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Independent Democrat Articles
on John Brown Raid

October 25, 1859



The Soil of Virginia Stained with the blood of her Citizens in Attempting to Defend their Firesides from Rapine and Robbery.


About midnight of Sunday John Brown, with his force amounting, as they say, to 22 crossed the Potomac Bridge with a one-horse covered wagon, containing their guns, picks &c. They immediately seized Patrick Higgins, the watchman at the Bridge, who gave one of the party a blow and made his escape, informing the Conductor of the night train of Cars, Capt. Phelps. They then endeavored to induce Hayward, the free colored watchman of the Railroad Office to take up arms and join them in their nefarious purposes. Upon his refusing to do so, they immediately shot him. He was a valuable fellow, whose life was worth more than all the bandit, as he was trusted with everything in the Depot.

Sixteen of them taking possession of the Armory and Arsenal, the others repaired to the residence of Col. L. W. Washington, near Halltown, in this county, and after arousing him from his bed, with pointed rifles, demanded his surrender, and that of his negroes, &c. From thence they proceeded to the residence of Mr John H. Alstadtt, living on the turnpike, and made a similar demand. They then returned to Harpers Ferry, and placed their captives in the Government Watchhouse.

Dr. John D. Starry, who was aroused by the report of a gun repaired to give medical assistance to Hayward. He and Mr Herr then went to the Armory gate to inquire for the watchman, when a demand was made upon them to enter the yard. They refused to do so, and walked off unmolested. They were probably taken for railroad passengers, as the night train was suffered to proceed without hindrance. The officers of the Armory were then notified, and as they came to the Armory were taken captive. The list of captives will be found in another place.

The insurgents having cut the telegraph wires, and stationed themselves at various points prevented further entrances in the public square. Mr. Thomas Burley, being seen with a gun was shot by a negro sentinel from the corner of one of the Arsenal buildings. The ball passed through is body killing him almost instantly. This negro fellow was afterwards shot.

Our citizens, after getting the intelligence of the outbreak immediately organized for action. The Jefferson Guards, under the command of Capt J. W. Rowan and Lieuts. H B Davenport, E H Campbell, W W B. Gallaher and J L. Hooff,--and a volunteer company of citizens, under Capt. Lawson Botts, with Cols. R. W. Baylor and J T Gibson proceeded to Harpers-Ferry where they were joined by the citizens of that place and neighborhood.

Capt. John Avis of this town formed a company of 20 men who were posted in front of the Arsenal. Capt. Botts was detached with 20 volunteers, who took possession in front of the "Galt House," in the rear of the Arsenal. Capt. Rowan's Guards crossed the Potomac River and took possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Bridge. The citizens of the place, without any regular command, took other stations of the town, thereby cutting off all retreat.

The firing then commenced. Capt. Avis forced the door of the Arsenal with a gun taken from the hands of Mr. Leonard Sadler, of this town, one of the Soldiers of 1812. The fire becoming too warm, the insurgents fled to the watch house. Before they abandoned the Arsenal ground, and before the charge was made upon them, George W. Turner, Esq., one of our most estimable and valuable citizens, was shot as he was passing down High street. He died in a short time afterwards.

The citizens made gallant charges at both works of the Armory. At the Rifle Factory the rebels were driven into the river. One was taken prisoner and three shot. A negro man of Col. Washington was drowned in his effort to escape. He had been forced to take up arms.

Thus having been driven from every point, they were virtually whipt, as none were left but those in the watch house, who were anxious to capitulate as they were hemmed up and cut off from every avenue of escape. Their terms of capitulation were that they should be allowed to pass over the Bridge into Maryland with their arms. The response of our officers was an unconditional surrender.

About this time the Western train came in with a citizen volunteer company under the command of Capt. E. G. Alburtis, from Martinsburg; the Hamtramck Guards, Capt. V. M. Butler, and the Shepherdstown Cavalry, Capt. Jacob Rhinehart.

The Company of Capt. Alburtis passed through the Armory on the Potomac works, Capt. Butler and Rinehart, down High St. in front of the Arsenal. It was then determined to make an attack upon the Watch house in which the insurgents were enclosed with their captives. Capt Alburtis' company made a gallant charge, in which he had six wounded, two very seriously. The wounded are Evan Dorsey, Geo. Richeson, Geo. H. Murphy, Nelson Hooper, George Wollet, and G. N. Hammond: in this attack one of the insurgents was killed and a number of the captives released. Capt. Rowan and Botts, charged at the same time in gallant style. Having no battering tools it was thought best to withdraw until better prepared, as it would be a useless loss of our men as well as the remaining captives, to continue to storm as the insurgents were beyond the power of escape. In this charge, Mr. Samuel C. Young of Capt. Rowan's company, was seriously wounded.

The insurgents had made holes in the watch house, from which points they fired. Fontaine Beckham, Esqr, Agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Mayor of Harpers Ferry, was killed. He was on the Railroad in front of the house. About 5 o'clock the Winchester Contine[n]tal Guards Capt B. B. Washington arrived, and were stationed to guard the upper works. A train of cars from Frederick brought three companies, about 100 strong.

In the morning of Tuesday, about 3 [o]'clock, the military of Baltimore, with the Marine from Washington, arrived so that in 28 hours from the time of alarm we had on the ground 10 companies, numbering upwards of 400, and one company of regulars, 75 strong, besides 1500 citizens. The Alexandria Riflemen, were also present on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, Col. Lee stormed the Watch house. One of the Marines was killed, and one slightly wounded. All the insurgents were either killed or wounded.

A number of our citizens were wounded, besides those already noticed. Mr. Edward McCabe of Harper's Ferry was wounded, Dewit Clinton Bowman, of Baltimore, was shot in the face and shoulder.

Out of the whole 22 as stated all have been killed or taken prisoners except Cooke and Taylor.

There were a number of citizens who bore themselves with great bravery, but time will not permit of our enumerating at present.

The Head quarter of this reckless band was the Kennedy farm in Maryland, about 8 miles from Harpers Ferry, on the Mountain, where 200 Sharps Rifles, 200 Maynards Revolvers, 1,000Spears, a complete set of camp equipage, pick, spades, &c.

The negroes, who were captured from our citizens, as soon as an opportunity was presented, made their escape, and returned to their masters much gratified to be able to do so. It is gratifying to know that there is not one of our negroes who would voluntarily take up with these desperadoes

Capt Cooke married a Miss Kennedy of Harpers-Ferry, and has spent much time in this county.

Last night was an alarming time. The women and children were fleeing from Sandy Hook. The report was that 3 or 400 of the desperadoes were at the lower end of the bridge. The Jefferson Guards, Capt Rowan, 17 in number, were sent to meet them:a squad of Col. Lee's Marines having previously gone to Pleasant Valley. The report, however, proved false, to the great satisfaction no doubt of all.

The reports given by the different correspondents of the press have been of the most exaggerated kind.

The following gentlemen were captured by the marauders as they happened to fall unawares in their power:

Col. L. W. Washington, John H. Alstadtt and Son, A. M. Kitzmiller, Superintendent, [?], Maj. Mills, master Armorer, A. M. Ball, J. E. P. Dangerfield John Donahue, _____Childs, Jesse Graham, Thomas Gallaher, John Maloy, Jos. A.. Brua, Rezin Cross, Alfred H. Grist, J. W. Crutchley, John Irwin, John Mason, John Becker, C Murphy, D Fuler, Saumel [sic] Williams, J. Roderick, G Butler G. H. Furtney, E. Dearing, Jos. Byrne Terrance Byrne, Anthony Nunnemaker.

We give below the list of those who were taken prisoners of the marauding party:--and who are now in the Charlestown Jail:

Capt. John Brown, of New York;
Aaron D. Stevens of Con.
Edwin Coppeck, Iowa.
Shields Green (colored) of Harrisburg Pa.
John Copeland (colored) of Obe[r]lin, Ohio.

The following is a description of the assault upon the Engine house, as published in the Baltimore American, whose reporter was eye-witness of the scene:

Shortly after 7 o'clock, on Tuesday morning, Lt. J. E. B. Stuart of the 1st Cavalry, who was acting as aid for Col. Lee, advanced to parley with the besieged, Samuel Strider, Esq., bearing a flag of truce. They were received at the door by Capt Brown:Lieut Stuart demanded an unconditional surrender, only promising them protection from immediate violence, and trial by law. Capt. Brown refused all terms but those previously demanded, which were substantially: "That he should be permitted to march out with his men and arms, taken their prisoners with them; that they should proceed unpursued to the second toll-gate, when they were free their prisoners. The soldiers were then at liberty to pursue and they would fight if they could not escape." Obviously this was refused and Lieut Stuart pressed upon Brown his desperate position, and urged a surrender. The expostulation though beyond ear-shot, was evidently very earnest, and the coolness of the Lieutenant and the courage of his aged flag bearer, won warm praise.

At this moment the interest of the scene was intense. The volunteers were arranged all around the building, cutting off escape in every direction. The marines divided in two squads, were ready for a dash at the door. Finally, Lieut. Stuart, having exhausted all argument with the determined Capt. Brown, walked slowly from the door. Immediately the signal for attack was given, and the Marines headed by Col. Harris and Lieut. Green advanced in two lines on each side of the door. Two powerful fellows sprang between the lines and with heavy sledge hammers attempted to batter down the door. The door swung and swayed, but appeared to be secured with a rope, the spring of which deadened the effect of the blows. Failing thus to obtain a breach, the marines were ordered to fall back, and twenty of them took hold of a ladder, some forty feet long and advancing at a run, brought it with tremendous force against the door. At the second blow it gave way, one leaf falling inward in a slanting position. The marines immediately advanced to the breach, Major Russell and Lieut. Green leading. A marine in the front fell; the firing from the interior was rapid and sharp, they fired with deliberate aim, and for the moment the resistance was serious and desperate enough to excite the spectators to something like a pitch of frenzy. The next moment the marines poured in, the firing ceased, and the work was done, whilst the cheers rang from every side, the general feeling being that the marines had done their part admirably.


Thomas Boerley.:The first white citizen who fell in defence of Harper's Ferry on Monday morning, was Mr. Thomas Boerly. Mr. B. was an Irishman by birth, but had long been a resident of Harpers Ferry, where he was much respected as a quiet and useful citizen. He was a man whose death would have been regretted under any circumstances, but much more deeply under the present.

George W. Turner, Esq.:Mr. Turner was the second victim of the desperadoes. Of him, we need hardly speak in this community, where he was so well known, and so highly esteemed. He was one of the first to hasten to Harpers Ferry when he heard of the disturbances there. As he was passing down High street, and when near its intersection with Shenandoah street [?] from a Sharp's rifle struck him in the breast, and he fell mortally wounded. He lived about an hour and a quarter after being shot. Mr. Turner was one of the most prominent and influential citizens of this county.:He was a graduate of West Point, and, after spending a few years in the army service, he resigned his commission and retired to his farm. Here he lived a most useful citizen, a kind master, respected and honored by his fellow citizens and loved by his servants. His death will be lamented by the entire community.

Fountain Beckham.:At three o'clock in the afternoon Fontain Beckham, Esq., was killed. Early in the morning he had gone to the office, where he remained during the day. He had warned many of his friends during the morning to keep in doors.:At the hour named he left his office, walked along the railroad platform in a western direction until he reached the water tank. He stopped for a moment to converse with some men who were sheltered by this house, and in an unguarded moment he exposed his person, when a short fired from the engine house from a Sharp's rifle struck him near the should blade and passed through his body. He staggered a few steps west, fell and died almost instantly. His body was lying so far west that it was impossible to reach it, unless the person doing so was fully exposed to the deadly fire of the insurgents in the engine house. The body was accordingly allowed to lay for a considerable length of time, when a citizen removed it to his office, where it lay during the night. Mr. Beckham was more widely personally known than any other man in Jefferson county. He had been the agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from the time the road was constructed, and had discharged his duties in the most satisfactory manner. He had been High Sheriff of Jefferson county, a Justice of the Peace for twenty years and at the time of his death was Mayor of Harper's Ferry.

Of the others who fell while defending the rights of our fireside, we know but little, except that they were brave and noble men who volunteered at Martinsburg, under Capt. Alburtis, to fight against the treasonable fanatics who had so daringly invaded our soil. Peace to their remains!


Like the booming of a cannon in a quiet valley:like a clap of thunder without a cloud, has this outrageous, unparalleled and infernally infamous onslaught[t] by a band of devils in human form, come upon us.

In the whole history of the world it challenges in enormity the perpetration of any crime of a deeper, double dyed deviltry.

But we shall forbear further comment at present. We cannot trust ourselves in the contemplation of so heinous an offence, the enormity of which stirs within us and tingles in every fibre of our body a feeling of direst vengeance, which can only be satiated when we see the perpetrators, as we hope, hanging between heaven and earth. We subjoin, from other papers such accounts of the affair as are, from personal knowledge, correct, reserving until our next issue an expression of our own views in reference to the outrage. The leader of this band of "land pirates" has promised us a full and complete history of the foray, from its inception to its fatal and bloody termination, which we mean to have copy-righted, and which will be given to our readers after the last drama in the tragedy shall have been enacted.


This fine body of volunteer citizens, upon the reception of the news of the riotous proceedings at Harper's Ferry acted with the utmost promptitude. Col. John T. Gibson was on a visit a short distance in the country at the time, but Cap. J. W. Rowan, assisted by Lieut.'s Davenport, Campbell and Gallaher, and Sergeants Harrell and Hurst, went manfully to work, and by the time Col. Gibson arrived, had recruited nearly 100 men. At half past nine o'clock they were on the road to the scene of conflict.

Arriving at Halltown, the Guards alighted from the cars, and proceeded by a forced march to Bolivar, under the immediate command of Col. John T. Gibson and Capt. Jno. W. Rowan. The day proved a very inclement one, a cold easterly wind blowing a dashing, drenching rain into the faces of the men, during the entire march, and but few had taken the precaution to provide themselves with an overcoat. The difficulties of the march, however, were borne without a murmur, nothing being thought of but the wish to mingle in the fray. Arriving at Bolivar, the company was permitted to rest under cover for half an hour, while the officers in command, consulted as to the best plan of attacking the rioters and investing the town. It was finally determined that the Jefferson Guards should take possession of the Potomac bridge, so as to cut off the retreat of the rioters, whilst a company of armed citizens of Bolivar and Harper's Ferry, under the command of Captain John Avis, who had preceeded [sic] the company from Charlestown, and organized the corps after his arrival, should take possession of other points, to prevent escape. Capt. Lawson Botts, also of Charlestown, was ordered to take possession of the "Gault House," a point overlooking the Arsenal.

All these orders were executed with promptness and despatch. The editor of the Independent, as also the Publisher, were among those under the command of Capt. J. W. Rowan, having vacated the ranch at the call to arms. It was the first time in our life that we ever strutted in all the "pomp and circumstances" of glorious war, and whether we could have stood a charge of the enemy without a fluttering of the heart we had no chance of testing. We proceeded at a rapid pace up the Potomac river to a point where the water was deep enough to allow of our crossing over on the Maryland side, in flat boats. The rain pouring down in torrents all the while. Having crossed the river in two squads, the company rejoined the proceeded in a running march to the bridge, the point of destination. For a half mile or more, we were exposed as a target for the enemy from the armory yard, and from the mountain above, but fortunately all escaped unscathed. We were marched midway into the bridge, and remained as guard to it until Capt. Rowan who was cut off from all communication with the Colonel in command, and who had sent three messengers but none returned, concluded to make a charge down the street, facing the armory yard, upon his own responsibility. This was done with firmness and alacrity. Our fellow-townsman, Mr. Samuel C. Young received a severe wound in the left breast which passed into and shattered his left arm immediately below the shoulder. Mr. James B. Small, also one of our townsmen, received a bullet through the hat brim, about an inch and a half from his head. Sergeant Rust also, had the crown of his hat shot through about two inches above his head, both of them making a narrow escape of their lives. In the meantime, a portion of his immediate command, but not strictly belonging to his company, joined a party of the citizens of Harper's Ferry, under the command of Lieut. Geo. W. Chambers, who had taken possession of the "Wager House," and took part with them in picking off, as opportunity presented those of Brown's party, who had the temerity to show themselves outside of their intrenchment. In this manner several were killed. It was while this guerilla firing was kept up that the lamented Beckham met his death. We were standing but a few feet from him when he received his death shot, and when we saw him fall, ruthlessly murdered, a spirit of revenge against the miscreants, took possession of our soul, whilst the same feeling was manifest in all. A simultaneous rush was made to the Wager House; and one of the wretches, by the name of Thompson, who had been sheltered there through the humanity, mistaken though it was, of a lady, was brought out, and made to expiate the death of Beckham. He begged piteously for his life, his whole frame shook with cowardly trepidation, but the impress of his demon spirit was strongly marked in the expression of his blanched countenance. His appeals for mercy, however, were addressed to men, who, for the time being, had seathed out of their hearts the kindly feelings of human nature, and who were determined to revenge a comrade's death. Thompson was taken to the bridge and there fell pierced by a bullet fired from the rifle of a near friend and neighbor of major Beckham.

Whilst these events were transpiring, the Guards, under Capt. Rowan, had taken position around the Armory wall, and maintained it until ordered to fall back by Col. Baylor, who had arrived and assumed command of the Jefferson Volunteers, who with the Hamtramck Guards, were then formed into a battalion. After this was done, night came on, and a charge upon Capt. Brown's intrenchment was deemed advisable to be deferred until daylight, on account of the risk to our citizens who were held as hostages by Brown. The Jefferson military, however surrounded the armory buildings, standing guard, and cutting off all chances of escape for Brown and his party. During the nigh fresh troops arrived, and on account of the great fatigue to which the Jefferson Guards had been subjected throughout the entire day and night, they were relieved towards morning and ordered to seek some rest.

Dr. John A. Straith, Surgeon of the 55th Regiment, Va. Militia, was at his post of duty during the melee at Harper's Ferry. We noticed that he did not hesitate to expose himself to the dangers incident to the day, but acted with the greatest coolness and promptitude wherever his duty called him.

We noticed among them armed cap a pie, our esteemed fellow-townsmen, Messrs. Leonard Sadler, and Samuel C. Young, both of them now numbering nearly three score and ten, but it was evident that their patriotism and love of country burned upon the altar of their hearts, in as pure and lambent a flame, as it did in days of yore. All honor to them, say we, and may their shadows never grow less. We also noticed the Rev. Mr. Atkinson, who was on a visit to his brother-in-law, the much esteemed pastor of the Presbyterian Church, in Charlestown, with musket and cartridge box in hand, ready to do his duty as a patriot citizen of the Republic. Such men are the true soldiers.

There are many other personal incidents connected with the expedition of the Jefferson Guards, which we will take occasion to refer to hereafter.


The Company under the command of Capt. E. G. Alburtis, from Martinsburg, acted most gallantly in the charge upon Brown's party, and are deserving of highest praise. Our young friend Geo H. Murphy, son of Paymaster, at Harpers Ferry, particularly distinguished himself in gallant and intrepid conduct. We noticed our highly esteemed friend Capt. J. W. Gray with this company, and although long past the age of military service:yet he permits nothing to supervine, when duty calls him into his country's service. Upon more than one occasion we have seen his mettle tried, and if there ever lived a "true blue" we believe he is one of them.

The Hon. C. J. Faulkner was also "Charley on the spot," having accompanied the Marines from Washington. Had occasion demanded he would have been found in the front ranks of danger.

Note: Copy of article is in John Brown Scrapbook, Boyd Stutler, folder 7, Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia State Archives.

Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History