THE EXECUTION OF CAPT. BROWN
From Our Special Correspondent.
Baltimore, Dec. 3, 1859.
Telegraphing from Charlestown or Harper’s Ferry to The Tribune being out of the question, I am forced to lose a day and write from this place. The execution was in the highest degree imposing and solemn, and without disturbance of any kind. Lines of patrols and pickets encircled the field for ten miles around, and over five hundred troops were posted all about the gallows. At 7 o’clock in the morning workmen began to erect the scaffold, the timber having been hauled the night previous. At 8 troops began to arrive. Troopers were posted around the field at fifty feet apart, and two lines of sentries further in. The troops did not form hollow around the gallows, but were so disposed as to command every approach. The sun shone brightly, and the picture presented to the eye was really splendid. As each company arrived it took its alloted position. On the easterly side were the cadets, with their right wing flanked by a detachment of men with howitzers; on the northeast, the Richmond Grays; on the south, Company F of Richmond; on the north, the Winchester Continentals, and, to preserve order in the crowd, the Alexandria Rifleman and Capt. Gibson’s Rockingham Company were stationed at the entrance gate, and on the outskirts. At 11 o’clock the procession came in sight, and at once all conversation and noise ceased. A dead stillness reigned over the field, and the tramp of the approaching troops alone broke the silence. The escort of the prisoner was composed of Capt. Scott’s company of cavalry, one company of Major Loring’s battalion of defencibles, Capt. Williams’s Montpelier Guard, Capt. Scott’s Petersburg Grays, Company D, Capt. Miller, of the Virginia Volunteers, and Young Guard, Capt. Rady, the whole number the command of Col. T. P. August, assisted by Major Loring–the cavalry at the head and rear of the column.
The prisoner sat upon the box which contained his coffin, and, although pale from confinement, seemed strong. The wagon in which he rode was drawn by two white horses. From the time of leaving jail until he mounted the gallows stairs he wore a smile upon his countenance, and his keen eye took in every detail of the scene. There was no blenching nor the remotest approach to cowardice or nervousness. His remarks have not been correctly reported in the Baltimore and New-York papers. As he was leaving jail, when asked if he thought he could endure his fate, he said, “I can endure almost anything but parting from friends; that is very hard.” On the road to the scaffold, he said, in reply to an inquiry, “It has been a characteristic of me from infancy not to suffer from physical fear. I have suffered a thousand times more from bashfulness than from fear.” On entering the field he said, as if surprised, “I see all persons are excluded from the field except the military.” I was very near the old man, and scrutinized him closely. He seemed to take in the whole scene at a glance, and he straightened himself up proudly, as if to set to the soldiers an example of a soldier’s courage. The only motion he made, beyond a swaying to and fro of his body, was that same patting of his knees with his hands that we noticed throughout his trial and while in jail. As he came upon an eminence near the gallows, he cast his eyes over the beautiful landscape and followed the windings of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. He looked up earnestly at the sun and sky, and all about, and then remarked, “This is a beautiful country. I have not cast my eye over it before–that is, while passing through the field.” The cortege passed half around the gallows to the east side, where it halted. The troops composing the escort took up their assigned position, but the Petersburg Grays, as the immediate body guard, remained as before, closely hemming in the prisoner. They finally opened ranks to let him pass out, when, with the assistance of two men, he descended from the wagon, bidding good by to those within it; and then, with firm step and erect form, he strode past Jailor, Sheriff, and officers, and was the first person to mount the scaffold steps. He then looked about him, principally in the direction of the people, in the far distance. Then to Capt. Avis, his jailor, he said, “I have no words to thank you for all your kindness to me.” To Sheriff Campbell he remarked, “Let there be no more delay than is necessary.” His black slouched hat was then removed, his elbows and ankles were pinioned, and the white hood was drawn over his head. The Sheriff requested him to step forward on the trap. He said, “You have put this thing over my head and I cannot see; you must lead me.” There are eight minutes of suspense, while the stupid cavalry are trying to find their proper position. Impatient at the delay, Col. Scott gives the signal, Sheriff Campbell severs the rope with his hatchet, the trap falls with a horrid screech of its hinges, and the unfortunate man swings off into the air.
There was but one spasmodic effort of the hands to clutch at the neck, but for nearly five minutes the limbs jerked and quivered. He seemed to regain an extraordinary hold upon life. One who had seen numbers of men hung before told me [he] had never seen so hard a struggle. After the body had dangled in mid air for twenty minutes, it was examined by the surgeons for signs of life. First the Charlestown physicians went up and made their examination, and after them the military surgeons, the prisoner being executed by the civil power and with military assistance as well. To see them lifting up the arms, now powerless, that once were so strong, and placing their ears to the breast of the corpse, holding it steady by passing an arm around it, was revolting in the extreme.
And so the body dangled and swung by its neck, turning to this side or that when moved by the surgeons, and swinging, pendulum like, from the force of the south wind that was blowing, until, after thirty-eight minutes from the time of swinging off, it was ordered to be cut down, the authorities being quite satisfied that their dreaded enemy was dead. The body was lifted upon the scaffold and fell into a heap as limp as a rag. It was then put into the black walnut coffin, the body guard closed in about the wagon, the cavalry led the van, and the mournful procession moved off.
Throughout the whole sad proceeding the utmost order and decorum reigned. I think that when the prisoner was on the gallows, words in ordinary tones might have been heard all over the forty-acre field. In less than fifteen minutes the whole military force had left the field of execution, a dozen sentries alone, perhaps, remaining. The townspeople having been kept at a considerable distance, and none from the country about being allowed to approach nearer than a mile, there were not, I think, counting soldiers and civilians, more than a thousand spectators. A great felling of exasperation prevails in consequence of this foolish stringency, and it is a wonder than conflicts have not arisen between the citizens and their protectors.
John Brown, although at times willing to argue with the local clergy upon religious matters, has absolutely rejected all appearance of spiritual comfort at their hands, even maintaining that those who were capable of countenancing Slavery, were not fit to come between him and his God. The other day, he said, that instead of any clergyman of Charlestown, if they would suffer him to be followed to the place of execution by a family of little negro children, headed by a pious slave mother, it would be all he would ask. The New-York Herald reports him to have said when told that his wife could not remain with him more than three or four hours, “I want this favor from the State of Virginia.” This is incorrect, for with the same contemptuous independence which he has ever displayed, he said, proudly, “Oh, I don’t ask any favors of the State of Virginia, You must do your duty.” When the husband and wife parted, she shed some tears, but the old hero, patting her on the shoulder, said, “Mary, this is not right. Show that you have nerves.” She is said to have straightened herself up as if electrified, and wept no more. The body left Charlestown under escort in the afternoon, and at Harper’s Ferry was delivered up to Mrs. Brown.
Like a string that snaps after great tension, the public mind at Charlestown seemed relieved the moment that the body had been returned to the jail. The extra sentries were called in, and people were suffered once more to pass in and out of town with tolerable freedom. The dread is not all removed yet, however, for every night mysterious lights are seen to shoot up, in the direction of Harper’s Ferry, which are answered elsewhere. Despite all vigilance and search, no cause can be assigned, and it is, therefore, believed that parties of rescuers are patiently biding their time to take revenge, when fancied security once more prevails. It is said that there can be no shadow of doubt that large bodies of armed men have been hovering very near to Charlestown, and the remaining prisoners are guarded with the most jealous vigilance. Yesterday morning orders were issued that no more visitors shall be admitted to the prisoners, they having implored the authorities to give them their little remaining time for reflection.
Correspondence of The N. Y. Tribune.
Charlestown, Va. Saturday, Dec. 3, 1859.
Before this can reach you, the telegraph will have given the intelligence of John Brown’s death, and the attendant circumstances. I am told that the general report will include the most minute details of the occasion; so that all that is left for me to do is to supply such particulars of incident as may probably be omitted in a record prepared for universal circulation.
The events of last Thursday caused a more intense excitement than any that have been witnessed in Charlestown. The morning was occupied in the preparation of the field of death, which was marked out with military precision according to the plans of Gen. Taliaferro, with lines for the troops at the distance of fifty yards from the spot selected for the gallows, and distinct positions for the officers of the day, and the Commander-in-Chief. These arrangements were watched with great public interest, but their attraction ended at once, when, at noon, the knowledge that John Brown’s wife was expected became general.. Mrs. Brown had arrived in the morning at Harper’s Ferry, and was anxious to proceed at once to Charlestown, but the rigors of military discipline were not to be relaxed, and it was determined that her progress and arrival should be made the occasion of the most imposing warlike display that could be made. At 1 o’clock, twenty-five of Capt. Scott’s cavalry corps–the Black Horse Rangers–surrounded the carriage in which Mrs. Brown was to be brought hither, and with much clashing of arms and glittering display, the procession departed. Three hours elapsed, during which the curiosity of the populace swelled near to bursting. At 4 o’clock, the return of the cavalcade was announced, and in an instant the road to the jail was thronged with hundreds of eager gazers. For a brief time the way was obstructed, and the carriage and escort paused before the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, while a body of troops, with much pomp and circumstance, made clear the way and formed a hollow square reaching from the carriage to the jail. As soon as all was ready, the cavalcade passed on, and through double rows of pointed bayonets and amid thickly-planted pieces of artillery, the grief-stricken woman found her way to the door beyond which her husband, shackled and fettered, awaited her coming. By Captain Moore, who came with her to Harper’s Ferry, she was led into the presence of Gen. Taliaferro, Sheriff Campbell, Mr. Andrew Hunter, and jailer Avis. Here the dreary dignities of formal reception were continued. For fifteen minutes stiff platitudes befell her. With singularly bad taste the Commander-in-Chief assured her that if she should ever be disposed to visit Virginia again, he could cordially invite her to Charlestown, where she would receive true Southern hospitality. Soon after, she was taken aside by Mrs. Avis and searched. The bolts were then withdrawn, and, accompanied by the jailer, Mrs. Brown went to meet her husband for the last time.
A few minutes before her admission, Stephens was removed from Brown’s cell, into one adjoining. In the little interval that remained, Capt. Moore entered to apprise Brown that his wife would soon be with him. Before he left, he asked Brown to indorse a check which had been handed to him by a gentleman who had accompanied Mrs. Brown from the North, but who had been left at the Ferry. The check read thus.
Philadelphia, 11th Month, 30, 1859.
The Consolidated Bank
Pay to John Brown (now of Virginia), or order, Fifty (00-100) Dollars.
John H. Cavender.
Brown’s indorsement, in his usual, firm, and bold characters, was as follows:
Pay to the order of Mary A. Brown.
Gen. Taliaferro, and the other gentleman constituting the committee of reception, then entered the cell for the purpose of informing Brown that his interview with his wife must of necessity be short. “I hope,” said Brown, “that it may be two or three hours.” “I do not think,” said Gen. Taliaferro, “that I can grant so long a time.” “Well,” answered Brown, “I ask nothing of you sir; I beg nothing from the State of Virginia. Carry out your orders, General, that is enough. I am content.” The interview was, however, allowed to last four hours.
Mrs. Brown was led into the cell by the jailer. Her husband rose, and, as she entered, received her in his arms. No word was spoken; but, if we may believe Capt Avis, their silence was more eloquent than any utterance could have been. For some minutes they stood speechless–Mrs. Brown resting her head upon her husband’s breast, and clasping his neck with her arms. At length they sat down, and spoke; and from Capt. Avis, who was the only witness of the sorrowful scene, the following record comes:
John Brown spoke first. “Wife, I am glad to see you,” he said.
“My dear husband, it is a hard fate.”
“Well, well; cheer. We must all bear it in the best manner we can. I believe it is all for the best.”
“Our poor children; God help them.”
“Those that are dead to this world are angels in another. How are all those still living? Tell them their father died without a single regret for the course he has pursued–that he is satisfied that he is right in the eyes of God and of all just men.”
Mrs. Brown then spoke of their remaining children, and their home. Brown’s voice, as he alluded to the bereavements of his family, was broken with emotion. After a brief pause, Brown said:
“Mary, I would like you to get the bodies of our two boys who were killed at Harper’s Ferry, also the bodies of the two Thompsons, and after I am dead, place us all together on a wood pile, and set fire to the wood, burn the flesh, then collect our bones and put them in a large box, then have the box carried to our farm in Essex County and there bury us.”
Mrs. Brown said, “I really cannot consent to do this. I hope you will change your mind on this subject. I do not think permission would be granted to do any such thing. For my sake, think no more of such an idea.”
“Well, well,” Brown answered, “do not worry or fret about it, I thought he plan would save considerable expense and was the best.”
Mrs. Brown then spoke of Gerritt Smith, and asked if her husband had heard of the affliction that had visited him. Brown answered:
“Yes, I have read something about it.”
“Do you know that he is now in Utica?” said Mrs. Brown.
“Yes, I have been so informed; he was a good friend, and I exceedingly regret his misfortune. How is he, have you heard form him lately?”
“Yes, I heard direct from him a few days ago. He was thought to be improving.”
“I am really glad to hear it.”
Nothing more was said upon this subject.
The conversation then turned upon matters of business, which Brown desired to have arranged after his death. He gave his wife all the letters and papers which were needed for this purpose, and read to her the will which had been drawn up for him by Mr. Hunter, carefully explaining every portion of it. The document is as follows:
Charlestown, Jefferson County, Va.
December 1, 1859.
I give to my son, John brown, jr., my surveyor’s compass and other surveyor’s articles, if found; also, my old granite monument, now, at North Elba, N. Y., to receive upon its two sides a further inscription, as I will hereafter direct; said stone monument, however, to remain at North Elba so long as any of my children and my wife may remain there as residents.
I give to my son Jason Brown my silver watch, with my name engraved on inner case.
I gave to my son Owen Brown my double-spring opera-glass, and my rifle-gun (if found), presented to me at Worcester, Mass. It is globe-sighted and new. I give, also, to the same son $50 in cash, to be paid him from the proceeds of my father’s estate, in consideration of his terrible suffering in Kansas and his crippled condition from his childhood.
I give to my son Solomon Brown $50 in cash, to be paid him from my father’s estate, as an offset to the first two cases above named.
I gave to my daughter, Ruth Thompson, my large old Bible, containing the family record.
I give to each of my sons, and to each of my other daughters, my son-in-law, Henry Thompson, and to each of my daughters-in-law, as good a copy of the Bible as can be purchased at some bookstore in New-York or Boston, at a cost of $5 each in cash; to be paid out of the proceeds of my father’s estate.
I gave to each of my grandchildren that may be living when my father’s estate is settled, as good a copy of the Bible as can be purchased (as above) at a cost of $3 each.
All the Bibles to be purchased at one and the same time, for cash, on the best terms.
I desire to have ($50) fifty dollars each paid out of the final proceeds of my father’s estate, to the following-named persons, to wit: To Allen Hammond, esq., of Rockville, Tolland County, Conn., or to George Kellogg, esq., former agent of the New-England Company at that place, for the use and benefit of that company. Also, $50 to Silas Havens, formerly of Lewisburg, Summit County, O., if he can be found: also, $50 to a man of Storck County, O., at Canton, who sued my father in his lifetime, though Judge Humphrey and Mr. Upson of Akron, to be paid by J. R. Brown to the man in person, if he can be found. His name I cannot remember. My father made a compromise with the man by taking our house and lot at Manneville. I desire that any remaining balance that may become my due from my father’s estate may be paid in equal amounts to my wife, and to each of my children, and to the widows of Watson and Owen Brown, by my brother.
John Avis, Witness
In reference to the tombstone here alluded to, Brown appeared very anxious. The inscription was drawn up by Brown himself, and handed to his wife, who has it in her possession. Speaking of the parties to whom sums are directed to be paid, he said: “Dear Mary, if you can find these pay them personally, but do not pay any one who may present himself as their attorneys, for if it gets into the hands of attorneys we do not know what will become of it.”
After this, Mr. and Mrs. Brown took supper together. This occupied only a few minutes. Brown then touched upon other business affairs, until an order was received from the Commander-in-Chief, saying that the interview must terminate. Brown then said: “Mary, I hope you will always live in Essex County. I hope you will be able to get all our children together and impress the inculcations of the right principles to each succeeding generation. I give you all the letters and papers which have been sent me since my arrest. I wish you also to take all my clothes that are here, and carry them home. Good by, good by. God bless you!”
The bitterness of parting was brief. Mrs. Brown was led away with the utmost consideration by Capt. Avis, and, soon after 8 o’clock, was on her way again to Harper’s Ferry. During the passage, Capt. Moore, who sat beside her, did not fail to present to her arguments in favor of the blessings of Slavery–pointing out, by way of example, a troop of negroes disporting by the roadside.
After his wife’s departure Brown wrote until midnight, when he retired. At daybreak he resumed his labor with undiminished energy. At 10 ½ o’clock he was called upon to prepare for his death. He took leave of all his fellow-prisoners, affectionately bidding farewell to all, excepting Cook, toward whose want of good faith he was not disposed to be indulgent, and Hazlitt, with whom he would acknowledge no acquaintance. At 11 o’clock he was brought from the jail, and, surrounded by a guard of cavalry, conducted to the scaffold. He mounted the wagon in which he was conveyed with the same calmness he has shown during all the days of his captivity. He sat, with Capt. Avis, upon the pine box which contained his coffin. Upon reaching the gallows he walked, never faltering in his step, to the platform and waited in silence for the completion of the necessary arrangements. When the cap was about to be put over his head, he bade farewell to those who stood by him with evident deep feeling. In the adjustment of the rope Capt. Avis was as speedy as was possible, Brown remaining all the while motionless. I know that every one within view was greatly impressed with the dignity of his bearing. I have since heard men of the South say that his courageous fortitude and insensibility to fear filled them with amazement.
In a few moments Capt. Avis led Brown upon the trap, and announced that all was ready. Then instead of permitting the execution to be at once consummated, the proceedings were checked, and the hideous mockery of a vast military display began. For ten minutes at the least, under the orders of the commanding officer, the troops trod heavily over the ground, hither and thither, now advancing toward the gallows, now turning about in sham defiance of an imaginary enemy. All this while Brown stood motionless, answering only to Capt. Avis that he was not tired, but wished to be kept no longer than they found necessary. At length the valor of Virginia was satisfied, the soldiers resumed their positions, and the last command was given. With a hatchet the Sheriff cut the rope which sustained the trap, without one struggle, without one movement except the heavy fall, without one sound or sign of suffering, John Brown passed from this life.
Some say “he died game.” And so he did. His “game” of life was the resolute and unyielding pursuit of a purpose which to him was holy and noble. The convictions of his soul taught him how to try and win it. No perils, no terrors could turn him aside. The game he played was not for his own gain, but yet his own life was his stake. Losing, he bowed before his destiny, though never despairing, even in the midst of hopes overthrown and miseries such as few men are called to endure, that the side he had played on must some time triumph. He died game, and his death honored the instrument of shame upon which he met it.
From Our Special Correspondent.
Charlestown, Va. Dec. 3, 1859.
In looking over the note-book of my predecessor, just as he was about leaving town, I observed that he had omitted certain matters which are not without considerable interest, and which I will lay before you at this time. Certainly no one who witnessed the scene presented on the field of execution can obliterate it from his memory, for, setting aside the peculiarly memorable event which called it out, the grouping, marching, and deploying of the troops, seen in the bright sunlight, and with so grand a background would insure its permanency.
The sun arose clear and bright, but was presently lost behind a haze which I thought augured badly for the day. By 9 o’clock, however, almost the entire expanse of the blue heavens was free of clouds, and the thermometer stood so high that, until late in the afternoon, the windows of houses were open, and all the world were sitting on their porches or promenading the streets. I walked out to the field of execution at an early hour to watch all the preliminaries, and secure as good a place as the fears of the military authorities would accord to a peaceful citizen from the North. The timber for the scaffold, all framed ready for erection, was hauled to the ground the evening previous, and at 7 o’clock, the carpenter and his assistants began putting it together. The scaffold was about six feet high from the ground, perhaps twelve feet wide, and fifteen or eighteen long. A hand-rail extended around three sides and down the flight of steps. On the other side, stout uprights, with a cross-beam was an iron hook from which the rope was suspended. The trap beneath was arranged to swing on hinges, attached to the platform so slightly, as to break from it when the cord was cut that upheld the trap. The cord, knotted at the end, passed through a hole in the trap, through another hole in the cross-beam, over the corner and down the upright to a hook near the ground, to which it was tied. It will thus be seen, that the weight of the prisoner being upon it, the sheriff had only to cut the cord near the hook, and the trap would fall at once.
The rope used to strangle Brown was only three feet long. It was of hemp, made in Kentucky, and sent in a box to sheriff Campbell by a planter for this express purpose. Other ropes had been sent from other sections. One made of South Carolina cotton, in Alexandria, has already been publicly noticed. This would have been preferred beyond all others, because of the eminent fitness of the moral it conveyed for the consideration of all sympathizers with this deluded Abolitionist! But Providence willed it otherwise; for it was found on trial unable to sustain a much less weight than that of a man’s body. Another, almost as great a pet with our Charlestown friends, was of hemp, made in Missouri by the slaves of Mahala Doyle, and sent by her with a particular request that, for the sake of retributive justice, it might be used to hang the man whom she asserts murdered her husband and two sons. This was tried in the balance, but found wanting also. So the precious gift from Kentucky was applied to the purpose.
The rope was arranged so as to give the body a fall of just eighteen inches–scarcely enough it was thought be some, who expressed a desire that Brown might fall ten feet, so as to insure his death beyond a peradventure.
On Thursday afternoon, a corporal and some of his guard went to to the field with a wagon-load of white flags fixed on short stakes, which were stuck in the ground at twenty paces apart all around the lot, in two rows, the rows twenty paces apart. These were intended to mark the posts of the sentries. Other similar flags showed the positions for the Commander-in-Chief, with his staff, the several companies and troops, and a narrow strip on the town side, where worthy and well qualified citizens who came properly vouched for, should be allotted positions. They need not have gone to this latter trouble, however, for when the time for the execution came, the people had been so warned, and bayonetted, and arrested, and scared, and bamboozled by the military, that they generally remained at home. There were not 400 civilians on the ground, and as to the poor country people, they might have been seen from the scaffold, away off on the roads and in fields, at least a mile off, and all under the watchful supervision of valiant troopers and foot soldiers.
By 9 o’clock the first of the troops came to do their perilous duty. The double line of sentries was arranged, and at the word of command each man in his turn right-faced and forward-marched, and went to pacing up and down his beat, for all the world as if moved by machinery. Cavalry troopers clothed in scarlet jackets sat like statues on their horses at distances of fifty feet from each other, but the lapse of time bringing weariness, they relieved themselves by assuming sundry graceful postures of body, such as hanging a leg over their horse’s neck or sitting sidewise like a woman.
Then came an a[r]tillery company, with a brass cannon of large size and most approved pattern, which was skillfully pointed so that in the event of an attempted rescue the poor prisoner might be blown into shreds by the heavy charge of grape-shot that lay perdu in its cavernous depths. So you see the brave Virginians were determined to vindicate the majesty of the law in any event. This is no joke I assure you. The cannon was actually there, and actually loaded; for I saw it with my own eyes, and felt it with my own hands. This was not the only cannon in question, either, for Capt. Nichols’ company had their guns pointed so as to sweep the jail and every approach to it, in case of need: which, considering that the fearful enemy was being quietly hanged at a little distance off, reminded me of dog Noble watching a certain hole after a certain squirrel had run safely from it. I do not speak of the prisoners remaining in jail, for no one feels afraid of them. Brown is the head devil, and almost the only incubus on their breasts.
After the artillery, more cavalry and infantry, and so on until all but the escort were on the ground. The field contains about forty acres, I should say, part of it in corn stubble, but the greater part in grass. The surface is undulating, and a broad hillock near the pubilc [sic] road was selected as the site for the gallows, because it would afford the distant spectators a fair view, and place the prisoner so high that if compelled to fire upon him, the soldiers need not shoot each other or the civilians. The field was bounded on the south by the road, on the north by a pretty bit of woodland, and on the remaining two sides by inclosed fields.
The sun shone with great splendor as the prisoner’s escort came up, and afar off could be seen the bright-gleaming muskets and bayonets of his body-guard, hedging him in, in close ranks, all about. On the field the several companies glittered with the same sparkle of guns and trappings, and the gay colors of their uniforms, made more intense in the glare, came out into strong relief with the dead tints of sod and woods. Away off to the East and South, the splendid mass of the Blue Ridge loomed against the sky, and shut in the horizon. Over the woods, toward the North-east, long, think stripes of clouds had gradually accumulated, and foreboded the storm that came in due time; while, looking toward the South, the eye took in an undulating fertile country, stretching out to the distant mountains. All Nature seemed at peace, and the shadow of the approaching solemnity seemed to have been cast over the soldiers, for there was not a sound to be heard as the column came slowly up the road. There was no band of musicians to highten the effect of the scene by playing the march of the dead, but with solemn tread the heavy footfalls came, as if those of one man. Thus they passed to their station on the easterly side of the scaffold, and the old man calmly descended from the wagon, mounted the gallows stairs with unfaltering step, and was led to his place on the fatal trap. His unwavering courage is well illustrated in the fact that, when the Sheriff took hold of him to lead him forward under the cross-beam, there was no trembling of body to be noticed, nor anything which would show a weakness, at the very brink of the precipice from which he was about to leap. There he stood, in his dark clothes and blood-red slippers, and with the white hood drawn over his head, for eight minutes, that seemed ages–the cynosure of all eyes on the field and afar off. He, the stone thrown by God into the black and sluggish pool of Slavery; while, ebbing from him in fast-widening circles of sentries and pickets and mounted scouts that surrounded the place for fifteen miles off, went the ripples that he had caused on its bosom.
The following diagram will perhaps convey an idea of the military precautions adopted to insure the death of John Brown; but it must be remembered that the sentries and scouts were formed in cordons around the place for fifteen miles only, and that reserves of troops were ready in barracks to march at a moment’s notice to any point:
The field is not more than a half mile from the jail, from the windows of his cell in the second story of which Cook had an unobstructed view of the whole proceedings. He watched his old Captain until the trap fell and his body swung into mid-air, when he turned away and gave vent to his feelings.
The cord cut a finger’s depth into Brown’s neck, and a considerable distortion of countenance is said to have been produced. This will doubtless decrease as the muscles relax and fall to their natural places again. Brown’s hold on life was strong. He did not die easily, judging from appearances, and the testimony of experienced men. The animal heat remained in his body so long, that although it was to have left under escort of a detachment of the Richmond Grays at 5 o’clock, the physicians detained it an hour and a half longer to cool. I heard it suggested by a Captain that a good dose of arsenic should be administered to the corpse to make sure work, and many others wished that at least the head might be cut off and retained by them, since the body was to be embalmed, and, on gorgeous catafalques, carried in procession through Northern cities. This amiable bloodthirstiness is on a par with that of the students at the Winchester Medical College, who have skinned the body of one of Brown’s sons, separated the nervous and muscular and venous systems, dried and varnished them, and have the whole hung up as a nice anatomical illustration. Some of the students wished to stuff the skin, others to make it into game pouches. They had better not stuff it, for if the occupant gave them so bad a scare that it requires nearly three thousand troops to quiet them, the very dried skin stuffed with straw would keep them at least in a perpetual tremor.
If there are cowards and blusterers in this part of the country, do not set down all Virginians as such, for I am well assured that there are thousands of stout hearts and strong arms ready at this moment to fight for her soil. No one but a natural fool can see such gray-haired men in arms as are occasionally met in the streets of Charlestown, alongside as brave boys as ever looked into a cannon’s mouth, without being sensible of the spirit which actuates some of the troops.
There is a great feeling of exasperation in Jefferson County against Gov. Wise, for two reasons: First, his expressions of contempt for their defeat and imprisonment at Harper’s Ferry; and secondly, for sending so much larger force to protect them than was necessary, and thus instituting a military despotism far more stringent than that of France and Russia. Things have got to such a pass that old citizens cannot go from their houses to their stores without danger of several arrests. Farmers wishing to sell produce in town, or purchase necessaries for their families are stopped on the highroad at the point of the bayonet. The usual form is this: “Halt!” “Who comes there?” “A friend, with the countersign.” “Advance, friend, and give the countersign.” “Trenton.” “Pass friend.” But the poor friend has to go through this ordeal perhaps every quarter or half mile, and it becomes miserably tiresome before the dozen of eggs are sold or the pound of candles purchased. Gov. Wise’s Jefferson-County vote, in case of his nomination, will be infinitessimally small. The village, turn where you will, presents every appearance of a besieged town, what with cannon in the streets, troops marching and parading, sentries pacing to and fro, orderlies hurrying hither and thither, public buildings, offices, churches, and private houses turned into barracks, and around them all the cooking, cleaning of accoutrements, and the thousand other accessories of soldiers’ quarters.
There is great want of system in the military arrangements, and in the event of a combined attack at different points, dire confusion would ensue. If my military experience does not go for naught, I must believe that, with the present disposition of the several bodies of troops, a general alarm would result in great slaughter of the soldiers by their own friends. But, fortunately, there will be no occasion to test practically the value of my observation, for no foe will, or probably ever has intended to, attack the troops. It is possible, but not, in my opinion, probable, that if precautions had not been taken, a small band of Brown’s comrades might have attempted to carry him off by stratagem. That is all out of the question now, however, for he will disturb no more Virginians, except as his memory may incite to ta repetition of his folly.
The newspapers that I have seen at this place make no mention of the fact that, owing to either the stupidity or inexperience of the cavalry escort, they did not fall into position about the gallows for so long a time that the commanding officer, impatient at the delay, and not wishing to keep Brown standing on the trap with the noose about his neck, gave the signal when eight minutes had expired, and the poor man swung off while the troop was passing within a few feet of him. As the trap fell its hinges gave a wailing sort of screech that could be heard at every point on the field. Was this symbolic of the wail of grief that went up at the moment from thousands of friends to the cause of emancipation throughout the land? In the dead stillness of the hour it went to my heart like the wail for the departed that may be heard in some highland glen.
The body once in its coffin and on its way back to the jail, the field was quickly deserted; the cannon limbered up again, rumbled away, and the companies of infantry and troops of cavalry, in solid column, marched away. The body had not left the field before the carpenters began to take the scaffold to pieces, that it might be stored up against the 16th proximo, when it will be used to hang Cook and Coppie together. A separate gallows will be built for the two negroes.
In the direction of Harper’s Ferry a mysterious light, as of a Roman candle, or a ball of fire shot high up in air, is to be seen every evening at about 7 or 7 ½ o’clock. As I was coming down the main street to-night. I distinctly saw it, and on watching for about half an hour, noticed it twice more. The officer with whom I was walking, said the authorities could not discover say cause for it, although strict search had been made. There is a prevailing belief that Abolitionists hovering near–on the mountains, perhaps–will descend some night and burn the town, in retaliation for the execution of Brown, while others are fearful of every box or parcel coming by railway, lest it contain some hand-grenade, or other infernal machine.
The night after the execution has set in dark and stormy. The south wind has brought up a violent south of rain and sleet, and the prospects are that we shall have to suffer for our last three pleasant days. The poor sentries out in the open fields are having a piteous time of it, and, I have no doubt, think by this time that soldiering in practice in not so couleur de rose as drill-room muster or street parade.
The up express train brought, last evening, a package of H. Clay Pate’s pamphlet on John Brown and matters connected with the battle of Black Jack, which is intended to vindicate his own character for personal bravery. This document, which for mean blackguardism and scurrilous language is a model of its kind, deserves a special notice. Mr. Pate, with the view of getting Brown and Cook to testify before witnesses in regard to his (Pate’s) courage, went to visit them in jail, accompanied by two friends and Capt. Avis. He met the prisoners in a most friendly manner, shaking them heartily by the hand, and appearing to commiserate their imprisonment. Under the guise of amity, this flag of truce as it were, he got them to acknowledge that he had shown personal bravery in their several conflicts. His end once secured, he leaves for the North, and publishes a pamphlet, in which he loads them with every opprobrious epithet that his malice can suggest, calling Brown a greater liar than hell ever held, and Cook a white-livered scoundrel, and other choice appellations. If Mr. H. Clay Pate thinks to establish a renown by such cowardly conduct, he is greatly mistaken; for I have heard ultra Southern men protest against this mean kicking of the dead lion in emphatic terms.