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Trapped on an islet, he was shot dead as he tried to surrender. Throughout the afternoon, bystanders took potshots at his body.

Through loopholes—small openings through which guns could be fired—that they had drilled in the engine house's thick doors, Brown's men tried to pick off their attackers, without much success. One of their shots, however, killed the town's mayor, Fontaine Beckham, enraging the local citizenry.

They dragged him onto the railroad trestle, shot him in the head as he begged for his life and tossed him over the railing into the Potomac. By nightfall, conditions inside the engine house had grown desperate. Brown's men had not eaten for more than 24 hours. Only four remained unwounded. The bloody corpses of slain raiders, including Brown's year-old son, Oliver, lay at their feet.

They knew there was no hope of escape. Eleven white hostages and two or three of their slaves were pressed against the back wall, utterly terrified. Two pumpers and hose carts were pushed against the doors, to brace against an assault expected at any moment. Yet if Brown felt defeated, he didn't show it. As his son Watson writhed in agony, Brown told him to die "as becomes a man. Soon perhaps a thousand men—many uniformed and disciplined, others drunk and brandishing weapons from shotguns to old muskets—would fill the narrow lanes of Harpers Ferry, surrounding Brown's tiny band.

President James Buchanan had dispatched a company of Marines from Washington, under the command of one of the Army's most promising officers: Lt. Robert E. Himself a slave owner, Lee had only disdain for abolitionists, who "he believed were exacerbating tensions by agitating among slaves and angering masters," says Elizabeth Brown Pryor, author of Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters. He gathered the 90 Marines behind a nearby warehouse and worked out a plan of attack.

In the predawn darkness, Lee's aide, a flamboyant young cavalry lieutenant, boldly approached the engine house, carrying a white flag. He was met at the door by Brown, who asked that he and his men be allowed to retreat across the river to Maryland, where they would free their hostages. The soldier promised only that the raiders would be protected from the mob and put on trial. The lieutenant stepped aside, and with his hand gave a prearranged signal to attack. Brown could have shot him dead—"just as easily as I could kill a musquito," he recalled later.

Had he done so, the course of the Civil War might have been different.

Many of the weapons the militant group fights with in Iraq and Syria came from the United States.

The lieutenant was J. Stuart, who would go on to serve brilliantly as Lee's cavalry commander. Lee first sent several men crawling below the loopholes, to smash the door with sledgehammers. When that failed, a larger party charged the weakened door, using a ladder as a battering ram, punching through on their second try. Israel Green squirmed through the hole to find himself beneath one of the pumpers. According to Frye, as Green emerged into the darkened room, one of the hostages pointed at Brown.

The abolitionist turned just as Green lunged forward with his saber, striking Brown in the gut with what should have been a death blow. Brown fell, stunned but astonishingly unharmed: the sword had struck a buckle and bent itself double. With the sword's hilt, Green then hammered Brown's skull until he passed out.

John Brown’s Day of Reckoning

Although severely injured, Brown would survive. Meanwhile, the Marines poured through the breach. Brown's men were overwhelmed. One Marine impaled Indianan Jeremiah Anderson against a wall. Another bayoneted young Dauphin Thompson, where he lay under a fire engine. It was over in less than three minutes. Of the 19 men who strode into Harpers Ferry less than 36 hours before, five were now prisoners; ten had been killed or fatally injured. Four townspeople had also died; more than a dozen militiamen were wounded.

Only two of Brown's men escaped the siege. Amid the commotion, Osborne Anderson and Albert Hazlett slipped out the back of the armory, climbed a wall and scuttled behind the embankment of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to the bank of the Potomac, where they found a boat and paddled to the Maryland shore. Hazlett and another of the men whom Brown had left behind to guard supplies were later captured in Pennsylvania and extradited to Virginia.

Of the total, five members of the raiding party would eventually make their way to safety in the North or Canada. Brown and his captured men were charged with treason, first-degree murder and "conspiring with Negroes to produce insurrection.

The Fall of Atlanta

The trial, held in Charles Town, Virginia, began on October 26; the verdict was guilty, and Brown was sentenced on November 2. Brown met his death stoically on the morning of December 2, He was led out of the Charles Town jail, where he had been held since his capture, and seated on a small wagon carrying a white pine coffin. He handed a note to one of his guards: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with blood.

Brown told his guard, "Don't keep me waiting longer than necessary. Be quick. Among the witnesses to his death were Robert E. Lee and two other men whose lives would be irrevocably changed by the events at Harpers Ferry. Jackson, who would earn the nickname "Stonewall" less than two years later at the Battle of Bull Run. The other was a young actor with seductive eyes and curly hair, already a fanatical believer in Southern nationalism: John Wilkes Booth. The remaining convicted raiders would be hanged, one by one.

Brown's death stirred blood in the North and the South for opposing reasons. These are the two ends of a chain which is not without its links. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light. The South's greatest fear was slave insurrection. They all knew that if you held four million people in bondage, you're vulnerable to attack. In town after town, units organized, armed and drilled. When war broke out in , they would provide the Confederacy with tens of thousands of well-trained soldiers.

Fergus M. Bordewich , a frequent contributor of articles on history, is profiled in the "From the Editor" column. Continue or Give a Gift. Privacy Policy , Terms of Use Sign up. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History.

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Featured: The Suspect in City Hall. Science Age of Humans. In April, the Confederacy surrendered and the war was over. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. William Tecumseh Sherman was a Union general during the Civil War, playing a crucial role in the victory over the Confederate States and becoming one of the most famous military leaders in U. In the summer of , during the U. Sherman faced off against Confederate generals Joseph E.

Johnston and John B. Hood in a series of battles in northern Georgia. In October , during a civil war, embattled Chinese Communists broke through Nationalist enemy lines and began an epic flight from their encircled headquarters in southwest China. Known as the Long March, the trek lasted a year and covered some 4, miles or more, by some After the April 9, U.

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The victories forced the Confederates He was named for a Shawnee chief. Low flying C transport planes roar overhead as they carry supplies to the besieged American Forces battling the Germans at Bastogne, during the enemy breakthrough on January 6, in Belgium. In the distance, smoke rises from wrecked German equipment, while in the foreground, American tanks move up to support the infantry in the fighting. This image may contain graphic or objectionable content.

The bodies of some of the seven American soldiers that had been shot in the face by an SS trooper are recovered from the snow, searched for identification and carried away on stretcher for burial on January 25, These German soldiers stand in the debris strewn street of Bastogne, Belgium, on January 9, , after they were captured by the U. Refugees stand in a group in a street in La Gleize, Belgium on January 2, , waiting to be transported from the war-torn town after its recapture by American Forces during the German thrust in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient.

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A dead German soldier, killed during the German counter offensive in the Belgium-Luxembourg salient, is left behind on a street corner in Stavelot, Belgium, on January 2, , as fighting moves on during the Battle of the Bulge. The three leaders were meeting to discuss the post-war reorganization of Europe, and the fate of post-war Germany. Soviet troops of the 3rd Ukrainian front in action amid the buildings of the Hungarian capital on February 5, Across the Channel, Britain was being struck by continual bombardment by thousands of V-1 and V-2 bombs launched from German-controlled territory.

This photo, taken from a fleet street roof-top, shows a V-1 flying bomb "buzzbomb" plunging toward central London. The distinctive sky-line of London's law-courts clearly locates the scene of the incident. Falling on a side road off Drury Lane, this bomb blasted several buildings, including the office of the Daily Herald. The last enemy action of British soil was a V-1 attack that struck Datchworth in Hertfordshire, on March 29 With more and more members of the Volkssturm Germany's National Militia being directed to the front line, German authorities were experiencing an ever-increasing strain on their stocks of army equipment and clothing.

In a desperate attempt to overcome this deficiency, street to street collection depots called the Volksopfer, meaning Sacrifice of the people, scoured the country, collecting uniforms, boots and equipment from German civilians, as seen here in Berlin on February 12, So that you're proud your Home Guard man can show himself in uniform - empty your wardrobe and bring its contents to us".

Three U. A party sets out to repair telephone lines on the main road in Kranenburg on February 22, , amid four-foot deep floods caused by the bursting of Dikes by the retreating Germans. During the floods, British troops further into Germany have had their supplies brought by amphibious vehicles. This combination of three photographs shows the reaction of a year old German soldier after he was captured by U. Flak bursts through the vapor trails from B flying fortresses of the 15th air force during the attack on the rail yards at Graz, Austria, on March 3, A view taken from Dresden's town hall of the destroyed Old Town after the allied bombings between February 13 and 15, Some 3, aircraft dropped more than 3, tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the German city.

The resulting firestorm destroyed 15 square miles of the city center, and killed more than 22, A large stack of corpses is cremated in Dresden, Germany, after the British-American air attack between February 13 and 15, The bombing of Dresden has been questioned in post-war years, with critics claiming the area bombing of the historic city center as opposed to the industrial suburbs was not justified militarily.

Soldiers of the 3rd U. Army storm into Coblenz, Germany, as a dead comrade lies against the wall, on March 18, Men of the American 7th Army pour through a breach in the Siegfried Line defenses, on their way to Karlsruhe, Germany on March 27, , which lies on the road to Stuttgart. Manuel M. Poliakoff, and Cpl. They were the first Jewish services held east of the Rur River and were offered in memory of soldiers of the faith who were lost by the 29th Division, U.