Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz first caught my attention when it was offered on the War Through The Generations blog as a prize, one of three books generously donated by Macmillan Audio.
Alas, I did not win a copy of the book, but I went searching for it at my library. And there it was, in all its audio book glory. I put myself on the waitlist and hoped my turn would come up before the end of the year.
My turn did come up. And I’m happy to say it was worth the wait.
Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South. Now, Midnight Rising portrays Brown’s uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.
Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America’s founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in 1859 he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy.
On October 17, the raiders seized Harpers Ferry, stunning the nation and prompting a counterattack led by Robert E. Lee. After Brown’s capture, his defiant eloquence galvanized the North and appalled the South, which considered Brown a terrorist. The raid also helped elect Abraham Lincoln, who later began to fulfill Brown’s dream with the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure he called “a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale.”
Tony Horwitz’s riveting book travels antebellum America to deliver both a taut historical drama and a telling portrait of a nation divided—a time that still resonates in ours.
The book covers John Brown’s life and provides enough information on those around him (of both personal and historic importance) that I came away with a better understanding of this single-minded man and the time in which he lived.
While I enjoyed the entire book, the section that covers the raid and the summer build-up to it were especially interesting. I was particularly taken by Annie Brown and the summer she spent in the company of her father and his men at the Kennedy farm in Maryland (not far from Harpers Ferry).
Annie and her sister-in-law Mary (wife of John’s son Oliver) spent the summer at the Kennedy farm as camouflage, to help make it look like a real working farm–because a group of men doing nothing but moving and hiding large crates looks suspicious.
I really enjoyed the camaraderie as described by the author between Annie and the men at Kennedy farm. There are hints (or at least, the author speculates) that among those killed at Harpers Ferry was a young man Annie had fallen in love with. (And there’s a novel in there, I’m sure. It ends tragically, of course.)
The above illustrates what I enjoyed about the book. The narrative is rich with historical detail, while at the same time, makes for compelling reading.
In all, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz is a detailed and fascinating look at a very important event in US history. I highly recommend it.