John Brown and Harpers Ferry (1859)
On October 16, 1859, radical abolitionist John Brown led an attempt to start an armed slave revolt by seizing the U.S. Army arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). Brown and twenty followers, both whites (including two of Brown's sons) and blacks (three free blacks, one freedman, and one fugitive slave), planned to seize the armory and use weapons stored there to arm black slaves in order to spark a general uprising by the slave population.
Although the raiders were initially successful in cutting the telegraph line and capturing the armory, they allowed a passing train to continue on to Washington, D.C., where the authorities were alerted to the attack. By October 17 the raiders were surrounded in the armory by the militia and other locals. Robert E. Lee (then a Colonel in the U.S. Army) led a company of U.S. Marines in storming the armory on October 18. Ten of the raiders were killed, including both of Brown's sons; Brown himself along with a half dozen of his followers were captured; four of the raiders escaped immediate capture. Six locals were killed and nine injured; the Marines suffered one dead and one injured. The local slave population failed to join in Brown's attack.
Brown was subsequently hanged for treason (against the Commonwealth of Virginia), as were six of his followers. The raid became a cause célèbre in both the North and the South, with Brown vilified by Southerners as a bloodthirsty fanatic, but celebrated by many Northern abolitionists as a martyr to the cause of freedom.
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