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the struggle as to whether Kansas should be admitted as
a slaveholding State was continued with ever-increasing
bitterness until it caused a split in the Democratic party.

About this time appeared one of the most remarkable
romances, under the name of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," by
Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, that was ever published.
Its overdrawn and highly-colored picture of Southern
slavery greatly intensified anti-slavery feeling throughout
the North, and even provoked strong criticism of the
Southern States in foreign lands. This, and its results,
naturally provoked strong resentment throughout the
South and increased the growing alienation between the
two sections.

Among the sixteen States and territories of the Union
that were slaveholding in i860, Virginia held a com-
manding position. Of the 384,884 slaveholders in the
United States, 52,128, or about one-seventh of the whole
number, lived within her borders. She ranked first in
the number of this class of citizens; Georgia second,
with 41,084; Kentucky third, with 38,645, and Tennessee
fourth, with 36, 844 ; these four States containing nearly
one-half of the whole number of slaveholders in the
Union. Virginia also owned more slaves than any other
State. Of the 3,953,743 enumerated in the census of
i860, her citizens held 490,865, or about one-eighth of
the whole number. Georgia was second, with 462,198;
Mississippi third, with 436,631, and South Carolina fourth,
with 402,406 ; the four States holding nearly one-half the
whole number of slaves in the United States.

While Virginia had more slaveholders among her citi-
zens than did any of her sister Southern States, she strik-
ingly differed from them in the distribution of the own-
ership of her slaves, showing thereby that within her bor-
ders slavery was a peculiarly "domestic institution;" for
while she had more slaveholders than any other State,
yet, as a rule, the holdings of the individual were smaller.
The details of ownership are worth considering. Of
her 52, 188 holders of slaves, 1 1,085 of these owned but one


each; 5,989, but two; 4,474, but three; 3,807, but four;
3,233, but five each. These figures show that about one-
fifth of her slaveholders owned but a single slave, and
that of three-fifths of them, each owned five or less.
Those owning six each were 2,824; those seven, 2,393;
those eight, 1,984; those nine, 1,788. The owners of
from ten to fifteen each were 5,086; from fifteen to
twenty were 3,088 ; from twenty to thirty were 3, 01 7 ; from
thirty to forty were 1,291; from forty to fifty were 609;
from fifty to seventy were 503 ; from 70 to 100 were 243 ;
from 100 to 200 were 105; from 200 to 300 were but
eight, and from 300 to 500 but one.

The distribution of slaveholders, slaves and free ne-
groes among the seven natural grand divisions of Virginia
in i860, is suggestively presented in the following table,
showing numbers of slaveholders and of negroes (slave
and free) in Virginia in i860, by grand divisions of the
State, and number of counties in each grand division :




Free Negroes.




















Blue Ridge,






The Valley,













a, 41




Totals, 148 52,128 490,865 57,374

The following table presents the same facts for the
portions of the State in i860 that were organized into the
State of West Virginia, December 31, 1862, and admitted
into the Union as a State, June 19, 1863:

Counties. Slaveholders. Slaves. Free Negroes.

1. The Valley, 2 967 5,610 797

2. Appalachia, 9 1,132 6,060 922

3. Trans-Appal'a, 39 1,506 6,706 1,054

Totals, 50 3,605 18,376 2,773

These tables furnish a key to many of the political and
military happenings in Virginia during the civil war.
They show that the slave population of Virginia was
mainly confined to the region east of the Appalachian
mountains. In Tidewater, where slavery was first
planted within the limits of the Union, there were


numerous large plantations, but many of the slaves of
that region and many of its large number of free negroes
were found within its commercial and manufacturing
cities. The area of Midland was but little more than
that of Tidewater, but its slaveholders and slaves were
considerably more numerous, for in its industries slave
labor was profitable. The Piedmont country, the four-
teen counties east of and adjacent to the Blue ridge, was
throughout a prosperous agricultural region, while most
of its counties southwest of the Rappahannock basin
were extensively engaged in the production of heavy
tobaccos, hence slave labor was there found profitable.
The three elevated counties upon the plateau of the Blue
ridge were mainly devoted to grazing; consequently
their slave population was small. The seventeen coun-
ties of the Great Valley of Virginia were all famous for
the production of cereals, and for their dairying and graz-
ing interests, while large crops of tobacco were grown in
all the counties southwest of the valley of the Shenan-
doah. Its people were thrifty, and a few slaves
were owned upon most of its large farms. The Appa-
lachian country, while traversed by many ranges of
mountains, was also striped . with fertile valleys, in which
lived prosperous graziers, most of whom held families of
slaves. Virginia's forty-one Trans- Appalachian counties
were mainly a forest-covered and thinly-peopled region,
and few slaves were there held except in the valley of the
Big Kanawha and along the Ohio below the mouth of
that river. In proportion to the population, the number
of slaves was extremely small, and especially was this
true in the part of the State which extended northward
between Ohio and Pennsylvania, almost to Lake Erie.

The people of the two Valleys and of the nine Appa-
lachian counties that were subsequently embraced in West
Virginia, remained, by a large majority, loyal to the State
during the war; and, in a large degree, the same may be
said of the Trans- Appalachian counties in and southwest
of the Big Kanawha basin. The West Virginia seces-
sionists, those that by act of Congress, when its member-
ship was almost exclusively Northern, seceded from Vir-
ginia in 1 86 1, were mainly confined to the Trans- Appa-
lachian counties of Northwestern Virginia, where there
were but few slaves and still fewer slaveholders, and
where the larger portion of the population was more in


sympathy with the adjacent States of Ohio and Pennsyl-
vania than with the rest of Virginia. These people, by
mere act of Congress and without her consent, deprived
Virginia of over one-third of her territory and nearly
one-fourth of her population.

The humane and kindly character of African slavery in
Virginia was eloquently attested by the fact that during
the war, almost without exception, the slaves remained
faithful and loyal to their masters; that none rose in
insurrection, and that but few, if any, were guilty of
crimes against person or property when, owing to the
absence of a large portion of the white male population
of the State in the Confederate armies,, the country and
the helpless portion of its population were entirely at
their mercy. The kindly relations of the two races in
Virginia are forcibly illustrated by the large numbers of
free negroes, descendants of former slaves, that were
allowed to live peacefully and contentedly, prior to i860,
in every part of the commonwealth.

In the winter of 1857-58, John Brown, who had
been a leader in and a promoter of lawlessness during
the troubles in Kansas — ^undertaken, as he himself con-
fessed, for the purpose of inilaming the public mind on
the subject of slavery, that he might perfect organiza-
tions to bring about servile insurrections in the slave
States — collected a number of young men in that terri-
tory, including several of his sons, and, with the use of
funds and arms that had been furnished for his Kansas
operations, placed these men under military instruction,
by one of their number, at Springdale, in Iowa. In the
spring of 1858 he took these men to Chatham, in Canada
West, where, on the 8th of May, he assembled a "pro-
visional constitutional convention," made up of those he
brought with him and a number of resident free negroes.
On the day of its assembling, this convention adopted a
"provisional constitution and ordinances for the people
of the United States," the preamble of which began:
"Whereas slavery, throughout its entire existence in the
United States, is none other than a most barbarous,
unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its
citizens upon another portion. . . . Therefore, we, citi-
zens of the United States and the oppressed people who
. . . are declared to have no rights which the white man
is bound to respect . . . ordain and establish for our-


selves the following provisional constitution and ordi-
nances, the better to protect our persons, property, lives
and liberties, and govern our actions." On the loth,
after appointing a committee with full power to fill all the
executive, legislative, judicial and military offices named
in the constitution adopted, this convention adjourned,
sine die, and Brown took his Kansas party to Ohio, where
he disbanded them subject to call, but sending his Capt.
John E. Cook, of Connecticut (who was subsequently
executed), to stay at Harper's Ferry, Va., and make him-
self familiar with the surrounding country and its citizens,
and especially with the negro slaves, for the information
of his leader.

Brown, under the assumed name of Isaac Smith, ap-
peared in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry about the
ist of July, 1859, and there is evidence to show that he
extended his examination of the country for future stra-
tegic purposes, as far up the Shenandoah valley as Staun-
ton, concealing his purposes by giving out that he was a
farmer from New York, with his two sons and a son-in-
law, desiring to rent or purchase land. Soon after his
arrival at Harper's Ferry he rented the small Kennedy
farm in Maryland, some four and a half miles from Har-
per's Ferry, where he did some little farming, and, to
explain his secret movements, said he was accustomed to
mining operations, and expected to find valuable mineral
deposits in that mountain region. In the meantime he
kept two or three of his party, under assumed names, at
Chambersburg, Pa., who there received arms, ammuni-
tion and other military stores, which had been collected
for use in Kansas, and forwarded them from time to time
to Brown's habitation.

On October 10, 1859, from "Headquarters War Depart-
ment, Provisional Army, Harper's Ferry," John Brown,
commander-in-chief, issued his "General Order No. i,"
organizing "the divisions of the provisional army and
the coalition," providing for company, battalion, regi-
ment, brigade and general staff organization. It is prob-
able that at the time of issuing this order Brown had with
him, at the Kennedy farm, his whole band of followers,
including his spy Cook, and there formulated his final
plans of invasion ; and that soon thereafter he removed
to a schoolhouse nearer Harper's Ferry, the hundreds of
carbines, pistols, spears or pikes, and a quantity of car-


tridges, powder, percussion caps, and other military sup-
plies, that he had gathered for arming the negroes when
they rose to insurrection in response to his call and

About II p. m., Sunday, October i6, 1859, Brown,
accompanied by 14 white men from Connecticut, New
York, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, Indiana and Can-
ada, and 5 negroes from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New
York, some 20 insurgents, all fully armed, crossed the
Potomac into Virginia at Harper's Ferry, overpowered the
watchmen at the Baltimore & Ohio railroad bridge, the
United States armory and arsenal near the Baltimore &
Ohio, and the rifle factory above the town on the Shenan-
doah, and placed guards at those points and at the street
comers of the town. Brown established himself in the
thick-walled brick building at the armory gate, one room
of which was the quarters of the watchman and the other
contained a fire-engine ; he then sent six men, including
the spy Cook, under Captain Stevens, to seize the principal
citizens in the neighborhood and incite the negroes to
rise in insurrection. This party broke into the house of
Col. L. W. Washington, about five miles from Harper's
Ferry, about 1:30 a. m. of the 17th, and forced him and
four of his servants to accompany them to Harper's
Ferry, he in his own carriage and followed by one of his
farm wagons, which they seized. On their way back, at
about 3 a. m., they captured Mr. AUstadt and six of his
servants, placing arms in the hands of the latter. On
reaching Harper's Ferry, Cook and five of the captured
slaves were sent with Colonel Washington's four-horse
wagon to bring forward the arms, etc. , deposited at the
schoolhouse in Maryland.

In the meantime Brown halted, for a time, an east-
bound passenger train on the Baltimore & Ohio, one of
his men killing the railroad guard at the bridge ; he also
captured, as they appeared on the streets in the early
morning, some 40 citizens of Harper's Ferry, whom he
confined, with Messrs. Washington and AUstadt, in one
room of the gate or engine house which he had selected
as his fort or point of defense.

News of these occurrences spread rapidly, and citizens
and citizen soldiery, with arms, hastened from all the
surrounding parts of Virginia and Maryland to resist this
high-handed invasion of their homes and States. About


II a. m., of the 17th, the Jefferson Guards, from Charles-
town, arrived, soon followed by the Hamtramck and the
Shepherdstown troop, from Shepherdstown, and Alburtis'
company from Martinsburg. These, under the command
of Col. R. A. Baylor, forced the insurgents within the
armory enclosure, which they surrounded by a cordon of
pickets. Brown then withdrew his men into the gate
house, which he proceeded to loophole and fortify, taking
■with him ten of the most prominent of his Virginia and
Maryland captives, which he termed "hostages," to
insure the safety of his band. From openings in the
building the insurgents fired upon all white people that
came in sight.

After sunset of the 17th, Capt. B. B. Washington's
company from Winchester, and three companies from
Frederick City, Md., under Colonel Shriver, arrived;
later came companies from Baltimore, under Gen.
C. C. Edgerton, and a detachment of United States
marines, commanded by Lieut. J. Green and Major Rus-
sell, accompanied by Lieut. -Col. R. E. Lee, of the Second
United States cavalry (with his aide, Lieut. J. E. B.
Stuart, of the First United States cavalry), who, happen-
ing to be at Arlington, his home, near Washington, had
teen ordered to take command at Harper's Ferry, recap-
ture the government armory and arsenal, and restore
order. Colonel Lee halted the Baltimore troops at Sandy
Hook, about a mile and a half east of Harper's Ferry,
directed the United States artillery companies (ordered
from Fort Monroe) to halt in Baltimore, then crossed to
Harper's Ferry with the marines, disposed them in the
armory grounds so as to prevent the escape of the insur-
gents, and awaited dawn of the i8th before attacking
Brown's stronghold, for fear of sacrificing the lives of
the "hostages" in a midnight attack.

Soon after daylight of the i8th, after having posted the
volunteer troops so as to completely invest the armory
grounds, and prepared for an assault upon Brown's fort by
the marines, Lee, under a flag by Lieutenant Stuart, made
a written demand upon Brown to surrender himself, his
.associates and the prisoners they had taken, with the
assurance that "if they will peaceably surrender them-
selves and restore the pillaged property, they shall be
kept in safety to await orders of the President. . . . That
if he is compelled to take them by force he cannot


answer for their safety." Stuart was instructed to
receive no counter propositions from Brown, and to say-
that if they accepted the proffered terms they must im-
mediately give up their arms and release their prisoners.
As Lee expected, Brown spurned the offered terms of
surrender. At a given signal to this effect from Stuart,
Lee ordered forward twelve marines, led by Lieutenant
Green, that he had put under cover near the engine-
house, three of them supplied with sledge hammers to
break in the doors, to attack Brown's party with bayonets,
taking care not to injure the citizens held captive, nor
the captured slaves unless they resisted. The storming
party quickly attacked the doors, but Brown had bar-
ricaded them inside with the fire-engine and fastened
them by ropes, so the sledges were of no avail. Lee then
ordered forward reserves, with a heavy ladder for a
battering ram, with which a portion of the door was
dashed in and admission gained. Up to that time
Brown's fire had been harmless, but at the threshold one
marine was mortally wounded. The others quickly ended
the contest, bayoneting the insurrectionists that resisted,
Lieutenant Green cutting down Brown with his sword.
The whole affair was over in a few minutes, and the cap-
tured citizens and slaves were released. A party of ma-
rines under Stuart was then sent to the Kennedy farm,
which captured pikes (said to have been over i,ooo),
blankets, tools, tents, and other necessaries for a cam-
paign, which Brown had there stored. A party of Mary-
land troops secured from the schoolhouse, where Brown
had deposited them, boxes of carbines and revolvers, and
the horses and wagon of Colonel Washington, which
Brown had sent there to bring his military supplies to
Harper's Ferry.

Colonel Lee in his official report to Col. S. Cooper,
adjutant-general of the United States army, dated Octo-
ber 19th, stated, from information in papers taken from
the insurgents and from their statements : " It appears that
the party consisted of 19 men — 14 white and 5 black.
They were headed by John Brown, of some notoriety
in Kansas, who in June last located himself in Maryland,
at the Kennedy farm, where he has been engaged in
preparing to capture the United States works at Harper's
Ferry. He avows that his object was the liberation of
the slaves of Virginia and of the whole South, and


acknowledges that he has been disappointed in his
expectations of aid from the black as well as the white
population, both in the Southern and Northern States.
The blacks whom he forced from their homes in this
neighborhood, as far as I could learn, gave him no vol-
untary assistance. The servants . . . retained at the
armory, took no part in the conflict . . . and returned
to their homes as soon as released. The result proves
the plan was the attempt of a fanatic or madman, which
could only end in failure ; and its temporary success was
owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creat-
ing by magnifying his numbers."

Lee, by order of Secretary of War John B. Floyd,
turned over to the United States marshal and to the
sheriff of Jefferson county, Va., Brown and two
white men and two negroes. Ten of the white men and
two of the negroes associated with Brown were killed
during the combat with them; one white man. Cook,
escaped, but was subsequently captured and executed;
and one negro was unaccounted for. The insurgents
killed three white men, Mr. F. Beckham, the mayor of
Harper's Ferry, Mr. G. W. Turner, one of the first citi-
zens of Jefferson county, and Private Quinn of the marine
corps, and a negro railroad porter ; they wounded eight
white citizens and one of the marine corps. After this
affair was over, great alarm was caused by a report, about
sundown of the i8th, from Pleasant valley in Maryland,
that a body of men had descended from the mountains,
and was massacring the residents of that valley. Colo-
nel Lee, though incredulous, promptly headed a body of
marines and hastened to the locality named, only to find
the alarm false.

In concluding his report. Colonel Lee expressed his
thanks to Lieutenants Stuart and Green and Major Rus-
sell "for the aid they afforded me, and my entire com-
mendation of the conduct of the detachment of marines,
who were at all times ready and prompt in the execution
of any duty. The promptness with which the volunteer
troops repaired to the scene of disturbance, and the alac-
rity they displayed to suppress the gross outrage against
law and order, I know will elicit your hearty approba-
tion. ' ' He enclosed to Cooper a printed copy of the pro-
visional constitution and ordinances for the people of the
United States, of which there was found a large num-
ber prepared for issue by the insurgents.


During the afternoon of October i8th, Gov. Henry A.
Wise arrived at Harper's Ferry and took precautions for
the protection of Virginia and the execution of her laws,
Brown, having been turned over to the civil authorities of
Jefferson county, was brought to trial at Charlestown on
the following Thursday, October 20th, because on that
day began the regular fall session of the circuit court.
A grand jury indicted him upon the charges of treason
and murder. His prosecution was conducted before an
impartial judge and jury by Hon. Andrew Hunter; he
was defended by able counsel from Virginia and other
States, including Hon. D. W. Voorhees, of Indiana, and
was condemned and convicted. His trial lasted nearly
a month, and, as Brown himself admitted, was fair and
impartial. He was condemned to be executed on the 2d
of December. His counsel asked the Virginia court of
appeals for a stay of execution, on pleas presented, but
this was refused.

After the condemnation of Brown and his associates,
fearing from published threats that an attempt might be
made by Northern sympathizers to rescue them, Gov-
ernor Wise ordered Virginia troops to Charlestown to
guard the prisoners until after their execution. Toward
the last of November about 1,000 were there assembled ^
among them the cadets of the Virginia military institute,
under command of Col. F. H. Smith, the superintendent.
Maj. T. J. Jackson, the famous "Stonewall" Jackson of
the war, was present in command of the cadet battery.
He witnessed the execution of Brown about midday,
December 2, 1859. In a letter to his wife he wrote of
Brown, "he behaved with unflinching firmness, " and of
the execution: "My command was in front of the
cadets, all facing south. One howitzer I assigned to Mr.
Truehart, on the left of the cadets, and with the other I
remained on the right. Other troops occupied different
positions around the scaffold, and altogether it was an
imposing but very solemn scene. I was much impressed
with the thought that before me stood a man, in the full
vigor of health, who must in a few moments enter eter-
nity. I sent up the petition that he might be saved.
Awful was the thought that he might in a few minutes
receive the sentence, 'Depart, ye wicked, into everlasting^
fire ! ' I hope that he was prepared to die, but I am


On the day of Brown's execution, bells were tolled and
minute guns fired in many places in the North, and
church services and public meetings were held for the
purpose of glorifying his deeds and sanctifying the cause
he represented, recognizing in him a mart3rr to the teach-
ings of the abolitionists. Eventually his name became
the slogan under which, as a battle hymn, the Northern
troops invaded and overran the South.

In reference to Brown's invasion of Virginia, Hon.
A. H. Stephens, in his history of the United States, says:
"This act greatly inflamed the Southern mind, especially
as it was lauded by the official authorities of those North-
em States which had refused to comply with their obli-
gations under the Constitution in the matter of the ren-
dition of fugitive slaves. ' '

It is interesting to note the men who appeared upon
the scenes of these opening hostilities between the North,
and the South, and who subsequently became famous or
celebrated characters in the great drama of the civil war.

Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 3 of 153)