Most people know that Robert E. Lee served in the United States Army with distinction, especially during the Mexican-American War. Yet, many do not know that Lee played a major role in putting down a rebellion against the United States just prior to the Civil War. 

On October 16, 1859, the abolitionist John Brown and a group of over 20 men, raided the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). They were attempting to start a slave uprising and destroy slavery in the United States.

Brown’s audacious plan was doomed to failure from the outset. While most people north of the Mason-Dixon line had generally approved of what Brown’s ultimate goal was, even the most fervent abolitionists felt it was foolhardy at best. It was indicative of how far the country had drifted apart and had become hopelessly divided. Brown would be hung for his actions but the country would soon be drawn into a bloody civil war. Brown’s aim of stopping slavery would become a reality just a few years and about 620,000 deaths later. 

Brown had struggled financially throughout his life and had had numerous lawsuits taken out against him. But his entire life was altered after he attended an anti-slavery meeting in 1842. The thought of ending the practice of slavery would consume the rest of his days. Reportedly, he planned on conducting a slave insurrection as early as 1848.