Andersonville On Tour

andersonvilleReviews for my new Random House-Hydra novel Andersonville are coming from Lit Reactor, Publishers Weekly, and Examiner as well as Goodreads and so far they’re pretty positive across the board.

Gef Fox interviewed me about the book at his blog and the always friendly folks at Fantasy Book Review lent me some space there to talk about the development of the novel, so please check those out.

Andersonville is doing the rounds of a slew of blogs across the ether, so please take a look at these fine sites. They’ll be featuring reviews at the appointed times or thereabouts.


Monday, August 17th: Stephanie’s Book Reviews….100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, August 18th: Fourth Street Review

Tuesday, August 18th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 19th: The Reader’s Hollow

Wednesday, August 19th: Tynga’s Reviews

Thursday, August 20th: A Book Geek

Monday, August 24th: Bewitched Bookworms

Tuesday, August 25th: Kissin’ Blue Karen

Wednesday, August 26th: Kari J. Wolfe

Thursday, August 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, August 28th: Vic’s Media Room

Monday, August 31st: It’s a Mad Mad World

Tuesday, September 1st: SJ2B House of Books

Wednesday, September 2nd: Historical Fiction Obsession

Thursday, September 3rd: Kimberly’s Bookshelf

Friday, September 4th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, September 7th: From the TBR Pile

An Excerpt From Andersonville

My historical horror novel Andersonville is due out August 18th from Random House/Hydra.


In 1864, 30,000 half-starved men pray for a way out of the disease ridden confines of Andersonville prison, unaware that they are about to become part of a dark ritual enacted by a madman to swing the course of the Civil War.

One man fights his way in to stop him.

Here’s an excerpt.


The exhausted tunnelers were rotated out to disposal and lookout duty.  Enderlein went first into the passage with the shovel, then Bill, then Barclay, taking over the relay duty. It was two hours of painful crawling back and forth in the cramped tunnel with buckets of earth. One of the Irishmen, O’Bannon, manned the bellows, and though it did provide a gush of fresh air whenever Barclay neared it to pass the bucket up, he couldn’t imagine the meager air Bill and Enderlein were getting further down the tunnel, if any.

fig28The work was taxing, and the thought of the tons of shifting sand waiting to come down through the crumbling clay ceiling of the passage caused Barclay’s heart to hammer in his chest.  He kept his breaths shallow and quick, but the blood pounded in his ears. They worked mainly in darkness, it being too close and the air too precious to burn away with candlelight. The only sign that they were not in the grave itself was the pinprick of light from the flickering candle O’Bannon kept on the dug out shelf in the vertical shaft that was their umbilical to the surface.

They did not speak as they worked, but the huffing of their breath let each man know the others still lived.

Then, when Barclay felt he couldn’t stand the dark closeness any longer, Bill whispered to him.

“Enderlein figures another couple feet and he’s past the outer wall.”

Barclay inched laboriously back to O’Bannon and watched the Irishman smile through his feet when he passed him the word.

Then there was a strange sound from up ahead, and Enderlein shrieked once in alarm. It was the sound of rushing water.

God, thought Barclay. Had they misjudged their direction and double backed to the creek? Had they struck some underground spring they hadn’t anticipated?

O’Bannon reacted quickly, and gripping Barclay by the ankles, yanked him out of the tunnel into the shaft.

They had three ropes made from braided cloth tied around the leg of each man in the tunnel proper.

O’Bannon grabbed one and began to furiously pull.

Barclay sat up and pulled the other.

High above, Skinny’s face appeared over the hole.

“What’s the matter?” he called down in as loud a whisper as he could manage.

“I don’t know! Trouble! Underground spring maybe or….”

At that moment the water gushed from the tunnel and spread across the floor of the shaft.

Except it wasn’t water.

It was blood.

Not some dark mud as Limber had suggested the night he’d pulled the red tipped root from the ground. As before, Barclay could smell the copper taint, feel the consistency as it swiftly rose to his ankles. It was blood, and it was filling the tunnel like a giant capillary.

“My God!” O’Bannon exclaimed, pausing in his work at the sight of the stuff pooling around his ankles.

“Keep pulling, goddammit!” Barclay yelled over the rushing blood, now threatening their calves.

Barclay pulled for all he was worth, and in a few moments he was rewarded as Bill Mixinisaw came kicking and splashing out of the tunnel, entirely painted red.

So O’Bannon had a hold of Enderlein.

“What happened?” Barclay asked, pulling the spluttering Indian up out of the stuff.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said Bill. “Enderlein was digging and he stopped and stuck the spade in the ground. It all just started rushing in. There’s something in there.”


“I felt something claw at me.”

“Here he comes!” O’Bannon bellowed triumphantly.

The left foot of Enderlein broke the surface of the well of blood as O’Bannon dragged it from the tunnel with effort.

Enderlein’s leg was not attached.

thedescentcrawlerInstead, a terrifying face breached the surface of the frothing blood. It was thin and skull-like, devoid of hair, yet not entirely fleshless, for it had flabby, overlarge ears and a bat-like nose that flared and inflated twin bubbles of blood at the first taste of air. Its jaw was clamped down on the ragged end of Enderlein’s disembodied foot, at the ankle, where the torn flesh exposed a piece of crushed bone to which it had affixed its double rows of triangular, serrated, bloodstained teeth. The brow was downturned in the extreme, the red painted flesh of the forehead wrinkled in astounding, almost mesmerizing patterns, amid a blanket of ugly, tumorous growths so large they flapped independently with every movement of the grotesque head.

Then, from that scarlet mask, the vertical lids covering its two bulbous eyes slid open.

The shaft was filled with blinding yellow light, as if from a theater spot, blazing from the eyes of this horror paddling into the shaft.

“Don’t look in its eyes!” Barclay warned, throwing his back to the well and shielding the glare with his hand.

The blood was up to his thighs now.

The thing screeched shrilly, dropping Enderlein’s foot, and leapt from the tunnel, spreading out impossibly long, thin arms that ended in dramatically curved red talons, like the claws of a digging mole.

It bore down on O’Bannon and dragged him beneath the surface of the ever-rising pool of blood.

Bill screamed and started to climb the shaft, throwing his feet against one wall and his back against the opposite, hopping nimbly up.

The blood covering Bill now drizzled in a red rain down on Barclay, who groped in the pool for O’Bannon, trying to snag hold of his thrashing arms and legs. He gripped a limb and pulled, but found he had gotten hold of the thing’s arm. Its hard flesh was scorching to the touch, and burned his fingers red before he let go with a yelp.

He straightened and looked up. Bill was halfway up the shaft. Suddenly the sandy wall against which his back was braced collapsed inward. Two sharp clawed red hands burst out and wrapped themselves around his torso, pulling the Indian in.

The blood was up to Barclay’s waist, and O’Bannon had stopped fighting.

Now the thing surfaced and stood in the shaft, popping its jaws, rending some unidentifiable hunk of O’Bannon to stringy sinew.

Behind it, the tunnel opening, nearly submerged, expelled a third blood covered thing into the pit with him.


Published in: on August 9, 2015 at 3:39 am  Comments (1)  
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DT Moviehouse Review: Bad Company

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Appropriately enough for the first movie review of the new year, I take a look at the first western of the list, Bad Company.

(1972) Directed By Robert Benton

Screenply by Robert Benton and David Newman

Tagline: They’re young, desperate, dangerous….a long way from home, but a short way from hell.


What It’s About:
During the American Civil War, young Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) flees home with a hundred dollars and heads to the western frontier to avoid conscription in the Union Army. He winds up falling in with a group of like minded orphans led by charming and swift talking young con man Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges). Drew cons the ‘gang’ into thinking he robbed a hardware store and dips into his money to outfit them all with horses and supplies for their joint excursion. Times are hard, and after being robbed by a band of outlaws, the boys turn to crime themselves to survive, schooling each other on honesty and loyalty along the trail.

Why I Bought It:
I’m a big fan of Jeff Bridges and the so-called revisionist or acid westerns of the 1960’s and 70’s (like Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, The Hired Hand, and Dirty Little Billy), and actually bought this movie sight unseen after seeing a couple stills and reading a synopsis. This gambit almost never plays out for me, but this time it did.

Bad_Company-1972-084The movie is very minimalist, with an almost cinema verite approach (in the same vein as The Culpepper Cattle Company and The Ballad Of Gregorio Cortez – see my post The Reel Real West – Seven Gritty Westerns You’ve Never Seen). It’s very diffuse, almost sepia toned like an old photograph, and everything, the acting, the admittedly meandering plot, and the sudden and extreme violence, is very realistic.

There is a scene I love where the boys surprise a rabbit on the prairie and all open fire on it. After running through a virtual firing squad of misses, one of the bullets finally blows the rabbit open, and when Jake commands the youngest of their number to skin the animal, he quickly finds out to his vociferous exasperation that none of them knows how to clean a carcass. He proceeds to show them, and from his readily apparent disgust, it seems he hasn’t ever done it either. Although the skinning of the rabbit is just offscreen, I can’t believe by Bridges’ reactions that he’s not actually cleaning the kill. He’s too young an actor at that point to be able to portray honest revulsion so well.

Bad_Company-1972-058The interactions between Brown and Bridges are the highpoint of the movie, with Brown a pampered, well educated, cowardly hypocrite, espousing high virtues at every turn (refusing to actually rob a store, refusing to avail himself of the services of a prostitute etc) and yet every bit the con man Bridges’ character is, and plainly less honest (maybe even, for all Jake’s worldly bluster, a little less naive) and loyal. Bad_Company-1972-061The movie is a morality tale of sorts, about going bad and yet also about retaining personal honor. Brown’s character allows the rest of the gang to go hungry even though he has nearly a hundred dollars hidden in his shoe the entire time. At one point this actually costs one of the boys’ their lives when they try to snatch a cooling pie off the sill of an open window and the resident shoots them dead.

P1030135 (Medium)Young Joshua Hill Lewis does a good job as Boog, the aforementioned boy. There’s a scene where Brown is reading Jane Eyre to the gang and Boog interrupts with a breathless story about his murdered father that plays very nicely.

The movie has a host of familiar faces in great ‘character’ roles. David Huddleston is excellent as outlaw chief Big Joe as are Geoffrey Lewis and John Quade as raggedy gunmen. John Savage plays one of the gang, and Jim Davis (a Republic western veteran who appears in my all time favorite Kung Fu episode, The Soul Is The Warrior) is a severe, authoritarian marshal.

Bad_Company-1972-109As a western nerd, there are some anachronisms I feel the need to point out. If it’s the 1860’s during the Civil War, it’s maybe eight or ten years before cartridge ammunition and revolvers, but they’re prevalently used here. In a great scene after the capture of Big Joe, the lawmen ask him to demonstrate the ‘Curly Bill Spin,’ a gun trick which he claims to have taught to Curly Bill personally. The Curly Bill Spin (variations of it are shown in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Young Guns, and The Outlaw Josey Wales) was when you passed your gun to a man butt first but kept your finger in the trigger guard so as the man reached for it, you flipped it up (or spun it up) into your palm, cocking the hammer and gaining a surprise advantage. It was once known as the Road Agent Spin or Border Roll, but Curly Bill’s name got attached to it because he supposedly employed it to gun down Tombstone Town Marshal Fred White in 1880. Again, nearly two decades after Bad Company would’ve taken place.

Bad_Company-1972-048Paul Rodgers of the band Bad Company did not take its name from this movie as I had always heard, but their hit song does (“rebel souls, deserters we are called, chose a gun, and threw away the sun”), and actually shares the introductory three chords with the movie’s score.

The movie ends somewhat abruptly, but it’s a great character piece and a fine study on the harsh realities of the outlaw trail and making a living as a scavenger and badman.

Best bit of Dialogue: (Drew, writing home to his family) I shot and ate a skunk today. Taste didn’t enter much into it.

Best Scene:
Bad_Company-1972-047The wild and clumsy shootout and the character revelations concerning Drew’s watch are pretty great, but the scene that sticks out in my mind is when the boys encounter a broken down farmer and his wife headed back east with a wagonload of possessions. The farmer tries to warn the boys that there’s nothing but trials and tribulations on the frontier, and winds up offering to let them have sex with his wife for ten dollars. Jake readily accepts and helps the woman down, walking off with her arm in arm into the grass as the husband rolls a cigarette and the other boys argue about what order they will follow Jake in. Not ten seconds pass when Jake lets out a boisterous crowing and a yahoo and comes stiff-walking quickly back, a huge grin on his face, fastening his belt.

He climbs into the saddle of his horse and declares –

P1030136 (Medium)JAKE: THAT was a deal!
The bewildered farmer, who hasn’t even lit his cigarette yet, stares open mouthed as Jake mounts.
FARMER: Are you done already?
JAKE: I do not waste my time, mister. After that ride I gave her, I expect she’ll be too tuckered out for the rest of you boys.

The goofy expression of pride and self satisfaction on Bridges’ face is just priceless. Funny, and at the same time, in the context of the scene with the farmer’s initial warnings, heartbreakingly naive and portentious.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes. Great movie.

Up Next In The Queue: The Beast Must Die

My Favorite American Was A Terrorist

In honor of Independence Day, I decided to write a bit about one of my all-time favorite Americans, who happened to have been, for all intents and purposes, a terrorist (much like one of my other heroes, Geronimo).

I’m talking about ‘Ossawatomie’ John Brown, the man Herman Melville called “the meteor of the [civil] war.”

Many more qualified people can argue the finer points of the causes of the American Civil War. They may say it was the last throes of agrarian society against the industrial revolution, or the assertion of the invidual represented by the southern states against the conglommerate, as characterized by the northern union, and there may something to say for all of these arguments.

But the plain fact of the matter is, whatever the myriad of causes that lead up to it, the powder keg was set off because of slavery, as clear cut a case of right vs. wrong as the Allies vs. the Axis.

And the hand that lit the match was John Brown’s.

Brown was born in Connecticuit in 1800, the son of Owen Brown, the founder of Oberlin College in Ohio.

He was raised in a strict Cavinist household. The Calvinist Christian doctrine teaches that the natural state of man is wicked depravity, that his very nature makes him incapable of redemption or ascendence to the divine. Only with God (and this is the concept known as sovereign grace) can a man find redemption. This is, not by individual merit or effort; God has chosen from all of eternity, an Elect few who are predestined from birth to receive grace and reward. The rest will be subject to God’s wrath.  This has the effect (I believe) of putting a man on constant eggshells. If every soul that will receive reward is already accounted for, how does one know if, when they die, they will go to heaven or hell? They don’t.  If a man lives a worthy life, it is because God wills it. And only he knows at the end of his life if he was one of the Elect. The same goes for a wicked man. If a man does evil, he is in his natural state. If that same man repents and becomes a righteous person, it is because he was one of the Elect all along, unless he’s only paying lip service to appear good, in which case he was damned all along anyway and is just play acting for whatever reason.

Now I write about this to try to give you a sense of what went into the volatile mixture that was John Brown.

In addition to this unique religious upbringing, he was a poor tanner’s son, in a region of the united states where the native population outnumbered the whites. As a result, he grew up in buckskins and counted native boys among his best friends. What effect this had on the racial notions of young John Brown can only be guessed, but he was raised in a fiercely abolitionist household. Now most northerners were nominally abolitionists, that is, they were opposed to the idea of slavery.

Brown had first hand experience with it.

Mainly self reliant, by the age of twelve he drove a herd of his father’s cattle to Michigan and stayed at the house of a family friend. There he observed a black boy his age savagely beaten with an iron shovel and made to sleep in the cold wearing only rags and tatters. In his own words, this made him “swear eternal war on slavery.”

In 1837, after trying and failing at numerous business ventures, Brown and the rest of the country bore witness to an escalation in pro-slavery and abolitionist conflict when the Reverend Elijah P. Lovejoy, an outspoked abolitonist minister who published an anti-slavery paper called The Alton Observer (perhaps unwisely, in the midst of the pro-slavery town of Alton, Illinois, which was a known base for slave catchers), was gunned down by a pro-slavery mob.

Upon hearing of the murder in church at an anti slavery meeting, Brown rose from his pew and announced to the congregation;

“Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.”

Frederick Douglass

He spent four years in Springfield, Massachussetts, trying his hand at the wool trade and helping to establish the city as a major stop on the Underground Railroad.  Commiserating with fellow abolitionists, he befriended prominent African Americans of the time like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, the latter of which said, after dining and sleeping in Brown’s home,

“…while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.”

Thereafter, relocated Brown family (he had fathered twenty children on two women – his first wife had died) to the black community of North Elba in upstate New York, where he worked for several years to improve the conditions, and also ran a station on the Underground Railroad, ferrying escaped slaves up into Canada.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, which opened the western territories of the same name to settlement, and left the question of whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state up to the voting residents.  This had the effect of inducing pro and anti slavery forces to send droves of settlers into the state to swell their respective ranks. In what became known as ‘Bleeding Kansas,’ sporadic armed conflicts began to erupt between the opposing factions. This was the civil war in its adolesence, with junior bushwhackers and jayhawkers playing out in miniature what would rage across the entire union in a few short years.

Among the anti-slavery residents, a few of Brown’s grown sons had settled and begun organizing and arming the abolitionist-minded settlers. Writing to their father of their concern for the safety of themselves and their families, the family patriarch responded by moving west, stopping along the way at several of his own haunts, soliciting money and arms from like-minded abolitionists (Brown carried crates of .54 Sharpes rifles hidden in crates marked ‘bibles’ – these became the so-called Beecher Bibles, named for prominent abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher). He and his sons became local leaders of the anti-slavery militia.

In May of 1856 three things conspired to bring the conflict to a head for Brown. His father died, the unofficial anti-slavery capitol of the territory, Lawrence, was sacked by pro-slavery ‘Border Ruffians’ under the sanction of a corrupt sheriff, and on the floor of the Senate, Charles Sumner of Massachussetts was beaten with a metal tipped cane by Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina, after Sumner said in a scathing anti-slavery oration of Brooks’ relative Andrew Butler;

“Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot Slavery (and went on to insinuate that pro-slavery senators were pimps and that the main southern cause for championing slavery was so the lecherous masters could force themselves on negro women).”

Southern Chivalry – the Caning of Senator Sumner

In a rage, Brown called together his sons and a few militia members and taking up broadswords and rifles, raided the homes of five pro-slavery settlers along the Pottawatomie Creek, dragged the men out into the night, hacked them to death, and shot them.

From then on, Brown and his sons became guerilla fighters, even raiding into Missouri to liberate slaves from the auction block. They clashed with Missouri militias, defending the Kansas settlement of Palmyra and turning back a superior force for a time at Ossawatomie (earning him the nickname ‘Ossawatomie Brown’).  One of Brown’s sons, Frederick, was killed in the latter fight.

In late 1856, Kansas governor John W. Greary ordered an end to hostilities, offering amnesty to both sides upon the cessation of conflict. Brown and his surviving sons headed East to raise funds for the cause.

The cause, for Brown, possibly unbeknownst to some of his wealthy, pacifist backers, was to wage total war on the South and incite servile insurrection on a mass scale. Brown had been germinating this plan since his introduction to the Underground Railroad.

Nat Turner

For inspiration, he looked to Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who trained and commanded an army of slaves against the Roman Empire, and to Nat Turner, the black preacher who in 1831 led 56 slaves in an armed uprising in Southhampton, Virgina which resulted in the deaths of 160 whites and blacks, and his own eventual capture and execution. Brown was also spiritually inflamed by the figure of Moses in Exodus (whose likeness he even took on in his later years, cultivating a long white beard) and Cinque, who led the slave mutiny on the Amistad.

His plan was to raid a federal arsenal of its stores, and march across the south, arming slaves and burning plantations as they went, looping up into the Adirondack Mountains to establish a free and separate colony of freed blacks.

After months of meeting and preparation, Brown gathered together a force of 18 men (including his sons Watson, Owen, and Oliver), including free blacks and one fugitive slave. Ready to enact his plan, he paid one last call on Frederick Douglass, asking him to come along to inspire the slaves to come to him. Douglass and Brown argued through the night, Douglass trying to convince his old friend that the plan was doomed to fail. In the end, he refused.

On October 16th Brown led his band into Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and successfully and bloodlessly took the armory, cutting the telegraph wires and taking several wealthy landowners (including George Washington’s great grand nephew) hostage. Things took a turn for the worse however, when a black baggage master, Hayward Shepherd, was shot by one of the raiders and a train passed through the town, spreading word of the action to the surrounding countryside. Local militias descended on the town and began a firefight that lasted three days.


Dangerfield Newby

During the siege, Dangerfield Newby, a mulatto and the oldest of the insurrectionists, who had joined Brown in the hope of freeing his wife and children still in bondage in Warrenton, Virginia, was shot through the throat by a six inch spike (the town militia, unable to use the armory ammunition, was firing anything they could stuff down the barrels of their muskets). The enraged townsfolk mutilated his body, cutting off his arms and legs and taking his ears for souvenirs.On his body was found a note from his wife;

BRENTVILLE, August 16, 1859. Dear Husband.

I want you to buy me as soon as possible for if you do not get me somebody else will the servents are very disagreeable thay do all thay can to set my mistress against me Dear Husband you not the trouble I see the last two years has ben like a trouble dream to me it is said Master is in want of monney if so I know not what time he may sell me an then all my bright hops of the futer are blasted for there has ben one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles that is to be with you for if I thought I shoul never see you this earth would have no charms for me do all you Can for me witch I have no doubt you will I want to see you so much the Chrildren are all well the baby cannot walk yet all it can step around enny thing by holding on it is very much like Agnes I mus bring my letter to Close as I have no newes to write you mus write soon and say when you think you Can Come
Your affectionate Wife HARRIET NEWBY

On the morning of the 18th, Brown and his remaining defenders and their hostages were surrounded in the town firehouse by the US Marines, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, future General of the Confederate Army, and Lt. JEB Stuart, destined to win renown in the coming war. Under a white flag, Stuart parleyed with Brown, offering to spare his life if he surrendered. Both of his sons lying dead behind him, Brown declared “No, I prefer to die here.” Whereupon the Marines smashed the engine house foors with sledgehammers and charged in firing. Brown was wounded, and Lt. Israel Green, who had borne his dress sabre into battle, inadverdantly spared him when his blade bent on Brown’s belt buckle.

Of the 18 raiders, eleven were killed, three escaped, and four were captured and sentenced to hang.

Brown’s raid was a total failure.

Yet, in the last three months of his life, the attention of the world turned to his trial. I can only liken it to the importance of the Rodney King hearings. The entire world held its breath. The liberal minded could not fathom that America could allow Brown to be executed, and the south was enraged by the notion that a terrorist attack on American soil could possibly be expected to go unpunished.

Victor Hugo wrote letters urging Brown’s pardon. Predicting the civil war, he wrote,

“Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus.” 

Henry David Thoreau likened him to Christ.

And Brown, despite his failure as a commander and businessman, did not fail in the last, to use the national attention he had engendered to speak out against slavery at every turn. In his cell, he responded to slews of letters and interviews, denouncing slavery as the greatest sin of the nation, and speaking out against slaveholders, pro-slavery politicians, and southern clergy who dared to condone the institution, whether directly or by inaction.

He comported himself magnificently at his trial. When his defense attorneys decided to plea insanity, Brown himself refused the motion.  When he was sentenced to hang, he is recorded as saying;

“Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done.”

In the last months of his life, abolitionist conspirators and supporters of Brown planned and prepared to execute a rescue plan. When a former compatriot of Brown’s, Silas Soule (who would heroically go on to testify against the horrible Sand Creek Massacre of Cheyenne Indians in Colorado, and later be murdered for it), managed to infiltrate the prison and tell Brown of the plan, Brown flatly refused to be rescued. He had decided he would do more for the cause of abolition as a martyr than as a fugitive.

It’s this singularity of purpose that I can’t help but admire. Here was a man who rose up at precisely the right moment and became the lynchpin of history. Abraham Lincoln is remembered as freeing the slaves, but how could there be an Emancipation Proclamation without the Civil War, and how could there be a Civil War without the selfless actions of John Brown, a man who perceived a wrong so abominably terrible in American society that he couldn’t abide it, and was unwilling to simply wait out what most beleived would be a natural, gradual end.

How could a man of that time step forward and put his life on the line for a people society taught were not his own? Was it his Calvinist sense of predestination? Or was it that he took all he had been taught, in terms of the laws of God and man, as serious and literal as it was meant to be? Why is John Brown a footnote in history, that the majority of people don’t even know about? Was it because he was a white man? I don’t believe his crusade was as much about race for him as it was about class oppression. Was it because his solution to a nationwide injustice perpetuated and accepted in society was violence?

His favorite Bible passage after all was Hebrew 9:22 – And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

People called him insane, and fanatical. But in my mind he was the only sane man in an insane world. He was witness to one of the most barbarous and pernicious practices our country has ever visited upon human beings, and he saw it for precisely what it was, an abomination, an affront to everything America was intended to stand for. He was the man who stood up and said no to what most people were content to ride out or pretend wasn’t happening, or write a check for and forget about. The man took up arms in an unwinnable personal crusade, and sacrificed himself and his sons on the infamous altar of liberty, if ever any man did (“I could live for the slave,” Frederick Douglass wrote, “John Brown could die for him.”). If this is insanity, then the insane should be given freer rein in this world.

Interestingly, Malcom X said of John Brown, on this very day, in 1965;

“You know what John Brown did? He went to war. He was a white man who went to war against white people to help free slaves. White people call John Brown a nut. Go read the history, go read what all of them say about John Brown. They’re trying to make it look like he was a nut, a fanatic. They made a movie on it, I saw movie on the screen one night [I assume this was Raymond Massey in either Seven Angry Men, or Santa Fe Trail – he played him twice] . Why, I would be afraid to get near John Brown if I go by what other white folks say about him. But they depict him in this image because he was willing to shed blood to free the slaves. And any white man who is ready and willing to shed blood for your freedom—in the sight of other whites, he’s nuts. . . .So when you want to know good white folks in history where black people are concerned, go read the history of John Brown. That was what I call a white liberal. But those other kind, they are questionable.”

In reading about him, the sheer complexity of coincidence surrounding him is astounding.  As he sat upon his coffin and was wheeled out to the gallows in the back of a wagon, 2,000 soldiers were amassed to secure the scene. Among them, amazingly, was another future Confederate hero, Stonewall Jackson, and an actor who had borrowed a militia uniform solely to attend the hanging. This man expressed satisfaction at the abolitionist traitor’s fate, but grudgingly admired Brown’s stoic courage when faced with his own mortality.

His name was John Wilkes Booth.

It’s as if all of history were poised about him.

Brown left a handwritten note with the executioner. It read;

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

He was right. Following his hanging, the outcry on either side of the spectrum was too intense and inflammatory to settle down. Southerners theorized that Brown’s bloody raid had been part of a Black Republican conspiracy to undermine the south. Why else would a white man risk his life to free slaves? The liberal north demonized the south as Pharisees enacting another crucifxion. The south was appalled at support for Brown’s actions, which they saw as traitorous. It was as if the entire Muslim population of America had come out for Osama Bin Laden (they didn’t, in case you didn’t know that). The first whispers of secession were heard.

And Frederick Douglass (who I think, may have turned the tide of Brown’s personal fate had he agreed to join him, for not a single Virginia slave flocked to his side) said famously;

“But the question is, did John Brown fail? Did John Brown draw his sword against slavery and thereby lose his life in vain? And to this I answer ten thousand times, No! No man fails who can so grandly give himself and all he has to a righteous cause. If John Brown did not end slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery.  When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared. The time for compromises was gone -the armed hosts of freedom stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union -and the clash of arms was at hand.  The South drew the sword of rebellion and thus made her own, and not Brown’s, the lost cause of the century.”