Who was John Brown?

JOHN BROWN (1800-1859)
   Union soldiers during the Civil War often sang as they marched, "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, his soul goes marching on!" To the same tune, Confederate soldiers sang, "We'll hang John Brown on a rotten apple tree, as we go marching on." Neither side could ignore John Brown, the fiery abolitionist.

   Brown was born in Connecticut. Early in life, he acquired from his father a great desire to help abolish slavery. During the 1850s Brown lived in Kansas, where slavery was being hotly debated. So many people were killed on both sides that the place became known as "Bleeding Kansas."

   In 1859, Brown thought of a plan to end slavery. He decided to raid Virginia farms and free the slaves. He set up headquarters with a band of 13 white and 5 black men near Harpers Ferry in western Virginia (now West Virginia). His men captured the Federal arsenal with all its guns, and then waited two days for rebel slaves to join them. He was attacked by the Virginia militia, and 13 of his men—including one of his sons—were killed. He and another son were wounded and captured.

   John Brown was found guilty of treason, conspiracy, and murder. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on December 2. People in the North thought he had given his life for a just cause. Most Southerners thought he was a criminal. Less than two years after his death, the question of slavery brought on the Civil War.