Harper’s Ferry

Today in History, October 16, 1859:

Abolitionist John Brown leads a small group of followers on a raid of the US Army Armory in Harper’s Valley, Virginia. Brown planned to seize the weapons in the armory and start an insurrection. He believed he would be sparking a firestorm of slaves and abolitionists around the country to end slavery.

However local militia grabbed their weapons and responded quickly, surrounding the armory. A contingent of US Marines led by US Army Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lt. JEB Stuart arrived and attacked the armory, killing several of the raiders and arresting a wounded Brown. Brown was hanged on Dec. 2nd of the same year.

It may not have happened as he envisioned, but within months of the raid at Harper’s Ferry, the nation would be in the midst of a Civil War that would result in his goals being achieved.

The men that led the contingent that arrested him would be Confederate leaders. John Brown’s legacy would include an inspirational marching song that would be come immensely popular in the North, entitled “John Brown’s Body”. The ballad would have many versions, but the final song matched to the tune would become “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.

“Don’t Fire Unless Fired Upon. But if They Mean to Have a War, Let it Begin Here.”

Today in History, April 19: 1775 – The Midnight Ride continues. Paul Revere and his fellow rider, William Dawes meet up while warning Lexington of the approaching British soldiers. They had stopped at several villages between there and Boston spreading the alarm.

In each village additional riders would set off in all directions to spread the word for minutemen to converge on Lexington and Concord. Village cannons were fired so they would be heard in neighboring villages…a pre-arranged signal. The system was so efficient that before the British soldiers were even disembarking from their boats, still miles away, hundreds of Patriots were converging on the British target of munitions at Concord. Unbeknownst to them, their mission had already been rendered moot. The “rebels”, long aware of the British plans, had already dispersed and hidden the munitions. Revere and Dawes had already warned Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who had been taken elsewhere to prevent their arrest.

In Lexington Revere and Dawes met up with Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had been visiting his fiance. The three set out for Concord to warn them. On the road they encountered an British patrol and were captured. As they were being taken to a nearby meadow Prescott shouted, “Put on!” (scatter, run for it). He and Revere rode off in opposite directions. Prescott jumped his horse over a neaby stone fence and was off into the night. Dawes escaped, but lost his horse, leaving him on foot. Revere made his second escape of the night, as he’d nearly been captured in Charleston earlier. However he soon came upon a group of British officers and was captured again. He would eventually be released, but without his horse. Precott, a Concord native familiar with the area, quickly made his way to Concord and warned them, then continued on to warn others.

“Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” –Militiaman Capt. John Parker, to his troops on Lexington Green. When the 700 British troops reached Lexington, they were confronted with a mere 77 minutemen who had managed to convene there. Capt. Parker, knowing that the British mission had already been rendered pointless, was not eager to risk the lives of is men. He had them form in ranks on Lexington Green, where they could give an expression of dissention without blocking the road to Concord. The British commander decided to confront them anyway. With an expression of great insult, the British commander ordered the “damned rebels” to disperse. Parker directed them to do so as the well trained British regulars approached. Nobody knows who fired the “shot heard ’round the world”. The Americans, of course, believe it was and over eager British soldier; the British believe it was from a minuteman; some speculation is that it was fired from the safety of a nearby tavern. Whoever fired that first shot, it resulted in the British cutting down nearly a dozen minutemen, and one injured British soldier. The British then marched past the dead and injured on their way to Concord. http://youtu.be/wAFz5YNCTGc

The Brits, emboldened, marched on Concord. When they got there they were confronted with more than 300 minutemen. The outcome was quite different than at Lexington. The British were quickly repelled, and decided to return to Boston. As they completed the long march back to Boston, the minutemen continuously fired upon them from behind trees, rocks, fences, etc. By the time the regulars made it back to Boston, they had lost over 300 men.

Why was it the “shot heard ’round the world”? Not just because of the American Revolution. The acts of the revolutionaries did not affect only the “Colonies”. The French were encouraged to aid the Americans with their fleet eventually. Other portions of the British Empire were encouraged to revolt. King George didn’t know it, but on this date, thanks to a few farmer and merchant “peasants”, the sun had begun to set on the British Empire.

Commander of the Militia

Today in History, February 17: 1621 –

Mayflower passenger and military officer Myles (Miles) Standish is elected by the Plymouth Colony as commander of it’s militia.

He would take on various governmental roles, and represent the colony in England, but the militia would repeatedly re-elect him as it’s commander until is death at 72 in 1656. In his later years he served more of an advisory role, having retired to his farm.

Nothing Lives Long. Except the Earth and the Mountains. -Death song of Chief White Antelope, age 75

Today in History, November 29:  1864 –

The Sand Creek Massacre.

As the morning was dawning the sleepy village, Chief Black Kettle saw them approaching, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes above his Tipi as a sign of brotherhood and peace.  And then the blue coated soldiers began firing.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho of Colorado had settled in for the winter along a bend in Sand Creek in eastern Colorado.  Resources in the barren area were in short supply and they expected a harsh time.  900-1,000 people in hundreds of Tipis, although many were out hunting buffalo that morning.

The Civil War raged further east, and in Colorado and New Mexico a few months previous.  Colonel John Chivington of the Colorado Volunteers had fought in those battles, but now was looking for a new fight.  After a family of settlers was killed, allegedly by Arapaho or Cheyenne, the Governor tasked Chivington with raising a regiment to defend against hostile Indians.

But his regiment’s enlistment was nearly up and he hadn’t found any hostile Indians.  So he took over 700 troops to attack the peaceful village along Sand Creek.

After the attack on the settlers, the white authorities told the peaceful Indians to encamp at military forts and facilities where they would be protected.  Chief Black Kettle had spoken to the commander of a nearby fort seeking to comply.  He was told to keep his people at Sand Creek until the commander received further orders, and they would be safe.

Hundreds of women and children dropped to their knees in front of the soldiers that morning, imploring them for mercy.  There was no mercy given as the women and children were shot down or had their skulls caved in.  Many then ran for the creek where they sought cover, or fled north.  For the next several hours Chivington’s soldiers chased them down and killed as many as they could.

Seeing what was happening, Chief White Antelope approached the soldiers, folded his arms, and began singing his death song, “Nothing lives for long.  Except the Earth and the Mountains.”

Chief Black Kettle carried his wounded wife and fled north towards another band of Cheyenne.  He would make his way to Oklahoma, where he led his people to again attempt peaceful existence.  He would live two days shy of four years more…when he and his wife would be chased down and killed by soldiers of George Custer’s command at the Massacre along the Washita River.

One of the Union officers present that day refused to follow commands and ordered his company not to fire; and tried to save some of the victims.  Captain Silas Soule was career Army and recognized the cowardly acts being carried out.  The next day he wrote a letter to a Major friend of his back east, telling of the horrific behavior of Chivington’s “mob”.  He told of women and children having their brains bashed in.  He said that Chiefs had their ears and genitals cut off as trophies, and all those killed were scalped.  The crazed killers cut out many of the women’s genitalia as souvenirs.

Chivington would escape court martial by resigning from the Volunteers.  But even during the Civil War, the government and the people were aghast at the atrocities carried out at Sand Creek, and Congressional hearings were held in 1865, during which Captain Soule testified at against Chivington.

For his trouble he was gunned down in the street in Denver a few months later.  His murderers were never prosecuted.

The assault was supposedly intended to force peace for the nascent settlements in Colorado.  It had exactly the opposite effect, as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and others fought a decade’s long war with the settlers, their trust of the white people destroyed.

The story was eventually all but forgotten, and was a touchy subject when it was spoken of.  However Colorado eventually began to come to terms with this dark part of its history, and in 2007 the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established, run by the National Park Service.

Many visit the site in homage to the approximately 200 Native Americans who died that day.

Several of the sites I read in preparation for this posting indicated the subject was not covered much until the 2000’s.  However if you read (or watch) James Michener’s “Centennial”, you’ll find that he covered the events very well, just with a change in names.