A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Library Journal Top Ten Best Books of 2011
A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of 2011
Bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the electrifying tale of the daring insurrection that put America on the path to bloody war
Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South. Now, Midnight Rising portrays Brown's uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.
Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America's founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in 1859 he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy. On October 17, the raiders seized Harpers Ferry, stunning the nation and prompting a counterattack led by Robert E. Lee. After Brown's capture, his defiant eloquence galvanized the North and appalled the South, which considered Brown a terrorist. The raid also helped elect Abraham Lincoln, who later began to fulfill Brown's dream with the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure he called "a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale."
Tony Horwitz's riveting book travels antebellum America to deliver both a taut historical drama and a telling portrait of a nation divided—a time that still resonates in ours.
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About the Author
Tony Horwitz is the bestselling author of Midnight Rising, A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without a Map. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He lives in Martha's Vineyard with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons.
Tony Horwitz is a native of Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for many years as a reporter, first in Indiana and then during a decade overseas in Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly covering wars and conflicts as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. After returning to the States, he won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker before becoming a full-time author.
His books include Midnight Rising, A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, a national and New York Times bestseller about the Pacific voyages of Captain James Cook, Baghdad Without a Map, a national bestseller about the Middle East, and Confederates in the Attic, a national and New York Times bestseller about the Civil War.
Horwitz has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a visiting scholar at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He lives with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their son, Nathaniel, on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Date of Birth:1958
Date of Death:May 27, 2019
Place of Birth:Washington, D.C.
Place of Death:Washington, D.C.
Education:B.A., Brown University; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism
Read an Excerpt
The Road to Harpers Ferry
He was a stone, A stone eroded to a cutting edge By obstinacy, failure and cold prayers.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENT,
"John Brown's Body"
School of Adversity
John Brown was born with the nineteenth century and didn't launch his attack on Virginia until he was nearly sixty. But almost from birth, he was marked in ways that would set him on the road to rebellion at Harpers Ferry.
Brown was named for his grandfather, a Connecticut farmer and Revolutionary War officer who marched off to fight the British in 1776. Captain John Brown died of dysentery a few weeks later, in a New York barn, leaving behind a pregnant widow and ten children. One of them was five-year-old Owen, who later wrote: "for want of help we lost our Crops and then our Cattle and so became poor."
Owen was forced "to live abroad" with neighbors and nearby relations, and went to work young, farming in summer and making shoes in winter. As a teenager he found religion and met a minister's daughter, Ruth Mills, pious and frugal like himself. Soon after their marriage, Ruth gave birth to "a very thrifty forward Child," a son who died before turning two. The Browns moved to a clapboard saltbox in the stony hills of Torrington, Connecticut, and had another son. "In 1800, May 9th John was born," Owen wrote, "nothing very uncommon."
A portrait of Owen Brown in later years depicts a thin-lipped, hawk-beaked man with penetrating eyes: an antique version of his famous son. Owen also bestowed on John his austere Calvinism, a faith ever vigilant against sin and undue attachment to the things of this world. In his late seventies, after rising from childhood penury to become a prosperous landowner and respected civic leader known as Squire Brown, Owen wrote a brief autobiography for his family. It began: "my life has been of but little worth mostly fild up with vanity."
John Brown also wrote a short autobiography, in his case for a young admirer. Two years before the uprising at Harpers Ferry, while seeking money and guns for his campaign, he dined at the home of George Luther Stearns, a wealthy Massachusetts industrialist. Stearns's twelve-year-old son, Henry, was inspired by Brown's antislavery fervor and donated his pocket money (thirty cents) to the cause. In return--and after some prodding from Stearns senior--Brown wrote Henry a long letter describing his own youth in the early 1800s.
The letter was didactic in tone, doubtless intended to impress Henry's wealthy father as much as the boy himself. But it was nonetheless a telling account, delivered in the direct, emphatic, and grammatically irregular voice that distinguished so much of Brown's speech and writing.
"I cannot tell you of anything in the first Four years of John's life worth mentioning," Brown wrote, narrating his story in the third person, "save that at that early age he was tempted by Three large Brass Pins belonging to a girl who lived in the family & stole them. In this he was detected by his Mother; & after having a full day to think of the wrong; received from her a thorough whipping."
If Brown's earliest memory was of sin and chastisement, his next was of dislocation. When he was five, his family moved by oxcart to northeast Ohio. This territory, Connecticut's "Western Reserve," was pioneered by New Englanders seeking to extend their godly settlement. "I came with the determination," Brown's father wrote, "to build up and be a help in the seport of religion and civil order." He and his neighbors formed communities centered on Congregational churches and village greens, much like the world they left behind.
Young John's experience of Ohio was very different. When he was a boy, he wrote, the Western Reserve seemed a wondrously untamed place, "a wilderness filled with wild beasts, & Indians." He rambled in the woods, wore buckskins, learned to live rough (a skill that would serve him well in later years), and dressed the hides of deer, raccoons, and wolves. Those first few years in Ohio were the happiest and freest of his life.
"But about this period he was placed in the School of adversity," Brown wrote of himself, "the beginning of a severe but much needed course of dicipline." First, an Indian boy gave him a yellow marble, which he treasured but lost. Then he nursed and tamed a bobtail squirrel and grew to dote on his pet. "This too he lost," and "for a year or two John was in mourning." At the age of eight, he suffered a much greater trauma: the death of his mother in childbirth.
This loss "was complete & permanent," Brown wrote. Though his father quickly remarried "a very estimable woman," John "never adopted her in feeling; but continued to pine after his own Mother for years." The early loss of his mother made him shy and awkward around women. It also magnified the influence of his formidable father, who would marry a third time in his sixties and sire sixteen children.
From an early age, John hewed closely to his father's example of hard work and strict piety. He was prone to fibbing and "excessively fond of the hardest & roughest kind of plays," such as wrestling and snowball fights, but gave no sign of rebelliousness. A tall, strong boy, he was educated at a log school and went to work young, "ambitious to perform the full labour of a man." At twelve, he drove his father's cattle a hundred miles, on his own, and soon took up Owen's trade of leather tanning. He also became "a firm believer in the divine authenticity of the Bible," and briefly studied for the ministry. John "never attempted to dance," he wrote, never learned any card games, and "grew to a dislike of vain & frivolous conversation & persons."
John followed Owen in family matters, too. At twenty, "led by his own inclination & prompted also by his Father," Brown wrote, "he married a remarkably plain; but industrious & economical girl; of excellent character; earnest piety; & good practical common sense." Dianthe Lusk was nineteen, the daughter of Brown's housekeeper. A son was born a year after their marriage--the first of a brood that would grow, like Owen's, to almost biblical proportions.
Brown also raised animals, displaying a particular skill and tenderness with sheep. "As soon as circumstances would enable him he began to be a practical Shepherd," Brown wrote, "it being a calling for which in early life he had a kind of enthusiastic longing." But here, too, loss haunted him. One of the first creatures he tended, apart from his pet squirrel, was "a little Ewe Lamb which did finely till it was about Two Thirds grown; & then sickened and died. This brought another protracted mourning season."
Brown ended his brief autobiography with his entrance into manhood. At twenty-one, he was already a tannery owner, a family man, and, as some of his peers saw it, a bit of a prig. He quickly fell out with Dianthe's brother, who was only able to visit on Sundays. Brown disapproved of this. His church reserved the Sabbath for religious observance; even "worldly" conversation, visiting friends, and making cheese on Sunday were violations of Christian duty. (The church also excommunicated a deacon who "did open his house for the reception of a puppet show.") Brown required his tannery workers to attend church and a daily family worship. One apprentice later described his employer as sociable, so long as "the conversation did not turn on anything profane or vulgar." Scripture, the apprentice added, was "at his tongues end from one end to the other."
While demanding of others, Brown was hardest on himself. In his autobiographical letter, he wrote of young John's "haughty obstinate temper" and inability to endure reproach. He "habitually expected to succeed in his undertakings" and felt sure his plans were "right in themselves." This drive and confidence impressed elders he esteemed, which in turn fed his vanity. "He came forward to manhood quite full of self-conceit." Brown wrote that his younger brother often called him "a King against whom there is no rising up."
These traits--arrogance, self-certitude, a domineering manner--would bedevil Brown as he navigated the turbulent economy of the early nineteenth century. But they would also enable his late-life reincarnation as Captain John Brown, a revolutionary who took up arms in the cause of freedom, as his namesake had done two generations before him.
In 1800, the year of Brown's birth in the thin-soiled hills of Connecticut, the United States was just entering its adolescence. The Constitution turned thirteen that year. For the first time, a president took up residence in the newly built White House, and Congress convened on Capitol Hill. The young nation barely extended beyond the Appalachians; its largest city, New York, had sixty thousand people, equal to present-day Bismarck, North Dakota.
In many respects, daily existence at the time of Brown's birth was closer to life in medieval Europe than modern-day America. Most people worked on farms and used wooden plows. Land travel moved at horse or foot speed on roads so awful that the carriage bringing First Lady Abigail Adams to Washington got lost in the woods near Baltimore. Crossing the ocean was a weeks-long ordeal. News wasn't new by the time it arrived.
In this preindustrial society of five million people, almost 900,000 were enslaved, and not only in the South. Though northern states had taken steps toward ending the institution, most of these measures provided for only gradual emancipation. Brown's home state had almost a thousand slaves at the time of his birth, and New York twenty times that number.
Slavery was also safeguarded by the Constitution, albeit in convoluted language. The Revolution had raised an awkward question: how to square human bondage with the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights? The Framers answered this, in part, by employing a semantic dodge. They produced a forty-four-hundred-word document that did not once use the term "slave" or "slavery," even though the subject arose right at the start.
Article I of the Constitution mandated that each state's delegation to the House of Representatives would be based on the number of free people added to "three fifths of all other Persons"--meaning slaves. In other words, every fifty slaves would be counted as thirty people, even though these "other Persons" couldn't vote and would magnify the representation of white men who owned them.
The Constitution also protected, for twenty years, the "importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper." "Such Persons," of course, were African slaves. Furthermore, any "Person held to Service or Labour" who escaped to a free state--that is, any slave who ran away--had to be "delivered up" to his or her master.
These measures reflected the horse-trading needed to forge a nation from fractious states. Another deal, struck in 1790, led to the nation's capital being located on the Potomac River, between the slave states of Virginia and Maryland. In all, slaveholders had deftly entrenched their "species of property," as one South Carolina delegate euphemistically put it.
Even so, as the turn of the century approached, there were signs that slavery might wane. The exhaustion of the Chesapeake region's soil by tobacco weakened the economic basis for slavery in Maryland and Virginia, home to half of all southern slaves. A growing number of owners in these states were freeing their slaves, driven in part by evangelical fervor and the Revolution's emphasis on personal liberty. Other slave owners, such as Thomas Jefferson, acknowledged the "moral and political depravity" of the institution and expressed hope for its gradual end.
But all this would change markedly in the early decades of the nineteenth century, as John Brown came of age. The cotton gin, the steamboat, and the rapid growth of textile mills made it possible and hugely profitable to grow and ship millions of bales of what had previously been a minor crop. Andrew Jackson, himself a cotton planter, championed the policy of Indian "removal," dislodging southern tribes and opening vast tracts of new land for cultivation. This expansion, in turn, created a vibrant market for the Chesapeake's surplus slaves, who were sold by the thousands to gang-labor plantations in the Deep South.
Southerners also dominated government, largely because the three-fifths clause padded the representation of slave states in Congress and the electoral college, throughout the antebellum period. Southerners won thirteen of the first sixteen presidential contests, ruled the Supreme Court for all but eight years before the Civil War, and held similar sway over leadership posts in Congress.
But this clout--economic as well as political--depended on continual expansion. The South needed new lands to plant and new states to boost representation, to keep pace with the industrializing and more populous North. This inevitably sowed conflict as the nation spread west. With the settling of each new territory a contentious question arose: would it be slave or free?
The first serious strife flared in 1819, when Missouri sought statehood. Missouri had been settled mainly by Southerners; its admission to the Union would carry slavery well north and west of its existing boundaries and upset the numerical balance between slave and free states. After lengthy debate, Congress finessed the crisis by admitting Maine along with Missouri and by drawing a line across the continent, forbidding any further slavery north of the 36 30' parallel. This deal--the Missouri Compromise of 1820--formed the basis for a three-decade dtente over slavery's spread.
But Thomas Jefferson, then in his late seventies, immediately sensed the danger inherent in the agreement. In demarcating a border between slave and free, the compromise underscored the country's fault line and fixed the nation into two camps. "This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror," Jefferson wrote of the debate over Missouri and slavery. "I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence."
In his autobiographical letter to young Henry Stearns, John Brown said he felt the first stirrings of his "Eternal war with Slavery" at age twelve, when he saw a slave boy beaten with iron shovels. "This brought John to reflect on the wretched, hopeless condition, of Fatherless & Motherless slave children," he wrote. Brown, who was also motherless and subject to childhood beatings, may have identified with the slave boy. But his burning hatred of racial oppression had another source. Like so much else in his life, it reflected the influence of his father.
In most respects, Owen Brown's religious faith harked back to his Puritan forebears, who believed they had a covenant with God to make America a moral beacon to the world. In the eighteenth century, Calvinist ministers began speaking of slavery as a threat to this special relationship--a breach of divine law that would bring down God's wrath upon the land. Owen was strongly affected by this preaching, and like many other New England emigrants, he carried his antislavery convictions to the Western Reserve.
He also displayed an unusual tolerance toward the native inhabitants of Ohio. "Some Persons seamed disposed to quarel with the Indians but I never was," he wrote. Nor did he proselytize, or damn natives as heathens, as Puritans of old would have done. Instead, he traded meal for fish and game; he also built a log shelter to protect local Indians from an enemy tribe. Young John "used to hang about" Indians as much as he could--the beginnings of a lifelong sympathy for natives that stood in stark contrast to the prevailing hostility of white Americans.
As Owen Brown established himself in Ohio, he and his neighbors helped fugitive slaves, making the town of Hudson a well-traveled stop on the Underground Railroad. John followed suit, aiding runaways who came to the log cabin he shared with a brother while he was still a bachelor. He continued to aid fugitive slaves after his marriage, but he had a great deal else to occupy him.
During the first four years of their union, Brown and his wife had three sons. Like his father before him, Brown pioneered new territory, taking his wife and toddlers to a sparsely settled section of northwestern Pennsylvania. He cleared land, built a tannery, raised stock, and, like Owen, became a civic leader, founding a school and church and serving as the area's first postmaster. "An inspired paternal ruler" was how one of his neighbors described him, "controlling and providing for the circle of which he was the head."
This circle quickly grew to include three more children. Brown, raised by disciplinarians, became one himself, hewing to the Calvinist belief in the depravity of human nature. His firstborn, John junior, was required to keep a ledger listing his sins and detailing the punishment due each: "unfaithfulness at work" earned three lashes; "disobeying mother" brought eight. The second born, Jason, had a vivid dream about petting a baby raccoon that was "as kind as a kitten," and described the encounter as if it had really happened. He was three or four at the time, and his father thrashed him for telling a "wicked lie." Five-year-old Ruth muddied her shoes while gathering pussy willows and then fibbed about how she'd gotten wet. Her father "switched me with the willow that had caused my sin," she recalled.
Corporal punishment was common at the time, but Brown dispensed the rod with especial vigor. He was determined to root out sin, not only in his offspring but also in himself and others. When he was a young man, this compulsion to punish wrongs was primarily manifest in small acts of moral policing. Brown apprehended two men he encountered on the road who were stealing apples, and smashed a neighbor's whiskey jug after taking a few sips and deciding the liquor had dangerous powers.
Despite his severity, Brown was beloved by his children, who also recalled his many acts of tenderness. He sang hymns to them at bedtime, recited maxims from Aesop and Benjamin Franklin ("Diligence is the mother of good luck"), cared for his "little folks" when they were ill, and was gentle with animals: he warmed frozen lambs in the family washtub.
Brown nursed his wife as well. Dianthe came from a family with a history of mental illness, and not long after her marriage she began to exhibit signs of what relatives called "strangeness." She also faltered physically, suffering from "a difficulty about her heart," Brown wrote.
Though the nature of her affliction isn't clear, it probably wasn't helped by bearing six children in nine years, one of whom, a son, died at the age of four. A year after his death, Dianthe went into labor a seventh time; the child, another boy, was stillborn and had to be extracted "with instruments," Brown wrote. After three days of "great bodily pain & distress," Dianthe also died, at the age of thirty-one. Brown buried her beside their unnamed son, beneath a tombstone bearing Dianthe's final words: "Farewell Earth."
This loss which echoed his mother's death in childbirth, appears to have sent Brown into shock. "I have been growing numb for a good while," he wrote a business partner. He also complained of vague physical symptoms. "Getting more & more unfit for any thing."
Brown and his five children--the youngest was not yet two--briefly moved in with another family. Upon returning to his own home, he hired a housekeeper, whose sixteen-year-old sister, Mary Day, often came along to help. Several months later, Brown proposed to Mary by letter. They married in July 1833, less than a year after Dianthe's death.
A tall, sturdy teenager of modest education, Mary was half her husband's age and only four years older than his eldest child. She would bear him thirteen more children and endure great economic hardship. Brown was a tireless worker and skilled at diverse trades: tanning, surveying, farming, cattle breeding, sheepherding. He won prizes for his fine wool, published articles about livestock ("Remedy for Bots or Grubs, in the heads of Sheep"), and filled a pocket diary with practical tips, such as rules for measuring hay in a barn and a farm lady's advice on making butter. ("In summer add plenty of cold water to the milk before churning. The slower the churning the better.")
But Brown's diligence and work ethic were repeatedly undone by his inability to manage money. This was a leitmotif of his earliest surviving letters, mostly to a partner in his tanning and cattle business. "I am running low for cash again," Brown wrote Seth Thompson in 1828. "I was unable to raise any cash towards the bank debt," he wrote in 1832. Then, later that year: "Unable to send you money as I intended." And in 1834, again: "I have been uterly unable to raise any money for you as yet." In these and many other letters, Brown expressed regret for his financial straits--and blamed them on forces beyond his control: the weather, ill health, the monetary policies of President Andrew Jackson.
Brown may also have been distracted by his budding concern for affairs other than business. It was in the early 1830s that he first wrote of his determination to help slaves. He also showed signs of a truculent and nonconformist spirit. Brown joined the Freemasons but quickly fell out with the secret society amid accusations that Masons had murdered one of their critics in New York. Far from being cowed by the controversy, Brown openly proclaimed his opposition to the group and circulated the published statement of a Mason who claimed that he'd been selected to cut the throat of a "brother" who revealed the order's secrets.
"I have aroused such a feeling towards me," Brown wrote his father in 1830, "as leads me for the present to avoid going about the streets at evening & alone." Brown knew his father would approve of his defiance, if not of the other measure he took. Owen was a committed pacifist; his son, a warrior at heart, acquired his first gun.
Copyright 2011 by Tony Horwitz All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Prologue: October 16, 1859 1
Part 1 The Road to Harpers Ferry
1 School of Adversity 9
2 I Consecrate My Life 20
3 A Warlike Spirit 29
4 First Blood 43
5 Secret Service 60
6 This Spark of Fire 80
Part 2 Into Africa
7 My Invisibles 97
8 Into the Breach 127
9 I Am Nearly Disposed of Now 173
Part 3 They Will Brown Us All
10 His Despised Poor 191
11 A Full Fountain of Bedlam 220
12 So Let It Be Done! 233
13 Dissevering the Ties That Bind Us 258
Epilogue: Immortal Raiders 272
Author's Note 293
Selected Bibliography 341
Illustration Credits 348
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For someone who has grown up in Pennsylvania, close to Gettysburg, and has visited numerous Civil War battlefields, a visit to Harper's Ferry seemed like a waste of time. Wow was I wrong. After having visited the small yet historically important town a number of times, I was drawn toward this book as soon as it was released. How did the stars align for this one man with some family and friends to take over the U.S. Armory and thus stoke the fire that would shortly thereafter lead to the Civil War? John Brown does not get much attention in the history books and when he does, he is portrayed as an eccentric and lunatic. Yet what is rarely spoken of is that in the end of the day, he realized what America would come to realize. There would be no bloodless cease to slavery like in Britain, only a great struggle amongst brothers could ultimately destroy this wicked institution. No one really took the time to dig deep into his life and plot the points that led to his ultimate demise in 1859...until now. Mr. Horwitz does a phenomenal job of painting the picture of this deeply spiritual (Puritan and Calvinist leaning) man who ultimately become possessed by a mission, a mission to bring about the end of the great evil of American slavery. While misguided in implementation, his anger and cause were just. Having read this book, you will gain a new appreciation for what happened that fateful night in 1859 and how it was the impetus for southern succession and the Civil War which followed in 1861. Thank you Mr. Horwitz for reclaiming an oft forgotten, under-appreciated and misunderstand piece of American history. With it, we can now better understand this vitally significant time period in our nation's history.
A noted black historian looked back on the historiography concerning John Brown's life, his murders, his kidnappings, his armed insurrection and his execution for treason against the state of Virginia. He noted that many historians concluded that Brown was insane and an impractical, if not a stupid, terrorist. What makes Brown impossible to understand, the historian noted, is also what makes Brown understandable to blacks. Brown was willing to risk his life and was willing to die to set blacks free from slavery. For John Brown, slavery was a war against blacks and it was a war that started along time before Brown himself was born. Since the 1980s John Brown has become understandable. Stephen Oates' To Purge This Land With Blood and David S. Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights have reignited interest in Brown's life of violence. Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising: John Brown And The Raid That Sparked The Civil War describes John Brown as expanding his sense of self from childhood through his execution and his death. Indeed, Horwitz finds suspense in Brown's wrestling, and at times failing, to become a successful family man, a prosperous businessman, an industrious community member and an accepted authority in a faith community. John Brown cannot be understood without the context of America from 1800 to 1860, an era when multiple American revolutions were happening: political, industrial, transportation, religious, agricultural and economic. Brown was caught up in them all. Horwitz concisely acknowledges the state of the Union during these decades and recognizes the national trends that are causing havoc in Brown's life. During the morning of Decemeber 2 1859John Brown wrote the following message: '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.' Brown was hanged that day and a year later, South Carolina was in the midst of seceding from the Union. Much like the December 2 note, Horwitz shows Brown evolving into the role of a public martyr. Smoothly written, well paced and at times dramatic, Horwitz takes Brown seriously as a man who wrestles with his own failures and the failures of his nation. The author does not over dramatize the story. The characters around Brown are unique and engaging without a writer's help. Thankfully Horowitz avoids bringing forth into his John Brown story such currents events as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Such remarks have marred the Emory Thomas¿ 'Dogs of War' and have already dated Louis P. Masur's 'A Concise History of the Civil War'. Readers of David Reynolds¿ 'John Brown' and Stephen Oates' 'To Purge This Land With Blood' are encouraged to return to Horwitz¿s John Brown. Like Reynolds and Oates, Horwitz offers an engaging, multi-dimensional and compelling biography of a puzzling character who makes trouble for nearly all readers. Those familiar with Horwitz's 'Confederates in the Attic' will find a character who would not have believed that the Civil War started on April 12 1861, but had started many decades before.
Painstakingly researched, Midnight Rising is Tony Horowitz's account of John Brown and the raid at Harper's Ferry. Militarily, this was a small operation, but most people have heard of it. What makes it so important? Horowitz explains the country's environment and ambiance at the time which made this such an explosive event. Tensions ran high in the country. The Abolitionists were convinced that slavery was an abomination; one that there was no action too desperate to try to eradicate. Those who owned slaves were convinced that without slavery their entire economic world would collapse. As always, when there are two such diametrically opposed viewpoints, tensions ran high and extremists on both sides were willing to take drastic actions to further their beliefs. Horowitz examines the life and philosophy of John Brown, a figure that most recognize but few know much about. He covers Brown's early life and his start as an Abolitionist vigilant in Kansas, the place that gave him his reputation as a bloody yet effective leader. A staunch Abolitionist, he was willing to sacrifice his livelihood, his family and the lives of others as well as his own to further his beliefs. The result of Harper's Ferry, which stunned the nation, was to move the country even closer to the brink of the Civil War. Tony Horowitz has had a fascination with the Civil War. His earlier book, Confederates in the Attic, explored this topic, and Midnight Rising continues this exploration. His writing style is fluid and entertaining and the reader is educated without feeling that he is lectured to. This book is recommended for history readers and those interested in the Civil War and the events leading up to it.
Wow! What a read. Extremely well written. I could not put it down. Each page carried me through this history that I never new anything about. Mr. Horwitz is a fine author and made this part of our American history very interesting and exciting. John Brown definately had an agenda and the entire story was a really great read. This one is a keeper and to be read again. I read it to my husband and he was very enthralled with the book.
Most people that have a decent knowledge of American History have heard of John Brown but most don't know the real John Brown. This was a great book which I highly recommend to anyone that has a passing interest in the civil war era. Very readable.
I attended an event in Lawrence, KS about this book. Tony spoke about it and really got me excited to read it. After purchasing I quickly read and enjoyed it. Great research, a well thought-out book, and has raised my interest in other Civil War books. Highly recommend. Cheers.
A thorough and fascinating look at the catalyst for the Civil War
Very informative and well written. 2 thumbs up
Oh my, I am so excited about this read, I am going to read every thing I can find about Mr Brown and Harpers Ferry
Enjoyed reading this book and was impressed with the research by the author. I recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in the details of what occurred and the impact on this country
The title of Tony Horwitz¿s work--Midnight Rising:John Brown and the Raid the Sparked the Civil War--is misleading. Excluding the Notes at the end, my Advance Reader¿s Copy is 292 pages long; of that 292 pages, only 60 pages (Chapters 8 and 9 out of 13, a Prologue and an Epilogue) are devoted to the raid itself. Chapters 10 through 12 describe, in great detail, the trials of the captured invaders and, for those who need to know every single last disposition, the hangings themselves. We learn whether it improves out understanding of the world or not, that only one was hanged cleanly, in that his neck was broken; the rest slowly strangled to death, and ¿suffered greatly¿. We also find out which bodies were sent to medical colleges for use in dissection. Just what I've always wanted to know about the Civil War.The earlier chapters are really a biography of Brown.While his earlier life is interesting, the years that led up to the raid--the planning, the recruiting, the search for funds--is so exactingly and minutely described that it is utterly boring. Do I care if I know the 26 2/3 fake identities that Brown used during this time? Frankly, no.And that¿s the trouble with Horwitz¿s book--he buried the story in excruciating--and ultimately boring--detail. And, I might add, a book for which the reader may not be prepared given the title. As one who reads extensively in Civil War literature of all kinds, I was expecting pretty much a military history, with some information about the lead-up to the raid and its aftermath. I was NOT expecting what the book really is--a biography of John Brown. And I can see why he had to pad it out in that was--there is simply not enough in the 36 hour raid to justify an entire book, despite the relentless detail that Horwitz pours into it. Also, the title leads someone not familiar with the political and social history of the 10 years previous to the outbreak of war that somehow Brown¿s raid set off the Civil War. Not true. The raid occurred in October of 1859 and the war itself did not start until April, 1961. There was no single event that can be said to have ¿sparked¿ the Civil War. There were many contributing factors: the Kansas Nebraska Act being one of the main ones. Pennsylvania¿s most worthless political son, President James Buchanan, being another. In reality, the fighting started after Lincoln¿s call for 75,000 volunteers to aid in the collecting of duties and imposts in what he and the North regarded as Union territory and which the South claimed. Trumpeting ¿invasion¿, the South formed armies and the war was on.To me, Horwitz does not make a convincing case. Yes, Brown¿s raid was an important event. If Horwitz wants to cast it as some sort of ¿last straw¿ in terms of secession sentiment in the South, he¿d be better off. Even then, his case wouldn¿t be that solid, since South Carolina had been calling for secession before that and there were plenty of fire-eaters in the South, Edwin Ruffin among them, who were urging secession long before Brown¿s raid.I¿m not sure that 2 1/2 stars isn't be too generous.
Tony Horwitz has scored again with his in depth look at abolitionist John Brown¿s raid on the Harper¿s Ferry arsenal. In true Horwitz style, American history becomes very readable and, dare I say it, gripping.Most Americans probably have a vague idea of Brown¿s raid but what Horwitz does is bring it to life. After relating Brown¿s personal history and the fundamental beliefs that make him such a vocal opponent of slavery, we hear about the run-up to the raid. Brown¿s biggest difficulties are securing funding and acquiring the men who will make up his army. After producing a new ¿constitution,¿ he has to settle for a much smaller army than that which he was seeking. A mere twenty men join him at a farmhouse just outside Harper¿s Ferry in October, 1859 and more than one of them think the Captain¿s plan for taking the arsenal has holes in it. For one thing, he¿s counting on the slaves who live in the area to join him in the raid, to provide the extra strength that he¿s lacking from his small band of men. But the slaves know absolutely nothing about the invasion. Although Brown developed a fairly decent number of benefactors, both financial and intellectual, including Frederick Douglass, most of them could see the flaws in his plan, flaws that eventually led to the killing or capturing and, eventually, execution of most of the raiders.The last part of the book looked at the result of the raid and identified it as the start of the Civil War, usurping the designation usually reserved for Fort Sumter. While awaiting execution, Brown held court in his jail cell to many important visitors, and word spread like wildfire among the anti-slavery Northerners that a hero had attempted to put an end to slavery by freeing the slaves in Virginia. This set the stage for the hordes of people anxious to honor him as his coffin made its way home to the upstate NY farm where his wife lived:¿The slow transit of Brown¿s body from Virginia afforded a further opportunity for northern adoration.. The day after the execution, Mary Brown boarded a train in Harper¿s Ferry and escorted her husband¿s coffin to Philadelphia, where the crowd awaiting the funeral train was so large that the mayor feared a riot.¿ (Page 260)Horwitz leads us to the explanation of how the Harper¿s Ferry raid came to be thought of as the real start of the Civil War by revealing the statements of men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, among others, who admired John Brown. Even the Quakers, who never condone violence, respected Brown. His legend continued to grow in the years following the war.I fully appreciate this well-researched book, exposing, as it does, a time in our country¿s history that we can take no pride in. Highly recommended.
On the night of October 17, 1859, John Brown led a small group of like-minded abolitionists, including 5 black men and two of his own sons, in a raid he had been planning for over a year. It was his intention to occupy the Federal arsenal at Harper¿s Ferry, Virginia, from which his band would seize a quantity of weapons, before dispersing through the surrounding countryside, liberating and arming slaves as they went. Those freed blacks would be led north to Canada, where their continued freedom would be assured. Brown expected his initial foray to be a catalyst for slaves to rise up and claim their own freedom once they had seen that there was organized support for such action. His ultimate goal was nothing less than the complete collapse of the system of slavery in the United States. Like many of Brown¿s previous enterprises, grand financial schemes and business ventures, this one had very little prospect of success. But perhaps, as one of his non-participating sons stated years later, his real aim was to bring about the conflict he had come to believe would be necessary to end slavery once and for all. Tony Horwitz subtitled his book ¿John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War.¿ The raid itself ended tragically for nearly all its participants. Within 5 months of that October night, the men who had not died in the siege had been tried, convicted and hanged, John Brown included. But Brown¿s imprisonment and trial gave him an audience for his anti-slavery rhetoric that he might not have found in any other way, and his death made him a martyr to the cause of abolition. Horwitz has told this compelling story in an assured narrative voice that puts the reader in the midst of the action, and brings understanding to the motives of the various participants.
I received a free Early Reviewer copy of Midnight Rising through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program, and my review will be based on that copy. Let me note that this copy was in the form of bound uncorrected proofs: while this copy included endnotes, they were not yet numbered nor referenced in the text itself, thus I could not really refer to them and cannot comment on their final form or usefulness. There was no index in this copy, but the Table of Contents indicates that an index will be included in the final published edition.Horwitz's account of John Brown and his famous raid on United States armory at Harper's Ferry is detailed but not overwhelmingly so. The character of the enigmatic man, John Brown, comes alive through excerpts of his own writing and that of contemporaries who knew him. The book is divided into three sections. In the first, we learn basics of his upbringing by a sternly religious abolitionist father; his failed business dealings as a young man (presaging how lack of financial common sense would plague his anti-slavery work); and his increasingly radical abolitionist views. We follow him as attempts a utopian project in upstate New York, battles in Bleeding Kansas, and lays the foundation for his audacious attempt at insurrection.The second section focuses on the final months of preparation and the actual raid on Harper's Ferry. We see Brown again struggling with the "business" end of his endeavors. Organizational issues, dissension among his men, and the struggle to avoid detection are key parts of the drama leading up to the raid. Quite interesting to me were the roles of his daughter Annie and daughter-in-law Martha in keeping his endeavors hidden from prying eyes. Of course, the raid itself is the centerpiece, and Horwitz provides plenty of interesting detail here.The final section details the aftermath of Brown's raid: the interrogations, trials, executions, and impact on public opinion. This was actually my favorite section of the book, because Horwitz skillfully made me more fully appreciate the of impact Brown's supposedly "insane" act upon events, shortly thereafter, which significantly shaped the United States. Horwitz examines the turning tide of opinion regarding Brown in the North, and how it impacted Southern actions. Horwitz also briefly follows some figures on both sides of the events -- and even the town of Harper's Ferry itself -- into the Civil War and beyond. And he examines the question: what, really, was John Brown's plan all along? Did what he said about his plan match his actions? What was he thinking? While acknowledging that we can never really know the man's mind for sure -- beyond his desire to strike a blow against slavery -- Horwitz offers insights about how Brown's self-identification with certain Biblical figures may have figured into his thoughts.Midnight Rising was an interesting, insightful book that I enjoyed reading and heartily recommend.
Fans of Tony Horwitz will be surprised by this book, which departs from his usual lighter fare to present a straight history of the momentous events surrounding John Brown¿s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October of 1859. Brown¿s goal was to do whatever it took to get slaves released from bondage; he felt anything less would make a mockery of God¿s words as Brown understood them. After his arrest he told interrogators:¿I want you to understand, gentlemen, that I respect the rights of the poorest and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave system, just as much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful.¿And as Horwitz points out, ¿Whether or not his military plan succeeded, Brown believed his strike [at Harpers Ferry] would shock the nation and shake down the pillars of slavery. And he was fully prepared to perish amid the rubble of a sinful society he had so long sought to destroy.¿Because there were so many complicated factors leading up to the attack on Harpers Ferry, Horwitz cannot tell John Brown¿s story without also explaining the events that influenced Brown, such as the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which requires an explanation of the Compromise of 1850, which in turn necessitates an explanation of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, and so on. This part of the book is rather dry, as it is delivered without any analytical fanfare. The pacing picks up when the actual raid on Harpers Ferry begins, and in particular, when Horwitz recounts the astounding aftereffects of the raid on the American public. While today, Brown¿s raid is looked at as a small point on the causation vector leading to the Civil War, Horwitz makes a convincing argument that in fact, as Frederick Douglass contended, it was Harpers Ferry rather than Fort Sumter, that was ¿the true start of the nation¿s great conflict.¿As Horwitz argues, the whole event might just have simmered and died, had it not been for the ¿beatification¿ of Brown in the North, which horrified Southerners and convinced them that ¿The North, at heart, was abolitionist, and its leaders could not be trusted to uphold the constitutional protections afforded slavery.¿Horwitz offers many striking examples of strong reaction in the country to Brown¿s hanging, from Northerners who were outraged and saw Brown as a martyr, to Southern ¿fire-eaters¿ who were ecstatic that this could be the catalyst to stir the South to arms. As the abolitionist Wendell Phillips wrote, ¿History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harpers Ferry¿John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system; it only breathes - it does not live ¿ hereafter.¿ Perhaps most important is the effect Brown had on Lincoln, who at first was dismissive of Brown¿s actions. Later, however, Lincoln came to hold views so close to Brown¿s that his second inaugural sounds much like the climax the extemporaneous speech given by Brown in the court that condemned him to death:¿Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country, whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, I submit. So let it be done!¿Compare that to Lincoln¿s language in his second inaugural address:¿Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."And of course, Lincoln and Brown shared more than their feelings about slavery: Horwitz does not miss the fact that John Wilkes Booth traveled to see Brown hang; he writes that ¿Harpers Ferry a
An interesting and readable history of John Brown and his namesake 'raid' (the purpose of which may not have been what he told his followers) set in the milieu of the pre-Civil War debate on the 'particular institution' versus abolishment.
Midnight Rising tells the story of John Brown's famous (or infamous) raid on the Federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry.This is not just another retelling of the already well-known events of October 16-18, 1859, instead, it is an in-depth but very readable account. Horwitz writes not only of the raid, which would make John Brown hero and martyr to some and rebel and villain to others, but also of his life leading up to it.Midnight Rising's pre-raid portion examines Brown's early and family life, his participation in the Bleeding Kansas Border War, his trips to the North to solicit funds from Northern abolitionists for his Kansas operations and the raid at Harper's Ferry, the formation of the Secret Six, and his final preparations for the raid.Midnight Rising also covers John Brown's trial and final days prior to his execution. It also briefly explores the effect of Brown's raid on that great American conflict, the Civil War.I greatly enjoyed reading Midnight Rising and I learned some things I didn't know before, which is always a good thing.For instance, John Brown had plans to set up a new Government, complete with a Provisional Constitution (previously drafted by a group which included himself and a number of free blacks living in Canada), over whatever territory he managed to hold with the weapons he intended to get from the Harper's Ferry arsenal and the slaves he believed would rise up and join his cause.As a Southerner, I was disappointed with Horwitz's comparison of Brown's Provisional Constitution and the Confederate Provisional Constitution as similar. Brown's was an act of rebellion by a few private persons, while the Confederacy's was the act of the elected representatives of the people of several States.Overall, I liked this book and have given it a rating of 4.5/5.
A fascinating account of John Brown's raid. I haven't seen many books giving a detailed look at this subject. A good read, and worth the time!
I have read the reviews preceding my own and find them to be correct and enlightening. So, while I encourage others to read them as well, I will endeavor not to repeat what others have said. My only real exception is relative to the author; I find his writing style to be laborious and wandering. It was oftentimes difficult, for me anyway, to follow from one paragraph to the next. Many names were included as key players in the tome, but I did not feel the author adequately developed their characters. Instead, he seemed to assume any reader would remember each character after a cursory introduction. All the same, I enjoyed the read and found the history lesson very interesting, particularly the last quarter of the book.My interest in selecting the book was the role of a religious fanatic, John Brown, and his impact on our history. I say religious fanatic because ,using his religious principles, he decided that was adequate justification to use force to overturn slavery. And while I don't think there is much argument today that slavery was a vile institution that needed to be abolished, I do believe that in is his day, he was viewed as a terrorist, by both the North and the South. Even Abraham Lincoln denounced Brown initially before later deciding that his principles, abolition even if it meant war, was worthy.Fast forward to this day in time. We seem to have equally strong concerns being voiced about the Constitution. Brown believed, as I do, that it was flawed for it's allowing for the institution of slavery, and as the book clearly shows, he was willing to die for his cause to change it. And he did of course, pursuant to the very rules set out by the Constitution he challenged . Though the jury pool was a stacked deck, he indeed received a trial. Many amendments have since been made that corrected for some of the evils and shortcomings of that otherwise great document. What appears now is a sort of reversal; many now claim that freedom, the foundation of our Constitution, is under severe attack, and is at great risk of it's ultimate demise.Read books authored by Senator Jim DeMint or Judge Andrew Napalitiono, among many others and you cannot avoid their message...Freedom is in grave trouble. Only recently our Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which includes authorization for the POTUS to have U.S. citizens picked-up by the military and hauled off to prison indefinitely, based on mere suspicion...all in the interest of US security (Sec 1021). Like slavery, this is CLEARLY contrary to Constitutional principles. Unlike slavery, this law which denies Habeas Corpus as well as a trial by jury, directly violates the Constitution. And it is brought to you by our law-makers, the so-called protectors of the Constitution.The rule of law effectively denied John Brown any venue for resolving what he knew was wrong. It likewise seems to me that this same rule of law effectively is denying citizens a peaceful means for ensuring that the spirit of the Constitution is upheld. Can our freedoms truly be protected peacefully?It may be that our solution is a reincarnation of a John Brown. I realize that's not conventional thinking, just as it was unconventional for a John Brown to feel the need to resort to violence for seeking a remedy to the slavery issue. Yet, the rule of law today seems as toothless as it was back when John Brown made his decision to end slavery, or die trying. It isn't working, the new NDAA law clearly proves that, and yet Americans are still asleep today as they were when slavery was the law.But Slavery was solved, after John Brown was executed...and 600,000 lives were lost before it was over.What price this time?Midnight Rising is a true story about a man who trusted his own principles more that his government. He was right to believe that. And, he paid with his life, compliments of that government.
The story of John Brown is interesting because he was in many ways repulsive and incompetent. yet a man of courage and one of the few white men of his time to treat blacks as equal. Not even the white abolitionists did that often, sad to say.Brown grew up poor, one of many children, and he stayed poor while fathering a large number of children himself. He was not successful in anything he tried, mostly farming. He was deeply religious. and believed he was doing God's work in opposing slavery. When the battle over slavery was being waged so bloodily in Kansas, he and some of his sons fought on the anti-slavery side and in one raid he and his crew murdered several pro-slavery men.Horwitz tells the story of the raid on Harper's Ferry in detail, including the months of preparation which included raising money from a few wealthy abolitionists and recruiting men. He never did manage to recruit as many as he thought he needed, nor raise enough money, but he went ahead with the plan. He believed that by raiding the Federal Armory at Harper's Ferry he could arm slaves who would rise against their masters and begin the war that wound end slavery. His plan was hopelessly unrealistic and poorly done. He didn't have much of an exit strategy. In the end, it failed dismally, resulting in a few casualties to civilians, and the death of many of his small band, including two of his sons. He was captured. and in the few months before his death impressed many in the North with his courage and burning words on the evils of slavery.Would the war have happened without John Brown's raid? Probably. But it was one of the major precipitating factors among other things such as the Fugitive Slave Act, the fight in Kansas and Missouri, the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Dred Scott decision, etc. Horwitz raises the intriguing possibility that perhaps the raid was so poorly planned because Brown recognized that a martyr to the cause of abolition would increase abolitionist sentiment in the North.Horwitz tells the story in a nice style that never gets in the way of the story. In the end, Brown's story makes me think uncomfortably of those who murder abortion doctors. I view slavery as the worst evil perpetrated by humans, but do not view abortion as murder. Yet I can see a similarity in those persuaded God commands them to murder to stop a great evil.I recommend the book to those interested in a good story, or the history of the U.S. Civil War, or both.
This book is a detailed look at the raid on Harpers Ferry, VA in 1859 led by John Brown. Brown was hoping to strike a major blow against the slaveholding South by capturing the armory there, freeing slaves and amassing an army of freed slaves. The author provides information on the early life of Brown that helped form his ideas of right and wrong and contributed to his abolitionist views. Brown was like a moral policeman and felt a compulsion to punish actions that he considered wrong. Brown went to Kansas and was a participant in the ¿border war¿ between Kansas and Missouri over the question of slave state or free state for Kansas.When Brown started planning for the raid, he received some support from some abolitionists that are called the ¿Secret Six.¿ Still, Brown was never able to acquire the number of men he hoped to have as active participants in the raid. His plans seemed to be overly optimistic and not well thought out. Horwitz asks some interesting questions regarding what Brown¿s plans really were. Brown seemed to believe that even is his attack on Harpers Ferry was not successful, that it would still have a positive affect on the country and eventually lead to the elimination of slavery.After covering Brown¿s early life and the attack, Horwitz also covers the trial of Brown and his stoic acceptance of his ultimate punishment. It is interesting reading about some of Brown¿s defenders and the reactions in the country. Horwitz completes the book with a look at the other surviving participants in the raid, whether they escaped or were also brought to trial and hanged. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about this piece of our country¿s history.
¿"I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." - John Brown 1859On a misty Sunday night, in mid-October, 1859, a rag-tag group of men, made up of whites and blacks, seized the armory at Harper¿s Ferry, with the intention of causing a major slave revolt. This band was led by a fiery abolitionist named John Brown. His mission failed but it helped spark the bloodiest war in American history.This story covers Brown¿s puritanical upbringing, his hatred of slavery and his various schemes to deliver a blow to the South¿s most beloved institution.The author covers the subject with ease and authority. He also succeeds in portraying Brown, not as a crazed fanatic, but as a principled, deeply religious man. An added bonus for me, was seeing several southern military figures, make an appearance here, after the raid, like Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson.This is a very good read and one I highly recommend.
John Browns fatal raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry in 1859 could be construed as the opening salvo to the Civil War. Though Brown had no realistic chance of success, his actions were far from futile. While initially both Northerners and Southerners were horrified by his actions, his bravery and eloquence in the face of death eventually captivated the nation. It forced Northerners to finally acknowledge that their previous stands of abolition hadn't had any real impact on Southerners. For Southerners the failed mission encapsulated their worst views of Northern abolitionists and hardened their already rigid desire to protect their 'peculiar institution' at all costs.The author does a wonderful job of tracing Brown's early roots, his fights in bloody Kansas and his ability to bring disparate groups together in support of the anti-slavery movement. Brown went further in his actions to free slaves then even the most ardent abolitionists of his time and his actions shook the Nation to its core.