NPS commemorating John Brown's raid

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A century and a half later, we still don't know quite what to think of John Brown.

Brown, historians agree, aimed to be a hero. He believed his plan was the necessary means to a righteous end: Storm a federal arsenal, seize thousands of weapons, arm a guerrilla force and start the revolution that would end slavery.

Yet the first casualty of his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry was a free black man, a baggage handler who bled to death on the street while Brown's raiders grabbed hostages and holed up at a fire engine house. Within 48 hours, Brown's rebellion was dead, along with at least four civilians, 10 raiders and a U.S. Marine who helped retake the building.

Brown's methods have been debated since, and the grandiosity of his plot and his willingness to kill or be killed have become a timeless fascination.

This year, the National Park Service has declared that his raid was the opening salvo in the War Between the States, with sesquicentennial commemorations beginning in West Virginia.

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