[CIVIL WAR]. [BROWN, John]. WISE, Henry A. (1806-1876), Governor of Virginia. Autograph letter signed to Mrs. John Brown (Mary A. Brown), Richmond, Virginia, 26 November 1859. 3 pages, 4to, with integral leaf containing a lock of John Brown's hair affixed to a 2½ x 3 in. strip of scarlet cloth.
"'GATHERING UP THE BONES OF YOUR SON AND YOUR HUSBAND' IN VIRGINIA 'FOR DECENT AND TENDER INTERMENT AMONG THEIR KINDRED'": THE GOV. OF VIRGINIA INSTRUCTS MRS. JOHN BROWN ON THE COLLECTION OF HER HUSBAND'S AND SONS' REMAINS
A week before John Brown was to hang for his raid at Harper's Ferry, the Governor of Virginia, Henry A. Wise, politely and sympathetically answers the soon-to-be widow's inquiries about the collection of her husband's remains, as well as those of her children who were killed alongside their father in the abortive attack. "Believe me, Madam, that I sadly thank you for your 'trust in my feelings as a man.' Your situation touches those feelings deeply. Sympathizing as I do with your affliction, you shall have the 'exertion of my authority and personal influence to assist you in 'gathering up the bones of your son and your husband' in Virginia 'for decent and tender interment among their kindred.' I am happy, Madam, that you seem to have the wisdom and virtue to appreciate my position of duty. Would to God that 'public consideration could avert his doom,' for the Omniscient knows that I take not the slightest pleasure in the execution of any whom the laws condemn. May he have mercy on the erring and the afflicted. Enclosed is an order to Maj. Genl. Wm. V. Taliaferro, in command at Charleston Va. to deliver to your order the mortal remains of your husband 'when all shall be over,' to be delivered to your agent at Harper's Ferry; and if you attend the reception in person to guard you Sacredly in your Solemn mission." He signs himself, "with tenderness and truth," then, on the next leaf, copied out the duplicate of the order he was simultaneously transmitting to Taliaferro: "When John Brown is executed on Friday the 2nd proximo, you will place his mortal remains under strict guard and protect them from all mutilation; place them in a plain, decent coffin, and have them taken to Harper's Ferry, there to await the orders and agent of Mrs. Mary A. Brown, who has a duplicate of this order. You will also allow the bodies of the sons who fell at Harper's ferry to be disinterred and taken by her, or her agent or order." Brown's raid inflamed the South to the brink of war in 1859. His scheme to arm the slaves and lead a murderous uprising confirmed all the apocalyptic fears that Southerners held toward northern abolitionists. When Lincoln's election the following year cut the cords of Unionism, Wise was one of those Virginians who eagerly rallied to the Confederate cause. He joined the Army and served as a Brigadier General. Ironically, he soon had to "gather up the bones" of his own son, killed while fighting under him at Roanoke in 1862.