Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lee Demands John Brown's Surrender at Harpers Ferry

After a day and a half of shootouts and standoffs Colonel Robert E. Lee demanded the surrender of John Brown and his remaining raiders via Lieutenant James Ewell Brown Stuart.

On the morning of October 18, 1859, Stuart, who would become a dashing cavalry general under Lee in the Civil War, approached the barred door of the fire engine house at the Harpers Ferry armory. The door creaked and opened only a few inches. Inside, peering out at Stuart, was Old John Brown. Stuart had run into "Old Osawatomie Brown" during his stint serving in Bleeding Kansas. The lieutenant handed the old man Lee's demand for immediate surrender.

"Colonel Lee U.S.A. Comm. the troops send by the President of the U.S. to suppress the insurrection at this place; demands the surrender of the persons in the Armory buildings.

If they will peaceably surrender themselves & restore the pillaged property; they shall be kept in safety to await the orders of the President.

Col. Lee represents to them in all frankness that it is impossible for them to escape; that the Armory is surrounded on all sides by troops; & that if he is compelled to take them by force he cannot answer for their safety.
R.E. Lee
Col. Commd.
U.S. Troops"

Brown refused the surrender demand.

Stuart gave the signal and the Marines rushed the fire engine house with sledge hammers. The hammers didn't work, so a heavy ladder was used to batter the door down.

It a very few minutes it was all over. Brown was wounded in the fight; a nasty gash in the head.

If the old man had been killed in the assault, history may have been much different. But, he didn't. He went to the gallows and died as a martyr in the eyes of many Northerners - and a heinous villain to most Southerners. The seeds of war were sown.

Image courtesy of the National Archives

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