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Chapter 10: spoils of war.

Some time after the capture of the Liberators, a negro, held in bondage by Colonel Washington, reported that Captain Cook was in the mountains, only three miles off. Scouting parties went out in search of him, but all of them returned unsuccessful. From this time until the day of John Brown's death, the whole country around Harper's Ferry and Charlestown was kept in a condition of perpetual alarm. Rumors of invasion, and rescue, and murder — letters written by lovers of fun in the North, for the purpose of frightening the authorities--“mysterious Roman lights seen shooting up at night among the mountains” and cows of bellicose propensities, who rebelliously refused to advance and give the countersign; all aided to exhibit the exceeding cowardice of Virginia, and how dastardly a spirit her criminal institution has created among a people once brave and chivalrous. The invasion of John Brown, if it had done no more than effect this object, was an eminent success; for, more effectually than ever all the pens and tongues of eloquent champions of Freedom had done, it tore away the veil [267]

Spoils of War. 267 of decency and courage which hitherto had hidden the enormities of Slavery.

Alt Virginia was in alarm. Her militia forces were every where called out, and all business for the time was suspended. They, who had boasted of the stability of slave society, now acknowledged that its foundations lay in fire, whose irruption they daily feared would overwhelm them with ruin.

Complicity of slaves.

At Washington City the military force was increased, and every precaution taken to keep the negroes down. A telegraphic despatch from the Capital, on the 18th the day when John Brown was captured — thus portrays their fears and the reason for them:

It appears from intelligence received here to-day from various portions of Virginia and Maryland, that a general stampede of slaves has taken place. There must have been an understanding of some nature among them in reference to this affair, for in numerous instances — so I am informed by the slaveholders since this insurrection — they have found it almost impossible to control them. The slaves were in many instances insolent to their masters, and even refused to work. It is believed by the slaveholders, since this insurrection, that the slaves were aware of it, but were afraid to cooperate. This view of the case is corroborated by Brown and other leaders.

Large numbers of negroes were also reported to have left the neighborhood of Hagerstown, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia. A reporter of a pro-slavery paper gives additional information with respect to the “complicity” of the slaves:

The inhabitants are not by any means easy in their minds, as to the temper of the slaves and free negroes among them. Col. Washington, who was one of Old Brown's hostages, does not spend his nights at home, and we are assured that many of them wealthy slave owners, whose residences lie at a distance from those of their neighbors ales) regard it prudent to lodge elsewhere for the present; and yet the personal courage of these gentlemen cannot be questioned. It has been ascertained, reports to the contrary notwithstanding, that many negroes in the neighborhood, who had been tampered with by Cook and others of Brown's gang, had at least cognizance of the plans of the marauders, if they did not sympathize with them. On the night that Col Washington was taken, a free negro, who has a wife on the Colonel's plantation, was spending the night there, and although he might in half an hour have raised an alarm at Charlestown, only two or three miles distant, he refrained from doing this, [268] and the first news of the affair was brought to that village by citizens of Harper's Ferry the next day. There is no doubt that Washington's negro coachman Jim, who was chased into the river by citizens and drowned, had joined the rebels with a good will. A pistol was found on him, and he had his pockets filled with ball cartridges when he was fished out of the river. On Sunday evening. before the attack, a gentleman on the way to Harper's Ferry was stopped in a lonely place, three or four miles distant, by a white man, carrying a rifle, and two negroes. armed with axes, who told him there was something going on at Harper's Ferry, and he must turn back. He did so, and the men remained standing there until he was out of sight. Who these parties were, or what their connection with Brown's party, is still a mystery. It is certain that Brown's party was considerably larger when the attack was made than he ha acknowledged, or was at first supposed. There must have been at least thirty men.

The Richmond Examiner found yet another trace of slave “conspiracy.” It says:

We are informed by a highly respectable gentleman of this city that he saw, yesterday morning, a letter which 3Mr. Samuel Gordon took from his negro, which was addressed to a negro from Baltimore, saying that he (the recipient of the letter) was expected in Baltimore by the 13th of this month, that a post had been assigned him, and that he was expected to be there by that time. The letter concluded in these words: “ And you know what will happen next day.”

These few and faint indications of sympathy among the slaves struck terror to the hearts of the Virginians. What would they have done, had they known the terrible facts that now he buried with the corpse of John Brown? Not buried eternally, however; for they will rise again — with the slaves.

Capture of the arms.

The Independent Grays of Baltimore, who went out in search of Cook,-- for the Virginians did not dare to venture beyond the parade ground,--returned in two ours with the arms and ammunition found in the school house. The brave exploit by which they captured these arms, which was the most courageous action of the sober militia forces,--for the company of the editor, Albertus, by their own confession, were intoxicated when they charged on the Armory buildings,-- is thus described by a native historian, worthy of the heroes whose valor he extols: [269]

Fearful charge on an armed log cabin.

The gallant Grays proceeded at “double-quick” time, along a constantly ascending and rocky road, to execute the order. About a mile from the Ferry, they arrived within sight of the school house, a cabin situated in a gloomy hollow, and, apparently, closely barricaded. Halting for a few moments, the Grays formed into platoons, under ,he respective commands of Lieuts. Simpson and Kerchner, and, at a given signal, dashing down the declivity of the road, and with the butt-ends of their muskets, battered ;u the doors and windows, through which they entered. The cabin was entirely empty of occupants. Against the front door were piled sixteen long and heavy boxes, one of which, upon being burst open, was found to contain ten newly-finished Sharpe's breech-loading rifles, evidently fresh front the hands of their maker. There was also discovered one large square box, exceedingly heavy, which was suffered to remain unopened: a large and heavy black trunk, a box filled with bayonets and sabres, and several boxes of rifle cartridges and ammunition. There were in all twenty-one boxes, several of which were filled with Maynard's large-sized patent revolvers, with powder flasks accompanying. The room was littered with Sharpe's rifles, revolvers, and pikes, evidently distributed with a view to their immediate use, either for the purpose of defence or an aggressive action. After satisfying themselves that the traitors had fled, the gallant Grays proceeded to possess themselves — each man — of a rifle and a pair of revolvers, the remainder being placed, together with a large number of pikes, &c., upon a large new wagon, (purchased a few days before, by Smith, or Capt. Brown, as he is now known.) to which the captors harnessed a pair of fine horses they caught grazing in the enclosure, and conveyed their valuable prize into town, where they were received with loud cheers by the citizens and military.

The captured boxes were placed for safe keeping in the Arsenal of the United States, though the Grays asserted an exclusive right to their possession, as the lawful prize of the captors.

The stores found in this cabin, are thus classified:

102 Sharpe's Rifles.

12 Mass. Arms Company's Pistols.

56 Mass. Arms Company's Powder

4 Large Powder Flasks. [Flasks.

10 Kegs Gunpowder.

23,000 Percussion Rifle Caps.

109,000 Percussion Pistol Caps

13,000 Sharpe's Rifle Cartridges, slightly damaged by water.

160 Sharpe's Primiers.

14 lbs. Lead Balls.

1 Old Percussion Pistol.

1 Major General's Sword.

55 Old Bayonets.

12 Old Artillery Swords.

483 Pikes.

150 Broken Handles for Pikes.

16 Picks.

40 Shovels.

[The railroad way bill called for several dozen, showing that more were to come.]

1 Tin Powder Case.

1 Sack Coat.

1 Pair Cloth Pants.

1 Pair Linen Pants.

Canvas for Tent.

1 Old Porte-monnaie.

625 Envelopes.

1 Pocket Map of Kentucky.

1 Pocket Map of Delaware.

3 Gross Steel Pens.

5 Inkstands.

21 Lead pencils.

34 Pen Holders.

2 Boxes Wafers.

47 Small Blank Books.

2 Papers Pins.

5 Pocket Small Tooth Combs.1

1 Ball Hemp Twine.

1 Ball Cotton Twine.

50 Leather Water Caps.

1 Emery.

2 Yards Cotton Flannel.

1 Roll Sticking Plaster for Wounds

12 Reams Cartridge Paper.

2 Bottles Medicine.

1 Large Trunk.

1 Horse Wagon.


John Brown's carpet bag.

The next military movement must also be described in the glowing language of the friends of the fearless heroes who executed it:

The excitement attending this clever exploit [the charge on the deserted school house] had scarcely subsided, when another alarm was given, that the notorious insurgent leader, Cook, had a few minutes before been seen upon the mountains on the Maryland shore. A scouting party, consisting of several members of the Grays, (the only foreign corps in the town, quite or nearly all of those present in the forenoon having left for their homes,) some score or more of volunteers, and about twenty United States marines, under command of Capt. J. E. B. Stewart, was instantly formed. and proceeded rapidly in pursuit. Following the same path which the Grays had pursued in making their discoveries, and which is known as the “County road,” leading into the heart of Washington Co., Md., the party continued their course for a distance of 4 1/2 miles from the Ferry, until they reached the farm and house bought and occupied by Brown, under the name of John Smith. The dwelling — a log house containing two unpaved basement rooms, used apparently for storage, and in which were several empty gun boxes; two rooms and a pantry upon the second floor; and one large attic room in which were six husk mattresses — was discovered to be unoccupied, save by a huge savage-looking mastiff, tied with a rope to the railing of a small piazza outside the house; but there was abundant evidence of its recent hurried vacation. The floors of all the rooms were littered with books, papers, documents, and wearing apparel of several persons, hastily snatched from eight or ten trunks and an equal number of valises and coarse carpet bags strewn around, the fastenings of all of which had been forcibly broken, as if their violators were too much pressed for time to adopt the tardier method of entrance by looking up keys. In the pantry, which appeared to have been used for kitchen purposes, besides an almost new cooking stove, and an abundance of tin utensils, were two barrels of flour, a large quantity of sausage meat and cured hams, together with several pounds of butter, lard, &c. The fire was yet smouldering in the stove, and the water in the boilers was quite hot at the time of the entrance, but the most valuable discovery was a trunk belonging to Captain Brown, containing a great number of highly important papers, documents, plans, and letters from private individuals throughout the Union--all revealing the existence of an extensive and thoroughly organized conspiracy.

The telegraphic account of this “ clever exploit” stated that they found a large quantity of blankets, boots, shoes. clothes, tents, and 1500 pikes with large blades affixed. They also discovered a carpet bag. containing “documents throwing much light on the affair, printed constitutions and by-laws of an organization showing or indicating ramifications in various States of the Union.”

In this carpet bag were found various unimportant notes, from prominent persons in different States ; letters to “J. Henrie,” meaning Kagi; and “Friend Isaac,” meaning Captain Brown-- referring chiefly to the old man's Kansas work ; brief entries, in journals, of subscriptions received, and journeys made, and hardships endured in Iowa, the Eastern States, and Canada; [271] copies of the Constitution, and of books of military tactics, with numerous receipts and bills for stock and provisions purchased for the war of liberation.

In the mean time, now that the fight was over, the valiant Virginians flocked to Harper's Ferry. Governor Wise came down by the midday train, and, after ridiculing the people, visited the prisoners. The interview lasted several hours. None but the bitterest enemies of the Liberators were present during this confronting of the representatives of the North and South. The most graphic narrative is written by a Virginia artist, who stands high in the estimation of her people, and is regarded as a true representative of her chivalry. The character of her gentry, therefore, may be judged from the spirit of his description:

The midday train of Tuesday brought Governor Wise, accompanied by several hundred men from Richmond, Alexandria, Baltimore, and elsewhere. There was real disappointment to find that the fight was all over, and when the Governor was informed of the mere handful of men who had created all this bobbery, he boiled over. In his wrath he said some good things. Indeed it was universally seen and felt that Governor Wise was just the man for such an occasion.

Accompanied by Andrew Hunter, Esq., a distinguished lawyer of Jefferson County, the Governor presently repaired to the guard room where the two wounded prisoners lay, and there had a protracted and interesting conversation with the chief of the outlaws. It had more the character of a conversation than a legal examination, for the Governor treated the wounded man with a stately courtesy that evidently surprised and affected him. Brown was lying upon the floor with his feet to the fire and his head propped upon pillows on the back of a chair. His hair was a mass of clotted gore, so that I could not distinguish the original color; his eye a pale blue or gray, nose Roman, and beard, originally sandy, was white and blood-stained. His speech was frequently interrupted by deep groans, not awakening sympathy like those of the young soldier dying in the adjacent office, but reminding one of the agonized growl of a ferocious beast.

A few feet from the leader lay Stevens, a fine-looking fellow, quiet, not in pain apparently, and conversing in a voice as full and natural as if he were unhurt How ever, his hands lay folded upon his breast in a child-like, helpless way — a position that I observed was assumed by all those who had died or were dying of their wounds Only those who were shot stone dead lay as they fell.

Brown was frank and communicative, answering all questions without reserve, except such as might implicate his immediate associates not yet killed or taken. I append such extracts from notes taken during conversation by Mr. Hunter:

Brown avers that the small pamphlet, many copies of which were found on the persons of the slain and entitled “Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States,” was prepared by himself and adopted at a [272] convention of Abolitionists held about two years ago at Chatham, Canada West, where it was printed. That under its provisions he was appointed “Commander-in-chief.” His two sons and Stevens were each captains, and Coppoc a lieutenant. They each had their commissions, issued by himself.

He avers that the whole number operating under this organization was but twenty. two, each of whom had taken the oath required by Article XLVIII.; but he confidently expected large reinforcements from Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and several other Slave States, besides the Free States--taking it for granted that it was only necessary to seize the public arms and place them it the hands of the negroes and non-slaveholders to recruit his forces indefinitely. In this calculation he reluctantly and indirectly admitted that he had been entirely disappointed.

Concluding that the prisoner must be seriously weakened by his vigils and his wounds, the Governor ordered some refreshment to be given him, and appointing a meeting on the following day, took his leave. As some of us lingered, the old man recurred again to his sons, of whom he had spoken several times, asking if we were sure they were both dead. He was assured that it was so.

“ How many bodies did you take from the engine house?” he asked.

He was told three.

“ Then,” said he, quickly, “they are not both dead; there were three dead bodies there last night. Gentlemen, my son is doubtless living and in your power. I will ask for him what I would not ask for myself; let him have kind treatment, for he is as pure and noble-hearted a youth as ever breathed the breath of life.”

There was some show of human feeling in the old felon at last, but his prayer was vain. Both his boys lay stark and bloody by the Armory wall.

I had observed Stevens holding a small packet in his folded hands, and feeling some curiosity in regard to it, it was handed to me. It contained miniatures of his sisters; one, a sweet girlish face of about fourteen, the other more nature, but pretty. What strange reflections these incidents awakened! This old man craves a boon for his noble boys which neither pain nor death can bring him to ask for himself. The other clasps to his dying breast a remembrance of his gentle sisters and his father's elm-shaded cottage far away in peaceful Connecticut. Is this pity that thus dims my eyes? a rising sympathy that struggles in my heart? Away with puling weakness. Has not this hoary villain, that prates about his sons, been for months a deliberate plotter against the lives and happiness of thousands? Did he not train these very boys to aid him in his attempt to waste, with fire and sword, the fairest land tinder the cope of heaven? And this bloody dupe-his follower-how many men's sisters did he propose to murder? how many social hearths to quench in blood? For what use were those hundreds of deadly rifles, those loads of pikes, those bundles of incendiary fagots? A felon's death! Almighty Providence! is man indeed so weak that he can inflict no more?

The man whom God had anointed, and the man whom the people had appointed-both were too conscious of their earthly position, as they stood in the guard house of Harper's Ferry, to feel that either could do the other a favor. The assertion that John Brown was affected by the conduct of Governor Wise, is one that none but an unheroic pen could make. Coarse brutality and stately courtesy were alike indifferent [273] to the venerable warrior. Conscious of having tried to do his duty, he serenely awaited his preappointed fate. What was it to him that he would be brutally accused of having sought to lay “waste, with fire and sword, the fairest land under the cope of Heaven?” of having proposed to murder innocent women, or having conspired against the lives and happiness of thousands? Knowing that he had obeyed the Divine behest only by listening to the poor that cried; that he had done unto others as he would have desired that others should have done unto him; he was neither to be awed into fear, nor softened into gratitude, to the enemies of his God: and thus he aroused, by the modest manliness of his demeanor, the astonishment-- almost the veneration-- of the able but distorted intellect who stood beside him. When Governor Wise, on his return to Richmond, appeared before the people, he thus spoke of the wounded Liberator:

They are themselves mistaken who take him to be a madman. He is a bundle of the best nerves I ever saw, cut and thrust, and bleeding and in bonds. He is a man of clear head, of courage, fortitude, and simple ingenuousness. He is cool, collected, and indomitable, and it is but just to him to say, that he was humane to his prisoners, as attested to me by Col. Washington and Mr. Mills, and he inspired me with great trust in his integrity, as a man of truth. He is a fanatic, vain and garrulous, but firm, and truthful, and intelligent. His men, too, who survive, except the free negroes with him, are like him. He professes to be a Christian, in communion with the Congregationalist Church of the North, and openly preaches his purpose of universal emancipation: and the negroes themselves were to be the agents, by means of arms, led on by white commanders. When Col. Washington was taken, his watch, and plate, and jewels, and money were demanded, to create what they call a “ safety fund,” to compensate the liberators for the trouble and expense of taking away his slaves. This, by a law, was to be done with all slaveholders. Washington, of course, refused to deliver up any thing; and it is remarkable, that the only thing of material value which they took, besides his slaves, was the sword of Frederick the Great, which was sent to General Washington. This was taken by Stevens to Brown, and the latter commanded his men with that sword in this fight against the peace and safety of Washington's native State! He promised Col. Washington to return it to him when he was done with it. And Col. Washington says that he, Brown, was the coolest and firmest man he ever saw in defying danger and death. With one son dead by his side, and another shot through, he felt the pulse of his lying son with one hand and held his rifle with the other, and commanded his men with the utmost composure, encouraging them to be firm, and to sell their lives as dearly as they could.

1 The discovery of these “deadly” implements of domestic warfare, it has been argued, proved incontestably the intention of the Liberators to make war upon the “peculiar institutions” of Virginia.

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