Please welcome guest author Frank Slider of Middlebourne, WV. Slider is a flyfisherman and amateur naturalist who volunteers for the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and is an avid Civil War history buff.
This vivid portrayal of the guerilla uprising that galvanized this country in 1859 is a spellbinding account of John Brown’s life and death on the gallows in Charles Town, Virginia, now West Virginia.
Brown attempted, and for a short time succeeded, in seizing the United States Armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His goal was to arm slaves from the surrounding countryside with the arms from the federal cache and retreat to a secret location in the mountains. From there, he planned on waging a guerilla war on slavery throughout the South.
The recounting of John Brown’s early life is both fascinating and troubling. He took up the mantle of radical abolitionist and moved to “Bleeding Kansas” in the mid-1850s to join in the fray between the anti-slavery “Free Staters” and the pro-slavery “Border Ruffians.” While both sides committed atrocities, Brown and his followers brutally murdered several pro-slavery settlers near Osawatomie Creek. After this, Brown was given the moniker Osawatomie Brown.
Brown had always dreamed of leading a large-scale slave rebellion and after his foray into Kansas, he set his sights on Harpers Ferry. Leading a diverse group of idealists that included two of his sons, Brown succeeded in capturing the U.S. Armory; however, their success was short-lived.
Hundreds of townspeople armed themselves in response and Brown’s group of insurgents was pinned down by small arms fire. The ensuing firefight culminated in the storming of Brown’s position by U.S. Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant James Ewell Brown—“Jeb”— Stuart.
Author Tony Horwitz does a commendable job of introducing into this unfolding tableau various historic figures that happened to intersect with the events at Harpers Ferry. These include the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, John Wilkes Booth, Robert E. Lee, Jeb Stuart, Governor Henry Wise of Virginia, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others.