How a nice Jewish Boy from Baltimore made it this far. The trials and tribulations, not to mention the fun and frolics of every day life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Today in History - October 17th

October 17, 1777 - Gen. Burgoyne surrenders at Saratoga

Burgoyne, already outnumbered 3 to 1, had lost 1,000 men total including the casualties sustained during the Battle of Freeman's Farm, while American losses came to about 500 killed and wounded. He had lost several of his most effective leaders. The maneuver had failed, and his forward line was now breached. That night he lit fires at his remaining forward positions and withdrew under the cover of darkness. So on the morning of October 8, he was back in the fortified positions he had held on September 16.

Again under cover of darkness, the British forces retreated north, but their attempted retreat to Fort Ticonderoga was blocked by American forces under the command of General Gates. The British were attempting to cross back over to the east side of the Hudson at Saratoga, the same point they had crossed in August, but by then they were surrounded and badly outnumbered. Forty miles (60 km) south of Fort Ticonderoga, with supplies dwindling and winter not far off, Burgoyne had little option. He set up camp at Saratoga and decided to open discussions with the Americans.

At first Gates demanded unconditional surrender, which the British general flatly turned down, declaring he would sooner fight to the death. Gates eventually agreed to a "treaty of convention," whereby the British would technically not surrender nor be taken as prisoners but be marched to Boston and returned to England on the condition that they were not to serve again in America. Gates was concerned that a fight to the death with Burgoyne could still prove costly, and he was also concerned about reports of General Sir Henry Clinton advancing from New York to relieve his compatriots stranded at Saratoga. Resplendent in full ceremonial uniform, General Burgoyne led his troops out from his camp on October 17, 1777, and was greeted with formal cordiality by General Gates. Others lay wounded or were helping the large contingent of officers' wives prepare for captivity.

In the grounding of arms at Saratoga, 5,791 men were surrendered. Riedesel had stated that not more than 4,000 of these were fit for duty. The number of Germans surrendering is set down by Eelking at 2,431 men, and of Germans killed, wounded, captured or missing down to October 6, at 1,122 including the losses at Bennington. The total loss of the British and their German auxiliaries, in killed, wounded, prisoners, and deserters, during the campaign, was 9,000 men.

Painting of the surrender that hangs in the United States Capitol Rotunda.
Painting of the surrender that hangs in the United States Capitol Rotunda.

October 17, 1859 - John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry

On October 16, 1859, Brown (leaving three men behind as a rear guard) led 19 men in an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory. He had received 200 Beecher's Bibles -- breechloading .52 caliber Sharps carbines -- and pikes from northern abolitionist societies in preparation for the raid. The armory was a large complex of buildings that contained 100,000 muskets and rifles, which Brown planned to seize and use to arm local slaves. They would then head south, drawing off more and more slaves from plantations, and fighting only in self-defense. As Frederick Douglass and Brown's family testified, his strategy was essentially to deplete Virginia of its slaves, causing the institution to collapse in one county after another, until the movement spread into the South, essentially wreaking havoc on the economic viability of the pro-slavery states. Thus, while violence was essential to self-defense and advancement of the movement, Brown's hope was to limit and minimize bloodshed, not ignite a slave insurrection as many have charged. From the Southern point of view, of course, any effort to arm the enslaved was perceived as a definitive threat.

Initially, the raid went well, and they met no resistance entering the town. They cut the telegraph wires and easily captured the armory, which was being defended by a single watchman. They next rounded up hostages from nearby farms, including Colonel Lewis Washington, great-grand-nephew of George Washington. They also spread the news to the local slaves that their liberation was at hand. Things started to go wrong when an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train approached the town. The train's baggage master tried to warn the passengers. Brown's men yelled for him to halt and then opened fire. The baggage master, Hayward Shepherd, became the first casualty of John Brown's war against slavery. Ironically, Shepherd was a free black man. Two of the hostages' slaves also died in the raid.[13] For some reason, after the shooting of Shepherd, Brown allowed the train to continue on its way. News of the raid reached Washington by late morning.

In the meantime, local farmers, shopkeepers, and militia pinned down the raiders in the armory by firing from the heights behind the town. Some of the local men were shot by Brown's men. At noon, a company of militia seized the bridge, blocking the only escape route. Brown then moved his prisoners and remaining raiders into the engine house, a small brick building at the entrance to the armory. He had the doors and windows barred and loopholes were cut through the brick walls. The surrounding forces barraged the engine house, and the men inside fired back with occasional fury. Brown sent his son Watson and another supporter out under a white flag, but the angry crowd shot them. Intermittent shooting then broke out, and Brown's son Oliver was wounded. His son begged his father to kill him and end his suffering, but Brown said "If you must die, die like a man." A few minutes later he was dead. The exchanges lasted throughout the day.

Illustration of the interior of the Fort immediately before the door is broken down
Illustration of the interior of the Fort immediately before the door is broken down

By the morning of (October 18) the engine house, later known as John Brown's Fort, was surrounded by a company of U.S. Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee of the United States Army. A young Army lieutenant, J.E.B. Stuart, approached under a white flag and told the raiders that their lives would be spared if they surrendered. Brown refused, saying, "No, I prefer to die here." Stuart then gave a signal. The Marines used sledge hammers and a make-shift battering-ram to break down the engine room door. Lieutenant Israel Greene cornered Brown and struck him several times, wounding his head. In three minutes Brown and the survivors were captives. Altogether Brown's men killed four people, and wounded nine. Ten of Brown's men were killed (including his sons Watson and Oliver). Five of Brown's men escaped (including his son Owen), and seven were captured along with Brown. Among the killed raiders were John Henry Kagi; Lewis Sheridan Leary and Dangerfield Newby; those hanged besides Brown were John Anthony Copeland, Jr. and Shields Green (ironically, USMC Lt. Greene, although a Northerner, would serve in the Confederate Marines


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