CW 150 Bleeding Kansas and Harpers Ferry,WV

John Steuart Curry, Tragic Prelude, (1938–40),...
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At first glance, most would look at this and wonder, “How do Kansas and WV have anything to do with the Civil War?” Well by a strange and odd stroke of luck, a man by the name of John Brown connected the two states together during the bloodied period of years leading up-to the war.

Bleeding Kansas

Following the KA-Ne Act of 1854, both states were given the opportunity to decide their own will on slavery, this was known as the popular soverignty option. As a result, slave owners from MO flooded into the border areas between the two states. Quickly groups of raiders, the most well known under the leadership of William Quantrill, began attack abolitionist towns on the KA side of the Missouri R. On the KA side abolitionist began to arm themselves as well, the most well known being John Brown and Henry Ward Beecher; however, Brown would have a violent side never seen in Beecher.

Brown and several of his sons, under the cover of darkness, attacked slave onwers in their sleep. As a result of the growing violence, the senate began to question the validaty of the KA-NE Act and wondered if a new resolution on slavery and statehood should be penned. During a heated debate on in US Senate on the slaavery subject, Preston Brooks (D-SC) almost beat Charles Sumner (R-MA) to death. (Sumner by no means was innocent of the matter he had refereed to Brooks’s family members with sexual innuendo and animal husbandry references.)  KA would later vote and become a free state (January 29,1861) after four yaers of local fighting and the deployment of US Army garrisons to stop the action.

Harpers Ferry

John Brown and his sons saw this as a great success but were on the run for murder. They left KA and went into hiding. During this time he contacted Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglass asking for their support in creating an armed slave revolt in northwestern VA. They concocted a plan to attack the US armory at Harpers Ferry, VA. After stealing the large rifle cache, they would then arm slaves in a revolt that would spread across VA and hopefully the South. Needless to say the actions would be desastorous for his family. By the time it was over, John Brown would be hung for treason against the state of VA and several others as well. By the day of the hanging, Brown would write this note,

“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.”

Irony would find this situation very interesting. The US Army sent to attack the raiders was commanded by Col. Robert E Lee and Lt. Col JEB Stuart. This would be the last combat command for both men before entering the man as commanders in the Confederate Army. The trial was popularized in newspapers; so much, that a large audience attended the hanging, one of the views was John Wilkes Booth. The actions of Brown would actually divide the abolitionist cause and many would write opinion pieces in the New England newspapers abhorring the idea of violence against fellow citizens to end slavery. He was hung in December of 1860 only five months before the siege of Ft. Sumter would formally begin the war.

Information contained in this article was fact checked using the online sources Wikipedia and CWPT. As well as works by Shelby Foote, James M. McPhersonBruce Catton, James I. Robertson Jr., and William C. Davis.