Spring Campaigns, so when the regiment marched away to fight the war on March 1st, 1862, the bell was left behind and soon forgotten.

Elizabeth and James stepped outside, and walked to the northeast corner of the back yard where the bell was mounted on a wood frame. A jolt of excitement rushed over Gleason as he stood in wonder and looked upon the relic. He quickly returned to the house, and called out for the others to hurry downstairs and join him in the back yard. “Come outside and see the bell!” he exclaimed. Moments later, six joyful veterans stood around the bell gazing in astonishment at their rediscovered treasure.

“I had one of my slaves bury it in the yard when Lee’s army passed through in 1862,” Mrs. Snyder explained, “for fear that they would take it.” “It remained undisturbed, for seven years; until I had it dug up and mounted here.”

Like a ghost from the past, the bell called up memories of earlier, innocent days of soldiering for the Union in 1861. They were ‘green’ volunteers when they acquired it in September, 1861, still unaware of the horrors of battle they would face soon enough. The bell also brought forth recollections of comrades now departed.

For her part in preserving the bell Mrs. Snyder was modest. The grateful veterans thanked her, and praised her loyalty to the company in holding it for them for so long.

She was unaware at the time that the bell she had carefully protected for 30 years came from the famous little Engine House at the Federal Arsenal in Harper’s Ferry; the same engine house where Abolitionist John Brown made his last stand during his infamous raid to free the slaves in October, 1859. The building was known as “John Brown’s Fort,” and this was the “John Brown” Bell.

(Next up, John Brown’s Raid.)