Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861

John Brown’s Failure

When did Robert E. Lee arrive at Harpers Ferry?

Lee’s home, Arlington House, was right across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. Even so, he had to make such haste that there was no time to change out of civilian clothing, and when he arrived at Harpers Ferry late that afternoon, Lee looked like any other middle-aged traveler, not the commander of a crack force of marines. Upon arriving, Lee expressed his desire to attack at once, but the local townspeople urged him to wait. They already had John Brown cornered, they said.

Since daybreak, there had been a number of slow-motion gunfights through the town. Alarmed and enraged, the people of Harpers Ferry rose up and engaged in rifle battles that they usually won, and by evening John Brown and his accomplices were cornered in the engine-house at the extreme east end of the federal arsenal. There was no chance that Brown and his men could escape, Lee was told. Reluctantly, he agreed to wait until morning.


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