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John Brown’s State of Mind

In the April issue’s “Q&A” interview with Tony Horwitz, in response to the question, “Do you think John Brown was a terrorist?” Mr. Horwitz made the statement that Brown “didn’t kill indiscriminately.” Asked if he thought Brown was insane, he remarked, “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

My main reason for writing deals with Horwitz’s remark about Brown’s not killing indiscriminately. Upset by the sacking of Lawrence, Kan., by pro-slavery forces, Brown and his band of abolitionist followers went on a rampage—just one of the many pre-Civil War episodes that led to Kansas being called “Bleeding Kansas.” I would draw Horwitz’s attention to the night of May 24, 1856, when Brown and his company of Free State volunteers “indiscriminately” killed five men along the banks of Pottawatomie Creek. Their crime in Brown’s eyes was being associated with the pro-slavery Law and Order Party. None of these men had ever owned a slave. Brown and his group attacked the home of James Doyle. James, his sons William and Drury were dragged into the woods and hacked to death with short swords and sabers—gifts from anti-slavery supporters in Ohio. It was Brown who gave the orders and shot James Doyle in the head. Then Brown’s band went to the home of Allen Wilkinson. Taking Wilkinson prisoner, Brown ignored the pleas of his ill wife and crying children, pillaging the home and barn. Wilkinson was stabbed and slashed to death by Brown’s son and two others. Next the raiders fell upon the household of James Harris, confiscating the possessions of Harris and three guests, and executing one man, William Sherman.

When he was arrested shortly after, Brown denied any direct involvement in the events of May 24. It is undeniable that he gave the orders for these killings. I feel that April’s Q&A seriously downplays how violent and unbalanced Brown actually was. Rather than his being a warrior on a holy quest, I think the fact that he was definitely an imbalanced, cold-blooded killer has been forgotten.

 Stephen Godfrey

Harper, Kan.

Regarding the April Q&A with Tony Horwitz

The “Q&A” on John Brown stands out. Being from Virginia, we look at Brown as a terrorist. Horwitz claims he is not a terrorist because “He has a clear program—He did not kill indiscriminately.” I just finished five years in Iraq; Osama bin Laden could be described this same way. This is interesting but, in my opinion, a poor analysis. Now some in New York, N.Y., will say he was a good man. Since New York suffered from terrorism in 9/11, I would think that Brown could be compared to bin Laden. However, I guess it depends on whose ox is getting gored that reveals whether horrid men like Brown and Osama bin Laden appear to be terrorists.

Gregg Jones

Kudos on CWT’s 50th Anniversary

My, how time flies—your 50th year of publication. I have had the great honor of being one of your most devoted readers. I began my subscription journey with you in 1987. I have kept most every issue.

So the article in “Thoughts & Comments,” by Dana B. Shoaf, titled “A Solid Foundation,” brought back, for me, wonderful memories, including your 35th anniversary special issue, in February 1997, with the lead article “Indians in Blue and Gray,” and then in March 1997 another 35th anniversary issue article, “Would the South Have Won If Johnston Had Survived?”

I’ve seen many changes to your magazine, and it’s been all for the best. Your face-lift: “a sweeping redesign,” in Dana’s words, it’s perfect. Your willingness to change with the years is certainly a great attribute.

Believe me, you will surely last another 50 years. I hope I’m around for most of it.

Often I reread through my old issues with fond memories. Every new issue is a homecoming for me— we are forever family.

David Lester

Valley Mills, Texas

Susie King Taylor’s Valiant Service

I read with great interest the sidebar in Robert Sattelmeyer’s article “Miss Alcott Goes to War.” While Susie King Taylor may be the only African-American nurse known to have left a memoir, the valiant service of other African-American nurses serving U.S. Colored Troops and white regiments need not be lost to history. Phoebe Ann Turner and Isabel Cruise are both listed in the Carded Service Records of Hospital Attendants, Matrons, and Nurses, 1861-1865 at the National Archives. Lucy Nichols and Elizabeth Fairfax, born slaves in the South, both joined Union regiments, the 23rd Indiana and 26th Iowa respectively, and aided regimental surgeons as nurses. They later joined integrated Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) posts and were granted government pensions.

Hopefully Professor Sattelmeyer’s article will encourage further research into this important but sadly neglected field of Civil War historiography.

Gordon Berg

Greenbelt, Md.

Editor’s Note: In the sidebar about nurse Susie King Taylor on P. 47 of the April issue, she described a July 1864 attack on Fort Gregg. The Fort Gregg she was referencing was one of the bastions guarding Charleston, S.C., and not the Fort Gregg in Virginia, as we indicated. Fort Gregg, sometimes called Battery Gregg, was located on Cummings Point at the very end of Morris Island, next to the notorious Fort, or Battery, Wagner, and guarded the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Fort Gregg did not fall to the Federals until September 1864. Thanks to Johnathan Babcock, of Fraser, Colo., for pointing out the discrepancy.

Come to Aldie Mill

Thank you for the cover article in your April issue, “Mosby’s Mad Ride.” As the site manager for the historic Aldie Mill, I can tell you that our visitors’ eyes light up when they hear the story of the “Aldie Races,” as we refer to John S. Mosby’s adventure in the village in March 1863. Children in particular have fun imagining the blue-clad soldiers covered in flour after hiding in the flour bins to escape Mosby.

I’d like to invite your readers to visit Aldie Mill and see for themselves this famous Mosby spot. Along with its Civil War history, the mill (built between 1807-09) illustrates the innovative technology of the American Industrial Revolution, brought to our little village of Aldie. The mill is owned and operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority [see aldie_mill_historic_park for more details]. We are open to the public free of charge from mid-April through mid-November on weekends, and offer grinding demonstrations and a full tour of the mill. Special events and programs are also scheduled throughout the year.

Tracy J. Gillespie

Historic Site Manager, Aldie Mill Historic Park and Mt. Zion Historical Park

Aldie, Va.

The picture of John S. Mosby on the cover of the April issue is excellent, but I have mixed feelings about Glenn LaFantasie’s article “John Singleton Mosby’s Accidental Courage.” There was never anything accidental about Mosby’s courage! In fact, he was considered fearless.

Claudette C. Wark

Fairfax, Va.

North vs. South

I have been a Civil War historian for about 20 years, and I moved to Florida seven years ago. I have received your magazine for a number of those years and just started to notice something: The whole magazine is practically geared to the South. Oh, there are some great articles about Gettysburg, but even those are slanted toward the South and why they lost.

Is this because I live in the South, and the magazine is geographically produced that way? If that is the case, I think it should cover both the North and South. Even the ads are for Confederate items. An example: an eagle statue with a scene portraying General Lee and his staff. I would not buy that. Another is a Confederate Santa. Doesn’t Santa cover the North also?

I will not renew if this is the case. I study and have written about both the North and the South. I think that your magazine should reflect that more.

Tom Cane

Leesburg, Fla.

Editor’s Note: I’m not going to argue about the advertising. We can’t control who makes what. But your complaints about editorial have no merit. Did you not read the fantastic account by the Union soldier about the Battle of Shiloh in the April issue? Did you not see the beautiful portfolio of Federal camps in the February issue? It seems you also must have missed the article about Louisa May Alcott’s experience as a Union nurse, as well as Gary Gallagher’s critique of George McClellan. I hope you’ll enjoy the amazing letters by Yankee icon Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain and the story about Rebecca Wright’s bravery running in this issue.


Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.