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By Telegraph: Insurrection at Harper’s Ferry.


October 1859

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, October 19, 1859.


Insurrection at Harper’s Ferry.


Telegraphic Operators all Agog!




BALTIMORE, Oct. 17.–The Western train has just arrived, and the officers confirm the statement first received They say the bridge keeper discovered that the lights in the bridge had been extinguished, and when he went to ascertain the cause, he was pursued and fired upon by a gang of blacks and whites.

The colored assistant baggage-master on the train was shot and mortally wounded; Conductor Phelps was threatened, and it was stated that the train should not proceed. He waited till daylight, and was then detained six hours by the mob. He says that the insurrectionists number two hundred whites and blacks. They have full possession of the Armory, and are commanded by a man named Anderson, who lately arrived at Harper’s Ferry.

The rioters seized a wagon of wheat, loaded it with a quantity of muskets and sent it up into Virginia.

The military of Frederick City had been ordered out, and President Buchanan has ordered out United States troops. A special train is now getting ready to convey the troops from this city.

The President has also accepted Lenick’s company of Frederick, and has ordered companies from Old Point This is authentic. It seems now that something serious is going on.

Another account by the train says that the bridge across the Potomac was filled with the insurgents all armed. Every light in the town was extinguished, and the hotels closed; all the streets were in the possession of the mob, and every road and lane leading thereto barricaded and guarded. Men were seen in every quarter armed with muskets and bayonets. They had arrested the citizens and pressed them into service, including many negroes. When this was done, the United States Arsenal and Government pay-house, in which there is said to be a large amount of money, and all the other public works were seized by the mob.

Some were of the opinion that the object was entirely on of plunder, to rob the Government of the funds deposited on Saturday at the pay-house.

During the night the mob made a demand on the Wager hotel for provisions, and enforced their claim by a body of armed men. The citizens were in a terrible state of alarm, the insurgents having threatened to burn the town.

STILL LATER.–The following has jus been received by telegraph from Monocacy, this side of Harper’s Ferry: The mail agent on the western bound train has returned to Monocacy, and reports that the train was unable to get through. The town in possession of the negroes, who arrest every one they can catch, and imprison them.

The train due here at 3 P. M. could not get through. The agent came down on an empty engine. The mail train going west got as far as Sandy Hook. The baggage master and another party started on foot for the bridge; after passing the bridge they were taken and imprisoned. They were afterwards taken before the captain of the insurrectionists, who refused to let anything pass through the town. All the eastward bound trains laying west of Harper’s Ferry have been seized. The mail train bound west has returned to this station. There are from five to seven hundred whites and blacks under arms.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17.–On receipt of intelligence from Harper’s Ferry, orders were issued for the three companies of artillery at Old Point and a corps of Marines in Washington barracks to proceed to the scene of disturbance without delay.

The Marines, ninety-three in number, left on the 3:15 P. M. train with two twelve pound howitzers and a full supply of ammunition. It is reported that they are under orders to force a passage over the bridge at all hazards. Co. Faulkner accompanies them.

It is reported on good authority, that some weeks ago Secretary Floyd received an anonymous epistle, stating that about the 15th of October the Abolitionists, negroes, and other disaffected persons, would make an attempt to seize the Arsenal and hold the place, but the statement was so indefinite and improbable as to cause no fears of such an outbreak.

BALTIMORE, Oct. 17, 4 P. M.–A train, filled with the military, consisting of the Law Grays, City Guards, Shields Guard, and other companies, has just left here for Harper’s Ferry. Several representatives of the pres accompany the train.

6 P. M.–A dispatch from Martinsburg, which is situated West of Harper’s Ferry, sent via Wheeling, Pittsburg and Philadelphia has just been received. It confirms the report that the insurgents have taken possession of the Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, and adds that the mob has placed cannon at the bridge, and the trains have all been stopped. A body of armed men were getting ready to proceed thither to clear the road. Great excitement existed in that vicinity.

The American newspaper of this city has sent a special reporter by the Military Train, and some definite intelligence, it is expected, will soon be received. The reporter telegraphs from the Relay House, that the expedition was joined there by ninety marines from Washington, under the command of Col. Harris, with two four pound howitzers.

RICHMOND, Oct. 17.–It is reported and believed that the Governor has ordered out the Volunteer Troops to proceed to Harper’s Ferry. Two hundred stand of muskets have also been placed in the City Hall for emergency.

It has been suggested by well informed persons, that the cause of the insurrection is the reported fact, that not long since, the contractor for the construction of the Government dam at Harper’s Ferry absconded, largely indebted to several hundred employees, who have taken this step to indemnify themselves by the seizure of the Government funds, which it was supposed had been transported thither on Saturday. A gentleman who has just arrived from Harper’s Ferry, thinks the blacks are only participants in the outbreak by compulsion.

BALTIMORE, Oct. 17, 10 P. M.–The American’s special reported telegraphs from Plane No. 4, forty-five miles from Baltimore, and thirty-one miles from Harper’s Ferry, as follows-8 o’clock P. M.:

The train consists of seventeen cars and four hundred troops, under command of Major Reynolds, with the Road Master and laborers to repair the track, and telegraphers to mend the wires. Three companies from Frederick city are in advance of the train. Col. Harris, with the United States Marines, follows in a special train. We will not reach Harper’s Ferry before 10 o’clock to-night.

Three of the rioters are lying dead in the streets, there are also three in the river, and several are said to be lying within the Armory enclosure. The following is the list of the killed among the citizens and soldiers: Fountain Beckham; Haywood, a negro porter at the railroad station; Joseph Barnley, of Harper’s Ferry; Evans Dorsey and Geo. Richardson, of Martinsburg. Another rioter, a negro named Lewis Leary, who had just died, confessed to the particulars of the plot, which he says was concocted by Brown at a fair held in Ohio two months ago.

The rioters have just sent out a flag of truce, saying that if they are not protected by the soldiers here at present, they will hang all they capture.

RICHMOND, Oct. 17th, 9 P. M.–Great excitement exists here in consequence of the insurrection at Harper’s Ferry. The Grays are under orders for Harper’s Ferry, to start early in the morning. Company F, with full ranks, have just left their armory, expecting to take a special train to-night. This is a new Company, wearing similar uniform to the Grays. The Governor left to-night for Washington.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17. 10 P. M.,–In view of the possibility of the disturbance at Harper’s Ferry extending to this vicinity, the Mayors of Washington and Alexandria have taken precautionary steps for their immediate suppression.

The President, through the Mayor of Washington, has ordered a strong detachment of Volunteer military to be posted at the National and Company Armories, which was promptly done.

BALTIMORE, Oct. 18, 3 A. M.–Harper’s Ferry has been taken possession of by companies from Charleston and Shepardstown, Va., and Frederick, Md.

The rioters are entrenched in the Armory and hold Mr. Washington and Mr. Lafenfeld as prisoners. The insurrectionists are commanded by Capt. Brown, of Kansas notoriety. They numbered originally only seventeen white men and five negroes, several of whom were shot. Two men of the Martinsburg Company were shot dead whilst charging on the Armory.

A portion of the insurgents have left here, under command of a leader named Cook, who, with a large party of slaves, is supposed to be moving towards Pennsylvania. Allen Evans, one of the insurrectionists, is lying in a dying condition here, having been shot through the breast. He is from Connecticut, but has been in Kansas. He says the whole scheme was got up by Brown, who represented that the negroes would rise by thousands, and Maryland and Virginia would be made free States.

Col. Shriver, of Frederick, has just had an interview with Brown in the Armory. He asked to be allowed to march out with his men, and avowed his intention of defending himself to the last. His men are very strongly posted in the engine house, and cannon cannot be used against them for fear of injuring the prisoners they still hold. Some sixteen persons are known to have been killed.

Fountain Beekman, a railroad agent, was shot from the Armory. The rioters are lying dead under the bridge, having been shot by the Shepardstown troops in their charge on the bridge.

Captain Cook is second in command of the insurgents. He is said to be posted on the schoolhouse, four mile distant, with a large body of runaway slaves. The Armory was taken possession of about 9 o’clock on Sunday night, and so quietly was it done that the citizens knew nothing of it till the train was stopped. Col. Lee, who has arrived here, thinks there are abundant troops on hand to capture the rioters, and seems perfectly certain that the original party consisted of not more than twenty white men and five free negroes. Capt. Brown had been about here, and rented a farm four miles off, which was the rendezvous of the rioters.

Captain Cook has also lived about here, and at one time taught at a school. All the other white men are unknown. They are supposed, however, to be men who have been connected with Brown in Kansas.

It is reported, but not confirmed, that the rioters have carried off the Government funds.

No attempt was made to pillage the town or insult females. Capt. Brown claims easy term on account of his moderation.

HARPER’S FERRY, Oct. 18, 3 A. M.–The conflict on the bridge was fought mainly by the railroad tonnage men, from Martinsburg, led by Capt. Alberts.

Evan Dorsey, a railroad conductor, was killed and Conductors Bowman and Hallett were wounded. No damage was done to the railroad or bridge by the rioters. It is supposed that the rioters will be tried under martial law as soon as captured, and hung on the spot.

SIX A. M.–The following is a special report, received from the editor of the Baltimore American:

Preparations are now making for the attack on the Armory. The soldiers are posted all round the grounds, and for the past hour everything has been quiet.

The rioters have still the following persons in their custody as prisoners: Armisted Ball, Chief Draughtsman at the Armory; Benjamin Mills, Master of the Armory; John P. Daugherfield, Paymaster; Clark Lewis Washington, a farmer and prominent citizen; John Alstadt, a farmer and his son, sixteen years old. The three last were seized on their farms, several miles from the Ferry.

Geo. Turner, a graduate of West Point, and one of the most distinguished citizens, was shot yesterday, whilst coming into town. He died during the night. He has a brother living in Baltimore, married into the Patterson family.

Last Night’s Dispatches.

HARPER’S FERRY, Oct. 18, 8 A. M.–The Armory has just been stormed and taken, after a determined resistance. Col. Shutt approached with a flag of truce, and demanded the surrender of the Armory. After expostulating for some time, the rioters refused. The marines then advanced and made a charge, endeavoring to break open the door with sledge hammers, but it resisted all their efforts. A large ladder was then used as a battering ram, and the door gave way. The rioters fired briskly and shot through the partly broken door; the marines then forced their way through the break, and in a few minutes the resistance was at an end.

The rioters were brought out amidst the most intense excitement, many of the armed militia trying to get an opportunity to shoot them. Capt. Brown and his son were both shot. The latter is dead and the former dying. He lies in the Armory enclosure. He talks freely, and says he is the old Ossawattamie Brown, whose feats in Kansas had such wide notice. He says his whole object was to free the slaves, and justified his actions. He says that he had possession of the town, and could have murdered all the people. J. G. Anderson was also shot down in the assault. He was from Connecticut. The dead body of a man shot yesterday was found within the armory.

Brown declares that there were more engaged in the plot than those who accompanied him. The prisoners are retained within the armory enclosure.

BALTIMORE, Oct. 18–Intense excitement. Nothing is talked about but insurrection. General Stuart, through Gov. Wise, has communicated an order to Gen. J. W. Watkins, of this city, to prepare, equip and mount immediately a body of men for service in the mountains near Harper’s Ferry, where many insurgents have taken refuge. Troops will leave this afternoon. Gov. Wise passed the Relay House this morning en route for the seat of war. Three artillery companies from Fort Monroe arrived this morning, and are quartered at Fort McHenry awaiting orders.

The directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad, with their ladies, arrived at Martinsburg yesterday, on their way home from the recent excursion to Chicago. The train was, however, detained by the difficulties at Harper’s Ferry, but as the track is now uninterrupted, they are probably on their way to this city, and may reach Philadelphia to-night.

HARPER’S FERRY, Oct. 18th–Soon after storming the Armory, four dead bodies of the insurgents who were shot yesterday were found within the enclosure.

Capt. Brown and his son are dangerously wounded; also, Edwin Coppick, white, from Iowa, and Childs Green, colored, also from Iowa.

The party originally consisted of twenty-two persons, of whom fifteen are killed, two mortally wounded, two unhurt, and three escaped with the slaves.

On Monday morning, soon after the assault on the Armory, some firing took place from the hills on the Maryland shore, supposed to be a parting salute from some who left on Monday morning. The fire was returned with a general volley, but both parties were too distant to do much damage. A company of volunteers have gone in pursuit of the fugitives.

There are probably a thousand armed men now congregated here. Reinforcements have been pouring in all night from all quarters of the surrounding country.

HARPER’S FERRY, Oct. 18, 1:30 P. M.–The Secretary of War has telegraphed to Col. Lee that Mr. Ould, the District Attorney for this district will proceed forthwith to Harper’s Ferry to take charge of the legal proceedings against the prisoners, and bring them to trial.

The train is now getting ready to convey horses and men from there to pursue the rioters into any State or locality where they may have fled. This is by order of the President, at the request of Gov. Wise.

The Directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad and families left Martinsburg this morning for Baltimore. The travel is now resumed, and the trains are running regularly.

BALTIMORE, Oct. 18.–An eye-witness who has returned from Harper’s Ferry, describes the scenes there as follows:

The first attack was made by a detachment of the Charlestown Guards, who crossed the Potomac river above Harper’s Ferry, and reached the building where the insurgents were posted by the canal on the Maryland side. Smart firing occurred, and the rioters were driven from the bridge. One man was killed here and another arrested. The latter ran out and tried to escape by swimming the river. A dozen shots were after him, and he partially fell, but rose again, threw his gun away, drew his pistols, both of which snapped, drew his bowie knife, all his heavy accoutrements off and plunged into the river. One of the soldiers was about ten feet behind-the man turned around, threw up his hands and cried, “don’t shoot;” the soldier fired, and the man fell into the water with his face blown away, his coat skirts were cut from his person, and in his pockets was found a captain’s commission to Capt. F. H. Leeman, from the provisional government of the United States. The commission was dated Oct. 15, 1859, and signed by A. W. Brown, commander-in-chief of the army of the provisional government of the United States of America.

A party of the insurgents, five in number, armed with Minie rifles, and posted in rifle armory, were expelled by the Charlestown Guards, they all ran for the river, and one who was unable to swim was drowned, the other four swam out to the rocks in the middle of the Shenandoah, and fired upon the citizens and troops assembled on both banks. This drew upon them the muskets of between two and three hundred men, and not less than four hundred shots were fired at them from Harper’ Ferry about 200 yards distant. One was shot dead, the second, a negro, attempted to jump over the dam, but fell shot, and was not seen afterwards. The third was badly wounded, and the remaining was taken unharmed. The white insurgent wounded and captured died in a few moments in the arms of our informant. He was shot through the breast, arms and stomach. He declared then that only nineteen whites were engaged in this insurrection.

For nearly an hour a running and random firing was kept up by the troops against the rioters. Several were shot down, while many managed to limp away wounded.

During the firing the women and children ran shrieking in every direction; but when they learned that the soldiers were their protectors, they took good courage, and did good service in the way of preparing refreshments and attending to the wounded.

One informant was on the hill when the firing was going on; he says the terrible scenes of a battle passed in reality beneath his eyes, soldiers could be seen pursuing singly and in couple, and the crack of the musket and rifle was generally followed by one or more of the insurgents biting the dust. The dead lay in the streets where they fell and the wounded were cared for.

Capt. Brown’s wounds consist of a sword cut in the forehead and a bayonet wound in the kidneys. Another of the rioters killed was named Steward Taylor. J. C. Anderson, a ring leader, who stopped conductor Phelps yesterday, was killed during the first attack by the Virginians. Anderson was a fine looking man with a flowing beard.

Some of the Maryland volunteers are in pursuit of Capt. Cook’s party, and a body of forty mounted men left this afternoon for Harper’s Ferry, to pursue the rioters. It is reported that many of them have escaped and are secreted in the mountains.

A negro named Green, who was conspicuous in the fugitive slave riot at Harrisburg some years ago, was among the insurgents.

BALTIMORE, Oct. 18.–The following fragment of a letter was found in Capt. Brown’s pocket; it occupies a page of fine note paper, straw tinted, and is written with a pencil, evidently by a person of education; it is without a date. The freight alluded to was doubtless the sort usually carried on the Underground Railroad.

“Capt. Brown-Dear Sir;–I have been disappointed at not seeing you here ere this to take charge of your freight. They have been here now for two weeks, and as I have had to superintend the providing for them, it has imposed on me no small task besides, if not soon taken on some of them will go back to Missouri. I wish to know definitely what you propose doing. They cannot be kept here much longer without risk to themselves, and if any of them conclude to go back to the State, it will be a bad termination to your enterprise.”
[No Signature.]

BALTIMORE, Oct. 18. P. M.–The following interesting narrative of the recent event at Harper’s Ferry, is gleaned from the report of the editor of the American, who accompanied the troops from this city and returned this evening.

“The principal originator of the short but bloody existence of this insurrection was undoubtedly Capt. John Brown, whose connection with scenes of violence in the border warfare of Kansas then made his name familiarly notorious to the whole country.

“Brown made his first appearance in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry more than a year ago, accompanied by his two sons, the whole party assuming the name of Smith. He inquired about land in the vicinity, and made investigations about the probability of finding ores, and for some time boarded at Sandy Point, a mile east of the Ferry.

After an absence of some months he re-appeared in the vicinity, and the elder Brown rented or leased a farm on the Maryland side, about four miles from the Ferry. They bought a large number of picks and spades, and this confirmed the belief that they intended to mine for ores. They were seen frequently in and about Harper’s Ferry, but no suspicion seems to have existed that Bill Smith was Capt. Brown, or that he intended embarking in any movements so desperate or extraordinary, yet the development of the plot leaves no doubt that his visits to the Ferry and his lease of the farm were all parts of his preparation for the insurrection, which he supposed would be successful in exterminating slavery in Maryland and western Virginia.

Brown’s chief aid was John E. Cook, a comparatively young man, who has resided in and near the Ferry for some years. He was first employed in tending a lock on the canal; afterwards taught school on the Maryland side of the river; and after a brief stay in Kansas where it is supposed he became acquainted with Brown, he returned t the Ferry, and married there. He was regarded as a man of some intelligence, and known to be anti-slavery, but not so violent in the expression of his opinions as to excite any suspicions. These two men, with Brown’s two sons, were the only white men connected with the insurrection that had been seen previously about the Ferry. All were brought by Brown from a distance, and nearly all had been with him in Kansas.

The first active movement in the insurrection was made about half past ten o’clock Sunday night.

Wm. Williamson, the watchman on Harper’s Ferry bridge, whilst walking across towards the Maryland side, was seized by a number of men who said that he was their prisoner, and must come with them. He recognized Brown and Cook among the men, and knowing them, he treated the matter as a joke; but enforcing silence, they conducted him to the Armory, which he found already in their possession. He was retained until after day light and then discharged. The watchman who was to relieve Williamson at midnight found the bridge lights all out, and was immediately seized. Supposing it an attempt at robbery, he broke away, and his pursuers stumbling over, he escaped.

The next appearance of the insurgents was a the house of Lewis Washington, a large farmer and slave owner, living about four miles from the Ferry. A party headed by Cook proceeded there, aroused Col. W, and told him he was their prisoner. They also seized all the slaves near the house, and took a carriage and horses and a large wagon with two horses. When Col. Washington saw Cook he immediately recognized him as a man who had called upon him some months previous, to whom he had exhibited some valuable arms in his possession, including an antique sword presented by Frederick the Great to Geo. Washington, and a pair of pistols presented by Lafayette to Washington, both being heir-looms in the family. Before leaving, Cook invited Col. W. to a trial of skill at shooting, and exhibited considerable certainty as a marksman. When he made his visit on Sunday night he alluded to his previous visit and the courtesy with which he had been treated, and regretted the necessity which made it his duty to arrest Col. W. He, however, took advantage of the knowledge he obtained by his former visit, to carry off all the valuable collection of arms, which Col. W. did not reobtain till after the final defeat of the insurrection.

From Col. Washington’s the party proceeded with him as a prisoner, in his own carriage, and twelve of his negroes in the wagon, to the house of Mr. Allstadt, another large farmer on the same road. Mr. Allstadt and his son, a lad sixteen years of age, were taken prisoners, and all the negroes within reach being forced to join the movement, they returned to the armory at the ferry.

All these movements seem to have been made without exciting the slightest alarm in the town, nor did the detention of Capt. Phelp’s train at the upper end of the town attract attention. It was not until the town was fairly waked up, and they found the bridge guarded by armed men, and a guard stationed at all the avenues, that the people found they were prisoners. A panic appears to have immediately ensued, and the number of the insurrectionists at once increased from fifty-which was probably their greatest force, including the slaves who were forced to join-to from five to six hundred.

In the meantime a number of workmen knowing nothing of what had occurred, entered the Armory, and were successively taken prisoners, until they had at one time not less than sixty men confined in the Armory. Among those thus entrapped were Armistead Ball, chief draughtsman of the Armory; Benj. Mills, Master of the Armory, and J. L. P. Dangerfield, paymaster’s clerk. These three gentlemen were imprisoned in the engine house, which afterwards became the chief fortress of the insurgents, and were not released until after the final assault. The workmen were imprisoned in a large building further down the yard, and were rescued by a brilliant Zouave dash made by the Railroad Companies men, who came down from Martinsburg.

This was the condition of affairs at daylight, about which time Capt. Cook, with two white men, accompanied with thirty slaves, and taking with them Col. Washington’s large wagon, went over the bridge and struck up the mountain on the road towards Pennsylvania.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18.–Six companies of the Virginia military, numbering three hundred rank and file, arrived here this evening en route to Harper’s Ferry, but their orders have been countermanded, and they return to-night. They made a fine appearance, and were provided with all the appliances for a campaign.