I have the honor to report, for the information of the Secretary of War, that on arriving here on the night of the 17th instant, in obedience to Special Orders No. 194 of that date from your office, I learn that a party of insurgents, about 11 P.M. on the 16th, had seized the watchmen stationed at the armory, arsenal, rifle factory, and bridge across the Potomac, and taken possession of those points. They then dispatched six men, under one of their party, called Captain Aaron C. Stevens, to arrest the principal citizens in the neighborhood and incite the negroes to join in the insurrection. The party took Colonel L. W. Washington from his bed about 1:30 A.M. on the 17th, and brought him, with four of his servants, to this place. Mr. J. H. Allstadt and six of his servants were in the same manner seized about 3 A.M., and arms placed in the hands of the negroes. Upon their return here, John E. Cook, one of the party sent to Mr. Washington's, was dispatched to Maryland, with Mr. Washington's wagon, two of his servants, and three of Mr. Allstadt's, for arms and ammunition, etc.
As day advanced, and the citizens of Harper's Ferry commenced their usual avocations, they were separately captured, to the number of forty, as well as I could learn, and confined in one room of the fire-engine house of the armory, which seems early to have been selected as a point of defense. About 11 A.M. the volunteer companies from Virginia began to arrive, and the Jefferson Guards and volunteers from Charlestown, under Captain J. W. Rowen, I understood, were first on the ground. The Hamtramck Guards, Captain V. M. Butler; the Shepherdstown troop, Captain Jacob Reinhart; and Captain Alburtis's company from Martinsburg arrived in the afternoon. These companies, under the direction of Colonels R. W. Taylor and John T. Gibson, forced the insurgents to abandon their positions at the bridge and in the village, and to withdraw within the armory inclosure, where they fortified themselves in the fire-engine house, and carried ten of their prisoners for the purpose of insuring their safety and facilitating their escape, whom they termed hostages . . . . .
After sunset more troops arrived. Captain B. B. Washington's company from Winchester, and three companies from Fredericktown, Md., under Colonel Shriver. Later in the evening the companies from Baltimore, under General Charles C. Edgerton, second light brigade, and a detachment of marines, commanded by Lieutenant J. Green accompanied by Major Russell, of that corps, reached Sandy Hook, about one and a half miles east of Harper's Ferry. At this point I came up with these last-named troops, and leaving General Edgerton and his command on the Maryland side of the river for the night, caused the marines to proceed to Harper's Ferry, and placed them within the armory grounds to prevent the possibility of the escape of the insurgents. Having taken measures to halt, in Baltimore, the artillery companies ordered from Fort Monroe, I made preparations to attack the insurgents at daylight. But for the fear of sacrificing the lives of some of the gentlemen held by them as prisoners in a midnight assault, I should have ordered the attack at once.
Their safety was the subject of painful consideration, and to prevent, if possible, jeopardizing their lives, I determined to summon the insurgents to surrender. As soon after daylight as the arrangements were made, Lieutenant J. E. B. Stewart, First Calvary, who had accompanied me from Washington as staff officer, was dispatched, under a flag, with a written summons.
Knowing the character of the leader of the insurgents, I did not expect it would be accepted. I had therefore directed that the volunteer troops, under their respective commanders, should be paraded on the lines assigned them outside the armory, and had prepared a storming party of twelve marines, under their commander, Lieutenant Green, and had placed them close to the engine-house, and secure from its fire. Three marines were furnished with sledge-hammers to break in the doors, and the men were instructed how to distinguish our citizens from the insurgents; to attack with the bayonet, and not to injure the blacks detained in custody unless they resisted. Lieutenant Stewart was also directed not to receive from the insurgents any counter propositions. If they accepted the terms offered, they must immediately deliver up their arms and release their prisoners. If they did not, he must, on leaving the engine-house, give me the signal. My object was, with a view of saving our citizens, to have as short an interval as possible between the summons and the attack.
The summons, as I had anticipated, was rejected. At the concerted signal the storming party moved quickly to the door and commenced the attack. The fire-engines within the house had been placed by the besieged close to the doors. The doors were fastened by ropes, the spring of which prevented their being broken by the blows of the hammers. The men were therefore ordered to drop the hammers, and, with a portion of the reserve, to use as a battering-ram a heavy ladder, with which they dashed in a part of the door and gave admittance to the storming party. The fire of the insurgents up to this time had been harmless. At the threshold one marine fell mortally wounded. The rest, led by Lieutenant Green and Major Russell, quickly ended the contest. The insurgents that resisted were bayoneted. Their leader, John Brown, was cut down by the sword of Lieutenant Green, and our citizens were protected by both officers and men. The whole was over in a few minutes. . . .
From the information derived from the papers found upon the persons and among the baggage of the insurgents, and the statement of those now in custody, it appears that the party consisted of nineteen menfourteen white and five black. That they were headed by John Brown, of some notoriety in Kansas, who in June last located himself in Maryland, at the Kennedy farm, where he has been engaged in preparing to capture the United States works at Harper's Ferry. He avows that his object was the liberation of the slaves of Virginia, and of the whole South; and acknowledges that he has been disappointed in his expectations of aid from the black as well as white population, both in the Southern and Northern States. The blacks whom he forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance.
The result proves that the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which could only end in failure; and its temporary success was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnifying his numbers.
1 Colonel Lee, afterward General Lee of the Civil War, commanded the forces sent to Harper's Ferry, to oppose Brown. He had graduated from West Point in 1820, served in the Mexican War, and been superintendent of West Point.
Of course all Virginia, including her Governor, rushed to Harper's Ferry upon learning that all was over and the insurrection completely supprest. The bleeding survivors were subjected to an alternation of queries and execrations, which they met bravely, as they had confronted the bullets of their numerous and ever-increasing foes. They answered frankly, save where their replies might possibly compromise persons still at liberty; and none of them sought to conceal the fact that they had struck for universal freedom at all hazards. The bearing of Brown was especially praised by his enemies (many of whom have since won notoriety in the ranks of the rebellion) as remarkably simple and noble. Among others, Mr. C. L. Vallandigham,2 of Ohio, hastened to visit and catechize Brown, in the hope of making political capital out of his confessions, and was answered frankly and fully. On his return to Ohio he said:
"It is in vain to underrate either the man or the conspiracy. Captain John Brown is as brave and resolute a man as ever headed an insurrection; and in a good cause and with a sufficient force would have been a consummate partizan commander. He has coolness, daring, persistency, the stoic faith and patience, and a firmness of will and purpose unconquerable. He is the farthest possible remove from the ordinary ruffian, fanatic, or madman. Certainly, it was one of the best-planned and best-executed conspiracies that ever failed. "
On Wednesday evening, October 19th, after thirty hours of this discipline, the four surviving prisoners were conveyed to the jail at Charlestown under an escort of marines. Brown and Stevens, badly wounded, were taken in a wagon; Green and Coppoc, unhurt, walked between files of soldiers, followed by hundreds, who at first cried, " Lynch them!", but were very properly shamed into silence by Governor Wise.
It is not necessary to linger here over the legal proceedings in this case; nor do the complaints, so freely made at the time of indecent haste and unfair dealing, on the part of the Virginia authorities, seem fully justified. That the conviction and death of Brown and his associates were predetermined is quite probable; but the facts and the nature of the case were notorious beyond dispute; and Virginia had but this alternativeto hang John Brown or to abolish slavery. She did not choose to abolish slavery; and she had no remaining choice but to hang John Brown. And as to trying him and Stevens while still weak and suffering severely from their woundsneither able at times to stand upit must be considered that the whole State had been terror-stricken by the first news of their attempt, and that fears of insurrection and of an armed rescue were still widely prevalent. That the lawyers of the vicinage who were assigned to the defense of the prisoners did their duty timidly and feebly is certain; but they shared, of course, not only the prejudices, but the terrors, of their neighbors, and knew that the case, at any rate, was hopeless . . . . .
The 2d of December was the day appointed for his execution. Nearly 3,000 militia were early on the ground. Fears of a forcible rescue or of a servile insurrection prevented a large attendance of citizens. Cannon were so planted as to sweep every approach to the jail, and to blow the prisoner into shreds upon the first intimation of tumult. Virginia held her breath until she heard that the old man was dead.
Brown rose at daybreak and continued writing with energy until half past ten, when he was told to prepare to die. He shook hands with the sheriff, visited the cell of Copeland and Green, to whom he handed a quarter of a dollar each, saying he had no more use for money, and bade them adieu. He next visited Cook and Coppoc, the former of whom had made a confession, which he pronounced false; saying he had never sent Cook to Harper's Ferry, as he had stated.
He walked out of the jail at 11 o'clock; an eye-witness said"with a radiant countenance, and the step of a conqueror." His face was even joyous, and it has been remarked that probably his was the lightest heart in Charlestown that day. A black woman with a little child in her arms stood by the door. He stopt a moment, and, stooping, kissed the child affectionately. Another black woman with a child, as he passed along, exclaimed: "God bless you, old man! I wish I could help you; but I can't." He looked at her with a tear in his eye. He mounted the wagon beside his jailer, Captain Avis, who had been one of the bravest of his captors, who had treated him very kindly, and to whom he was profoundly grateful. The wagon was instantly surrounded by six companies of militia. Being asked, on the way, if he felt any fear, he replied: "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." The day was clear and bright, and he remarked, as he rode, that the country seemed very beautiful. Arrived at the gallows, he said: "I see no citizens here; where are they?" "None but the troops are allowed to be present," was the reply. "That ought not to be," said he; "citizens should be allowed to be present as well as others." He bade adieu to some acquaintances at the foot of the gallows, and was first to mount the scaffold. His step was still firm, and his bearing calm, yet hopeful. The hour having come, he said to Captain Avis: "I have no words to thank you for all your kindness to me." His elbows and ankles being pinioned, the white cap drawn over his eyes, the hangman's rope adjusted around his neck, he stood waiting for death. "Captain Brown," said the sheriff, "you are not standing on the drop. Will you come forward?" "I can't see," was his firm answer; "you must lead me." The sheriff led him forward to the center of the drop. "Shall I give you a handkerchief and let you drop it as a signal?" "No; I am ready at any time; but do not keep me needlessly waiting." In defiance of this reasonable request, he was kept standing thus several minutes, while a military parade and display of readiness to repel an imaginary foe were enacted. The time seemed an hour to the impatient spectators; even the soldiers began to murmur, "Shame!" At last the order was given, the rope cut with a hatchet, and the trap fell; but so short a distance that the victim continued to struggle and to suffer for a considerable time. Being at length duly pronounced dead, he was cut down after thirty-eight minutes' suspension. His body was conveyed to Harper's Ferry and delivered to his widow, by whom it was borne to her far northern home among the mountains he so loved and where he was so beloved.
1 From Greeley's "American Conflict."
2 Then a member of Congress, and afterward prominent among Democrats opposed to the war.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE "GREAT EASTERN" IN NEW YORK HARBOR