previous next
General Lee and old John Brown.--A letter to the Pittsburgh Chronicle, from Harper's Ferry, contains the following:

It was not known to me until yesterday, and may possibly be unknown to you, that Colonel Robert E. Lee, United States army, now General Lee of the confederate forces, was one of the chief actors in the prologue to the tragic national drama, the different acts of which the whole country has been watching with such exciting interest for the past three years. It is, nevertheless, the fact, however. Let me tell you about it briefly. “Old John Brown” had not only worked at the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, but was intimately acquainted with all the details of the works, and knew, besides, what building among the ruins of some fifty now remaining was the strongest for defence. This was the engine-house, and after making a little raid to Halltown, and capturing Colonel Lewis Washington, among other slaveholders of the Shenandoah Valley, he moved back to the Ferry, and ensconced himself with his twenty followers in this engine-house. The alarm throughout Harper's Ferry that night was terrible, and during the whole of the following live-long day Brown held his position, and having made portholes through the brick walls, shot several citizens who had the temerity to show themselves about the building. The lookers — on were terror-stricken, and the two thousand Virginia militiamen, with their captains, colonels, and generals, who had assembled in the vicinity of John Brown's stronghold, not knowing the force that he really had, were completely nonplussed, and waited anxiously for the Government troops from Washington, who had been sent for.

By three o'clock the following morning, sixty marines, under the immediate command of Lieutenant Green, but directed by Colonel Robert E. Lee, reached the Ferry by cars from the capital. Colonel Lee ordered his detail to stand under arms in the public street till sunrise, when he conducted the men, he himself leading them, to the front of the building fortified and occupied by Brown. The lookers — on viewed this soldierly movement with astonishment and awe, expecting to see Colonel Lee shot down as other leaders had been. But not a shot was fired. Lieut. Green was ordered to demand a surrender. He knocked at the door of the engine-house, and John Brown asked: “Who goes there?” “Lieut. Green, United States Marines, who, by authority of Colonel Lee, demands an immediate surrender.” “I refuse it,” said Brown, “unless I, with my men, am allowed to cross the bridge into Maryland, unmolested, after which you can take us prisoners if you can.” Lee refused to allow this, and ordered Lieut. Green to renew his demand for immediate and unconditional surrender. John Brown refused these terms, and four of the marines; who had got tremendous sledge-hammers from the works, began battering at the door of the engine-house. The engine had been moved against the door, and it would not yield. “Ten of you,” said Lee, “take that ladder and break down the door.” Five on each side, the soldiers drove the ladder against the door, and at the third stroke it yielded and fell back. Colonel Lee and the marines jumped in--one man John Brown shot through the heart — and then was overpowered and surrendered. Colonel Washington, with other citizens, was released, and John Brown handed over to the civil authorities, after which Colonel Lee took the train to Washington again.

And such is the historical episode which I listened to last night from a citizen who was himself a witness to it. Who knows how much it may have influenced Robert E. Lee to forsake the flag of the United States and become a chieftain in the rebel cause?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Robert E. Lee (12)
John Brown (8)
Green (4)
Lewis Washington (2)
Old John Brown (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: