He captured Harpers Ferry with his nineteen men so few*

October 16th: The bearded patriarch / With the Old Testament eyes

On the morning of October 17th, the people of Harpers Ferry awoke to find insurrection in their midst. Armory workers discovered Brown and his Provisional Army, and before long townspeople and the local militia had not only surrounded Brown’s party, but had re-taken the bridge over the Potomac and cut off any hope of escape. Things had begun to go pear-shaped for John Brown. The first man the raiders had killed was Heyward Shepherd, a free African-American who worked as a baggage handler on the B&O railroad. The first of John Brown’s men to die was Dangerfield Newby, another free African-American whose wife was still held in slavery in northern Virginia. The Provisonal Army retreated from the armory buildings to the engine house, a small brick building made for the storage of fire engines, and barricaded themselves inside.

John Brown’s son Watson was shot and killed when Brown sent him out with another man, carrying a white flag. Later that day, his son Oliver was mortally wounded during the periodic shooting and died some time later on the floor of the engine house. His son Owen was the only one of his family who participated in the raid to survive; Owen had remained behind to guard the Kennedy Farm the Provisional Army used as a base, with two others. At 3:30pm, President Buchanan dispatched Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, who had been on leave from the Army and visiting his home at Arlington, along with Lee’s Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart and a detachment of U. S. Marines, to put down the insurrection. Lee’s first act, upon arriving in Harpers Ferry, was to shut down the saloons to reduce the amount of drunken shooting going on from the townspeople.

October 18th: I could see Harpers ferry only as a trap of steel

* Lyric from the William Weston Patton version of the song “John Brown’s Body.”

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] October 17th: He captured Harpers Ferry with his nineteen men so few […]

  2. […] October 17th: He captured Harpers Ferry with his nineteen men so few […]


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