Previously, I examined the oddity that every Secretary of War that served in the 1850s rebelled against his former country of allegiance. None was more suspect than John Buchanan Floyd, the former Virginia governor that ordered the transfer of 115,000 rifles and rifled muskets from three northern federal repositories to five southern arsenals (which were overrun during the 1860-61 secession wave) on 30 December 1859. As I asked previously, this begs the question: why?
IX: An Act of Treason—Raiding the Wrong Arsenal
Answer: perhaps the former Virginia governor was horrified by a fanatical raid on the second largest federal arsenal two months earlier:
It had happened so quickly. On the night of 16 October, at about 2230, 18 armed men led by a farmer who called himself Isaac Smith–some said he was “Old Osawatomie,” John Brown of Kansas–padded across the covered, wooden railroad trestle leading into the town and made a prisoner of one of the bridge tenders. Next the raiders had strolled undetected through the darkness of the gates of the United States armory. They leveled their pistols at a startled watchman and quickly gained access to the buildings.
The leader of the band then sent out patrols to take hostages. Most prominent among the captives was Lewis W. Washington, a colonel on the staff of Governor Henry A. Wise of Virginia and the great-grandnephew of George Washington. His captors forced him to hand over to them a sword given the first President by Frederick the Great of Prussia.<13> During the nightmare that followed, this sword hung at the side of the man called Smith.
While the prisoners were being rounded up, the second bridge tender, Patrick Higgins, wandered out onto the span in search of his partner. In the darkness he collided with two of the raiders who had been posted as guards. A single punch floored one of them, and as the other fired wildly, Higgins sprinted back to town. The angry, red crease etched lightly across his scalp by a rifle bullet was proof enough that Harper’s Ferry was under attack.
The raiders next showed their hand when the eastbound night express neared Harper’s Ferry. Afraid that the bridge had been weakened, a railroad employee flagged the train to a halt short of the trestle. A party of trainmen walked out onto the span to investigate but were driven back by a volley of rifle fire. Mortally wounded by the self-appointed liberators was Shephard Hayward, a freed slave. Until dawn the raiders held the train at Harper’s Ferry. Then the locomotive gingerly eased its cars across the bridge, gathered momentum, and roared off toward Frederick City, Maryland. There it halted while the conductor wired a garbled report of the insurrection to the railroad’s main office in Baltimore. This news was relayed to the governors of Maryland and Virginia; militiamen were alerted and sent marching toward the embattled town. Next a telegram was dispatched to the Secretary of War, and now, at last, Colonel Lee and the Marines had arrived on the scene.<14>
Ah, the October 1859 raid on the federal armory and arsenal in Charles Town, Virginia. Was Floyd turned upside down by a total failure to put down the insurrection? Not exactly:
Instantly the Marines sprang to the assault. Three of them flailed away with their sledge hammers; but the center doors, now slammed and bolted, held fast. Inside, Brown removed the historic sword from his belt, placed it reverently upon one of the fire carts, then joined the four raiders yet unwounded in trying to beat back the assault. From within the building came the bold words of Lewis Washington. “Don’t mind us,” he shouted. “Fire!” Lee recognized the voice. “The old revolutionary blood does tell,” was his quiet comment.<22>
Suddenly the thudding hammers stopped. During the charge, Greene had seen a ladder lying near the engine house. Now he ordered his men to snatch it up to use as a battering ram. Its second blow splintered the door, and the Leathernecks came spilling into the building just as Brown was reloading his weapon. <23>
Armed only with his light dress sword, Greene jumped from the cover of the abutment and bounded through the opening. Behind him came Major Russell, weaponless but brandishing a rattan switch. The darkened interior rocked to the echoing shots. The third Marine to scramble through the shattered door, Private Luke Quinn, took a fatal bullet in his abdomen. The fourth man, Private Mathew Ruppert, was slightly wounded in the face; <24> but these casualties could not stem the blue-clad tide.
The first figure to rise from the gloom as Greene rushed forward was that of Lewis Washington, an old friend. The Virginia aristocrat strode up to the officer, warmly took his left hand, then, pointing to a bearded man fumbling with a carbine, said, “This is Osawatomie.” With all his strength Greene slashed at Brown with his sword. The first blow left a deep cut across the back of his neck; but the frail blade bent double on Brown’s ammunition belt when Greene thrust at his heart, and John Brown was spared for the hangman. <25>
In a moment the engine house was filled with wildly charging Marines. A sniper posted under one of the engines was bayoneted to death; sharpened steel pinned a second raider to the wall. Greene then called a halt to the onslaught as the two unwounded raiders surrendered. <26>
Three minutes of fierce action had ended a 32-hour reign of terror. None of the hostages was harmed, but the Marines suffered two men wounded, one of them fatally. Brown, his wounded and semi-conscious son, and four able-bodied riflemen had defended the engine house. Of these, two were killed, Brown himself was wounded, and the others taken prisoner. <27>
What were the Marines doing so far inland? One of the chief ironies of this incident is that President James Buchanan and Secretary of War John Floyd turned to Colonel Robert E. Lee to put down an insurrection in Virginia. But before I can more forward, I must answer another question: what precipitated John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry?
X: Embers from Kansas
A simple answer might be that the border war in Kansas had finally set fire to the rest of the country. The violence in Kansas was never far from the minds of congressmen and senators. Whatever peaceful balance existed on Capitol Hill broke the day after Douglas County Sheriff Samuel J. Jones and U.S. Senator from Missouri David Rice Atchison sacked, shelled, and burned Lawrence, Kansas:
On May 22, 1856, the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a combat zone. In one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate’s entire history, a member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and savagely beat a senator into unconsciousness.
The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina.
Representative Preston Brooks was Butler’s South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.
Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.
Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.
Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and soon thereafter died at age 37. Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of civil war.
Representative Preston Brooks was aided by his fellow South Carolinian protégé, Rep. Laurence Keitt, the latter brandishing a pistol and shouting “Let them be!” as other congressmen attempted to come to Senator Charles Sumner’s aid. Both South Carolina congressmen resigned after the caning incident, only to both be reelected months later in the special elections required by Article I (followed by reelection a second time in 1856 as it was an election year). Nor would this remain an isolated incident:
In winter of 1858, Keitt once again found himself involved in a tangle. This time he was battling the enemy Republicans in Congress. As the House debated the acceptance of Kansas under the proslavery Lecompton Constitution, congressional nerves wore thin. During a late night/early morning session on February 5-6, 1858, Galusa Grow, a representative from Pennsylvania, who was described as “saucy in bravado toward his opponents,” and Keitt, who was said to be “addicted to swaggering bravado,” came to fisticuffs. As discussions were dragging, Grow, a Republican, crossed over to the Democrat side to confer with a opposition member. A frustrated Keitt said, “if you are going to object, go back to your side of the House.” Grow testily answered that, “this is a free hall.” The relaxed Keitt, who had previously kicked his shoes off, then responded, “wait until I put my shoe on you black Republican puppy.” Calling a man a puppy was of course the height of insult. Grow retorted that he “won’t allow any nigger driver to crack a whip about my ears.” At this comment Keitt jumped up and grabbed Grow by the throat, but was restrained by Reuben Davis of Mississippi. Keitt broke loose and grabbed Grow again. Grow supporters said that Grow then hit Keitt in the face with a right….Keitt supporters said the Grow missed and Keitt tripped.
Whatever the truth, now more members became involved. John Fox Potter of Wisconsin hit William Barksdale of Mississippi in the face. Barksdale thinking it was Elihu Washburn of Illinois then hit Washburn. Washburn tried to grab Barksdale by the hair, but Barksdale wore a toupee, so Washburn came up only with a hand full of hair. This naturally closed the tension as disputants broke out in laughter. The next day Keitt apologized and accepted blame for starting the melee.
As the saying goes, violence begets violence. But the 978 miles between Lawrence and Washington largely kept the bloody struggle at arm’s length until John Brown returned home.
XI: Root of the Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers
John Brown followed his sons west from Massachusetts in 1855:
John Brown was initially reluctant to join his sons in Kansas. He was 55, an old man by the actuarial tables of his day. He seemed worn down, broken by a lifetime of failures and disappointments. But a letter from Kansas changed his mind. The free-soilers needed arms “more than bread,” his son John Jr. wrote. “Now we want you to get for us these arms.”
The next day John Brown packed a wagon and headed west, gathering weapons along the way. “I’m going to Kansas,” he declared, “to make it a Free state.”
When Brown arrived at his son’s homestead, he was dismayed at what he found; his boys were starving, shivering with fever. In three weeks Brown built a sturdy log cabin, then another. He quickly brought order to their homestead – named “Brown’s Station.”
Of the five sons, John Jr. was most like his father. A blunt talking abolitionist, he was the captain of the Pottawatomie Rifles, a small group of free-state men living near the creek from which they took their name. They frequently exchanged threats of violence with their proslavery neighbors, but maintained an uneasy truce.
The 55-year old Brown, often referred to as “Old Brown” to differentiate from his eldest son and the because the father with age showed a weather-beaten appearance,
…fathered 20 children over a 33-year period:
Marriage to Dianthe Lusk:
John Brown Jr., born July 25, 1821 at Hudson, Ohio; died May 2, 1895, at Put-in-Bay Island, Ohio. Married Wealthy Hotchkiss
Jason Brown, born January 19, 1823, at Hudson, Ohio; died December 24, 1912, at Akron, Ohio. Married Ellen Sherbondy
Owen Brown, born November 4, 1824, at Hudson, Ohio; died January 9, 1889, at Pasadena, California.
Frederick Brown, born January 9, 1827, at Richmond, Pennsylvania; died March 31, 1831.
Ruth Brown, born February 18, 1829, at Richmond, Pennsylvania; died January 18, 1904 at Pasadena, California. Married Henry Thompson.
Frederick Brown, born December 31, 1830, at Richmond, Pennsylvania; died August 30, 1856, at Ossawatomie, Kansas.
Unnamed son, born and died August 7, 1832.
Marriage to Mary Ann Day:
Sarah Brown, born May 11, 1834, at Richmond, Pennsylvania; died September 23, 1843.
Watson Brown, born October 7, 1835, at Franklin, Ohio; died October 19, 1859, at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Married Isabella Thompson
Salmon Brown, born October 2, 1836, at Hudson; died May 10, 1919, at Portland, Oregon. Married Abbie Hinkley
Charles Brown, born November 3, 1837, at Hudson, Ohio; died September 11, 1843
Oliver Brown, born March 9, 1839, at Franklin, Ohio; died October 17, 1859, at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Married Martha Brewster
Peter Brown, born December 7, 1840, at Hudson, Ohio; died September 22, 1843
Austin Brown, born September 14, 1842, at Richfield, Ohio; died September 22, 1843
Annie Brown, born December 23, 1832, at Richfield, Ohio; died October 5, 1926, at Shively, California. Married Samuel Adams
Amelia Brown, born June 22, 1845, at Akron, Ohio; died October 30, 1846
Sarah Brown, born September 11, 1846, at Akron, Ohio; died June 30, 1916, California.
Ellen Brown, born May 20, 1848, at Springfield, Massachusetts; died April 30, 1849
Unnamed son, born April 26, 1852, at Akron, Ohio; died May 17, 1852
Ellen Brown, born September 25, 1854, at Akron, Ohio; died July 15, 1916, in California. Married James Fablinger
The events surrounding the Browns violent history often include several of Old Brown’s adult sons, so I have inserted this list which includes the seven that reached adulthood.
As I related in Part 1 of this series, the conflict between the Border Ruffians and Kansan Free Soil settlers first erupted in the “Wakarusa War” (in reality the first, failed siege against Lawrence, KS) in November and December 1855. A curious incident related to the “War” was “Colonel” Henry Routt’s raid on the Liberty, MO federal arsenal:
On Dec. 4, 1855, Routt and his group of Confederate sympathizers seized the Liberty Arsenal, located three miles south of the city, confiscating guns and ammunition. The men joined Jones’ Missouri posse and crossed the border into Kansas along the Wakarusa River bottoms with the intent to destroy Lawrence.
When Routt and his men arrived, they unexpectedly discovered a reinforcement of more than 1,100 free-state men waiting to defend the town.
A Missouri anti-slavery informant had warned Lawrence settlers about the impending raid, and Lawrence had organized military companies and sought assistance from chief towns within the territory.
Among this group of defenders was the famous abolitionist Capt. John Brown. After receiving word that he was needed, Brown and his men marched overnight into Lawrence to assist Capt. James Lane in setting up barricades and redoubts that could hold up to 150 men, each armed with a Sharps rifle.
A soldier could fire between eight and 10 shots per minute depending on his skill with these guns. More than 100,000 Sharps rifles and carbines were built between 1850 and 1881.
When the Missouri posse arrived and discovered they were outnumbered, the men were ready to retreat. There was no fighting in what became known as the Wakarusa War.
“Captain” John Brown could also refer to John Brown Jr., of the Pottawatomie Rifles. Never far from the militancy of the Browns is the fanatical Jim Lane, the eventual bane to the bushwhackers’ existence during the Civil War. All were armed by Henry W. Beecher, who famously flooded Kansas with “Beecher Bibles” (i.e.: Sharps rifles). More curious was the outcome for “Colonel” Routt:
The Missourians returned to their state, and Routt marched his men back to Clay County, dismissed them and saw that the “borrowed” property from the arsenal was returned to the government: 100 dragoon pistols, 55 rifles, 67 sabers, 20 Colt revolvers, three brass fieldpieces and a plenitude of ammunition. Although they kept $400 in equipment, the government did nothing against the raiders on this occasion.
President Pierce did not send the cavalry after the Border Ruffians even after they had looted a federal arsenal. Could this incident have convinced the Brown clan that raiding another federal arsenal would have no consequences? Either way, it is understandable that the Browns reacted passionately when, after first protecting the Free State stronghold in December 1855, they failed to prevent the Sack of Lawrence six months later:
When word came on May 21st that hundreds of Border Ruffians had marched on Lawrence, John Jr.’s Pottawatomie Rifles quickly assembled. Old Brown accompanied them, but did not join their ranks. He took orders from no man, certainly not one of his sons.
En route to Lawrence they learned that the Ruffians had sacked the town, burned the Free-State Hotel, and not one abolitionist had dared to fire a gun. Brown was furious at this cowardly response. Within hours they received another disturbing report — abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner had been brutally attacked on the United States Senate floor by a southern Congressman. Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas,” had provoked the attack. He was beaten within an inch of his life.
“Something must be done to show these barbarians that we, too, have rights,” Brown declared. He took a small group of men under his command and told them to prepare for a “secret mission.”
However, I have no idea what was the impetus for the Browns electing to do this:
On the night of May 24th, 1856, Brown banged on the door of James Doyle and ordered the men to come outside. Brown’s men attacked them with broadswords. They executed three of the Doyles, splitting open heads and cutting off arms. Brown watched as if in a trance. When they were done, he put a bullet into the head of James Doyle. Brown’s party visited two more cabins, dragged out and killed two more men — five in all.
Only one person died in the Sacking of Lawrence; a Border Ruffian killed by falling masonry. Apparently it would take 23 years for Brown’s supporters to admit that the abolitionists perpetrated the Pottawatomie Massacre, and the reasoning why the Browns hacked five men to death never held up to scrutiny. The murders Old Brown orchestrated along with sons Owen, Frederick, Salmon, and Oliver drove a wedge in the family:
John Jr. and Jason were distressed by news of the murders. John Jr. resigned his captaincy and left “in a very dejected state of mind bordering on a mental breakdown,” he and Jason staying the night at their aunt and uncle Adair’s cabin while pro-slavery forces scouted the countryside looking for the Browns.
Enter the Missouri response:
Missourians were incensed when they heard what had happened during the Pottawatomie Massacre. Seeking revenge, Henry Clay Pate took a group of about 75 Shannon’s Sharpshooters and entered Kansas to find and punish the free state perpetrators. Pate was certain that old John Brown was responsible for the killings along Pottawatomie Creek. He planned find Brown and either capture him or kill him. Arriving in the vicinity of Osawatomie, Kansas, Pate was able to make prisoners of John Brown, Jr. and Jason Brown, both sons of old John Brown. Ironically, neither of them had been involved in the Pottawatomie Massacre. A few days later, Pate turned his prisoners over to a company of US Cavalry under the command of Captain Wood.
The treatment of Jason and John Brown Jr. seemed specially designed to enrage their father:
John Jr., his mental condition already stressed, received such ill-treatment that he went insane for a short time. According to Jason, at one point John “fancied himself commander of the camp, [and] was shrieking military orders, jumping up and down and casting himself about” (quoted in Villard, 195). Jason was released in June, but his brother was held until September because of his political activities.
The massacre at Pottawatomie Creek had triggered a spiraling tit-for-tat:
While searching for old John Brown, Pate went on a rampage against the free state settlers, plundering and burning their cabins. During this time, Pate and his men were camped along Captain’s Creek near the settlement of Black Jack (near present day Baldwin City, Kansas 66006). Old John Brown decided he needed to go after the Missourians and put a stop to their raiding. He was able to pull together a small group of about 12 free state men, including his sons, Frederick, Owen and Watson. On June 1, 1856, Brown and his men had reached Prairie City, Kansas. Here, Brown met up with Captain Samuel T. Shore and his company of about 20 free state militia. They both agreed to begin searching for Pate’s camp, which was supposed to be somewhere near Black Jack.
On June 1, 1856, Henry C. Pate and his men had raided the free-state settlement of Palmyra, Kansas and took two men prisoner. When finished in Palmyra, Pate and his men withdrew to their camp along Captain’s Creek. Here they settled in for the night. Brown and Shore would discover Pate’s camp early on the morning of June 2nd.
The belligerents fought the Battle of Black Jack:
The two sides began firing at one another, both sides using the ravines for cover. After two or three hours of fighting, Shore’s men were running out of ammunition. After consulting with old John Brown, Shore and his men withdrew. During the fighting, some of Pate’s men had withdrawn from the fighting and headed back to Missouri. Now John Brown was down to having only about 12 men. He was up against maybe 30 still fighting along side Pate.
Henry C. Pate’s force was also running low on ammunition and decided to try and talk his way out the predicament. At first, Pate had sent a subordinate out to meet with the free state men. But John Brown refused to talk with anyone but Pate. So Pate went out under the flag of truce with one of the free state settlers he had taken prisoner on the previous day. Pate said that he was a duly appointed representative of the United States government and was searching for individuals for which he had warrants of arrest. Brown dismissed all of this and told Pate he would accept nothing but Pate’s unconditional surrender. Owen Brown described the encounter:
“Capt Pate took the flag, and, bringing with him a free-state prisoner whom he had captured at another time, came to where he stood and said, ‘I come out to tell you that we are government officers sent out in pursuit of criminals, and to let you know that you are fighting against the United States.’ … Father replied: ‘If this is all you have to say, I have something to say to you. I demand of you an unconditional surrender.’ Then Father ordered us to go with him and Pate to where the latter had left his men, and we came up nearly together. Father repeated to Lieut Brockett, of the Missouri men, what he had just said to Pate. Brockett replied, “We don’t surrender unless our captain gives the order.” His men then cocked and leveled their guns on us. … Father raised his large army-sized Colt’s revolver and, pointing it within two feet of Pate’s heart, said to him, “Give the order!” and he did. … The rest of their arms, ammunition, wagons, horses, etc., were at once given up to us, and the prisoners put under guard.”
Henry Clay Pate later wrote an article in the St. Louis Republican about his encounter with John Brown:
“…A flag of truce was sent out, and an interview with the captain requested. Captain Brown advanced and sent for me. I approached him and made known the fact that I was acting under the orders of the U. S. Marshal, and was only in search of persons for whom writs of arrest had been issued, and that I wished to make a proposition. He replied that he would hear no proposals, and that he wanted an unconditional surrender. I asked for fifteen minutes to answer. He refused, and I was taken prisoner under the flag of truce.
“Brown and his confederates were the men engaged in the Pottawatomie massacre, and whom I was authorized to arrest. In fact, as I say to my friends, I went to take Old Brown, and Old Brown took me.”
Pate spent the following three years trying to discredit Brown, and surprisingly is quite disingenuous. He had the President Franklin Pierce and the weight of the 1st Cavalry Regiment on his side:
Brown intended to exchange his prisoners for the release of free-state prisoners, including his two sons. Three days after his victory, however, the Missourians were freed and Brown’s group was broken up by U.S. troops under Col. Edwin Sumner, under orders “to disperse all armed bodies assembled without authority.”
I think it is important to take the words of bushwhackers and jayhawkers with a grain of salt. Henry Pate’s militia was a precursor to Civil War bushwhackers such as the infamous Quantrill’s Raiders. Free State fanaticism was also on the rise in 1856:
Charles Robinson was one of the more moderate free state leaders and felt that violence was counterproductive. Following his arrest during the Sack of Lawrence in May of 1856, the more militant free state leaders, Jim Lane and John Brown, would yield more influence over events.
Jim Lane also went on the offensive. At first, Lane had planned on using force to free Charles Robinson, John Brown, Jr. and the other free state leaders that were being held prisoner in Lecompton, Kansas. But he decided to attack and destroy three fortified log cabins located several miles from Lawrence. These forts were pro-slavery strongholds that were used by pro-slavery militia for staging raids against free state men.
Franklin was located a few miles to the southeast of Lawrence. Jim Lane took a force of about 100 free state militia and surrounded some pro-slavery militia who were holed up in a fortified log cabin known as Fort Franklin. After several hours of fighting, to little effect, the free-state men were able to set the cabin on fire. This caused the pro-slavery men to flee from the scene. The victorious free staters captured a number of arms and a cannon, known as “Old Sacramento”.
Lane called for and received reinforcements from Lawrence, before proceeding to his next target, Fort Saunders. Fort Saunders was a fortified pro-slavery camp located on Washington Creek about 12 miles southwest of Lawrence. As the free state force approached Fort Saunders on August 15th, the pro-slavery defenders decided to withdraw without a fight.
The next day, the free state militia took the fight towards Lecompton. Fort Titus was a fortified log cabin owned by Colonel Henry T. Titus that was located about 2 miles south of Lecompton on the east bank of Coon Creek. Colonel Titus was a pro-slavery man who had taken part in the Sack of Lawrence.
By now, the free state militia had grown to around 400 men. Lane was not present, but in command of the free state militia was his friend, Captain Samuel Walker. Walker took a force of about 50 men and attacked the fortified cabin. The cannon, “Old Sacramento,” captured at Fort Franklin was used against Fort Titus. Lead type from the Lawrence newspaper, Herald of Freedom, was melted into the shot used in the cannon that fired on Fort Titus. The pro-slavery men in the cabin would surrender after a short fight. Colonel Titus and about 34 of his men were captured. The Abbot Howitzer taken by pro-slavery militia during the Sack of Lawrence, was recaptured. The victorious free-state men burned Fort Titus.
President Pierce’s policy preferences were still very clear during Lane’s raids:
During the fighting, US Troops stationed nearby at Camp Sackett would deploy north of Fort Titus and prevent the free state militia from marching against Lecompton.
These troops were from the 1st Cavalry Regiment. The mounted unit, whose officers had included a Lieutenant James Ewell Brown Stuart since the summer of 1855, was far less concerned about Missourian militia on the march:
Territorial Governor Shannon became extremely frustrated with the unending violence and resigned as governor. In response, David Rice Atchison called for Missourians to “rally instantly to the rescue”. A large pro-slavery militia force headed into Kansas Territory. About 300 – 400 of this militia under the command of John W. Reid split off and headed for Osawatomie, Kansas. They were going after old John Brown.
Before sunrise on the morning of August 30th, Frederick Brown, one of John Brown’s sons, was on his way over to Samuel L. Adair’s cabin. He had letters and was preparing to go to Lawrence. Just before he arrived at the cabin, he was met by an advance party from the pro-slavery militia. Reid’s militia had a local guide, the Reverend Martin White, who was leading the advance party. White recognized Frederick Brown and shot him dead. Upon hearing the gun fire, Adair came out of his cabin and soon realized what had happened. He sent his 13-year-old son, Charles, off to warn old John Brown, who was camped nearby.
John Brown reacted quickly and recruited around 40 or so free-state men to defend the town. Brown would show his force and try to get the Missourians to come after him, thus leading them away from Osawatomie. But Reid had a cannon at his disposal and his overwhelming numbers forced Brown to set up his line of defense on the south side of the Marais Des Cygnes River. There they fought the Missourians until, running low on ammunition, were forced to withdraw to the north side of the river. Reid, the pro-slavery commander, chose not to pursue Brown across the river. Instead, they sacked, plundered, and set fire to Osawatomie, before leaving the area.
One week after the fighting, John Brown wrote about the experience to his wife, Mary:
“On the morning of the 30th Aug an attack was made by the ruffians on Osawatomie numbering some 400 by whose scouts our dear Fred was shot dead without warning he supposing them to be Free State men or near as we can learn. One other man a Cousin of Mr. Adair was murdered by them about the same time. At this time I was about 3 miles off where I had some 14 or 15 men over night that I had just enlisted to serve under me as regulars. There I collected as well as I could with some 12 or 15 more & in about ¾ of an Hour attacked them from a wood with thick undergroth, with this force we threw them into confusion for about 15 or 20 minutes during which time we killed & wounded from 70 to 80 of the enemy as they say & then we escaped as well as we could with one killed while escaping; two or three wounded; & as many more missing. Four or Five Free State men were butchered during the day as well. Jason fought bravely by my side during the fight & escaped with me he unhurt. I was struck by a partly spent Grape Canister, or Rifle shot which bruised me some but did not injure me seriously. “Hitherto the Lord both helped me” notwithstanding my afflictions. Things now seem rather quiet just now; but what another Hour will bring I cannot say…”
Things did not stay quiet. Old Brown, now often referred to as Old Osawatomie, would face Atchison and Reid once more. The Civil War might have broken out in earnest the following month if not for J.E.B. Stuart’s father-in-law, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke:
You are standing near the site of the Kansas Free State Press, one of the Lawrence newspapers targeted by Missourians during the Sack of Lawrence. The larger marker to the right of the building entrance has the following text:
John Brown and The Siege of Lawrence, September 14-15 1856
On the afternoon of September 14, 1856, the Free State settlement of Lawrence, Kansas Territory was threatened by invasion of an arm of 2700 Pro-slavery Missourians under the command of Generals David R. Atchison and John W. Reid. Encamping near Franklin, four miles southeast of Lawrence, the Missourians were determined to wipe out the town that stood as a symbol of New England abolitionism.
Less than four months earlier, Atchison and Sheriff Jones led the Sack of Lawrence, destroying the Free State Hotel and the Herald of Freedom and Kansas Free State presses. In the ensuing months, Lawrence was blockaded, and by mid-August, battles were fought in Douglas County at Fort Franklin, Fort Saunders, and For Titus in an attempt to loosen the stranglehold on supply lines into the half-starved Free State fortress. Now the townspeople, armed with everything from Sharps rifles to pitchforks, converged between two circular earthen forts on Massachusetts Street and prepared to defend their town.
Present and heavily armed that afternoon was John Brown, the fiery New York abolitionist and Captain of the Liberty Guards in Lawrence during the Wakarusa War of early December, 1855. Brown, along with his sons, had spent much of the spring and summer of 1856 engaged in brutal guerrilla warfare against Pro-slavery factions throughout eastern Kansas. Though he had no formal command during the siege, Brown did give an address on tactics to an estimated 300 armed Lawrence citizens as he stood on a dry goods box twenty-five feet west of this plaque. Richard J. Hinton, a correspondent for the Boston Traveller, took down a portion of the address made by Brown, by then a hardened veteran of numerous gun battles with the Pro-slavery forces.
“GENTLEMEN, – It is said there are twenty-five hundred Missourians down at Franklin, and that they will be here in two hours. You can see for yourselves the smoke they are making by setting fire to the houses in that town. Now is probably the last opportunity you will have of seeing a fight, so that you had better do your best. If they should come up and attack us, don’t yell and make a great noise, but remain perfectly silent and still. Wait until they get within twenty-five yards of you; get a good object; be sure you see the hind sight of your gun, then fire. A great deal of powder and lead and very precious time is wasted by shooting too high. You had better aim at their legs than at their heads. In either case, be sure of the hind sights of your guns. It is from neglect of this that I myself have so many times escaped; for if all the bullets that have ever been aimed at me had hit, I should have been as full of holes as a riddle.”
Following an exchange of gunfire on the southeastern outskirts of the town between an advance guard of the Missouri forces and the Lawrence defenders, the Missourians were driven back to Franklin. The arrival late in the evening of 300 U.S. Army dragoons from Lecompton, who took up positions with full artillery across the brow of Mount Oread, created a standoff. When Governor John W. Geary and Lieutenant-Colonel Philip St. George Cooke arrived early in the morning of the 15th, heated negotiations led to the Missourians reluctantly disbanding and fully retreating. This brought to a close the open warfare that existed during this bloodiest year of the Bleeding Kansas period with over 200 left dead. Many of the Missourians would return, however, August 21st, 1863 with William C. Quantrill as their leader.
Fearing that Governor Geary might act on a warrant for his arrest, John Brown left Lawrence heading for Osawatomie, which two weeks earlier was destroyed by the same forces arrayed against Lawrence. Brown continued to visit Lawrence, off and on, until January of 1859. He was hanged December 2nd, 1859 at Charlestown, Virginia, following his raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry becoming a hero to millions of African-Americans enslaved throughout the South, and igniting the fuse that eventually led to the American Civil War.
This inscription should trigger another question: why would the spectacular failure at Harper’s Ferry ignite a full-scale war?
The answer this question, I came to realize, is bound up in the composition of the U.S. Army in the antebellum period. This story is ultimately not about John Brown; it is about James Ewell Brown Stuart, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, Edwin Vose Sumner, Robert Edward Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and Philip St. George Cooke. All were long-serving (except 22-year old Stuart) cavalry officers in 1855, and the majority fought for the Confederacy.
XII: The Cavalry Rebellion
Throughout the whole sorry saga, I bristle at reading military titles conferred upon irregular forces that are little more than violent mobs. Just as William Clarke Quantrill styled himself as a “colonel” while burning Lawrence and killing scores in the vain effort to slaughter Jim Lane on 21 August 1863; I find it grating to read that murderers like John Brown or Henry Pate referred to themselves as “captains,” or “Colonel” Titus…
Some time after the battle of Fort Titus he issued a call for his regiment of militia, signing himself “Colonel of the Second Regiment of the First Brigade of the Southern Division of the Kansas Militia.” His military career in Kansas begun and ended in 1856. Early in 1857 he became associated with General William Walker in his Nicaragua expedition, and in February of that year arrived at San Juan del Norte at the head of about 180 men, many of whom had been associated with him in Kansas. His military capabilities as displayed in this expedition proved his incapacity as a commander. He has been described by those who knew him as a swaggering braggart.
…let alone brigands like David Atchison and John Reid “attaining” the rank of general. Why does this bother me? Because earning field rank the mid-19th century took decades’ worth of service in the U.S. military. Robert Anderson graduated West Point in 1825, and held the rank of major 35 years later as he commanded the defenders at Fort Sumter. Or take the Edwin Vose Sumner, the very first commanding officer of the 1st Cavalry Regiment:
Appointed to the infantry from civilian life in 1819, Sumner had demonstrated reliability, level-headedness, and courage during nearly four decades of service. He had distinguished himself in staff positions, instruction and training, frontier reconnaissance, armed combat, and post and departmental command.
To earn the right to be called colonel, the army officer from Massachusetts merely had to serve for 36 years:
Promoted to colonel of the First U.S. Cavalry, one of [Jefferson] Davis’s new regiments, on March 3, 1855, Sumner organized his command at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, that spring and then established his headquarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in June.
The 1st and 2nd Cav were two major units formed as part of Pierce’s and his Secretary of War Jefferson Davis’s planned U.S. Army expansion. The 1st was established at Jefferson Barracks, MO on 26 March 1855 and the 2nd was established in Louisville, KY on 28 May 1855 (both units still exist as the 4th and 5th Cavalry Regiments today—under the 1861 cavalry reorganization the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Dragoons, which formed the 1830s, became the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments that also remain in service to this day).
As Kansas descended into bloodletting starting with the Sack of Lawrence and Pottawatomie Massacre in May 1856, Colonel Sumner quickly shut off the violence…
Now on the political defensive, [Kansas Territorial Governor Wilson] Shannon presented Sumner an operational plan to clear roads and check invasions with regular troops. When bushwhackers wounded one of his troopers and two horses near Lawrence, Sumner rode into the field on June 2 to supervise the five squadrons—about two hundred and fifty men—now assigned to constabulary duty. Two days later, the governor issued a law-and-order proclamation threatening with arrest by federal troops all unauthorized “military organizations” that failed “to disperse and retire peaceably.” Among the partisan armies disbanded personally by Colonel Sumner was one that coalesced around John Brown and another even larger proslavery outfit led by Kansas delegate to Congress John W. Whitfield.
…leading to his reassignment:
The sack of Lawrence and the subsequent murder and mayhem had convinced Pierce to replace Governor Shannon, whom he blamed for the domestic explosion. Although Sumner’s constabulary operations restored stability to eastern Kansas by mid-June, he was replaced by Brevet Major General Persifor F. Smith, colonel of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen.
Part of this was Jefferson Davis’s “constitutional scruples:”
Pierce’s dispatch to the governor, however, would transform the army’s mission in Kansas from posse service to military constabulary duty—much to Davis’s displeasure. As a legal posse, regulars served court officers: the marshals or sheriffs. As an armed constabulary, federal troops often patrolled or scouted eastern Kansas without the legal cloak of federal marshals or county sheriffs executing the business of the courts. This kind of military operation in domestic society smacked of “dragoon government” and rankled Davis’s constitutional scruples.
The “dragoon government” quip is hilarious, considering 1st Lieutenant Jefferson Davis served under Captain Edwin Sumner in the 1st Regiment of Dragoons in 1833-34. Davis wasn’t blindsided by Sumner. I could speculate further why Davis reassigned Sumner, but Edwin Sumner’s own correspondence gives a clear reason:
“The Missourians were perfectly satisfied so long as the troops were employed exclusively against the Free-State party; but when they found that I would be strictly impartial, that lawless mobs could no longer come from Missouri, and that their interference with the affairs of Kansas was brought to an end, then they immediately raised a hue-and-cry that they were oppressed by the United States Troops.”
Edwin Sumner and Albert Sidney Johnston were both appointed the rank of colonel by President Pierce and became the first two commanders of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments respectively.
Each regimental commander had a lieutenant, initially Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston under Col. Sumner and Lt. Col Robert E. Lee under Col. Johnston. J.E.B. Stuart graduated West Point in 1854 and was transferred to the 1st Cav in 1855. Four years later, Secretary of War John Floyd would send in the cavalry:
James Ewell Brown Stuart, First Lieutenant, U. S. Cavalry, was enjoying six months’ leave from his frontier post at Fort Riley, Kansas Territory. Yet, the joys of coming home to Virginia had not made him forget that he was a cavalryman by profession. On the rainy morning of 17 October 1859 he had ridden over the muddy streets of Washington to the office of the War Department, and now he sat waiting to speak with Secretary of War John B. Floyd. Jeb Stuart had an idea for a new type strap to fasten a cavalryman’s sabre to his belt. While the young lieutenant was rehearsing in his mind for the coming interview, the Secretary himself was face to face with the spectre of a slave insurrection. <1>
John B. Floyd was a poor administrator, a failing which almost resulted in his removal from office; <2> but on this day there was no need for paper shuffling. Word had come by way of Baltimore that an insurrection had broken out at Harper’s Ferry. A band of armed men had captured the United States arsenal there and was formenting a slave rebellion. A native of Virginia, the Secretary most have heard the oft-told tales of the Haitians revolt against their French masters with all its barbarism. Nor had any son of the Old Dominion forgotten Nat Turner’s Rebellion, a slave uprising which occurred a generation before and claimed the lives of 55 whites in a single bloody night. <3>
Quick note: No one, not even the U.S. Air Force, will show Floyd any respect 99 years after the rebellious Secretary of War’s death (side note: why, exactly, does it fall to the U.S.A.F. in 1962 to store the Marines’ October 1859 after-action report)?
Swinging at once into action, Floyd fired off a telegram to Fort Monroe; and by noon Captain Edward O. C. Ord with 150 coast artillerymen was on his way toward Baltimore on the first leg of the journey to Harper’s Ferry.<4> There was no question as to who would command operations against the insurgents. Floyd called for his chief clerk and set him to writing orders summoning to the War Department Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, then on leave at his estate, Arlington, just across the Potomac from the Capital.
Message in hand, the harassed aide came dashing out of the office, only to halt when he spied the forgotten cavalry officer. Stuart, by now thoroughly bored, was easily persuaded to deliver the sealed envelope. Even as this message was speeding toward its destination, President James Buchanan called upon Secretary Floyd to move even faster a demand which was to bring the Marine Corps into the picture. <5>
Another quick note: I would think the U.S. Secretary of War would have the power to give instructions to the U.S. Marine Corps. However, the 1962 U.S. military begged to differ:
Since there were no troops nearer the scene of the uprising than those en route from Fort Monroe, Floyd was powerless to comply; but Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey quickly offered a solution to his dilemma. About noon Charles W. Welsh, chief clerk of the Navy Department, came riding through the main gate of the Washington Navy Yard. He sought out First Lieutenant Israel Greene, temporarily in command of Marine Barracks, Washington, and asked how many Leathernecks were available for duty. Greene estimated that he could round up some 90 men from both his barracks and the small Navy Yard detachment. He then asked Welsh what was wrong. The civilian told him all he knew–that the armory at Harper’s Ferry had been seized by a group of abolitionists and that state and federal troops already were on the march. <6>
Yet another quick note: another possibility for President Buchanan’s Secretary of War ordering 115,000 weapons shipped south was because Floyd had been thoroughly embarrassed when Buchanan had to rely on Secretary Toucey to send in the Marines:
Mr. Welsh reported back to the Navy Department, and Secretary Toucey at once began drafting an order to John Harris, Colonel Commandant of the Corps. “Send all the available marines at Head Quarters,” he wrote, “under charge of suitable officers, by this evening’s train of cars to Harper’s Ferry to protect the public property at that place, which is endangered by a riotous outbreak.” Once they arrived at their destination, the Leathernecks would be under the command of the senior Army officer present, <7> in this case Colonel Lee.
The federal government chose Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart to lead an expedition tasked with putting down an insurrection in Virginia. The historical quirks of the Harper’s Ferry raid never leave me far from laughter. But President Buchanan wasn’t laughing in October 1859:
While Secretary Toucey was busy alerting the Marines, Jeb Stuart had returned from Arlington with Colonel Lee. Once again the lieutenant waited in the Secretary’s anteroom as Floyd outlined the crisis to Lee. There was no need to stress the savage implications of a slave uprising; for the colonel had been stationed at Fort Monroe when Nat Turner had put aside his hoe to take up the sword, and he well remembered the terror that followed. He recalled, too, how militia, regulars, and Marines from Norfolk had scoured the Virginia countryside before bringing Turner to bay deep in the vastness of Dismal Swamp. After receiving the latest intelligence from western Virginia, Lee was handed orders placing him in overall command of the effort to suppress the insurrection. <10>
Accompanied by Stuart, Floyd and Lee hurried to the White House where the colonel was given a proclamation of martial law to issue if he should see fit. In addition to the proclamation, Lee acquired an aide. Certain that a fight of some sort was at hand, Stuart volunteered to accompany him to Harper’s Ferry, and Lee accepted. Still in civilian clothes, the colonel hurried to the railroad station, but the Marines already had left. <11>
Proclaiming martial law would be an issue for Lee:
To the colonel’s experienced eye the situation did not appear critical.
Harper’s Ferry swarmed with militia; and although the state troops were disorganized, ill-trained, some of them drunk, there were enough of them to prevent the raiders escaping into the hills. Nor was there any point in posting the proclamation of martial law. There were too few federal troops to patrol the streets, and the citizen soldiers who would have to assist them were perhaps the least orderly group in town.
Yet another reason that conferring military rank on militiamen seems farcical to me—“some of them drunk” while on duty. Next Lee showed he was a cavalry officer through-and-through:
Since the situation was fairly well in hand, Colonel Lee hurried off a wire informing Captain Ord that his artillerymen turned infantry, would not be needed at Harper’s Ferry. They were to halt at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. <15>
Cavalryman Lee doesn’t trust artillerymen—one more strike against Secretary Floyd.
Learning that the militiamen, whatever their faults, had at least forced the insurgents to barricade themselves in a single small building on the armory grounds–the Engine House–Lee decided to attack as quickly as possible. Because of the danger to the hostages, a night assault was out of the question, so the colonel, his aide, and the Marines crossed the river to await the dawn.
About 2300 on the night of 17 October, Greene led his men across the covered bridge and into the armory yard to relieve the militia posted around the raider bastion. The insurgents had taken refuge in a stone building, about 30 by 35 feet, which housed the armory’s fire fighting equipment. Three entrances, each separated from its neighbor by a stone abutment, pierced the front of the structure. Two of these were guarded by heavy, nail studded, double doors, while on their left was an equally strong single door. <17> To assault a band of determined men, frontier guerrillas who had proven themselves to be deadly marksmen, would not be an easy task.
As the Marines moved out, Lee was busy laying his plans. First he drafted a surrender ultimatum addressed to the person in command of the insurgents–Lee was not yet certain that Brown was leading the raid–to be delivered by Lieutenant Stuart at the colonel’s order. Should the raiders refuse unconditional surrender, there would be no bargaining with them. At a signal from Stuart, the assault party would batter down a door and pounce on the enemy with bayonet and rifle butt. There could be no shooting because of the danger to the hostages. <18>
At about 0630 Greene received his instructions. Twelve men were to form the storming party, with an equal number in reserve. In addition, a detail of three men, each of whom had been issued a heavy sledge hammer,<20> was to accompany the assault party and batter down the center doors of the engine house. Twenty-seven Marines, with Greene and Russell at their head, gathered close to the engine house but out of the insurgent’s line of fire to await Stuarts signal.
That signal came rapidly:
Now Stuart halted before the building and called for “Mr. Smith.” The center doors opened a few inches. There, carbine in hand, stood the lean, fierce figure of old John Brown, the anti-slavery zealot who had caused so much bloodshed on the banks of Osawatomie Creek in Kansas. Stuart recognized him at once.
Ugh…1850s revisionism. Brown turned the Pottawatomie Creek red. The Border Ruffians led by Atchison and Reid burned Osawatomie to the ground. Though the fact J.E.B. Stuart did not have a good understanding of the Kansas belligerents was understandable given the disposition of Colonel Sumner’s replacement, Brevet Major General Persifor F. Smith:
Smith was a loyal Democrat, had married into a slave-owning family in Louisiana, and had befriended Pierce during the Mexican-American War. His background recommended him to Northern and Southern Democrats as an officer who would command Kansas with Southern and the Democratic Party’s interests in mind.
Though I wonder if Stuart’s misconceptions about Kansas factored into what he did next:
The lieutenant repeated Lee’s demand for immediate surrender, but Brown tried desperately to bargain. From inside the building came the cries of the hostages, pleading that Lee cooperate with their captor. Satisfied that Brown would not listen to reason, Stuart spun aside, pressed his back against the abutment, and waved his hat, that gaudily plumed chapeau which would become his trademark during the Civil War.
Greene and the Marines attacked, killing two more of Old Brown’s sons and took him prisoner. Then the Marines acted as agents of the “dragoon government” Jefferson Davis railed against:
All that remained was to deliver the prisoners to the jail at Charlestown, a journey which proved uneventful. Upon their return to Harper’s Ferry, rumors of a new uprising, this one at the village of Pleasant Valley, Maryland, greeted the Marines. Lee, Stuart, Greene, and 25 men marched the 5 miles to this sleepy hamlet on the night of 19 October, but, as the colonel expected, all was calm. <28>
All was calm until John Brown was hanged for treason.
XIII: Virginia Revisionism and Treason
John Floyd ordered the transfer of 115,000 muskets and rifles south on 30 December 1859. The transfer occurred in the spring of 1860. Question: given his intent to aid the soon-to-be rebelling southern states, why did he wait three years after taking office to make his first major move? Answer: because John Brown idiotic attempt to foment insurrection in the Old Dominion proved the Republican Party was here to stay:
The rise of the Republican Party greatly heightened sectional tensions. These were further exacerbated in October 1859, when the abolitionist John Brown led a band of twenty-two men in an assault on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
Or something. Trying to understand why John Brown failed to realize fomenting insurrection in sleepy Charlestown, Virginia was a very different animal than the fertile fields of grievance and violence in Kansas is hard enough without trying to understand the hysterical southern response. After all, Brown was caught and executed.
A deeply religious man long associated with the abolitionist cause, Brown had been persuaded by reading the Old Testament that God intended to inflict His punishment on a society blighted by the sin of slaveholding. He himself would be the instrument of divine wrath, by sparking a slave insurrection that would sweep away the peculiar institution.
I began analyzing instances of revisionism in Civil War history after reading (and responding to) Tony Horwitz over a month ago. I have to admit, I am astonished by the degree of revisionism that pervades the reasoning behind the Union going to war. Brown’s initial lurch towards an armed insurrection against slavery appears to have been in reaction to a pro-slavery mob murdering newspaper editor Elijah Lovejoy on November 7, 1837 in the process of burning the Alton, Illinois warehouse where Lovejoy had hidden his printing press (special note: in 1837 free-state Illinois was bordered with slave-state Missouri to the west, just as the latter bordered with Kansas to the west in 1855). My research indicates wrath over a murder where no culprit was ever convicted is a far stronger impetus than reading a book, even if that book happens to be the Bible.
Militarily, Brown’s plot made little sense. Most of his men were killed or captured, and Brown himself, convicted of treason against Virginia, was executed. More significant was the response to the raid. In the South, Brown inspired a reaction bordering on hysteria, even though not a single slave (of whom, in fact, there were very few in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry) had joined him.
I want to call attention to the fact that Brown was convicted in 1859 of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am going to come right out and say it: how does one commit treasonous acts against a subordinate entity?! Virginia was still part of the United States of America in 1859, was it not? Not to mention John Brown raided a federal arsenal. If raiding a federal arsenal is treasonous (I would argue it definitely is), shouldn’t Brown have been tried for treason against the United States in federal court? Why was Brown prosecuted by Virginia at all?
Selecting men to make the assault posed a touchy problem in federal-state relationships. Since the uprising was directed mainly against the slave states, even though federal property was involved, Lee offered the honor of spearheading the attack to the militia.
Okay, I kind of understand this. Wait, the militia didn’t attack. Why did it fall on Lieutenant Greene and the U.S. Marines to assault the arsenal?
The officer in charge of Maryland troops, who maintained that his only mission was to protect the townspeople, declined. He could see no reason for sacrificing Maryland lives to avenge an insult to a sister state; besides, Marines were paid for this kind of work. Nor was the Virginia militia colonel eager to erase the stain of insurrection from the honor of the Old Dominion; let the “mercenaries,” as he called the Marines, do the job. The veteran Army officer, still clad in civilian clothes, then turned to Israel Greene, splendid in his dress uniform. Would the Marines storm the engine house? Greene whipped off his cap and accepted with thanks. <19>
The Marines were mercenaries? Oh, so executing the prisoner is fine work for Virginia, but when a SWAT team is needed call in the Marines. Perfect.
Eric Foner naturally continues with the northern reaction to John Brown’s raid:
In the North, Brown became a martyr, a symbol of selfless devotion to a moral cause. To blacks, especially, he long remained a hero. One black woman, Frances Ellen Watkins, wrote to Brown before his execution, “Your martyr grave will be a sacred altar upon which men will record their vows of undying hatred to that system which tramples on man and bids defiance of God.” The response to Brown’s actions suggested that more and more Americans had come to believe that the slavery question would never be settled except through violence.
Really, there’s revisionism even here? One very learned black woman writes to John Brown before his execution on December 2, 1859 and Frances Ellen Watkins becomes representative for period black people despite the fact that the 1860 census found that 3,953,760 people were in bondage and likely a massive percentage of that number was illiterate. Even the Marine Corps itself bought into the revisionism:
The slave uprising had not materialized. The pikes with which John Brown had hoped to arm the rebels were never issued. Yet, the raid on Harper’s Ferry, this ill-planned, poorly executed attempt to free men in bondage, hastened “the inevitable conflict.”
I beg to differ. The soldiers and marines that were tasked with putting down insurrection would themselves soon foment insurrection:
In this conflict the four officers who took part in Brown’s capture were to find themselves sorely tried in spirit and body. Only Major Russell was to remain with the Union, dying in office as Paymaster of the United States Marine Corps in October 1862. <29> The exploits of Lee and Stuart are too well known to recount. Israel Greene, literally the Sword of the Union at Harper’s Ferry, also joined the Confederate cause.
A New Yorker by birth, a Wisconsinite by rearing, a Virginian by marriage, and a Marine by profession, Greene’s services were much sought after when the time came to choose up sides in 1861. Declining appointment both as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia infantry and as colonel in the Wisconsin militia, Greene accepted a captaincy in the fledgling Confederate States Marine Corps. As a major and Adjutant and Inspector of the Corps he served throughout the war at Confederate Marine headquarters in Richmond until his capture and parole at Farmville, Virginia, in April 1865.
This was not limited to a marine and two cavalry officers. Lee’s former CO Albert Sidney Johnston joined the Confederate States Army. Robert E. Lee’s final command in the U.S. Army was the 1st Cavalry Regiment, Edwin Sumner’s old unit. Sumner’s former lieutenant, Joseph E. Johnston, also joined the C.S.A.
Most striking of all, J.E.B. Stuart married Flora Cooke, daughter of Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke of the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons. Lt. Col. Cooke’s son, John Rogers Cooke, resigned his rank of 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army and rose to Brigadier General in the C.S.A. Stuart was shocked that his father-in-law, a native of Leesburg, VA, (who prevented the destruction of Lawrence, KS in September 1856) refused to resign his commission. Stuart’s parting shot was “he will regret it but once & that will be continually,” before renaming his and Flora Cooke Stuart’s newborn son James Ewell Brown Stuart Jr. from the original Philip St. George Cooke Stuart. Stuart never spoke to his father-in-law again.