“This Unparalleled Outrage…”: An Antebellum Raid on a Federal Arsenal, Part 3

See Parts I and II

“The democratic papers, says the O.S. Journal [Ohio State Journal], speak of the capture of the United States Arsenal as unprecedented in the history of this nation. The truth of history requires that this should be corrected. In 1855, on the 4th of December, the United States Arsenal at Liberty, Missouri was seized in a manner which undoubtedly formed the precedent for Brown’s seizure at Harpers Ferry.” – Wyandot Pioneer, November 3, 1859[1]

John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry is widely acknowledged as a cataclysmic event that propelled the United States towards civil war, one contemporary newspaper pronouncing that the raid “advanced the cause of disunion more than any other event.”[2] From October 16 – 18, 1859, Brown and his army of 21 men invaded Harpers Ferry, Virginia, capturing the Federal armory, arsenal, and rifle factory, and taking dozens of prisoners, all with an eye towards ending the institution of slavery. In less than 33 hours the raid was suppressed, with ten of Brown’s men killed, and Brown and six others captured. Over the following weeks Brown’s trial on charges of murder, conspiracy, and treason, splashed across newspapers north and south, forcing even the ambivalent to choose sides on the issue of slavery. Continue reading

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A Paradox—and Cautionary Tale—for Civil War Authors

This is the very definition of a paradox.

For years, I have been a very regular user of the Internet Archive, archive.org. It has an incredible collection of digitized resources that I used to have to go to libraries to get, or I had to hire researchers to obtain those items for me. These items are often rare because they’re old and were just not generally available without a lot of trouble and expense. Now, with the Internet Archive, those materials are available at my fingertips. I can browse. I can search. I can print things out. I can download them to my computer. For public domain materials that are the lifeblood of my research and writing, the Internet Archive is absolutely indispensable, and there are times when I use it multiple times per week–sometimes, multiple times per day.

But it also has a terrible downside.
Continue reading

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Symposium Spotlight: Timothy B. Smith

We’re delighted to bring Timothy B. Smith to the Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge this coming summer as our keynote speaker (Aug. 4-6, 2023). Our theme is “1863: The Great Task Before Us,” and of course, that has to include the Vicksburg Campaign. Who better to speak about Vicksburg than the author of the ongoing, acclaimed microtactical study of the campaign currently being published by the University of Kansas Press?

I had the chance earlier this fall to catch up with Tim at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA, and we talked a little about his upcoming ECW appearance.

Continue reading

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Civil War Echoes: The Hitless Wonders

Fielder Jones in 1914, when he managed in the Federal League. (LOC)

Until this year, the largest mismatch between the records of the teams in the World Series was the 1906 Series, which pitted the Chicago Cubs against the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox won the title despite batting only .198; ever after, the team was known as the Hitless Wonders.


The White Sox also had one player who was an echo of the Civil War.

Continue reading

Posted in Leadership--Federal, Regiments, Ties to the War, Western Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Unparalleled Outrage…”: An Antebellum Raid on a Federal Arsenal, Part 2

See Part I…

For Captain Luther Leonard, an assignment as military storekeeper at the Liberty Arsenal was likely envisioned as a means of easing into retirement. A West Point graduate (Class of 1808), Leonard had already seen nearly forty years of continuous service. As captain of a light artillery battery, he was present for the at least ten engagements during the War of 1812, including the battles at Fort Niagara and Plattsburgh. For more than two decades following he served as sutler to the 5th US Infantry. By his 1845 appointment to the Liberty Arsenal, the years were taking their toll. Described as “a most eccentric, queer, good fellow,” he suffered from a dislocated shoulder, and cataracts that left him with only limited vision.[1]

Liberty Arsenal (Missouri Digital Heritage)

The Liberty Arsenal (alternately known as the Missouri Depot) should not have been a demanding post. Situated on a bluff near the Missouri River and approximately three miles south of Liberty, the arsenal was established in 1837. The ten-acre complex was constructed of locally quarried stone, and bricks that were fired onsite. There were quarters for officers and men, a powder magazine, workshops, laboratories, and the arsenal itself, where a variety of military stores were kept, ranging from cannon and rifles to sidearms, edged weapons, and accoutrements. Originally intended as a means of defense for the early frontier, the arsenal soon transitioned to a convenient ordinance storehouse for nearby Fort Leavenworth and other points west. With no looming threat from hostile Native Americans, Leonard oversaw only a skeleton staff at the facility. Despite the troubles looming just across the border in Kansas, he likely could not have imagined that the Wakarusa War would soon explode on his very doorstep. Continue reading

Posted in Antebellum South, Ties to the War, Trans-Mississippi, Western Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Giving Thanks on Giving Tuesday to the American Battlefield Trust and the Civil War Roundtable Congress

Since we’re still on the heels of Thanksgiving, ECW want to take a moment to say thank you to a pair of our partners who’ve partnered for today’s Giving Tuesday: The American Battlefield Trust and the Civil War Roundtable Congress.

We’re grateful for the chance to do so much work with both organizations, so we wanted to offer a special shout-out to them today.

We asked Civil War Roundtable Congress President Mike Movius to tell us a little bit about this year’s Giving Tuesday partnership: Continue reading

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ECW’s November 2022 Newsletter Is Now Available

The November 2022 Emerging Civil War Newsletter is now available. In this month’s issue, ECW historians express their thanks!

You can read the November 2022 newsletter here.

If you’re not a subscriber, we recommend that you sign up to get our email every month. Just follow the link, and at the top of the newsletter will be a blue button that says “Join our email list.” (If you think you should be getting it but aren’t, check your junk mail folder and be sure to authorize us as “not junk.”) Be assured: we do not give out your email addresses to anyone!

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Posted in Emerging Civil War | Tagged , | 5 Comments

“This Unparalleled Outrage…”: An Antebellum Raid on a Federal Arsenal, Part 1

We’ve all heard the story, right? As a fragile country teetered on the brink of civil war, an older, charismatic ‘captain’ gathered an ‘army’ of impressionable young men. In the autumn stillness he led them towards a United States arsenal, intent on capturing arms and ammunition to sustain a campaign centered on the issue on slavery. As the arsenal was seized, government employees were detained as captives. Federal troops were quickly dispatched to the scene to secure public property and keep the peace. News of the raid splashed across newspapers in distant parts of the country, sounding the alarm that those on both sides of the issue were becoming increasingly militant.

If you thought the previous paragraph related to John Brown’s October 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, you’d be wrong. Instead, this story focuses on the December 1855 raid on the government arsenal at Liberty, Missouri, orchestrated by pro-slavery judge James Turner Vance Thompson and a company of border ruffians. In spite of these seeming similarities between the two events, Brown’s and Thompson’s raids were starkly different. We’ll work to unpack both sides. Continue reading

Posted in Antebellum South, Ties to the War, Trans-Mississippi, Western Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Question of the Week: 11/28-12/4/22

In your opinion what is the most important mountain gap in Civil War history? Why?

Posted in Question of the Week | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Mine Run: A Campaign in Photos

On Saturday, the weather was spectacular in Virginia, and I decided to take a break, go for a drive, and see what history I could find along the way. I headed for Orange County, Virginia, since there was already a site I had promised to revisit for another research discussion. I took Raccoon Ford Road (Route 611) and ended up passing by Payne’s Farm battlefield, the preserved and accessible part of the battlefield from the Mine Campaign in November 1863.

I’ve been here quite a few times already this year and even got to co-lead a tour at the site. The trail is good, and the lighting was near perfect for photos so I decided to go for a walk. The results are a collection of photos that representatively tell the story of the military operations. I hope you find them meaningful, too.

Here is Mine Run…visually through the lens of my phone camera: Continue reading

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