The historic town of Harpers Ferry is illuminated from a full moon above; as seen from the edge of Maryland Heights.
On the night of October 16th, 1859 a party of 17 armed men led by the militant abolitionist John Brown crossed the Potomac River over the B&O railroad bridge (the piers of which can be seen below at left) to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and its stockpile of 100,000 rifles and muskets. With these weapons, Brown intended to facilitate an armed slave uprising that would spread throughout the entire South.
While his raid failed, the news of John Brown's attempt was an earthquake that reverberated throughout the entire Union and split the fault line between North and South. denounced as a psychotic terrorist by Southerners, Brown was embraced by many Northern abolitionists as a martyr. This outpouring of support for Brown exasperated Southern suspicions of a yankee-abolitionist plot to subjugate the South under Northern control through emancipation; by force if necessary. Southern states, long fearful of slave revolts, revived the militia system to combat all future "John Browns" laying the foundation for what would become the Confederate Army.
On the morning of his execution, John Brown handed a note to one of his guards that would become prophetic: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood..." 16 months later, Confederate batteries in Charleston would open fire on Fort Sumter, and the bloody purge would begin.