Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
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Bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the electrifying tale of the daring insurrection that put America on the path to bloody war Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South.
Now, "Midnight Rising "portrays Brown's uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.
Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America's founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy. We take a fresh look at the legacy of John Brown. Copyright by Tony Horwitz. Published in by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher:. President Lincoln is known as the Great Emancipator. But long before Lincoln took office, another man believed ending slavery in America was his calling and he was willing to go to extremes to do it.
A hundred and fifty-two years ago, John Brown led a guerilla raid on Harper's Ferry that helps set the stage for the Civil War and may have helped Lincoln win the presidency. And as with so many things, the reality of his legacy is much more complicated and a nuance shade of gray. Joining us in studio to talk about this is Tony Horwitz. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author. But you say an argument can be made that the war began not years ago, but in with the raid on Harper's Ferry.
HORWITZ Well, I think it's Civil War buffs of which I've always been one, we tend to always focus on that to '65 period, the big battles and Lee and Grant and Lincoln, and we don't give enough attention to how it was that Americans who, after all, spoke a common language, for the most part had a common religion came to slaughter each other by the hundreds of thousands in the first place.
NNAMDI Could you talk a little bit for listeners who aren't familiar -- well, let's play something that listeners are probably more familiar with about the history of John Brown before we have Tony Horwitz describe for us exactly what that history is all about because a lot of people, when they think of John Brown, they think of some piece of music that they may have been associated with. Last year, we had the group Magpie on this show and Magpie has organized music around John Brown.
But here's something that others might be more familiar with.
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War – Greater Diversity News
He frightened Old Virginia 'til she trembled through and through. They hanged him for a traitor, they themselves were traitor crew, the soul goes marching on. Glory, glory, hallelujah. What they might not be as familiar with is the story about the raid. So, briefly, can you synopsize that story? I think as that song connotes, really the lore has overshadowed the history. We have a physical image of John Brown as this long-bearded old man and then the songs.
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He has 19 men with him, black and white, farmers, factory workers, a cross-section of northern society. And in October , launches this guerilla strike on a federal armory at Harper's Ferry, one of only two federal armories in the whole country and just 60 miles from the capital. It has , guns. And his mission is he begins freeing slaves and his mission is to free every slave in Virginia and ultimately the South.
Did you learn the story of John Brown in school? What do you remember about it? Or are you learning about the Harper's Ferry story today for the first time? What questions do you have about it? You can call us at Send us a tweet kojoshow, email to kojo wamu. Or simply go to our website, kojoshow.
One of the things that's often lost in shorter surface accounts of the raid is how much planning went into it. How long did Brown work toward this?
He began plotting the overthrow of slavery probably in the s, and slowly nurtures his plan. He first gives indications of it to Frederick Douglas in the late s, but he's not able to pull it off until And also, he's working with many others. This is a full-blown conspiracy. He has behind-the-scene support from very prominent northerners, some of the wealthiest men of their day, noted transcendentalist.
He's not a lone gunman sort of, you know, doing this at the last minute as some kind harebrain scheme.
He's working on it for decades. Haiti loomed very large, particularly in Southern imagination in the 19th century. Before it became independent, it was a brutal sugar plantation colony known as Saint-Domingue and slaves there in the s begin an uprising that ultimately results in the first black republic in the world, Haiti.
And in the process, more than half the whites there are killed and the rest forced to flee. And this really spoke to the greatest fear of Southern whites. HORWITZ They often write about Saint-Domingue, which is how they usually refer to it, this fear that at any moment blacks might rise up and slaughter them in their beds. And Nat Turner then, his rebellion in , deepens this fear.
And Brown is very consciously plotting on these fears, his greatest weapon. And he's also, I think, influenced by the tactics, the maroons, or runaways in Haiti who made guerilla strikes from the woods on plantations. NNAMDI Those unfamiliar with its history may think of Harper's Ferry as a quaint, tranquil place to spend the weekend afternoon hiking or shopping for antiques.
What made it an attractive target in the late s? Harper's Ferry was an unusual place in that it was really more like a northern mill town than a stereotypical southern city of that day.
It was a thriving industrial hub, mostly related to gun production, had about 10 times the population it has today. And it was really the gateway to the largest slave state in the country, just across the Potomac. So Brown actually launches his attack from Maryland into Virginia. It's now West Virginia. It became West Virginia during the Civil War. But it also has , guns, not inconsiderable.
So, it had both a practical and symbolic value to Brown. Thirty-six hours after the raid begun, with most of his men killed or wounded, he was captured in the armory fire engine house, now known as John Brown's Fort. I'd like you to read a little bit from the prologue of this book to talk about how it was when he was setting out, when John Brown was setting out.
Yeah, I'll read a bit right from the start. Men get on your arms, the captain said.
John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
We will proceed to the ferry. It was eight at night, an autumn Sunday, silent and dark in the Maryland hills. A horse-drawn wagon pulled up to the log house and the men loaded it with pikes, tools, torches and gunpowder. The captain put on the battered cap he'd worn in Bleeding Kansas. The he climbed on the wagon and the men marched behind, down a dirt lane, past a snake-rail fence, onto the road to Harper's Ferry.
Five of them were black, including a fugitive slave and a freedman whose wife and children were still in bondage. The commander was 59, a sinewy man with gunmetal eyes and a white beard he'd grown to conceal his identity. While living underground, he had drafted a Declaration of Liberty for the revolutionary government that tonight's action would found.
John Brown’s Folly
HORWITZ When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for an oppressed people to rise and assert their natural rights, the declaration began. If the opening sounded familiar, the close was not.
atelieremerald.com/modules/wocawymik/chaperos-en-castellon.php We will obtain these rights or die in the struggle, the document, before concluding, hung be the heavens in scarlet. We're taking your calls at If you visit Harper's Ferry regularly, are you aware of its historic significance or do you go for some other reason? Call us at Tony Horowitz, how does the legacy of John Brown live on in Harper's Ferry and how did the town recover from the tumultuous and destructive Civil War years?