This Day (Semper Fi Edition)

Published:October 17, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1859, a contingent of United States Marines, under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee, arrived in Harpers Ferry at 11 p.m. to put an end to John Brown‘s raid.

Catching up on the weekend: yesterday in 1906, Varina Davis died, and in 1959, George C. Marshall died. In 1861, John Y. Beall was wounded while fighting with Turner Ashby in the Shenandoah Valley. What happened to Beall after that … well, read all about it. And in 1766, the bad poet and lawyer Robert Bolling found himself challenged to a duel by William Byrd III.

And on Saturday, in 1818, in addition to a calendar suffering from a case of the hiccups, Elizabeth Van Lew was born. A Richmond-born spy for the Union, Van Lew was popularly known as Crazy Bet, but was that fair? From our entry:

According to many histories, she turned this to her advantage by exploiting people’s belief that her Unionism was merely a symptom of mental instability. Supposedly nicknamed “Crazy Bet,” she is said to have wandered Richmond in shabby clothes, muttering to herself or singing nonsense songs. Historian Elizabeth R. Varon, however, has argued that no evidence exists for this account of Van Lew’s methods. “To remember Van Lew as Crazy Bet is misleading, counterproductive, and indeed unjust,” she wrote in her 2003 biography of Van Lew. She argues that Van Lew did her best to maintain a facade as a loyal Confederate, instead exploiting people’s belief that a Southern “lady” would never spy for the North. In the end, Varon writes, the Crazy Bet stories fail to credit Van Lew’s intelligence and meticulousness. Indeed, that may have been their point.

IMAGE: U.S. Marines smash the armory door at Harpers Ferry (The Granger Collection, New York)