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A nation divided

John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry

Sketch of John Brown

On Oct. 16, 1859, the situation turned violent. John Brown was an abolitionist from Kansas who believed the only way to end slavery was to do it by force.

He had always disliked slavery and had been involved in several gunfights during the war in Kansas because of it. In the fall of 1859, Brown spoke with several important people about raiding the South and arming the slaves to rebel against their masters. After several weeks of planning, John Brown and 21 followers chose Harpers Ferry, Va., as the target for his raid.

Harpers Ferry was a small town situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A U.S. armory with weapons and ammunition was located there.

Brown planned to steal these weapons to supply the slaves, so they could lead a revolt across the South. John Brown seized the armory during the night of Oct. 16, and the rebellion began. It did not succeed.

John Brown

The next morning, Brown was surrounded by Marines under the command of a Colonel Robert E. Lee. When the marines attacked the small engine house where Brown's men hid, most of his men were killed, and he was captured.

John Brown had a trial and was hanged for treason against the state of Virginia.

The event shocked both the North and South. John Brown's raid quickly made people realize words had turned to violence, and nothing might be able to stop it.

John Brown assured the people before his death that the slavery issue could only be solved by spilling blood. Unfortunately, he had been right.

Related documents:
Address of John Brown to the Virginia Supreme Court when about to receive the sentence of death
map of Harper's Ferry from October 1862
photo of the armory

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The story

1. A Nation Divided

2. Events and Battles

3. Leaders

4. Daily Life

5. Aftermath


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