THE SECOND HARPERS FERRY RAID
THE FATE OF JOHN BROWN’S MEN
by H. Scott Wolfe
“State of New York, County of Essex
Orin Grant Libby, State University, Madison, Wisconsin being duly sworn deposes that he did this fifth day of August, 1899 deliver, sealed, a packet containing the remains of...the party of John Brown, killed at Harpers Ferry on or about October 16, 1859...to A. Fortune & Co., North Elba, N.Y., undertakers of said town.” (31)
Dr. Ezra Spencer McClellan, physician and Chief Officer of the Saranac Lake Board of Health, was present for the formal delivery of the exhumed remains. Libby immediately conveyed his wish to the Doctor that the human remnants be examined, and a true enumeration of the skeletal material be obtained. McClellan was amenable to the request and, with Libby observing, the contents of the trunk were analyzed that same day.
The men carefully removed the disinterred matter, separating the extraneous elements -- the buttons, a fragment of red shirt, the heavy wool of the winding sheets. Dr. McClellan then conducted a scientific scrutiny of the long bones. He concluded that the remains of eight men were present. Libby scribbled the findings upon a small note pad: “5 sets of femurs from Eastern Grave...From Western Grave were taken two & one half sets...I am afraid on(e) femur remains in the grave.”
| "Libby's Femur Notes" |
(Libby Coll., U of N. Dakota)
The investigators then turned to an attempt to discern the individual identities of the exhumed raiders. Dr. McClellan utilized Libby as a human scale, pressing the femurs to the Professor’s leg in order to properly estimate the relative heights of the occupants of the graves. Libby, in his notes, speculated upon the contents of the Western burial box: “They are Leeman’s remains & one leg of Kagi’s. The other was probably shot to pieces and has not been saved. The other man was small & has not been identified, but Dr. McClellan identified him as about 6 ft. in height, 3 in. shorter than Leeman.”
The examination completed, Libby quickly sketched the “peculiar stitch still plainly visible in the cloth” separated from the skeletal matter. The remains were then resealed, and Featherstonhaugh was promptly informed of the results of the body count. The Doctor responded to Libby, who he still “regretfully” had not identified to the newspapers: “You deserve all the credit for this affair. If there are remains of 8 bodies the 8th is Kagi’s -- No, I am not certain that he was carried away. Tradition, published accounts and living witnesses tell me he was...(I) have not seen one adverse criticism but have had many complimentary things said.” (32)
The Town of North Elba, through popular subscription, presented a handsome, silver-handled casket to receive the remains for the formal reburial. A silver plate, affixed to its surface, carried the names of the men within. Until funeral arrangements were concluded, this casket, draped with an American flag, lay in the Town Hall. There was supreme irony here. For in Article 46 of John Brown’s Provisional Constitution, after vowing no intention to overthrow the existing State and National governments, he wrote: “And our flag shall be the same that our Fathers fought under in the Revolution.” Those once deemed traitors, now slept beneath that banner. (33)
Dr. Featherstonhaugh had chosen Miss Katherine Elizabeth McClellan -- photographic artist, authoress and daughter of the Saranac Lake physician -- as Chairman of the “Committee of Arrangements” for the reinterment. Following the exhumations, he had written her: “Yesterday I raised all the remains, and they have started on their way to you in charge of Mr. Libby...(He) seems to be rather peculiar and erratic, but enthusiastic over this matter. He will want the bones sneaked into the ground and nothing said about it, but I want some decent ceremonies to attend the burial that will make the matter memorable and historic.”
“This astounding proposition,” wrote Miss McClellan, “involving secrecy and risk...appealed to my imagination.” It was her firm desire that the burial rites be truly national in their character. The potential guest list demonstrated this fact, invitations being extended to such luminaries as President McKinley, Vice President Hobart and New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt. Secretary of State Elihu Root personally provided his consent to utilize a military detachment from the nearby Federal barracks at Plattsburgh. Said Miss McClellan: “I determined that no obstacle should deter me from giving these heroes the grand military funeral which would be a fitting climax for their sacrifice.” A date of August 28th was set for the ceremonies. (34)
"The Mature Dr. Libby"
(Libby Coll. U of N. Dakota)
One who would not be present for the rites was Orin Grant Libby. The young scholar, his stirring task now completed, departed Lake Placid on August 7th, after spending his final night at the farm of John Brown. This “enthusiastic pedestrian” hiked nearly twenty miles through the scenic Adirondacks, before boarding a train for Albany and the continuation of his research tour. It had been a unique adventure, to be long remembered throughout a conspicuous academic career as “North Dakota’s most distinguished history scholar.” (35)
As word of the pending funeral arrangements spread, efforts were begun to allow two additional soldiers of the Provisional Army to join their fallen comrades. In Eagleswood Grove, on a commercial property in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, lay the mortal remains of two of the raiders hanged in March of 1860:
(Library of Congress)
AARON STEVENS...The cashiered dragoon. The Fort Leavenworth escapee and rugged partisan who, as “Colonel Charles Whipple,” led a fierce guerrilla band amidst the anarchy of Kansas Territory. “We are in the right, and will resist the universe,” he warned those who would oppose him. Desperately wounded at Harpers Ferry, he survived only to face trial and execution. “It is hard to look back on those that are gone,” he penned from his Charlestown cell, “but, thank God, they died for liberty, and ere the 17th of March I expect to meet them in the spirit land.” (36)
(Library of Congress)
and ALBERT HAZLETT...The unpolished gem. He “did not impress you specially as striving to climb the golden stairs,” a comrade remembered. Eluding the militia death trap, he was captured in his native Pennsylvania and extradited for trial. “Do not grieve about the past, but take all things for the best,” he wrote on the eve of his execution. “I think, as you do, that my fate is hard and very unjust. But I shall try to meet it like a man.” To his death, he solemnly insisted he was William H. Harrison --- an innocent man.
Following the hangings, the bodies of Stevens and Hazlett had been shipped to New Jersey -- their point of entry altered because of rumors that an angry mob waited to toss their coffins overboard. Their funeral ceremonies were conducted by members of the “Raritan Bay Union,” a communistic society of staunch abolitionist tendencies. Amidst a tolling of bells, the remains were transported to the Socialist Cemetery -- Stevens placed in a hearse, Hazlett upon a “common farm wagon.” The men “were buried in Virginia coffins, in separate shallow graves, in the midst of a small grove...The company threw evergreens upon the coffins as they filed past.” (38)
Now, during the summer of 1899, these burial sites were threatened. A Perth Amboy tile manufactory coveted the clay the cemetery contained. Some speculated that the remains would be shipped to Kansas for reburial. But, with ceremonies imminent in New York, a new plan was adopted, spearheaded by Brown biographer Richard J. Hinton and E.P. Stevens, nephew of the deceased “Colonel Whipple.” Permission to excavate was obtained, and a physician engaged to measure and identify those buried within. A crew of six men was soon put to work.
The coffins were located at a depth of four feet and, in order to preserve the skeletal remains, several men entered the grave to carefully scrape away the soil. Intact shoes came suddenly into view, and a witness described what followed: “The principal bones of both bodies were found, although the femur of one of Stevens’ legs was broken off...Stevens’ skull was about gone, but Hazlett’s was minus only the face portion. The lower jaw bone of the latter was perfect and every tooth as sound as a dollar.” The clothing was in a decent state of preservation, “the left lapel of (Hazlett’s) black cloth coat was brought up, wet and soggy, but otherwise in good condition.” The workers observed numerous buttons and the gum rubber coat in which the remains of Stevens had been wrapped. Small pieces of this coat, still remarkably elastic, were cut off as souvenirs by those present...”
A large pine box, packed with sawdust and partitioned to separate the two men, was filled with the surviving bones, bits of cloth and leather and the earth taken from the respective body cavities. The box was sealed and immediately prepared for shipment, its label bearing the address:
The John Brown Homestead, North Elba, Essex Co., N.Y.
Care Katherine E. McClellan
Chairman, Committee (Reinterment) of Arrangements (39)
The dream of Thomas Featherstonhaugh had been realized. Ten members of the Provisional Army of the United States were to be buried alongside their Commander-in-Chief. “I think I have done a good work,” said the Doctor, “and, so far from feeling ashamed of it, I am rather proud of my part in giving these poor bones decent burial. So you may quote me as the chief conspirator and as the one responsible for the grave robbing.” Wrote the daughter of John Brown: “The whole thing from beginning to end is like a romance.” (40)
Your presence is requested at the reinterment services of John Brown’s followers, whose remains have recently been removed from Harpers Ferry, to be placed beside their leader. The ceremonies will take place on Wednesday, August 30th, at 2 o’clock, P.M. at the John Brown Farm, North Elba, New York...Conveyances will meet all trains. (41)
August 30th, 1899. It was the forty-third anniversary of the Battle of Osawatomie, that Kansas skirmish so crucial to the history, and mythology, of John Brown. The burial date had been deferred for two days, in anticipation of the arrival of Stevens and Hazlett. As midday approached, the box from New Jersey had yet to appear -- so the ceremonies began with only the original eight raiders within the silver-handled casket.
|Funeral Pallbearers (Recollections of Seventy|
Years by Franklin Sanborn)
The funeral procession, with military escort and preceded by the Saranac Lake Cornet Band, departed the Opera House Block, Lake Placid, at 1:30 P.M. The political notables were absent, but more than one thousand persons, in carriages and afoot, accompanied the hearse to the rustic final home of the Liberator. The heat and dust were oppressive, as they gathered in the shadow of the massive natural boulder which dominates the gravesite.
There was singing, the participants joining in Onward Christian Soldiers, My Country ‘Tis of Thee and, of course, John Brown’s Body.
There was oratory. Episcopal Bishop Henry Potter introduced editor and diplomat Whitelaw Reid, who spoke of the bravery of John Brown’s men. Kansas veteran and propagandist Richard J. Hinton eulogized Brown himself, and then linked “these humble names and memories with those of all who have struggled for the race and its uplifting.”
Funeral Dignitaries, E.P. Stevens, nephew
of the raider, at right (Library of Congress)
And there were visions of another ceremony, on a cold December day forty years before, when Joshua Young presided over the funeral of the martyred John Brown. His act of selfless charity had been met with social ostracism and banishment from his Vermont parish. Now, on this steamy August day, a snowy-bearded Reverend Young delivered the principal sermon in honor of the men of Harpers Ferry. He was to recall: “The day was excessively hot, and the great crowd exposed to the burning rays of the hot sun was restless, and speaking was hard. There was not a breath of air from the great mountains, and the flag on the liberty pole drooped as if it were oppressed by the memories which the day revived.”
|Joshua Young delivers the Benediction|
(Library of Congress)
The Epps family, "colored," had also lifted their voices at the burial of John Brown. Now, four decades hence, they did the same. As they movingly sang In the Sweet By and By, this family represented the final vestige of the North Elba black colony which had so long ago lured the Browns to the Adirondacks.
Following the Reverend Young’s benediction, thirty-two members of the 26th United States Infantry, Lieutenants Connell and Ball commanding, fired three volleys over the open grave of the soldiers of the Provisional Army of the United States. And then, Taps, that haunting melody composed during the terrible conflict these men had done so much to hasten. (42)
Later that evening, the box containing the remains of Stevens and Hazlett arrived at the burial site. The grave had been left unfilled, and the casket was reopened to receive its final occupants. And the men of the Provisional Army began their final bivouac.
Military Salute (the late Edwin Cotter, Jr.)
|Lyman Epps (John Brown Farm,|
Lake Placid, N.Y.)
Lake Placid, N.Y. August 4th, 1938
Dear Mr. Libby...I have never left this county. I decided to remain here all my life in order that I might be near the grave of John Brown, one of the truest friends our race has ever known. My one wish is that I could remain the caretaker of his grave, but they think I am too old now. I go to his grave as often as I possible can. I shall be glad to hear from you soon, and enclosed you will find my picture.
Sincerely, Lyman Epps (43)
H. SCOTT WOLFE A native of Waukesha, Wisconsin, H. Scott Wolfe is a 1971 graduate of the University of Montana, where he received a degree in botany. He conducted graduate work at both Montana and the University of Oregon. He conducted research for the U.S. Forest Service as a plant taxonomist, assisted in the preparation of several works on algal taxonomy, and conducted independent research on snow and ice algae in the western United States and Canada. In 1975, Wolfe returned to the Midwest—settling in Galena, illinois, the home of his maternal ancestors, and a Union General named Grant A Civil War enthusiast since childhood, Wolfe has utilized this historic environment to devote himself to researching the antebellum era. His specialty soon became the militant abolitionist John Brown—and the members of Brown’s Provisional Army of the United States. For over two decades he has been assembling biographical materials dealing with over twenty-five of Brown’s “soldiers’—interviewing their descendants, visiting their birthplaces, locating their clandestine hideouts, and unraveling the scenes of their final tragedy at Harpers Ferry. Presently the Historical Librarian for the Galena Public Library District—and “staff historian” of Galena’s DeSoto House Hotel (Illinois’ oldest operating hotel), Wolfe is actively involved in both writing and speaking upon both Civil War and African-American historical topics. Wolfe and his wife Nancy, an author and expert on vintage clothing, carry on a continuing war for storage space.
Notes for Part 3
31. Deposition, sworn August 5, 1899, by Orin G. Libby, before George L. Challis, Notary Public, Essex County, New York, Libby Collection.
32. Handwritten notes and sketches of Orin G. Libby, August 5, 1899, and Thomas Featherstonhaugh to Orin G. Libby, August 11, 1899, Libby Collection.
33. Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States, photocopy of original printed version once in the possession of Colonel John Thomas Gibson of Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), Author’s Collection.
34. Thomas Featherstonhaugh to Katherine McClellan, July 30, 1899, Adirondack Collection; Katherine E. McClellan, “John Brown’s Body Lies Amouldering in the Adirondacks,” typescript, pp. 10-11, Katherine McClellan Collection, Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
35. George F. Shafer, “Dr. Orin Grant Libby,” North Dakota History, Volume 12, No. 3, July 1945, p. 107.
36. Quoted from Hinton, John Brown and His Men, pp. 497-498.
37. George B, Gill, quoted in Hinton, John Brown and His Men, p. 515; W.H. Harrison (Albert Hazlett) to Anne Brown, ibid., pp. 526-527.
38. Virginia Free Press, April 5, 1860, excerpts reprinted in Clarence B. Stephenson, “Impact of the Slavery Issue on Indiana County, Pennsylvania,” no date, p. 131.
39. Perth Amboy (NJ) Chronicle, August 28, 1899.
40. Thomas Featherstonhaugh to Katherine McClellan, July 30, 1899, Adirondack Collection; Ruth Brown Thompson to Thomas Featherstonhaugh, October 6, 1896, Libby Collection.
41. Invitation to reburial ceremonies addressed to Professor O. G. Libby, dated August 25, 1899, and signed by Katherine E. McClellan, Libby Collection.
42. Ruth Brown Thompson to Thomas Featherstonhaugh, October 19, 1899, Stutler Collection; see also various newspaper reports: Plattsburgh (NY) Press Republican, September 2, 1899, New York World, August 31, 1899, New York Times, August 31, 1899, Charles Town (W.Va.) Spirit of Jefferson, September 5, 1899.
43. Lyman Epps to Orin G. Libby, August 4, 1938, Libby Collection.
SOURCES MANUSCRIPT COLLECTIONS
*Adirondack:Saranac Lake Free Library, Saranac Lake, New York
*Hinton, Richard Josiah: Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas
*Libby, Orin Grant: Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks
*McClellan, Katherine E.: Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts
*McKim, J. Miller: Cornell University Library, Ithaca, New York
*Stutler, Boyd B.: West Virginia Department of Culture and History, Charleston, West Virginia
BOOKS AND ARTICLES
Barry, Joseph. The Strange Story of Harper’s Ferry, With Legends of the Surrounding County. Martinsburg, West Virginia, 1903.
Benet, Stephen Vincent. John Brown’s Body. New York, 1954.
Brandt, Nat. The Town That Started the Civil War. Syracuse, 1990.
Calendar of Virginia State Papers. Volume XI, Richmond, 1893.
Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History. Avenal, NJ, 1993.
DuBois, W,E.B. John Brown. New York, 1962.
Featherstonhaugh, Thomas J. “The Final Burial of the Followers of John Brown.” New England Magazine XXIV, April 1901.
_____ “John Brown’s Men: The Lives of Those Killed at Harper’s Ferry.” Publications of the Southern History Association III, 1899.
Hinton, Richard Josiah. John Brown and His Men: With Some Account of the Roads They Traveled to Reach Harper’s Ferry. New York, 1894.
Love, Rose Leary. “The Five Brave Negroes With John Brown at Harper’s Ferry.” The Negro History Bulletin. April 1964.
Ruchames, Louis (ed.). A John Brown Reader. London and New York, 1959.
Sanborn, Franklin B. Life and Letters of John Brown: Liberator of Kansas and Martyr of Virginia. Boston, 1891.
Shafer, George F. “Dr. Orin Grant Libby.” North Dakota History XII, July 1945.
Stephenson, Clarence D. “Impact of the Slavery Issue on Indiana County, Pennsylvania.” n.d.
Villard, Oswald Garrison. John Brown: A Biography Fifty Years After. Boston and New York, 1910.
Webb, Richard D. (ed.) The Life and Letters of Captain John Brown. London, 1861.
Charles Town (W.Va.) Spirit of Jefferson
Frederick (Md.) Herald
New York Independent
New York Times
New York Tribune
New York World
Perth Amboy (N.J.) Chronicle
Plattsburgh (N. Y.) Press Republican
University of Wisconsin Daily Cardinal