From the ECW Archives: Luke Quinn and John Brown’s Raid

On October 17, 1859, Luke Quinn was among the approximately 100 Marines dispatched to Harpers Ferry by President James Buchanan to quell a rumored insurrection at that place. The Marines arrived at the United States Armory at Harpers Ferry the following morning to find a band of raiders under the command of Captain John Brown of Bleeding Kansas fame. Brown and his men had arrived at the Ferry to seize a cache of weapons stored at the arsenal there and to liberate slaves from local slaveholders. Local militia companies, railroad workers and armory employees had cornered the raiders and their civilian hostages inside the armory engine house. After a final, unsuccessful attempt to engage Brown and negotiate a surrender, Colonel Robert E. Lee commanded the Marines to attack the engine house and quell the insurrectionists.

Quinn Monument on Potomac Street

A group of Marines stormed the engine house, battering the heavy door with sledgehammers. Lieutenant Israel Green – tasked with leading the assault – espied a nearby ladder and ordered the Marines to use it as a battering ram. After a few blows the lower section of the door collapsed and Green gained entry into the dark, hazy engine house. Immediately behind Green entered Private Quinn. As Green recalled in 1885,

“The Marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes.”

Green couldn’t be certain but he believed it was John Brown who fired the fatal shot…

Jon-Erik Gilot researched and wrote the account of Luke Quinn, the Marine who died of his injuries during the Harpers Ferry attack in 1859. There’s a lot more to the story, including the history of his burial and memory in the historic town. 

Read the full blog post here in our archives: Private Luke Quinn – The Unlikely Celebrity of Harpers Ferry

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