News of the raid spread quickly to the countryside, but slaves did not rally around John Brown. Instead, local farmers, militiamen, and shopkeepers grabbed their muskets and took positions on the heights surrounding the arsenal. For the next several hours, they shot at Brown and his men, pinning them down in the small armory buildings in Harpers Ferry.
Brown made no attempt to escape, but by noon it was a moot point. Local volunteers charged into town and blocked off the bridge. If Brown and his men had any intention of escaping, they would now have to engage in a gun battle with well-armed local militiamen.
Eight of Brown’s men were either dead or dying. Five others were cut off, while two more had managed to escape across the river. Brown gathered his surviving men, along with nine hostages, and moved to a small brick engine house and waited.
At one point, Brown sent his son Watson and another of his men out with a white flag, offering to surrender. When the well-armed crowd saw the men, they ignored the white flag, and shot them. With one son now dead, Brown turned his attention to another of his sons, Oliver, who had been wounded in the initial gunfire. By now he was moaning in agony, begging his father to kill him. Brown told his son to “die like a man.” Within hours he did as he was told.
Brown was out of ideas.
News of the raid made its way to Washington. By 3:30 pm, Colonel Robert E. Lee and a force of U.S. Marines were on their way to Harpers Ferry.