The Raid of Harpers Ferry Part I
The Raid at Harper's Ferry - Part I
The village of Harpers Ferry is nestled on a spit of land at the juncture of the Potomac and Susquehana Rivers. Early settlers congregated along the banks of the two rivers, but as the population increased to three thousand the town ascended, like an Alpine Village along the shanks of a steep hill. At the pinnacle St Paul's Church stood as a sentinel; its white trimmed steeple visible from miles around. For travelers from the east Harpers Ferry served as a portal to the lush Shenendoah Valley. Flanked by the verdant Blue Ridge mountains the picturesque meeting of land and water inspired Thomas Jefferson to compose a lyrical geological narrative.
The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhapsone of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very
high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah,
having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles
to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of
a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together
against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea.
The first glance of this scene hurries our senses into the opinion
that this earth has been created in time, that the mountains
were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards,
that in this place particularly they have been so dammed up
by the Blue Ridge of mountains as to have formed an ocean
which filled the whole valley; that, continuing to rise, they have
at last broken over at this spot and have torn the mountain down
from its summit to its base. The piles of rock on each hand,
but particularly on the Shenandoah, the evident marks of
their disruptions and avulsions from their beds by the most
powerful agents in nature, corroborate the impression.
For Thomas Jefferson Harpers Ferry was one of the loveliest landscapes in Virginia; for John Brown the bucolic village was the site of his last stand.
On a drizzly, moonless night on Sunday October 16th, 1859 a bedraggled band of nineteen men traipsed silently in pairs down a winding Maryland road. Their destination, 5 miles away, was the B & O train trestle that crossed the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry. Each was armed with a knife, a pistol and a Sharps rifle. The gray shawls draped over their heads to keep out the chill gave them a ghostly appearance as they trudged through the mist. Ahead of them a farm wagon pulled by a single horse led the way. The solitary silhouette of John Brown hunched over the reins.
Alone with his thoughts Brown guided the wagon over the rutted road that descended towards the flickering lights of Harpers Ferry. The village on the other side of the Potomac had something that Brown and his men desperately needed - guns, lots of them. The federal armory at Harpers Ferry was second only to the armory in Springfield, Massachusetts in size. Inside its red bricked walls the sprawling armory warehoused 100,000 muskets, rifles and pistols. Brown intended to attack Harpers Ferry and confiscate the weapons in order to arm a slave insurrection. There is no record of Brown's thoughts during the two hours it took to reach the train trestle, but he had much to contemplate.