150 Years Later, John Brown's Failed Slave Revolt Marches On


\\In today’s Washington Post, there is a story about John Brown, the violent, anti-government abolitionist who led an insurrection in Harper’s Ferry WV and was eventually hung for treason.  The article is here.

Here are two excerpts from the article: "On the drizzly Sunday night of Oct. 16, 1859, Brown led 19 armed soldiers of his "Provisional Army" from their rented farm house in Maryland across the covered bridge over the Potomac River to seize the huge federal arsenal and armory in Harper’s Ferry, where 100,000 guns were stored."….

"Today, in the post-9/11 world, Brown feels coldly modern, some experts say, with much of the hell-bent method and fanaticism of a 21st-century terrorist. In 1856 he had led his fighters in an attack at Pottawatomie, Kan., in which they butchered six pro-slavery men with broadswords, hacking off fingers and arms. Indeed, in the South of 1859, Brown "was viewed almost the same way we would view [Osama] Bin Laden," said Brown biographer David S. Reynolds"


Talk of a veterans’ led insurrection is a lot closer to something real than a lot of us might think.  We have had other American insurrections.  John Brown was the most famous, but not the only one.

Here are some of the most famous.

A general article outlining many famous and not so famous American rebellions is posted here. Just a cursory read shows that there have been at least a dozen notable American rebellions led by citizens since the country separated from Great Britain.

Some fairly notable ones are noted below.

Here is a Wikipedia article about Nat Turner who led the Slave Rebellion in Virginia in AUgust 1831 also known as the Southampton Insurrection.  Lots of blood was spilled.  This was the most known but not the only slave rebellion in the American South prior to the Civil War. In this particular insurrection an untold number of slaves were killed or executed and 55 slaveholders or townsmen were killed.

Of course, it goes without saying that the Civil War was the most damaging insurrection in our history. Here is a spreadsheet compiled by an historian outlining the total casualties of that war. Best estimates from the records remaining available after the war put Union casualties at 360,222 and Secessionist casualties at 258,000 .

Then there are the many dozens of spontaneous spurts of lawlessness with heavy political overtones led by disenfranchised citizens in our country that are as much small scale rebellions against the central or state government as they are criminal acts. 

The James Brothers and the Younger Gang were part of this in Kansas after the Civil War and they were mostly all Confederate veterans. Billy the Kid could possibly be seen as a vigilante gone bad in New Mexico, the various inner city riots of the 1960s come to my mind as well as other more painful admissions on our part. 

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, were totally convinced that their actions in killing 168 people was a blow delivered for their strange view of America.  It is important to note that both these men were veterans and had served together in the army.

Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article concerning that home grown terrorist attack.

"The Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995 when American militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh, with the assistance of Terry Nichols, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.[1] It was the most significant act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11 attacks in 2001, claiming the lives of 168 victims and injuring more than 680.[2][3] The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen–block radius,[4] destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings.[5] The bomb was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of damage.[6]

Motivated by the federal government’s handling of the Waco Siege (1993) and the Ruby Ridge incident (1992), McVeigh’s attack was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the Waco Siege.[7]"

We must understand that 9/11 was carried out by disaffected ultra orthodox Muslim men who saw the USA as the Great Satan and wanted to strike a blow for Islam.  They saw our support of Israel as blatantly anti-Islam.  In their minds, they were carrying out jihad, or holy war.  Although this is not insurrection in any sense, I cannot help but wonder: did Americans help them carry out there plots?  That question has never been adequately addressed by our government in my opinion.

My point here is that insurrection in America has a long and storied history.  It is not unknown in this country.  Often veterans have been involved. That is a simple fact.  It would be to our detriment if we do not recognize this fact.

We need to see our responsibilities here as American citizens and be ready to act on those responsibilities if/when the time comes. It may not be as easy a decision as it would appear at first blush.  Hard choices will have to be made and veterans will not be immune from those choices.

CWO3 Tom Barnes, USCG (Ret.)


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