Saturday, August 29, 2009

John Brown, pt. 1

I’m behind on my postings for this week – had some computer problems that are hopefully resolved. What I hope to write in the next couple of days is a two-part post dealing with John Brown and his raid. The first post, the one you are getting today, deals with some thoughts by Robert E. McGlone in a recent article in Civil War Times. The second part of the article will deal with the reaction of North Carolinians to Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry.

It would seem that some people are trying to reform John Brown, shifting him from being labeled a terrorist to a “guerrilla fighting in the revolutionary cause of antislavery.” (per an article entitled “John Brown, terrorist?” in American Nineteenth Century History – March 2009. Since most folks don’t subscribe to that Journal, we will focus on McGlone’s piece.)

McGlone lays out his defense of John Brown in two paragraphs.
At no point did Brown endorse random killings, and he conceived his crusade against slavery as being governed by the rules of honorable warfare. Unlike typical modern terrorists, Brown also personally led guerrilla forces in the field. He treated his hostages at Harper’s Ferry with courtesy and deference rather than using them to shield his retreat from the town.
During the Marines’ assault on his engine house refuge on the grounds of the Federal armory, he shielded them from fire. He conceived the liberation of the slaves as a patriot act, not the destruction of the state. With control of the Harper’s Ferry arsenal… Brown could have wrought havoc upon the town. But he loved the biblical story of Gideon panicking the Midianites, and like Gideon, he hoped to strike fear in the hearts of his adversaries.

First: “At no point did Brown endorse random killings, and he conceived his crusade against slavery as being governed by the rules of honorable warfare.” So, when Brown attacked those living in cabins along Pottawatomie Creek, in retribution for a raid on Lawrence, Kansas, did he act as those “being governed by the rules of honorable warfare”? “At the first cabin, Brown's men brutally killed three Doyle men, splitting open their heads and cutting off their arms. Brown himself reportedly watched as if in a trance. When his men were done, he put a bullet through the head of James Doyle. Then the party went to two more cabins, dragging out and killing two more proslavery men. They killed five in all.” (1) Bear in mind that the while the men whom Brown and his party killed believed in the right of slave ownership, they actually did not own any slaves. We could further add that there were several individuals in Harper’s Ferry that Brown, or his men, killed, and not by the rules of honorable warfare.

Second: “Unlike typical modern terrorists, Brown also personally led guerrilla forces in the field.” There would be hundreds of examples to refute this. I’ll cite just one. Osama bin Laden reportedly carries a Soviet AK-47, which he obtained by killing a Russian soldier with his bare hands. This just might be urban legend, but there are plenty of examples of terrorist leaders taking up arms themselves. Once a terrorist organization grows, these terrorists gain lieutenants to manage their fights.

Three. “He treated his hostages at Harper’s Ferry with courtesy and deference rather than using them to shield his retreat from the town. During the Marines’ assault on his engine house refuge on the grounds of the Federal armory, he shielded them from fire.” Brown told his prisoners “I have only to say now that you will have precisely the same fate that your friends extend to my men.” (4) Which I take to mean that if Brown’s men were killed by the militia, then so would his prisoners be killed.

Four. He conceived the liberation of the slaves as a patriot act…” One of Brown’s sons recalled, in relationship to the murders on Pottawatomie Creek, that John Brown said “It was now and here that they, their aiders and abettors who sought to kill our suffering people should themselves be killed, and in such a manner as should likely to cause a restraining fear.” (2) So, Brown sought to strike fear into his adversaries. McGlone admits as much: “But he loved the biblical story of Gideon panicking the Midianites, and like Gideon, he hoped to strike fear in the hearts of his adversaries.”

Five. “With control of the Harper’s Ferry arsenal… Brown could have wrought havoc upon the town” Well, Hayward Shepherd, a baggage man for the R&O (and a free person of color) was shot and killed by Brown’s men at 1:30 in morning. Another citizen of the town, an Irishman named Boerley “happened to get within range of a picket, -a black fellow who called himself Dangerfield Newby, --whereupon the negro raised his rifle and without a word of warning shot him dead…” Another man, George Turner, moved toward the arsenal, with a shotgun. “When he had approached within some fifty yards… the same negro… saw him coming, and, taking deliberate aim, shot him dead.” (3) A skirmish between Brown’s men in the firehouse and the citizens of the town soon broke out. Fountain Beckham, the mayor of the town, was shot and killed. By all accounts, Beckman was unarmed. There are numerous accounts of terror experienced by the citizens of the town when Brown struck. Then with hundreds of militiamen pouring into the small town, and with a detachment of US Marines, well, the town was in havoc.

Brown wanted to establish a new nation in the Appalachian mountains, a nation composed of freed slaves. So, in a sense, Brown wanted to overthrow the US government and establish his own. And, we might add, slavery, no matter had repugnant, was constitutionally protected at this time. He expected these slaves, once they had heard of Brown’s successful rebellion, to quickly flee from their masters (possibly murdering them in the process) and join other abolitionists. Brown was prepared to use violence to complete his objectives, and had he been able to hold the armory, would have had weapons to achieve his means. Brown gathered a force, secretly made plans, captured a portion of a United States military base, took hostages, terrified local civilians, killed and wounded innocent civilians, killed and wounded United State Marines, and damaged United States property, all under the guise of “this is God’s will.”

According to a online dictionary from Princeton University, a terrorist is “a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities.” (5)

So, I stand by what I wrote above. John Brown was not a patriot, he was not a “guerrilla fighting in the revolutionary cause.” He was a terrorist.

1. “The Story of John Brown.” Current Events 11 March 2005. Vol. 104, Is. 21.
2. Goodrich, War to the knife: Bleeding Kansas (1998) 123.
3. Ibid., 233
4. Ibid., 236

Monday, August 24, 2009

News and notes….

Sorry to hear that Bill Scaife has passed away. I used his book The Campaign for Atlanta extensively in the 58th NCT book. You can read an article about him here.

The Raleigh City Museum is hosting a special event concerning reconstruction. Check out an article here.

Rob Neufeld continues his exploration of the War in western North Carolina with a look at the skirmish at Hanging Dog Creek. Check out the article here.

The Greensboro News-Record has an article on the statues in Statuary Hall in Washington, D. C. Read all about it here. has a look at the historic Cavalry Episcopal Church in Fletcher. The church served as a barracks and hospital during the War. Read about it here.


In the Fayetteville Observer, you can find an article on primary sources and Sherman’s march through North Carolina. Check it out here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moore County

Two counties in one week….

Moore County was formed in 1784 and named for Alfred Moore, a Revolutionary War officer and later justice on the United States Supreme Court. The county seat is Carthage.

According to the 1860 census, Moore County had a population of 11,427, which included 2,513 slaves and 184 free persons of color. During the 1860 presidential election, Moore County men cast 588 votes for Bell, 299 for Breckinridge, and 179 for Douglas. When the vote for the call for a convention came in early 1861, Moore County men cast 1,257 against with 135 for calling the convention. Representing Moore County in May 1861 was Dr. Hector Turner. He was a native of Scotland and came to America in 1820. He studied medicine at the University of New York. During the war, he became a surgeon in the 20th North Carolina Troops, surrendering at Appomattox. He later served in the state legislature. Turner was born in 1816 and died in 1896.

Men from Moore County served in Company H, 26th NCT; Company H, 30th NCT; Company C, 35th NCT; Company H, 46th NCT; Company D, 48th NCT; Company D, 49th NCT; Company F, 50th NCT; and, Company E, 56th NCT. You can find a list here.

Just like with Person County, I could not find a lot of information in books or on the web about Moore County and the War.

There is a Confederate Monument in Moore County, but information about the monument is scarce.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Person County

Time for a look at another one of North Carolina’s great counties. Person County was formed in 1791, and named for Gen. Robert Person of Revolutionary War fame. The county seat of Roxboro was chartered in 1855 and named after Roxborough, Scotland.

In 1860, Person County had a population of 11,221, people, including 5,195 slaves and 313 free persons of color. In the 1860 presidential election, Person County cast 420 votes for Breckinridge and 483 for Bell, with only 9 for Douglas. In early 1862, Person County cast 593 votes in favor of calling a convention to consider the question of secession, while 167 people voted against the measure. John W. Cunningham, a local planter, merchant, state senator and member of the Council of State, was the county’s representative.

A local historian writes that Person County supplied between 800 and 1000 men to the Confederate army. Some of these men served in Company F, 17th NCST; Companies A and H, 24th NCT; Company E, 35th NCT; and Company A, 50th NCT.

Not much can be found about the role of the county during the war. One recent local historian writes that “Person County was a well-established plantation center before the Civil War. Crops included tobacco, cotton, corn, wheat, oats, fruits, vegetables, cattle, hogs and sheep…” A search of my standard sources – Johnson, Bennett, Trotter, Cromie, and others, did not turn up much.

Person County is the birthplace of Edwin G. Reade, a lawyer in Roxboro, a representative in the House of Representatives from 1855 until 1857, and a North Carolina Senator in the Confederate Congress (appointed by Vance). Reade was one of the Confederate senators who in 1863 advocated state commissioners from North Carolina meeting with representatives to reestablish North Carolina in the Union. Reade had the “unenviable job “ of opening that fall 1865 meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Raleigh. He is reported to have opened the meeting with “Fellow-citizens, we are going home…” Reade would go on to become a North Carolina Supreme Court justice. Reade was born in 1812 and died in 1894. He is interred in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.

Person County has a Confederate monument, located on the grounds of the court house in Roxboro. The monument was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1922. On top of the monument is a statue of Capt. E. Fletcher Satterfield, who was killed on July 3, 1863, while bearing the flag of his regiment, the 55th NCT, at Gettysburg. Not sure why he is holding a rifle, and not a sword.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

58th NCT at Appomattox?

Recently, I got Glatthaar’s book General Lee’s Army, in the mail (thanks, Matt). As usual, I flipped through the index first. To my surprise, there was an entry for the 58th NCT. I flipped to page 463 and found this:

“John Wesley Richards, a twenty-five-year old private in the 58th North Carolina, the son of a poor laborer, was not so lucky. According to official sources, he had survived Saylor’s Creek, only to suffer a mortal wound at Appomattox.”

So – if you have been following my blog for any length of time, you immediately see what is wrong. The 58th NCT was neither at Saylor’s Creek nor Appomattox. Neither was there a John Wesley Richards within the ranks of the 58th NCT. There was a John Wesley Richards. He served in the 56th North Carolina, not the 58th NCT. According to his service record, Richards hailed from Cleveland County and enlisted in Company F of the 56th NCT in Wake County on July 8, 1862. He was twenty-three years old at the time. Richards was “[r]eported sick in hospital at Goldsboro July and AUgust 1862. Returned to duty in September – October 1862. Reported present through December 1864. [May have been mortally wounded at or near the Appomattox River near the end of the war.]”

Had it been another regiment, say the 46th NCT vs. the 56th NCT, I would not have caught this mistake. But I did, so if you read Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army, just remember that the 58th NCT was not at Saylor’s Creek or Appomattox.

Monday, August 10, 2009

58th NCT update (and a few other things)

I’ve been working today on writing captions for the book on the 58th NCT. The book will have approximately 100 photographs, many of them are of members of the regiment, a few are of the places where they fought. The text of the book has not really changed, about 126,000 words. I might get it turned in about two weeks from now. (Don’t hold your breath!)

I was digging about today on facebook and I found several North Carolina and the War-related links. They include a page on the preservation of the flag of the 58th NCT, a page produced by the state Sesquicentennial Committee, and a page devoted to Zeb Vance. There are probably others, I’ve just not found them yet.

If you are on facebook, look me up sometime.

By the way, if you have 58th NCT cemeteries, photographs, etc., you had better send them to me soon.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

North Carolina and the War in the news...

Well, time for our look around.

Rob Neufield started a series on western North Carolina Civil War sites. Check it out here.

The Star News Online has a article on the namesake of Pender County. Read more here.

Also in the Star News Online is an article on the Frying Pan Shoals, off the Cape Fear River. Check it out here.

Pat Falci will be speaking to the Western North Carolina Civil War Round Table on August 10. Check it out here.

There is an article on North Carolina and Nat Turner’s Rebellion in “This Month in North Carolina History.” Check it out here.


I'll be at the Mt. Mitchell Arts and Crafts Fair tomorrow (Friday). The organizers have an area set up for history and invited us to come. Stop by and say hi.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

the 58th NCT and Chickamauga

There have been several times in my life when I have had the opportunity to work with the National Park Service and do living history programs on battlefields. This past weekend, I had the great privilege to portray a member of the 58th North Carolina Troops at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Park. We were camped out at the Snodgrass cabin, not too far from where the regiment would have camped on the night of September 20, 1863. Saturday’s slate of interpretive programs went great. We had good crowds each time, and many of the spectators asked good questions and few even hung around for quite awhile. Saturday evening it started to rain, and many of us bunked in the Snodgrass cabin. The original cabin was used as a field hospital during and after the battle. The cabin itself is not original, but it is re-constructed on its original foundation. Some talked about hearing that “bump in the night” but, to be honest, between the fellow snoring on one side of me and another fellow on the other side cussin’ at the fellow snoring, well, I did not hear much. We ran through one part of one of our programs on Sunday morning for a couple of people, but it continued to rain, so we were cut loose. I spent the next hour and a half just riding around the park and talking pictures out the window.

Speaking of pictures, here is our mess for the weekend. All of these fine fellows were from the Old North State.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

At Chickamauga today

Come see me this weekend at Chickamauga. It's great to be portraying the actual 58th on the actual ground!