Written by Joshua Horn on Saturday, October 17, 2009
Today is the 150th anniversary of John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry, which in many ways helped caused the Civil War. This week people are celebrating how he was a martyr who died to free the slaves. This is actually not true. Brown was a very evil man. Before the raid on Harper's Ferry, he stole what would now be about a million dollars, but he was so persuasive that he convinced the man he stole it from later to lend him money. He was also a lunatic. At one point while he was in Kansas, he took a group of people out during the night and went to all the cabins of the area and murdered in cold blood everyone who was for slavery. Also it just so happened that after that murder Brown and his sons had nice new saddles. There is lost more to say, but we don't have space here to tell all of it. My father did a great talk on our trip to the Shenandoah Valley last month, and sometime we will have them available for sale.
John Brown was encouraged to raid Harper's Ferry by the "Secret Six", a group of six prominent Bostonians who were abolitionists and Unitarians. The raid was not a very smart idea. He had 21 men, 16 white and 5 black. He chose Harper's Ferry because at that time it was a large arsenal and weapon factory where about 100,000 guns were stored. His plan was to get the weapons and leave, and then he excepted the slaves to flock to him from their plantations. First of all, he did not have any way to transport the 100,000 weapons. Secondly, if the slaves did come to him, it would just be a mob. Brown had never commanded more than 30 men, and the slaves probably did not know how to use the weapons. It would have been a bigger disaster than it was.
As to the actual raid, it went well to start with. He captured the arsenal, but then he made a big mistake by not leaving. The militia of the area gathered and attacked him. He ended up trapped in the fire engine house with only four men. The next day Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Jeb Stuart came up from Washington with 88 marines, and stormed the engine house at the point of the bayonet and captured it. John Brown and his men were tried for murder and slave insurrection and were convicted. They were hung on December 2nd. There is much interesting history about the raid which I studied before we went to the Shenandoah Valley.
It was very neat to be able to go to the site of the raid in September with the people from our church and see what actually happened there. Much of the town is the same as it was then, and it is a very neat location. Here are a few pictures.
We are planning to produce a documentary on Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862 from the video of the tour, but we will see if it happens.