John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry


On this day in history–October 16, 1859–John Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. His goal was to seize weapons and ammunition and arm slaves for a revolt against their slaveholders. Thirty-six hours after the raid began, troops led by Colonel Robert E. Lee stormed the house where Brown and his men were holed up, captured them, and turned them over to Virginia authorities for trial. He was tried, sentenced to death for treason, and hanged on December 9.

When the Civil War began on 1861, Union soldiers sang “John Brown’s Body” (also known as “John Brown’s Song”) as they marched. And of course they were marching into battle against–appropriately enough–Robert E. Lee.

There are several versions of “John Brown’s Body,” which is sung to the same tune as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” For a history of the Brown song, see here.

Finally, here are the lyrics to the October 1859 version of the song by William Weston Patton:

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! his soul’s marching on!
John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,
And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;
Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,
His soul is marching on.
He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,
And frightened “Old Virginny” till she trembled thru and thru;
They hung him for a traitor, they themselves the traitor crew,
But his soul is marching on.
John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,
Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,
And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,
For his soul is marching on.
The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,
On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.
And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,
For his soul is marching on.
Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,
The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,
For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,
And his soul is marching on.

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