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Battle of Harpers Ferry

The raiders went outside at night to drill and get fresh air. Thunderstorms were welcome since they concealed noise from Brown's neighbors. Brown did not plan to have a sudden raid and escape to the mountains. Rather, he intended to use those rifles and pikes he captured at the arsenal, in addition to those he brought along, to arm rebellious slaves with the aim of striking terror in the slaveholders in Virginia. He believed that on the first night of action, black slaves would join his line. He ridiculed the militia and regular army that might oppose him. He planned to send agents to nearby plantations, rallying the slaves.

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He planned to hold Harpers Ferry for a short time, expecting that as many volunteers, white and black, would join him as would form against him. He would move rapidly southward, sending out armed bands along the way. They would free more slaves, obtain food, horses and hostages, and destroy slaveholders' morale. Brown planned to follow the Appalachian Mountains south into Tennessee and even Alabama , the heart of the South , making forays into the plains on either side.

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry - HISTORY

Forbes was an English mercenary who served Giuseppe Garibaldi in Italy. Forbes' Manual for the Patriotic Volunteer was found in Brown's papers after the raid. Brown and Forbes argued over strategy and money. Forbes wanted more money so that his family in Europe could join him. Seward and Henry Wilson.

He denounced Brown to Seward as a "vicious man" who needed to be restrained, but did not disclose any plans for the raid. Forbes partially exposed the plan to Senator Wilson and others. Wilson wrote to Samuel Gridley Howe , a Brown backer, advising him to get Brown's backers to retrieve the weapons intended for use in Kansas. Brown's backers told him that the weapons should not be used "for other purposes, as rumor says they may be. Some historians believe that this trip cost Brown valuable time and momentum.

Estimates are that at least eighty people knew about Brown's planned raid in advance. Many others had reasons to believe that Brown was contemplating a move against the South. One of those who knew was David J. Gue of Springdale, Iowa. Gue was a Quaker who believed that Brown and his men would be killed. Gue, his brother, and another man decided to warn the government "to protect Brown from the consequences of his own rashness.

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The letter said that " old John Brown,' late of Kansas," was planning to organize a slave uprising in the South. It said that Brown had a secret agent "in an armory" in Maryland. The letter said that Brown was stockpiling weapons at a secret location in Maryland. Gue acknowledged that he was afraid to disclose his identity but asked Floyd not to ignore his warning "on that account. He hoped that the extra security would motivate Brown to call off his plans. He knew that Maryland did not have an armory Harpers Ferry is just across the river from Maryland.

Floyd figured that the letter writer was a crank and forgot about it. He later said that "a scheme of such wickedness and outrage could not be entertained by any citizen of the United States. On Sunday night, October 16, , Brown left four of his men behind as a rear-guard: Brown detached a party under John Cook Jr.

Brown's men needed to capture the weapons and escape before word could be sent to Washington. The raid was going well for Brown's men. A free black man was the first casualty of the raid. Heyward Shepherd , an African-American baggage handler on the train, confronted the raiders; they shot and killed him. Brown had been sure that he would win the support of local slaves in joining the rebellion, but a massive uprising did not occur, because word had not been spread about the uprising, so the slaves nearby did not know about it.

Although the white townspeople soon began to fight back against the raiders, Brown's men succeeded in capturing the armory that evening. Army workers discovered Brown's men early on the morning of October Local militia, farmers and shopkeepers surrounded the armory. When a company of militia captured the bridge across the Potomac River , any route of escape for the raiders was cut off. During the day, four townspeople were killed, including the mayor. Realizing his escape was cut, Brown took nine of his captives and moved into the smaller engine house, which would come to be known as John Brown's Fort.

The raiders blocked entry of the windows and doors and traded sporadic gunfire with surrounding forces. At one point Brown sent out his son, Watson, and Aaron Dwight Stevens with a white flag, but Watson was mortally wounded and Stevens was shot and captured. The raid was rapidly failing.


One of Brown's men, William H. Leeman, panicked and made an attempt to flee by swimming across the Potomac River, but he was shot and fatally injured while doing so. During the intermittent shooting, Brown's other son, Oliver, was also hit; he died after a brief period.

Alburtis arrived by train from Martinsburg, Virginia. The militia forced the raiders inside the engine house.

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They broke into the guardroom and freed over two dozen prisoners. Eight militiamen were wounded. Alburtis said that he could have ended the raid with help from other citizens. Jones to the north, Brig. Lawton in the center, and Maj. Hill to the south to the west of Bolivar Heights at 11 a.

Inside the town, the Union officers realized they were surrounded and pleaded with Miles to attempt to recapture Maryland Heights, but he refused, insisting that his forces on Bolivar Heights would defend the town from the west. He exclaimed, "I am ordered to hold this place and God damn my soul to hell if I don't. Late that night, Miles sent Capt. Charles Russell of the 1st Maryland Cavalry with nine troopers to slip through the enemy lines and take a message to McClellan, or any other general he could find, informing them that the besieged town could hold out only for 48 hours.

Otherwise, he would be forced to surrender. The general was surprised and dismayed to receive the news. He wrote a message to Miles that a relief force was on the way and told him, "Hold out to the last extremity. If it is possible, re-occupy the Maryland Heights with your whole force. Although three couriers were sent with this information on different routes, none of them reached Harpers Ferry in time. While battles raged at the passes on South Mountain , Jackson had methodically positioned his artillery around Harpers Ferry.

This included four Parrott rifles to the summit of Maryland Heights, a task that required men wrestling the ropes of each gun. Although Jackson wanted all of his guns to open fire simultaneously, Walker on Loudoun Heights grew impatient and began an ineffectual bombardment with five guns shortly after 1 p. Hill to move down the west bank of the Shenandoah in preparation for a flank attack on the Federal left the next morning.

That night, the Union officers realized they had less than 24 hours left, but they made no attempt to recapture Maryland Heights. Unbeknownst to Miles, only a single Confederate regiment now occupied the crest, after McLaws had withdrawn the remainder to meet the Union assault at Crampton's Gap. Cavalry forces were essentially useless in the defense of the town. Miles dismissed the idea as "wild and impractical," but Davis was adamant and Miles relented when he saw that the fiery Mississippian intended to break out, with or without permission.

Arno Voss led their 1, cavalrymen out of Harpers Ferry on a pontoon bridge across the Potomac, turning left onto a narrow road that wound to the west around the base of Maryland Heights in the north toward Sharpsburg. Despite a number of close calls with returning Confederates from South Mountain, the cavalry column encountered a wagon train approaching from Hagerstown with James Longstreet's reserve supply of ammunition. They were able to trick the wagoneers into following them in another direction and they repulsed the Confederate cavalry escort in the rear of the column, and the southern teamsters found themselves surrounded by Federals in the morning.

Capturing more than 40 enemy ordnance wagons, Davis had lost not a single man in combat, the first great cavalry exploit of the war for the Army of the Potomac. By the morning of September 15, Jackson had positioned nearly 50 guns on Maryland Heights and at the base of Loudoun Heights, prepared to enfilade the rear of the Federal line on Bolivar Heights. Jackson began a fierce artillery barrage from all sides and ordered an infantry assault for 8 a.

Miles realized that the situation was hopeless. He had no expectation that relief would arrive from McClellan in time and his artillery ammunition was in short supply. At a council of war with his brigade commanders, he agreed to raise the white flag of surrender. But he would not be personally present at any ceremony.

He was confronted by a captain of the th New York Infantry, who said, "For ——'s sake, Colonel, don't surrender us. Don't you hear the signal guns? Our forces are near us. Let us cut our way out and join them. They will blow us out of this place in half an hour. So disgusted were the men of the garrison with Miles's behavior, which some claimed involved being drunk again, it was difficult to find a man who would take him to the hospital.

He was mortally wounded and died the next day.

John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry

Some historians have speculated that Miles was struck deliberately by fire from his own men. Jackson had won a great victory at minor expense. The Confederate Army sustained casualties 39 killed, wounded , mostly from the fighting on Maryland Heights, while the Union Army sustained 12, 44 killed, wounded, 12, captured. Confederate soldiers feasted on Union food supplies and helped themselves to fresh blue Federal uniforms, which would cause some confusion in the coming days.

About the only unhappy men in Jackson's force were the cavalrymen, who had hoped to replenish their exhausted mounts. Jackson sent off a courier to Lee with the news.