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Chapter Ten
The Raid


Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry, 1859
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 19, 1859
Periodicals Collection

Unless otherwise noted, all images are from the Boyd B. Stutler Collection




At about 8:00 on the evening of October 16, 1859, John Brown and 18 men set out for Harpers Ferry. The remaining 3—Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, and Francis Merriam—were assigned to remain at the Kennedy Farm. John Brown made the journey by wagon, while the other men walked behind. About 10:30 p.m., the group arrived at the Maryland end of the covered bridge that crossed the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry. They quickly took control of the bridge, entered the town, and took control of the armory, taking two prisoners in the process. Several raiders proceeded to the Shenandoah River bridge, the arsenal, and the rifle factory to secure those sites.

Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry detail map

Lewis Washington
Lewis Washington
Thomas Alstadt
Thomas Alstadt
Several raiders, led by Aaron Stevens, left on a mission to capture Jefferson County slaveowner John Allstadt and Lewis W. Washington, great grand-nephew of George Washington, and to take possession of a pistol and sword that had belonged to the late president. The men then returned to town with Washington, the pistol and sword, Allstadt and his son, and 10 slaves, arriving at Harpers Ferry between 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning. In the meantime, the Baltimore and Ohio train was stopped about 1:30 a.m. and African American baggage handler Heyward Shepherd was mortally wounded, ironically becoming the first casualty of John Brown’s Raid.

As daylight came on October 17, news of the attack spread throughout Harpers Ferry and to other nearby towns. Local militia groups quickly assembled and headed to the scene. The B&O train that had been stopped during the night was allowed to depart, which allowed news of the raid to travel farther, reaching Gov. Henry A. Wise of Virginia and President James Buchanan later that morning. Acting under Brown's orders, John Cook, William Leeman, and Charles Tidd went back to Maryland to capture another slaveholder and to move weapons from the Kennedy Farm to a schoolhouse closer to Harpers Ferry. John Brown and his men took more prisoners as workers arrived at the armory or other townspeople crossed paths with Brown’s men. About 7:00 a.m., local resident Thomas Boerly was killed at the corner of High and Shenandoah streets by raiders in the arsenal yard. (The record is contradictory as to whether Boerly was armed or not.)

Heyward Shepherd
Heyward Shepherd,
sketch by
David Henderson

Around noon, the Jefferson Guards arrived at the Maryland end of the bridge. They forced three raiders to retreat from the bridge and killed Dangerfield Newby, the first of the raiders to die. In the afternoon, citizens stormed the Rifle Works along the Shenandoah, and a militia company from Martinsburg forced John Brown and his men into the armory fire engine house. By nightfall, raiders William Leeman, John Kagi, Stewart Taylor, and William Thompson and townsmen George W. Turner and Fontaine Beckham, the mayor of Harpers Ferry, were dead; Watson Brown, Oliver Brown, and Lewis Leary were dying; and John Copeland was held prisoner. About 11:00 p.m., nearly 100 U.S. Marines arrived from Washington, DC. Accompanying them were Col. Robert E. Lee and his aide Lt. J. E. B. Stuart, who had been sent by President Buchanan to join the Marine force with Lee to assume command.

Volunteers shooting insurgents
Volunteers shooting insurgents
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated
Newspaper
, October 29, 1859,
Periodicals Collection
Entrance to armory grounds
Entrance to the armory grounds,
showing the fire engine
house at left
The Battleground
The Battleground: Captain Albertis'party
attacking the insurgents. Source: Frank
Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
,
November 5, 1859, Periodicals Collection

Col. Robert E. Lee
Col. Robert E. Lee
On October 18, about 7:00 a.m., Lee demanded that John Brown surrender, but Brown refused. The Marines, led by Lt. Israel Green, stormed the engine house. After battering an opening in the door, they entered the building. Once inside, Green struck Brown and attempted to stab him with his sword, but the dress sword merely bent double, and Green resorted to beating Brown over the head with its hilt. Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, Aaron Stevens, and Watson Brown were captured with the elder Brown. John Brown’s raid was over a day and a half after it began. Storming the Engine House
Storming of the Engine House
by the U.S. Marines, sketch by
Porte Crayon. From Harper's
Weekly
, November 5, 1859, Boyd B.
Stutler Collection

Bringing Prisoners Out
Bringing the prisoners out of the
Engine House. Source: Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper
, November 5,
1859, Periodicals Collection
In the storming of the engine house, Pvt. Luke Quinn of the U.S. Marines was killed. Raiders Dauphin Thompson and Jeremiah Anderson also perished during the marine assault. Oliver Brown had died from his wounds during the preceding night; his brother Watson would linger nearly another day before dying. Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, and Francis Merriam, who had been stationed in Maryland, as well as John Cook, Osborn Anderson, Albert Hazlett, and Charles Tidd, fled. All but Cook and Hazlett would succeed in escaping.

Newspaper Sketches of John Brown's Raid

Primary Sources:

Letter, Joseph Crane to David Hunter Strother, October 25, 1859
Letter, John Brown to J. Q. Anderson, November 29, 1859
Shepherdstown Register Articles on John Brown's Raid
Independent Democrat Articles on John Brown's Raid
Excerpt from The Life, Trial and Execution of John Brown, 1859
Excerpts from Documents appended to Governor Wise's Message
Report of Col. Robert E. Lee (Appendix to Records of the Senate Select Committee)
Testimony of John H. Allstadt to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of Armistead M. Ball to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of Terrence Byrne to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of George W. Chambers to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of Lind F. Currie to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of Archibald M. Kitzmiller to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of John D. Starry to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of Lewis W. Washington to the Senate Select Committee
Testimony of Daniel Whelan to the Senate Select Committee
Message of Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood of Iowa, March 3, 1860
Extract from A Voice from Harpers Ferry, by Osborne Perry Anderson
"Owen Brown's Escape from Harper's Ferry," Atlantic Monthly
"The Capture of John Brown," by Israel Green, North American Review

Secondary Sources:

“John Brown at Harpers Ferry: A Contemporary Analysis,” by Lawrence F. Barmann, S. J. (West Virginia History, Vol. 22)
“Re-evaluating John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry,” by Karen Whitman (West Virginia History, Vol. 34)
“John Brown's Raid At Harpers Ferry and Governor Henry Alexander Wise's Letter to President James Buchanan Concerning the Invasion,” by Isaiah A. Woodward (West Virginia History, Vol. 42)


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