Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
This monument, found on Potomac Street in Harpers Ferry, has been a source of controversy since its dedication on October 10, 1931.
On the night of October 16, 1859, Heyward Shepherd, an industrious and respected colored Freeman, was mortally wounded by John Brown’s Raiders, in pursuance of his duties as an employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. He became the first victim of this attempted insurrection.
This boulder is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of Negroes who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.
On May 21, 1932, this response:
In 1932, W.E.B. Du Bois, founder of the Niagara Movement and a founder of the American Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), responded to the Shepherd Monument by penning these words:
Here John Brown aimed at human slavery a blow that woke a guilty nation. With him fought seven slaves and sons of slaves. Over his crucified corpse marched 200,000 black soldiers and 4,000,000 freedmen singing:
“John Brown’s Body lies a mouldering in the grave
But his Soul Goes Marching on!”
For an excellent article that examines the controversy surrounding the Heywood Shepherd Memorial follow this link
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Kennedy Farm, a National Historic Landmark, sits today as virtually isolated as it did 149 years ago. What thoughts went through Owwen Brown’s, Barclay Coppon’s, and Francis Meriam’s minds and the words they spoke to one another as they waited for word from the raiders through the morning of October 18th are trapped within the walls of the cabin forever.
The Kennedy Farm is located at 2406 Chestnut Grove, Sharpsburg, MD. For more information follow this link.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Are these the eyes of a kind man? The eyes of a cruel man? The eyes of a compassionate man? The eyes of a misanthrope? The eyes of a merciful man? The eyes of a dispassionate killer? The eyes of an avenging angel, or the eyes of the devil incarnate? The eyes of a devoutly religious man? The eyes of a zealot? The eyes of a just man? The eyes of an unjust man? The eyes of a rationale man? The eyes of a psychopath? The eyes of a crusader seeking justice and equality, or the eyes of one who would tear the fabric of the existing social order?
When you look into his eyes you will see what you want to see and believe what you want to believe. Revered. Reviled. Revolutionary. Anarchist. Christ like. Lucifer. A man who struck a blow for freedom. A man who sought to defile the Constitution. A man who sought to liberate. A man who sought to slaughter.
His vision failed. His plan failed. Like everything else he ever sought to achieve in his life. While his life of failure ended on the gallows at Charles Town, Virginia, it was instead a moment of triumph, a vindication. His voice did not trail off, but thundered long after he was gone, in song and in verse. The truth he carried in his heart was a drumbeat that sounded louder and louder, reverberating throughout the North, where he was a martyr, and South, where he was the subject of fear and loathing; down through decades and generations. Prophet? Charlatan? If not John Brown, another would have risen in his place. If not the Civil War, at some point in time there would have been open rebellion against a slave holding nation. The oppressed always try to rise to throw off the suffocating grip of their oppressor. That is a basic lesson of history, one that is repeated over and over.
The Engine House, where Brown and his men barricaded themselves with their hostages
Harpers Weekly etching of the Storming of the Engine House by U.S. Marines
Three of Brown's men, John Kagi, Lewis Leary, and John Copeland
Monday, May 19, 2008
I took a drive out to the Balls Bluff battlefield near Leesburg, Virginia, the second time I’ve visited that battlefield. The trip was intended as part of another project, which unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish up due to a late start and the distance traveled, so I’ll probably head back into Northern Virginia within the next two weeks.
The battlefield is preserved as a 168-acre park under the jurisdiction of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which acquired the land in 1984. The Authority has done a great job in placing interpretative signs and laying out trails through the woods, including a one-mile loop that circles the boundaries of the park.
I was completing the last portion of the main trail, when I saw a woman and child carrying a wreath. Having just passed a memorial to the 8th Virginia Infantry, which was in service from First Manassas to the surrender at Appomattox, primarily as part of Pickett’s Division, I asked if she was going to lay the wreath at their monument. She answered yes, but that later turned out to be a misunderstanding on her part. I made mention of their battle record, and she remarked that she was originally from Ohio. That puzzled me, because I would have presumed someone from that State would have Northern sympathies, but I let it go and continued on my way.
As I headed for the Union cemetery, which holds only one identified grave among it’s 51 grave markers, I saw the woman and child approaching and opening the gate. Now my curiosity was peaked and I asked if I could take a picture and then asked a few questions. Denise and her daughter Kasey, as it turned out were laying the wreath to honor the Union dead at Balls Bluff, something they’ve done around Memorial Day for the past four years. Denise explained that her grandmother is a member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, an organization she lamented has few members now. The wreath was, in her estimation, a small gesture, “but somebody has to remember.” Perhaps Kasey will keep the Memorial Day tradition alive when she gets older and one day pass it down to her own children.