Tuesday, October 16, 2007

John Brown & Harpers Ferry: Part 1

John Brown Painting

He is one of the most controversial characters in American history. Some say he was a mad man, a fanatic, a terrorist, and even a murderer, while others claim he was a prophet, as well as a martyr.

Today is the 148th anniversary of John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry.

In Brown’s mind, the plan made perfect sense. The federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia contained 100,000 muskets and rifles. Not only did Brown want to capture the arsenal, but he also wanted to send word to local slaves. Upon hearing the news of his bold strike, area slaves would flock to the arsenal and rally around their new Moses. Brown would then lead his army further south, capturing federal arsenals and arming local slaves. He would bring an end to American slavery.

Initially, everything went right. Brown led 21 men into Harpers Ferry. They cut telegraph wires, captured the armory and arsenal, and rounded up hostages, including Col. Lewis Washington, whose great grand uncle was George Washington.

But then disaster struck. There was a noise off in the distance and it was getting louder. It was a train and it was coming toward them. Brown and his men froze, but one of the occupants of Harpers Ferry was not going to let this opportunity pass him by. He ran toward the train and was shouting. They were under attack, this madman named Brown wanted to incite a slave rebellion, help! Brown and his men ordered the man to stop screaming, but he wouldn’t listen. They shot him. The first casualty in John Brown’s slave revolution was named Hayward Shepherd, a free black.

Rattled by the shooting, Brown allowed the train to depart Harpers Ferry. It would be one of many mistakes he would make during the next few days.

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