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Tim Ramler

on 20 April 2010

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Transcript of Tim

John Brown and Harpers Ferry Fort Sumter THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF JOHN BROWN

A Documentary Source Problem

From Allan Nevins' The Emergence of Lincoln.

"From Maryland Heights...a beautiful landscape extended to the south and west. An observer on the Heights could see the Shenandoah River winding through its rich valley to join the Potomac...Below was the village of Harper's Ferry... with its Federal armory.

"To this chosen base of operations came John Brown, two sons and a friend on July 3, 1859...[Brown] rented a rough two-story farmhouse...Here the men of the little force he had recruited trickled in, until by early fall he had twenty-one followers.

"Late in September, fifteen heavy boxes of 'tools' were brought down to the farm...containing 198 Sharps rifles...The fierce-eyed, iron-jawed Brown...awaited the best hour to strike...Members of the attacking party expressed fears when Brown first explained the plan to them...Several believed they were going to a certain death...

"Two factors gave him a certain amount of confidence. He knew upper Maryland and Virginia to be full of people who disliked slavery...and he believed great numbers of slaves would flock to him...

"About eight o'clock on the night of Sunday, Oct. 16 Brown ordered his troops to march upon [Harper's] Ferry...The moonless gloom...the somber silence...gave some of the marchers the impression [of a] funeral. As they came within sight of the town lights, nerves grew tauter. [Two men] turned aside to cut the telephone wires; the others pushed on.

"Turning up Potomac Street, the force [disarmed]the watchman at the armory gate and quickly took possession of both the armory and arsenal. All the Federal property, including several million dollars' worth of arms...was now in John Brown's hands. His next step was to send..six men to seize as his first hostage Col. L.W. Washington, great-grandnephew of the President and...four of his bewildered slaves...Meanwhile, John Brown was waiting for Negro and white recruits to pour in...

"As day broke, cold and gray, the alarm was spreading swiftly...Farmers from all the surrounding area caught up firearms and clattered toward the Ferry..Noon saw the Jefferson Guards seizing the Potomac bridge...while a volunteer army from Charlestown...occupied the heights...and swept down...to capture the Shenandoah bridge...Brown was now trapped.

"Seeing that his position was hopeless, he determined to negotiate a truce. But the first man he sent out for the purpose was taken prisoner...and soon afterward killed by the excited mob...

"While the Maryland and Virginia militia...sprang to arms, Federal troops were on their way...The President...instructed [his] officers to proceed at once to Harper's Ferry, where [Col. Robert E.] Lee would take command. Late that night they reached the town...

"Brown's losses during the day had been severe. His sons Oliver and Watson had been mortally wounded...

"Lee had resolved to [attack] at dawn at the point of the bayonet, not firing lest he injure the hostages...Instantly the [soldiers] sprang forward, some men battering at the doors with sledges...The little garrison inside fired with carbines...Lieutenant Green aimed a blow at Brown...Green beat him with the hilt [of his sword] until he sank unconscious...

"Within thirty-six hours...Brown's attempt had been utterly defeated. Ten of his crew had been killed, five were prisoners, and the others had escaped...He himself...was lodged in Charlestown jail..."
Assume that you are writing a history of the Civil War era and have just finished writing the above passage about the events at Harper's Ferry. You have already described the North's growing suspicion of Southern intentions to secede from the Union and the North's increasing support for anti-slavery actions, like the forcible rescue of Blacks from slavery. You now wish to explain in 600 to 800 words the purposes, meanings and effects of John Brown's raid, in describing his trial and execution. Interpret John Brown, his actions and personality. Describe what happened, why, and what its larger significance was. Select the best evidence based on its degree of credibility (believability).

The following questions are a guide. They will help you evaluate the documents and develop a broad explanation of the importance of the events you describe.

1. Did John Brown accomplish his purpose? If so, in what sense? If not, how not?

2. What appear to have been the major strengths and weaknesses in Brown's character?

3. Was the prosecution in his trial justified in charging him with trying to start a rebellion? Whom are we to believe on this question?

4. How would you assess Brown's honesty and credibility during his jailing and trial?
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