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Harpers Ferry Sledgehammer Finds Home at National Museum of the Marine Corps
Harper Sledge HammerTriangle, VA The National Museum of the Marine Corps has installed a sledgehammer in the "Defending the New Republic" gallery. This is not just any sledgehammer; this particular tool was used by Marines at Harpers Ferry during John Brown's Raid in 1859.  The artifact was donated by the Rissler family of Charles Town, West Virginia. The family had owned the sledgehammer for almost 100 years.

In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown raided the Unites States arsenal at Harpers Ferry in an attempt to arm slaves and initiate a revolt throughout the South.  In addition to taking over the arsenal,

Brown captured local civilians and held them hostage in the Engine House of the armory.  Upon hearing news of the raid a detachment of Marines from 8th and I was sent to quell the uprising.  The Marines responded promptly. Under the command of Col. Robert E Lee, USA, and led by Lt. Israel Green, USMC, they arrived at Harpers Ferry on October 17, 1859.  On the morning of the 18th, Lee's aid, Lt J.E.B. Stuart offered to accept Brown's surrender which Brown vehemently refused.  Upon Stuart's signal, three Marines wielding sledgehammers attempted to break down the engine house doors but the doors held fast.  Another group of Marines picked up a nearby ladder and successfully penetrated one of the doors, which allowed Lt. Green to rush inside where he quickly captured Brown. One Marine, Private Luke Quinn, lost his life in the raid. John Brown was arrested and later tried and hanged for treason.

Harper Sledge HammerIn the wake of the raid, a local bystander, Dr. Robert Randolph, picked up one of the three sledgehammers used by the Marines.  Upon Dr. Randolph's death the sledge was left to Joseph A. Dewar who subsequently sold it at an auction in 1914 to Richard Johnston.  The sledge passed down through the family to Johnston's great grand nephew John Rissler.  In August 2011 Rissler's widow, Alice, presented the sledgehammer to the National Museum of the Marine Corps on behalf of the Rissler family.

The sledgehammer is next to a diorama depicting the Marines' actions at Harpers Ferry.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, Va., and is open from 9:00 am 5:00 pm every day except Christmas.  Further information about Museum activities and programs can be found at


National Museum of the Marine Corps
18900 Jefferson Davis Highway
Triangle, VA 22172
Toll Free: 1.877.635.1775

American Association of Museums Virginia Green Attraction

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