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before Brown came out, to the vicinity of the scaffold
where the militia companies were marching into the
positions assigned them. The most striking horseman
on the field, Turner Ashby, galloped around bearing
orders and giving directions, mounted on a spotted stal-
lion with a wonderful mane and tail, flowing like white
silk from neck and rump, almost sweeping the ground.
The Colonel and his horse — and the horsemanship of
the Colonel was worthy his steed — were a gallant
show. Ashby was killed in battle, defending for his



The Execution of John Brown 295

state the Valley of the Shenandoah. There seemed to
be no attainable end of the evolution of the troops in
preparation for the ceremony. I distinctly remember in
the movement the gaunt, severe figure of an officer
whose command was a company of bright boys. It was
the contrast between the stern man and the gay youths
that formed a picture for me, and I heard the word as
they passed — "Lexington Cadets." The man was Prof.
Jackson, later the Confederate hero, "Stonewall."

The day was extremely beautiful and mild. The
highly cultivated farms, the village, the broad landscape,
browned by the frosts of November, framed in the
ranges of the Blue Ridge — blue indeed, a daintily de-
fined wall, of a blue shade more delicate than the sky.
Though it was "the day of Austerlitz" as the days of
the season are marked, the clover in the stubble was
green, and the ground so warm and dry the reporters
reclined upon it with comfort and exchanged observa-
tions in the spirit of levity with which the representa-
tives of the press relieve, when witnesses of true trag-
edies, the strains upon their vitality.

The procession from the jail to the scaffold was bril-
liant. The General commanding had a staff more re-
splendent than that of Field Marshal Moltke and King
William, when they rode together over their battlefields
in France. Old John Brown was seated on his coffin in
the bed of a wagon, of the fashion farmers call a wood
wagon, an open body and no cover. He wore a battered
black slouch hat, the rim turned squarely up in front,
giving it the aspect of a cocked hat. This was that his
vision might not be impeded, and he looked with evident
enjoyment upon the country, saying it was the first time
he had the pleasure of seeing it. His words were re-



296 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

peated at the time. The man I saw as he was in the
wagon and as he was helped upon the scaffold — he
had about a dozen steps to ascend — his arms pinioned
by ropes at the elbows, tied firmly, so that his hands
were free while the upper arms were bound at his waist.
He wore a baggy brown coat and trousers, and red car-
pet slippers over blue yarn socks, and stood firmly but
in an easy attitude on the trap-door, which was sustained
by a rope. Then a stout white cord of cotton, provided
by some cotton planters who thought there was pro-
priety in it — something symbolical in it — was placed
over the iron-gray, sturdy head, the noose dropped
easily around his neck and tightened so that it would
not slip, but so as not to give physical discomfort. The
face of the old man was toward the east, the morning
light on it, and the figure perfectly in dress and pose,
and all appointments, that of a typical western farmer
— a serious person upheld by an idea of duty — the ex-
pression of his features that of a queer mingling of the
grim, and, to use a rural word, the peart. The white
cap was pulled down, and still the troops were moving,
falling into a hollow square — a formation that had not
been rehearsed. This became tedious. Brown asked
that there should be no delay. The suspense was dis-
tressing, and from the ascent of the scaffold to the fall
of the trap and the sharp jerk upon the white cord, the
time was nearly eighteen minutes. This was not, though
often stated, with the purpose of torture, but the delay
of the military to get into assigned places. Brown's
hands gave the only sign of emotion that possessed him.
He was rubbing his thumbs hard but slowly on the in-
side of his forefingers, between the first and second
joints, as one braces himself with a nervous grasp upon



The Execution of John Broum 297

the arms of a dentist's chair when a tooth is to be drawn.
It is no wonder Brown asked the sheriff about the wait-
ing. There was deep stillness as the form of the victim
plunged six feet and the rope twanged as its burden
lengthened a little and shivered. Then the body began
to whirl as the cord slackened and twisted, and the rapid
movement caused the short skirts of the coat to flutter
as in a wind. About a quarter of an hour was spent
by the surgeons climbing the stairs and holding the sus-
pended body to their ears, listening to see if the. heart
continued to act. One of the reporters was moved to
say, as if he had prepared a deliverance and was getting
it off contrary to a better judgment, "Gentlemen, the
honor of old Virginia has been vindicated." There was
no response to the sentiment.

The road to Harper's Ferry was soon filled with car-
riages at high speed. There was dust flying. In the
yard of a farm-house were a half-dozen lads playing
soldier, one beating a small drum. This was the high-
way along which more than any other surged to and fro
the armies of the Nation and the Confederacy. Colonel
Washington, while on General Lee's staff, was killed in
western Virginia by an Indiana sharpshooter,* and I
remember well his stately presence, not unworthy to
represent the name he bore, and his courtesy and kind-
ness to one who represented a newspaper and held there
was no cause more sacred in the world than that of the
freedom of the Territories and the extinction of slavery;



* It was not Colonel Lewis Washington, as Mr. Halstead evidently
supposed, but Lieutenant Colonel John A. Washington, great great-grand
nephew of George Washington, who was killed while serving on Gen-
eral Lee's Staff. — Ed.



298 Ohio ArcJi. and Hist. Society Publications.

and the death of Ashby, Pate and Wise* seemed a griev-
ous sacrifice of manhood.

Something more than ten years later, August, 1870,
in eastern France, I was with the German invaders of
the fair land of Lorraine, and one day as I looked upon
a division of the Grand Army of the Red Prince, a mon-
strous mass of men with the spikes of their helmets and
their bayonets glittering over them under a vast tawny
cloud of dust, I heard with amazement a deep-throated
burst of song in English, and it was:

"John Brown's body is moldering in the ground,
But his soul is marching on.

Glory, Hallelujah!"

The German invaders often sang magnificently
while marching. German soldiers in our army in the
war of the States returning to the Fatherland to fight
the French taught their comrades the splendid march-
ing-song which the legions of the North sang along the
historic highways of Virginia, that Father Abraham's
boys were coming and the soul of John Brown was
marching on. There is a bust of gold of Brown, pre-
sented his widow by Victor Hugo, in the State Museum
at Topeka, Kansas, shown by the venerable superin-
tendent, with an apology, for it is a bad portraiture of
the Hero of Osawatomie and martyr of Harper's Ferry.
It is the only likeness of him giving the chief character-
istic of his countenance of the morning of his last day
that I have seen, except in the sketches taken for Har-
per's Weekly on the spot, by Porte Crayon. The French
makers of the golden bust must have caught the keen



* Not Governor Wise, but his son, O. Jennings Wise, who entered
ihe Confederate service and was killed at the battle of Roanoke Island.
-Ed.



The Execution of John Broum 299

lines of this artist's pencil, showing the weirdness that
had crept into Brown's strong face when his eyes beheld
unearthly scenes, his mind wandering in the regions on
the boundary of two worlds — he must have seen cloud-
capped domes not rounded by human hands — invisible
by mortal eyes unless introspectively. One wonders
whether the old farmer, as he waited on the scaffold,
could have beheld as in a dream — as one sees at night
in stormy darkness, when there is a flame of lightning,
a misty mountain-top — a vision incredible, but not
unsubstantial, of his own apotheosis and immortality.




JOHN BROWN AT HARPER'S FERRY AND
CHARLESTOWN



A Lecture.

BY S. K. DONOVAN.



[This lecture by Colonel S. K. Donovan was delivered a
number of times in Ohio, but was never before printed. The
original manuscript is in the possession of his sister, Miss Sallie
Donovan, of Delaware, Ohio, by whose permission it is now
published. Colonel Donovan once stated to the writer that he
was the first newspaper correspondent to reach Harper's Ferry
after the raid began. When he arrived there he shared the
hostile feelings of the Virginians toward the raiders. The
lecture shows how completely what he saw and heard at Harper's
Ferry and Charlestown changed his views to enthusiastic
sympathy with John Brown. Colonel Donovan's paper was pre-
pared for the platform, not as a contribution for a historical
magazine. It has been thought best however, to publish it just
as he left it. For a sketch of his life see page 346. — Ed.]

The history of the United States makes note of two
important raids which had their origin in a difference
of political sentiment. The first is known as the raid
into Kansas Territory. The second is the raid into the
valley of Virginia. Those who participated in the first,
with the exception of a few who were killed in fight,
were never called upon to answer for their acts in a
court of justice. Those who participated in the second,
with the exception of a few who escaped, were either
killed in fight, captured and cruelly murdered, or taken
prisoner, tried and executed on the scaiTold.

To those in my audience, who in the fifties were of
mature years and thoughtful minds, it is not necessary

(300)



John Brown at Harper's Ferry and Charlestown 301

for me to say one word to refresh their memories as to
the incidents, calamities and tragedies which made up
the history of the every day Hfe of the residents of
Kansas Territory. To those of my audience who con-
stitute the generation which has arisen since that event-
ful period, I have only time to say that the years to which
I refer were filled with important events, and that these
were succeeded by a series of still more important events,
which found their climax in the destruction of slavery
in the United States.

The aggressiveness of the slave power reached its
ultimate, when, with barbaric violence, it attempted to
fasten its leprosy upon the virgin soil of Kansas. From
the foundation of our government up to the year 1860,
the slave power was dominant in the control of national
afifairs. It was immaterial which of the two great polit-
ical parties was in control ; the slave power dictated the
policy and dominated the conduct of affairs.

With the development of the great West, however,
the slaveocracy felt its power slipping from its grasp.
Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Cal-
ifornia and Oregon had been admitted to the sisterhood
of States and dedicated to freedom. As the slave power
recognized the advancing steps of liberty, it became ag-
gressive, intolerant, malignant. It was no longer satis-
fied with the compromises under the constitution, which
it had proposed and which it had adopted to make secure
its power. It demanded the repeal of the most impor-
tant one, that known as the Missouri Compromise,
which limited the existence of the peculiar institution to
the country south of the parellel of 36° 30' north, and
claimed the right to carry slavery into every foot of
the territories of the United States. To this arrogant



302 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

assumption the northern people were patient. Their
disapproval found but one mode of expression, that of
earnest protestation. With repeal of the Missouri Com-
promise, however, the northern people awakened to the
startling fact that the South was no longer satisfied
with being dominant in national affairs; it had deter-
mined to become absolute. Every acre of the vast public
domain was to be dedicated to slavery.

In its arrogance and confident assumption of power,
the slaveocracy challenged the sentiment of the North
to contest and selected the then Territory of Kansas as
the field of battle. On the part of the slave power the
contest was not to be a peaceful, intellectual and moral
combat, which would find its solution in the result of a
ballot, honestly cast and honestly counted. No. It inau-
gurated the fight by the organization of thousands of
men, not citizens of the Territory of Kansas, but cit-
izens of the State of Missouri, and these organized
marauders armed, equipped and mounted, crossed the
border, carrying sword and fire in advance, and leaving
death and ashes in their wake. They committed every
violent crime known to the calendar. Rapine, arson,
murder, and that nameless crime which brutal passion
incites and still more brutal power executes.

Thousands of families had emigrated from the free
states and had settled on the fertile plains of Kansas.
They went to their new home with honest intent, to
make it their earthly abiding place, tame the wildness of
nature, rear their offspring and in the end to become a
part of its dust. They carried with them their love of
liberty, their love of labor, their willingness and ability
to suffer and endure, their hatred of slavery, their reli-
gious faith, their open recognition of the love, mercy



John Brozvn at Harper's Ferry and Charlcstozvn 303

and justice of God. Among the many intrepid and
courageous spirits attracted to the scene of conflict, was
one who embodied every quality and characteristic nec-
essary to give effectiveness to effort.

Preceded by four sons and a son-in-law,* John Brown
went to Kansas. He was immediately recognized as a
leader of men, and in the eventful years which followed
he was ever found a commander in defense, a leader in
attack. He shared to as large a degree as any other man
in the Territory the privations, the sufferings, the
sacrifices and the heroic actions which finally resulted
in the success of the Free-State party and rescued
Kansas from the barbarism of slavery. Familiarized,
by actual contact with the brutality of slavery, his hatred
to the institution became intensified while the loss of a
son, cruelly murdered by the pro-slavists, left a wound
in his heart which never healed. Thus much I have
deemed necessary, relative to the raid into Kansas Ter-
ritory, that you may be the better able to judge of the
character thereof, and make comparison with that and
the raid into the valley of Virginia.

That you may more fully comprehend my lecture,
•it is necessary that you should have a clear conception
of the topography of Harper's Ferry. Harper's Ferry
is located on a triangular point of land formed by the
juncture of the Shenandoah with the Potomac river.
Imagine that I am facing the east as I stand. Here,
having its sources in the mountains of the northwest,
flows the Potomac. As it reaches a point near the Ferry,
its course is almost due east. The land for five hundred
feet from its waters is flat, a plain. Then it commences
to rise, abruptly at first and at points almost perpendic-

* Five sons. See page 232.



304 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

ularly, so that a half a mile back the ground is three
hundred feet above the waters of the Potomac. This
extreme height is known as Bolivar Heights. A street
starts at its summit and runs down the hill towards the
centre of the Ferry until it reaches a point within two
hundred yards of the juncture of the rivers where it
intersects a street but does not cross. The flat ground
on the banks of the Potomac had been purchased by the
government of the United States, which had thereon
erected buildings for the manufacture of small arms.
The grounds were enclosed. The track of the Baltimore
and Ohio Railroad coming from the west, as it entered
the government grounds, rested on trestles, and these
trestles increased in height eastward until when they
reached the junctures of the rivers the rails were twenty
feet from the ground. The Baltimore and Ohio Rail-
road had laid down a platform extending west three
hundred feet. As you entered the Armory grounds,
the first building to the left was a one story brick, desti-
tute of windows, with ponderous oaken doors in front.
This building was used as a fire engine house. Adjoin-
ing this was a one story brick building, deeper than the
first, having front and rear rooms, and was occupied by
the paymaster. Beyond these two buildings, and extend-
ing down the Armory grounds to the west, were the
manufacturing buildings.

Here, having its sources in the south-west, came the
Shenandoah river. The formation of the ground was
similar to that on the Potomac, but the plain was wider.
Shenandoah street divided it, running from a point a
mile from the south of the town to the initial point
where the rivers join. This ground was well built up
with business houses and dwellings. High street was
also well built. The Winchester and Potomac Railroad



John Brotvn at Harper's Ferry and Charlestown 305

ran along the banks of the Shenandoah until it inter-
sected the Baltimore and Ohio, where the tracks united
and passed over the Potomac on a covered wood bridge.
There was also a wagon road on this bridge. One hun-
dred feet west of the juncture of the rivers on the banks




S. K. DONOVAN.

f)i the Potomac was erected a hotel known as the Wager
House. Diagonally across from this hotel, at the side
of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad, was a drink-
ing saloon, named the *'Galt House." Just at the limits
of the corporation on the banks of the Shenandoah were
the rifle works. Now I wish you to keep closely in mind

Vol. XXX — 20.



306 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

the little brick engine house just within the Armory
yard — The Wager House, the Baltimore and Ohio
platform, the drinking saloon diagonally across from the
Wager House, and the rifle works on the banks of the
Shenandoah river, for around these points the interest
of my story shall cling.

In the spring of 1859, a man giving the name of
Smith rented a worn out farm in the state of Maryland,
four miles north and east of Harper's Ferry. The
owner was glad of the tenant, and as his new renter paid
cash in advance, asked no questions of his past or his
future. A few days after this incident the man Smith,
accompanied by two other men much younger than he,
took possession of the premises. They brought no stock
with them except a horse, nor did they purchase any
implements of agriculture, except spades and picks and
a one horse wagon. A few days after being in posses-
sion two of the men left the house, carrying picks and
spades in their hands, with small canvas bags thrown
over their shoulders. They proceeded to the mountain
side and commenced to dig, carefully examining the
earth which they threw up and occasionally dropping
some of the substance into their canvas bags. Thus the
day was spent, and thus many days following were
spent.

The elderly man took the horse and wagon and pro-
ceeded to the east. He made several of these trips and
was usually gone three days. On each return the wagon
was laden with boxes about five feet in length, two feet
wide and about twenty inches high. These boxes were
carefully moved into the dwelling. As days went into
weeks, the number of the occupants of the house in-
creased, and the new comers spent their time, as did



John Brown at Harper's Ferry and Charlcstozvn 307

those first there, apparently seeking for iron ore or some
other metalHc substance. Thus the summer passed,
every week adding one or more to the occupants of the
house, so that by the second week in October there were
twenty-two persons, all males, inhabiting it.

At eleven o'clock on the night of the sixteenth
day of October, 1859, being Sunday, an armed body of
men crossed a bridge from the Maryland to the Virginia
side, and took possession of Harper's Ferry. Citizens
found on the streets at that hour were directed to go to
their homes and remain there. Other citizens, officials
at the Armory, or men prominent in civil affairs were
waked from their slumbers and bade dress and accom-
pany their captors. They were taken to the center of
the Ferry and confined in the first government manufac-
turing building west of the paymaster's office. At mid-
night the Baltimore and Ohio express train came in
from the west. When the conductor, Mr. A. J. Phelps,
stepped from the train, armed men placed him under
arrest. When the engineer stepped from his cab, he
was also arrested together with his fireman. Conductor
Phelps was very indignant and threatening when the
man who, when he rented the farm, gave the name of
Smith, now giving the name of Anderson, informed
Captain Phelps that his life depended on his pacific
behavior. Anderson assured him that no harm was
intended either him or his fellow employees or his pas-
sengers so long as they were passive and obeyed orders,
but if he, Phelps, attempted to move the train, it would
cost him his life and the life of every man engaged in
the attempt.

The train was held until after three o'clock A. M.,
when Anderson informed Conductor Phelps that he



308 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

could proceed with his train to the east. This the con-
ductor refused to do, saying that he beheved the timbers
of the bridge had been tampered with and that the object
was to precipitate his train into the Potomac. He would
not move until he knew that the bridge was safe. "Go
or stay at your pleasure," was the response of Anderson
as he turned his back on the conductor. When day
dawned, Conductor Phelps examined the bridge, and
finding it unimpaired, proceeded east with his train.
Reaching a telegraph station, he communicated with the
Baltimore and Ohio officials. His fears more than his
observation dictated his dispatches, for at no time had
he seen more than five men, yet his dispatches stated
that hundreds of men, white and black, were in arms,
and that the valley was being given up to murder,
plunder and fire.

The wildest consternation seized the people of Balti-
more City. The militia was called out, preparations were
made to go to the rescue. The authorities at Washing-
ton were receiving dispatches which were of a more
definite character than those sent by Conductor Phelps,
for the Secretary of War deemed that two companies
of Marines, neither of which was a full one, were suffi-
cient to quell this terrible insurrection. Accordingly he
ordered them to proceed to the Ferry, under the com-
mand of Major W. W. Russell.

Baltimore City sent forward a contingent of her
militia and other militia was expected to join the force
at Monocacy Junction, near Frederick City. The en-
tire military were under command of Lieut. Col. Robert
E. Lee of the United States Army, and afterwards the
noted rebel general.

As a correspondent of the Daily Exchange of Balti-



John Brozvn at Harper's Ferry and Charlestozvn 309



&



more, I accompanied the militia to the Ferry. Nothin
of interest occurred on our trip. At every station exag-
gerations of the character of the raid and the number
engaged in it were heard. We arrived at Sandy Hook
about ten o'clock. The miHtary then halted. I pro-
ceeded to the Ferry on foot. The first information I re-
ceived was that every foot of the soil of Virginia was in
the possession of Virginians except that little engine
house in the armory yard. Instead of two thousand per-
sons being engaged in the raid, which was the smallest
number anyone would admit, there were less than one
hundredth part of that number. There were only nine-
teen, and of these, about one-half had been killed, half
the others had escaped, and the remainder were besieged
in the little brick engine house.

I also learned further particulars of the raid.
Twenty-two persons had gathered at the little farm
house in Maryland. Three were left to guard the prem-
ises. Nineteen crossed the bridge. The chief of the
raiders divided his forces into four squads: one squad,
by way of High Street, was sent over to Bolivar Heights
in the direction of Charlestown, the county seat, to
secure some prominent persons as hostages, and to ten-
der slaves their freedom. — another squad was sent to



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