Saturday, 17 October 2020

the good lord bird

Having commenced his raid the night before—considered to be the overture to the US Civil War—with the kidnapping of the officer-in-charge, great-grandnephew of George Washington and the seizing of ceremonial weapons presented to the first president by the Frederick the Great and the Marquis de Lafayette imbued with mystical powers, taking more hostages and capturing the federal armoury and seizing rifles for a revolt of enslaved individuals (having failed to enlist the support of Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Tubman who thought the exercise suicidal), the early hours of the second day of the taking of Harper’s Ferry in 1859 by radical abolitionist John Brown first brought a train-jacking which spread the news of this insurrection by a social justice activist whose notoriety very much preceded him—having worked to turn unincorporated territories like Kansas towards the side of freedom rather than slavery.

Delayed until sunrise but otherwise unmolested, the engineer dispatched telegrams to summon the cavalry. The reinforcements that Brown expected did not materialise and soon the white residents of Harper’s Ferry besieged the armoury, forcing Brown and his compatriots to retreat to the firehouse and repel the counter-attack as best they could but were eventually forced to retreat. Having received updates throughout the course of the raid, President Buchanan (whom had previously put a bounty of Brown’s head) sent in federal troops and put the town and garrison under the command of future leader of the Army of the Confederacy Robert E. Lee. Imprisoned and later arraigned in nearby Charles Town, Virginia—now West Virginia, Brown was found guilty of treason and conspiracy against the Commonwealth and condemned to death by hanging on 2 December. The execution was witnessed by a crowd of spectators that included John Wilkes Booth, future assassin of Abraham Lincoln (see also), and though the gathering was kept well back in order to prevent Brown from delivering a final, fiery speech (his last oration in the courtroom was considered by many as nonpareil in American history—he was able to pass along a note to his gaoler that encapsulated his reaction in brief: “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.” Whilst most Northern anti-slavery advocates were sympathetic with Brown’s failed call for uprising, it was condemned in the same circles for being brash and foolhardy, Southern plantation-holders whom did live in fear of a revolt took the coup’s lack of widespread support as an affirmation for the status quo. For Union soldiers, the death of this fighter for freedom became a cadence call: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, his soul goes marching on,” to which at the suggestion of a friend, fellow abolitionist and woman’s rights activist Julia Ward Howe took the tune and reworded it as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as an equally stirring but slightly more reverent tribute in 1861, just as the civil war began.