James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 449-450.
On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown took his war against slavery into the South. With only twenty-one men, including five African Americans, he crossed the Potomac River and invaded Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Sixty miles from Washington D.C., the small town had little to recommend it except its federal arsenal, which bristled with rifles. Brown’s band quickly seized the armory and rifle works, but the invaders were immediately surrounded, first by local militia and then by Colonel Robert E. Lee, who commanded the U.S. troops in the area. When Brown refused to surrender, federal soldiers charged with bayonets. It was all over in less than thirty-six hours. In all, seventeen men, two of whom were slaves, lost their lives. Although a few of Brown’s raiders escaped, federal forces killed ten (including two of his sons) and captured seven, among them Brown himself, who suffered a painful but not life-threatening sword wound.