The Civil War was the romantic war that is best remembered as putting brother against brother. In this war, many interesting and heroic people sprung into leadership, risking their lives for what they believed to be right. Of all the states, none attracted more of these leaders than Maryland. People like John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Thomas Holliday Hicks made history in Maryland by standing up for their beliefs and acting for the good of the nation.
Isaac Smith shaded his eyes from the sun and looked out upon the small town of Harper's Ferry. There wasn't much in Harper's Ferry--maybe a few shops, farms, a tavern or two--but Isaac had his eyes planted on one building in particular: the United States Government Arsenal and Rifle Factory. He surveyed the surrounding area, taking note of the geography. Then he clutched his coat more tightly about his shoulders, turned and walked the long journey back to his home. Home, in this case, was a farm, cabin, and piece of land he had bought from a man named Kennedy. He entered the cabin and met his two sons, Owen and John, who were waiting for him. He knew what they wanted to hear, and assured them that tomorrow would be the day...(Mills 24)
John Brown was born on May 9, 1800 in Torrington Connecticut. He loved and looked up to his father who was actively hostile against slave owners. From early in life, Brown acquired his hatred of slavery. Moving to Chambersburg Pennsylvania, he initiated a group of sympathetic abolitionists to educate young blacks in 1834. During this period, Brown learned of and for the first time, truly saw the horrors of whites abusing their black slaves. Enraged, he spent the next twenty years of his life going on abolitionists ventures, making large sacrifices of himself and his large family. On July 1, 1859, John Brown crossed the Maryland state line from Pennsylvania under the alias Isaac Smith. His intention was to seize the United States Government Arsenal and Rifle Factory in Harper's Ferry, free the slaves in the surrounding area, and arm them with stolen weapons. Then he would establish a slave-free state under a document called "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States" that he had printed and copied years ago, which was ready and waiting for distribution. (Mills 25)
On Sunday, October 16, Brown led his Provisional Army of abolitionists to the bridge that would carry them across the river into Harper's Ferry They struck precisely and quickly, the army having taken over the village and rifle factory in little over half an hour. After a long and tedious chase lasting several weeks, Brown was captured and hung. Harriet Green ran through the woods, sticks cutting her bare feet, as her master ordered her to follow him after a runaway slave. They caught up with him and had him cornered in an abandoned cabin. Her master ordered her to tie him down, tossing a bundle of rope at her feet. She glanced at him, then looked into the terrified eyes of the runaway, and hurled the rope back at him. The master was too shocked to respond, and the runaway took the opportunity to run out of the cabin to freedom. Hoping to knock him down, the master lobbed a piece of iron in his direction, but missed and drastically changed Harriet's life. (Cottom 15)
Born about 1820 near Bucktown in Dorchester County, Harriet Green displayed a childhood resistance to slavery that burst into open defiance when she was fifteen or sixteen. She was severely wounded when her angry owner hurled a piece of iron at a fleeing runaway but missed and struck her in the forehead. The wound took months to heal and left a deep scar and a permanent injury to her brain that caused her to suddenly and sometimes precariously fall asleep.
Despite her handicap, and the resistance of John Tubman, her husband who refused to go along, Harriet escaped from Dorchester County in 1849 to St. Catherine's, Canada. She soon joined the Abolition movement and began a series of trips back to her native Dorchester County where she rescued several of her ten siblings and eventually her parents and guided them to Canada. Before long she was undertaking even more daring raids into the South. Though only five feet tall, she was reportedly as strong as a man and a fast runner. She also had the dominating presence to induce strict discipline on the groups of twenty to thirty runaways she served as a "conductor" to her "Underground Railroad." (Cottom 15) When a member of one party lost his nerve and refused to go on, she drew a revolver, pointed it at his head, and coldly commanded: "Move, or die" (Toomey 32). She was so notorious that by the late 1850s, posters advertised rewards for her capture. She dropped off to sleep beneath one but luckily enough was not caught. Still, she managed to outwit pursuers with patience, intuition, and luck until in the course of nineteen raids she had freed between two to three hundred fugitives. Hearing of her escapades and in need of a black leader for the slave uprising he intended to begin with his planned raid on Harper's Ferry, John Brown sought here assistance. On meeting Harriet in Boston, Brown hopefully addressed her as "General Tubman," and she apparently agreed to assist him on the raid but had fallen ill and was bedridden in New Bedford when the raid was to occur. When Brown felt that he could wait no longer for her and moved in on Harper's Ferry in October, 1859, Harriet was trying to join him and was in New York, on her way to Maryland, when Brown was captured. In April, 1860, she led the bloody attempt to rescue a fugitive slave being held in Troy, New York. (Cottom 16)
Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks sighed as another shipment of petitions came in and was dumped upon his desk. He opened a random letter, skimmed over the contents and crumpled the sheet of paper, tossing it into the fire. His messenger queried as to if he even read it, but Hicks disregarded him. Hicks, Governor of Maryland, received many petitions. Some urged that he call a special session of the General Assembly, others begged him not to take such action. Hicks hesitated. For weeks, he appeared to waver between the northern and southern viewpoints. Knowing well that many members were southern sympathizers, he feared they would influence the passing of an act of southern secession if they met. That couldn't happen because a rumor had filtered down to him saying that should Maryland attempt to secede, President Lincoln's administration would bombard the cities because the state was too important to the Union to lose. If Maryland joined the Confederacy, then the nation's capital would be surrounded by enemy, possibly hostile, territory. (Mills 58)
Pressure on the Governor mounted as weeks passed. Many people claimed that the Assembly should meet and make the state's position clearly understood to its own citizens and to the citizens of the nation, yet two petitions sent to the Governor early in 1861 showed that others disagreed. One contained 1,300 signatures of Baltimore citizens and business firms, the other 5,000. Both strongly approved Hicks' refusal to call the Assembly. (Cottom 29) Uncertainty continued. Sympathizers with both North and South made harsh speeches at mass meetings. Petitions continued to reach the Governor until finally, though Maryland was technically considered a Southern state, Hicks sided with the Union.
These three people stood up for their rights and the rights of others and took action playing important roles in the course of the Civil War. John Brown fought, though not in an approved manner, for the rights of African Americans, as did Harriet Tubman who spent her life doing what she could to free her people. Thomas Hicks made the important decision, difficult as it was, to side with the Northern states, saving Maryland as a whole from the wrath of the President's administration and the Federal army. These people acted in their best interest, on behalf of the Nation and of their state.
Cottom, Robert I., Jr. Hayward, Mary Ellen. Maryland in the Civil
War-A House Divided. Maryland: Baltimore, 1994
Manakee, Harold R. Maryland in the Civil War. Maryland: Baltimore, 1961
Mills, Eric. Chesapeake Bay in the Civil War. Maryland: Centreville, 1996.
Toomey, Daniel Carroll. Civil War in Maryland. Maryland: Baltimore, 1983
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