John Brown’s 150th

W. Dewitt, portrait of John Brown. Charles Town W.V., 1859. 1981.7

Trying to define the beginning of the Civil War is a bit tricky. The first shots were fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, but the causes and lead-up to the war can be seen to stretch back decades or more. One key moment, however, in the run-up to the conflict was certainly John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, whose 150th anniversary was this past weekend. John Brown entered Harper’s Ferry and captured the armory on October 16, 1859; militia fought back and forced Brown into the engine house on October 17, and then U.S. Marines (who had arrived on the 17th) under the command of Col. Lee and Lt. Israel Greene captured Brown and his men on October 18, 1859.

John Brown Going to Court. Charles Town W.V., 1859. 1981.6

John Brown was then taken to Charles Town and tried for treason against the commonwealth of Virginia. He was convicted and was executed on Dec. 2. Among the Rosenbach’s John Brown collections are a number of drawings made during the trial by newspaper correspondents for Frank Leslies Illustrated Weekly. We also have several letters of Brown’s, including one written while he was in jail in Charles Town, and the following Proclamation, which warns potential spectators to stay away from the execution.

Proclamation. November 1859. A 859p

The Proclamation’s strong stance against a crowd gathering for the execution was, in fact, carried out. Governor Henry Wise ordered 1500 troops to Charlestown to prevent any escape attempts and to prevent civilians from attending the execution. However, Stonewall Jackson, who was present at the hanging with the VMI cadets wrote a detailed account of the proceedings. For upcoming John Brown goings-on here in Philadelphia, check out the Philadelphia Civil War Consortium’s John Brown events listing.