Col. Robert E. Lee's Report Concerning the Attack at Harper's Ferry

    October 19, 1859

    Colonel Lee to the Adjutant General


    COLONEL: I have the honor to report, for the information of the Secretary of War, that on
    arriving here on the night of the 17th instant, in obedience to Special Orders No. 194 of
    that date from your office, I learn that a party of insurgents, about 11 p. m. on the 16th,
    had seized the watchmen stationed at the armory, arsenal, rifle factory, and bridge across
    the Potomac, and taken possession of those points. They then dispatched six men, under
    one of their party, called Captain Aaron C. Stevens, to arrest the principal citizens in the
    neighborhood and incite the negroes to join in the insurrection. The party took Colonel L.
    W. Washington from his bed about 1-~ a. m. on the 17th, and brought him, with four of l]is
    servants, to this place. Mr. J. H. Allstadt and six of his servants were in the same manner
    seized about 3 a. m., and arms placed in the hands of the Negroes. Upon their return here,
    John E. Cook, one of the party sent to Mr. Washington's, was dispatched to Maryland, with
    Mr. Washington's wagon, two of his servants, and three of Mr. Allstadt's, for arms and
    ammunition, &c. .As day advanced, and the citizens of Harper's Ferry commenced their
    usual avocations, they were separately captured, to the number of forty, as well as I could
    learn, and confined in one room of the fire engine house of the armory, which seems early
    to have been selected as a point of defense. About 11 a. m. the volunteer companies from
    Virginia began to arrive, and the Jefferson Guards and volunteers from Charlestown, under
    Captain J. W. Rowen, I understood, were first on the ground. The Hamtramck Guards,
    Captain V. M. Butler; the Shepherdstown troop, Captain Jacob Rienahart; and Captain
    Alburtis's company from Martinsburg arrived in the afternoon. These companies, under the
    direction of Colonels R. W. Baylor and John T. Gibson, forced the insurgents to abandon
    their positions at the bridge and in the village, and to withdraw within the armory
    enclosure, where they fortified themselves in the fire-engine house, and carried ten of their
    prisoners for the purpose of insuring their safety and facilitating their escape, whom they
    termed hostages, and whose names are Colonel L. W. Washington, of Jefferson county,
    Virginia; Mr. J. H. Allstadt, of Jefferson county, Virginia; Mr. Israel Russell, justice of the
    peace, Harper's Ferry; Mr. John Donahue, clerk of Baltimore and Ohio railroad; Mr. Terence
    Byrne, of Maryland; Mr. George D. Shope, of Frederick, Maryland; Mr. Benjamin Mills, master
    armorer, Harper's Ferry arsenal; Mr. A. M. Ball, master machinist, Harper's Ferry arsenal; Mr.
    J. E. P. Dangerfield, paymaster's clerk, Harper's Ferry arsenal; Mr. J. Burd, armorer, Harper's
    Ferry arsenal. After sunset more troops arrived. Captain B. B. Washington's company from
    Winchester and three companies from Fredericktown, Maryland, under Colonel Shriver.
    Later in the evening the companies from Baltimore, under General Charles C. Edgerton,
    second light brigade, and a detachment of marines, commanded by Lieutenant J. Green
    accompanied by Major Russell, of that corps, reached Sandy Hook, about one and a half
    mile east of Harper's Ferry. At this point I came up with these last-named troops, and
    leaving General Edgerton and his command on the Maryland side of the river for the night,
    caused the marines to proceed to Harper's Ferry, and placed them within the armory
    grounds to prevent the possibility of the escape of the insurgents. Having taken measures
    to halt, in Baltimore, the artillery companies ordered from Fort Monroe, I made preparations
    to attack the insurgents at daylight. But for the fear of sacrificing the lives of some of the
    gentlemen held by them as prisoners in a midnight assault, I should have ordered the
    attack at once.

    Their safety was the subject of painful consideration, and to prevent, if possible,
    jeopardizing their lives; I determined to summon the insurgents to surrender. As soon after
    daylight as the arrangements were made Lieutenant J. E. B. Stewart, 1st cavalry, who had
    accompanied me from Washington as staff officer, was dispatched, under a flag, with a
    written summons, (a copy of which is hereto annexed, marked A.) Knowing the character of
    the leader of the insurgents, I did not expect it would be accepted. I had therefore directed
    that the volunteer troops, under their respective commanders, should be paraded on the
    lines assigned them outside the armory, and had prepared a storming party of twelve
    marines, under their commander, Lieutenant Green, and had placed them close to the
    engine-house, and secure from its fire. Three marines were furnished with sledge-hammers
    to break in the doors, and the men were instructed how to distinguish our citizens from the
    insurgents; to attack with the bayonet, and not to injure the blacks detained in custody
    unless they resisted. Lieutenant Stewart was also directed not to receive from the
    insurgents any counter propositions. If they accepted the terms offered, they must
    immediately deliver up their arms and release their prisoners. If they did not, he must, on
    leaving the engine-house, give me the signal. My object was, with a view of saving our
    citizens, to have as short an interval as possible between the summons and attack. The
    summons, as I had anticipated, was rejected. At the concerted signal the storming party
    moved quickly to the door and commenced the attack. The fire-engines within the house
    had been placed by the besieged close to the doors. The doors were fastened by ropes,
    the spring of which prevented their being broken by the blows of the hammers. The men
    were therefore ordered to drop the hammers, and, with a portion of the reserve, to use as
    a battering-ram a heavy ladder, with which they dashed in a part of the door and gave
    admittance to the storming party. The fire of the in­surgents up to this time had been
    harmless. At the threshold one marine fell mortally wounded. The rest, led by Lieutenant
    Green and Major Russell, quickly ended the contest. The insurgents that re­sisted were
    bayoneted. Their leader, John Brown, was cut down by the sword of Lieutenant Green, and
    our citizens were protected by both officers and men. The whole was over in a few minutes.

    After our citizens were liberated and the wounded cared for, Lieu­tenant Colonel S. S. Mills,
    of the 53d Maryland regiment, with the Baltimore Independent Greys, Lieutenant B. F.
    Simpson commanding, was sent on the Maryland side of the river to search for John E.
    Cook, and to bring in the arms, &c., belonging to the insurgent party, which were said to
    be deposited in a school-house two and a half miles distant. Subsequently, Lieutenant J. E.
    B. Stewart, with a party of marines, was dispatched to the Kennedy farm, situated in
    Maryland, about four and a half miles from Harper's Ferry, which had been rented by John
    Brown, and used as the depot for his men and munitions. Colonel Mills saw nothing of
    Cook, but found the boxes of arms, (Sharp's carbines and belt revolvers,) and recovered
    Mr. Wash­ington's wagon and horses. Lieutenant Stewart found also at the Kennedy farm
    a number of sword pikes, blankets, shoes, tents, and all the necessaries for a campaign.
    These articles have been deposited in the government storehouse at the armory.

    From the information derived from the papers found upon the per­sons and among the
    baggage of the insurgents, and the statement of those now in custody, it appears that the
    party consisted of nineteen men-fourteen white and five black. That they were headed by
    John Brown, of some notoriety in Kansas, who in June last located himself in Maryland, at
    the Kennedy farm, where he has been engaged in preparing to capture the United States
    works at Harper's Ferry. He avows that his object was the liberation of the slaves of
    Virginia, and of the whole South; and acknowledges that he has been disappointed in his
    expectations of aid from the black as well as white population, both in the Southern and
    Northern States. The blacks, whom he forced from their homes in this neighborhood, as far
    as I could learn, gave him no voluntary assistance. The servants of Messrs. Washington
    and Allstadt, retained at the armory, took no part in the conflict, and those carried to
    Maryland returned to their homes as soon as released. The result proves that the plan was
    the attempt of a fanatic or mad­man, who could only end in failure; and its temporary
    success, was owing to the panic and confusion he succeeded in creating by magnify­ing his
    numbers. I append a list of the insurgents, (marked B.) Cook is the only man known to
    have escaped. The other survivors of the expedition, viz: John Brown, A. C. Stevens, Edwin
    Coppic, and Green Shields, (alias S. Emperor,) I have delivered into the hands of the
    marshal of the western district of Virginia and the sheriff of Jefferson county. They were
    escorted to Charlestown by a detach­ment of marines, under Lieutenant Green. About nine
    o'clock this evening I received a report from Mr. Moore, from Pleasant Valley, Maryland, that
    a body of men had, about sunset, descended from the mountains, attacked the house of
    Mr. Gennett, and from the cries of murder and the screams of the women and children, he
    believed the residents of the valley were being massacred. The alarm and excite­ment in
    the village of Harper's Ferry was increased by the arrival of families from Sandy Hook,
    fleeing for safety. The report was, however, so improbable that I could give no credence to
    it, yet I thought it possible that some atrocity might have been committed, and I started
    with twenty-five marines, under Lieutenant Green, accompanied by Lieutenant Stewart, for
    the scene of the alleged outrage, about four and a half miles distant. I was happy to find it
    a false alarm. The inhabitants of Pleasant Valley were quiet and unharmed, and Mr.
    Gennett and his family safe and asleep.

    I will now, in obedience to your dispatch of this date, direct the detachment of marines to
    return to the navy-yard at Washington in the train that passes here at I am to-night, and
    will myself take advantage of the same train to report to you in person at the War
    Department. I must also ask to express my thanks to Lieutenant Stewart, Major Russell,
    and Lieutenant Green, for the aid they afforded me, and my entire commendation of the
    conduct of the detachment of marines, who were at all times ready and prompt in the
    execution of any duty.

    The promptness with which the volunteer troops repaired to the scene of disturbance, and
    the alacrity they displayed to suppress the gross outrage against law and order, I know
    will elicit your hearty approbation. Equal zeal was shown by the president and officers of
    the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company in their transportation of the troops and in their
    readiness to furnish the facilities of their well ordered road.

    A list of the killed and wounded, as far as came to my knowledge, is herewith annexed,
    (marked C;) and I enclose a copy of the" Provisional Constitution and ordinances for the
    people of the United States," of which there were a large number prepared for issue by the

    I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

                                                                   R. E. LEE, Colonel Commanding.

    Colonel S. COOPER, Adjutant General U. S. Army, Washington City, D. C
    Lee's Demand that Brown's Forces Surrender (Oct. 18, 1959)

    Headquarters Harper’s Ferry
    October 18, 1859.

    Colonel Lee, United States army, commanding the troops sent by the President of the
    United States to suppress the insurrection at this place, demands the surrender of the
    persons in the armory buildings. If they will peaceably surrender themselves and restore
    the pillaged property, they shall be kept in safety to await the orders of the President.
    Colonel Lee represents to them, in all frankness, that it is im­possible for them to escape;
    that the armory is surrounded on all sides by troops; and that if he is compelled to take
    them by force he cannot answer for their safety.

    R.E. Lee - Colonel Commanding United States Troops
John Brown at Harper's Ferry
Hannes Poetter Design and Sponsorship - all rights reserved
Miami County Historical Museum - 12 E. Peoria, - Paola, KS 66071 Phone: 913-294-4940
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
Your ad could be
A big Thank You
to our Sponsors