Stuart At John Brown's Raid
The Life and Campaigns of Major-General JEB Stuart
H. B. Mcclellan, A.M.
Late Major, Assistant Adjutant-General And Chief Of Staff Of The Cavalry Corps, Army Of Northern Virginia
From the fall of 1857 until the summer of 1860 Stuart was stationed at Fort Riley with six companies of the 1st Cavalry, under the command of Major John Sedgwick.
In the winter of 1858-59 he invented a sabre attachment, for which he obtained a patent from the government. Having received a six months' leave of absence, he passed the summer of 1859 among his relatives in Virginia, and while attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in Richmond, in October, was called to Washington to negotiate with the War Department concerning the sale of his sabre attachment. While in Washington on this business the news was received of the "John Brown Raid" at Harper's Ferry. Stuart was requested to convey to Arlington a secret communication to Lieutenant-Colonel Robert E. Lee, who had been selected to command the marines sent to suppress the insurrection. Although the facts had been carefully concealed, Stuart perceived that something unusual was transpiring, and volunteered his services as aid to Colonel Lee.
The following extracts are taken from a letter which he wrote to his mother from Fort Riley, in January, 1860. Several contemporary newspaper accounts gave to him the credit of having led the attack upon the engine house in which John Brown had taken refuge, an honor which Stuart is careful to disclaim.
Colonel Lee was sent to command the forces at Harper's Ferry. I volunteered as his aid. I had no command whatever. The United States marines are a branch of the naval force,--there was not an enlisted man of the army on hand. Lieutenant Green was sent in command. Major Russell had been requested by the Secretary of the Navy to accompany the marines, but, being a paymaster, could exercise no command; yet it was his corps. For Colonel Lee to have put me in command of the storming party would have been an outrage to Lieutenant Green, which would have rung through the navy for twenty years. As well might they send him out here to command my company of cavalry ....
I, too, had a part to perform, which prevented me in a measure from participating in the very brief onset made so gallantly by Green and Russell, well backed by their men. I was deputed by Colonel Lee to read to the leader, then called Smith, a demand to surrender immediately; and I was instructed to leave the door after his refusal, which was expected, and wave my cap; at which signal the storming party was to advance, batter open the doors, and capture the insurgents at the point of the bayonet. Colonel Lee cautioned the stormers particularly to discriminate between the insurgents and their prisoners.
I approached the door in the presence of perhaps two thousand spectators, and told Mr. Smith that I had a communication for him from Colonel Lee. He opened the door about four inches, and placed his body against the crack, with a cocked carbine in his hand: hence his remark after his capture that he could have wiped me out like a mosquito. The parley was a long one. He presented his propositions in every possible shape, and with admirable tact; but all amounted to this: that the only condition upon which he would surrender was that he and his party should be allowed to escape. Some of his prisoners begged me to ask Colonel Lee to come and see him. I told them he would never accede to any terms but those he had offered; and as soon as I could tear myself away from their importunities I left the door and waved my cap, and Colonel Lee's plan was carried out ....
When Smith first came to the door I recognized old Osawatomie Brown, who had given us so much trouble in Kansas. No one present but myself could have performed that service. I got his bowie-knife from his person, and have it yet.
The same day, about eleven or twelve o'clock, Colonel Lee requested me, as Lieutenant Green had charge of the prisoners and was officer of the guard, to take a few marines and go over to old Brown's house, four and a half miles distant, in Maryland, and see what was there. I did so, and discovered the magazine of pikes, blankets, clothing, and utensils of every sort. I could only carry off the pikes, as I had but one wagon. The next day I was occupied in delivering the various orders of Colonel Lee, and in other duties devolving on an aid-de-camp. The night after, Colonel Lee, Green, and myself, with thirty marines, marched six miles and back on a false alarm among the inhabitants of a district called Pleasant Valley.
The prisoners having been turned over to the United States Marshal, Colonel Lee and the marines were ordered back to Washington. I went with him, and this terminated my connection with the Harper's Ferry affair.
This Page last updated 02/15/02
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