35 Celebrities Who Served Our Country

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Express/Getty Images

While we honor all of the men and women who have served the United States in uniform, here are a few famous faces who also defended the red, white, and blue.

1. JIMMY STEWART

Jimmy Stewart was born to a family of military men—both of his grandfathers were in the Civil War and his dad served in the Spanish-American War and WWI. He was an accomplished pilot before the war even broke out, so when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 (after first being rejected for being underweight), it was no surprise that he began pilot training immediately.

Stewart ended up going from private to colonel in only four years, something only a handful of Americans have ever done. In 1959, he was named Brigadier General. His honors included the Distinguished Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, six battle stars, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. In 1968, he retired from the Reserves as a brigadier general, making him the highest-ranked entertainer in the American military.

2. ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis Presley
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Elvis Presley was drafted for a two year stint on December 20, 1957, completed basic training on September 17, 1958, and then served in Friedberg, Germany (where he met Colin Powell) from October 1, 1958 through March 2, 1960. He was eligible for the "Special Services," which basically would have allowed him to receive special treatment because he was Elvis. But he preferred to serve just like everyone else, and the guys who served with him have said that he just wanted to be one of the guys. He was honorably discharged as Sergeant Elvis Presley.

3. BEA ARTHUR

Before her days as a Golden Girl, Bea Arthur served as a truck driver and typist for the U.S. Marine Corps for two-and-a-half years. When she enlisted in 1943 at the age of 21, she was among the first members of the Women's Reserve. Remarks from her enlistment interviews described her as "argumentative," "over aggressive," and "officious—but probably a good worker—if she has her own way!"

4. PAUL NEWMAN

Paul Newman
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Paul Newman joined the Navy in hopes of becoming a pilot—until his color blindness was discovered in training. Instead, he took on the job of aviation radioman and aerial gunner. The future leading man and his aircrew were assigned to be at Okinawa, but his pilot developed an ear infection and they were delayed.

It was an ear infection that changed cinematic history: had Newman and his pilot gone when they should have, they likely would have been killed—the rest of their detail was. In 1946, he was discharged with a number of honors including the Good Conduct Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Area Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.

5. PETE ROSE

Pete Rose was in the Ohio Army National Guard. He served at Fort Knox for six months, where he was a platoon guide. Then he spent parts of the next six years balancing his burgeoning baseball career with time as part of a Reserve Unit at Fort Thomas, where he was a company cook.

6. CLARK GABLE

Clark Cable
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After his third wife, Carole Lombard, died in a 1942 plane crash while returning from a war bond rally in Indiana, Gable insisted on enlisting and ended up serving in five high-profile combat missions. He was honorably discharged as Captain Clark Gable after D-Day and awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

7. KURT VONNEGUT

The novelist enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was sent to study engineering at what is now Carnegie Mellon University a year later. After the Battle of the Bulge,

Private Vonnegut was captured as a prisoner of war. In fact, he survived only because he was part of a group of Americans held captive in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker called Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five). Because they were underground when the city of Dresden was airbombed, they were saved.

8. STEVE MCQUEEN

Steve McQueen
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Steve McQueen became a tank driver for the Marine Corps in 1947. But the film star had a rebellious streak during his tour. After he was promoted to Private First Class in the Marine Corps, he was reportedly demoted back to Private seven times, including once when he stayed out long after a weekend pass had expired and had to be hauled back by the shore patrol. But he was also heroic—he saved the lives of five Marines when he pulled them out of a tank just before it broke through ice and fell into the ocean. He was discharged in 1950.

9. ROD SERLING

If you’re a big fan of The Twilight Zone, then you might be interested to know that it might never have been created if Rod Serling was never injured in WWII. The future writer was eager to enroll in the war to help fight the Nazis, but he was instead sent to the Philippines to fight the Japanese. He was put into one of the most dangerous platoons in the area, nicknamed “the death squad” for the high number of casualties suffered in the group. Serling was lucky enough not to be killed in combat, but he hardly came out unscathed. He was injured a few times in battle, but more dramatic was the severe trauma he experienced by serving in such a violent area. As a result, he was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of his life.

The events he experienced reshaped his world view, and with them he was inspired to create The Twilight Zone and write many of the show’s most famous episodes.

10. TED WILLIAMS

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Ted Williams not only served in WWII, he was also involved in combat in the Korean War. The baseball player's first stint saw him as a fighter pilot and a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. Although he was no longer on active duty after WWII, he did stay in the reserves and was called back to duty in 1952 and served in the same unit as John Glenn. And don't think that his celebrity status let him sit back at a cushy desk job—Ted flew a total of 39 combat missions and even received an Air Medal for bringing his damaged plane back to base. In fact he was so revered by Army higher-ups that when he turned 40, General MacArthur sent him an oil painting and personalized it with this: "To Ted Williams - not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Doug MacArthur. General U.S. Army."

11. GENE AUTRY

During a live broadcast of his radio show on July 26, 1942, the musician was inducted into the Army Air Forces as a technical sergeant. While running the radio show remained a part of his Army duties, he also set out to upgrade his private pilot's license to Flight Officer credentials. He succeeded on June 21, 1944. His chief duty as a pilot was to haul fuel and other necessities, and he eventually worked with the USO. He was honorably discharged in 1946. His awards included the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

12. HENRY FONDA

Henry Fonda
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The actor famously enlisted in the Navy with the quote, "I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio." He served for three years, first as a seaman and then rising to a Lieutenant. He received a Presidential Citation and the Bronze Star.

13. DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, JR.

As a lieutenant, junior grade in the Navy Reserves during World War II, Fairbanks was assigned to Lord Mountbatten's staff in England. It was an appointment that gave him access most reserve officers didn't have. As a result, he came extremely proficient in military deception skills. So, he used those skills to form the Beach Jumpers.

The mission of the Beach Jumpers was to land on beaches and lure the enemy into believing there were the force to be worried about, when in fact the real attacking unit was landing elsewhere. For his ingenuity, Fairbanks was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Legion of Merit, the Croix Guerre with Palm, the Legion D'Honneuer, the Italian War Cross for Military Valor, and was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire.

14. GENE RODDENBERRY

Gene Roddenberry
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It's fitting that the creator of Star Trek was a combat pilot on 89 mission for the U.S. Army Air Corps, starting in 1941. He was part of the 394th Bomb Squadron that referred to themselves as the Bomber Barons. Like Ted Williams, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart, he also received the Air Medal. And, also like Stewart and Gable, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as well.

15. BOB KEESHAN

The Captain Kangaroo star enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1945, but never saw combat. There's long been a story floating around that Lee Marvin once said he and Bob Keeshan served together at Iwo Jima, but much like the Mr. Rogers myth, this one is false—World War II ended before either could take part.

16. CLINT EASTWOOD

Clint Eastwood
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This actor may have the Army to thank for his movie career. Clint Eastwood was drafted into the Army in 1950 during the Korean War, stationed at Fort Ord in California. An Army friend, Chuck Hill, had contacts in Hollywood and thought that he might do well in the movies. Before then, though, Eastwood narrowly escaped death when a military plane he was flying in crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He managed to use an inflatable raft to swim to shore, and testifying at a hearing about the incident prevented him from serving overseas in Korea.

17. ED MCMAHON

Johnny Carson's Tonight Show sidekick was a Marine Corps flight instructor for two years before finally getting his orders to fly in combat in 1945. They were canceled, however, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pushing Japan to surrender. He did end up flying 85 combat missions during the Korean War, earning six Air Medals and retiring as a Colonel.

17. JOHNNY CARSON

Host Johnny Carson sits with an Emmy award on his desk, as announcer Ed McMahon looks on, in a still from 'The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,' 1963
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Speaking of Ed: there's a rumor that McMahon was Johnny's commanding officer in the military, but there's no truth to it. The pair met for the first time in 1958. Johnny enrolled in the Navy in 1943, also hoping to be a pilot; he was assigned to be a midshipman instead. He reported for duty in 1945, the same year that Japan accepted surrender terms, marking the end of the war. As you might imagine, Carson's military career was pretty quiet after that—he has said the highlight of the whole thing was getting to perform a magic trick for James Forrestal, then-Secretary of the Navy.

19. DREW CAREY

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years and has said it’s where he first acquired his signature black glasses and buzz cut look.

20. MONTEL WILLIAMS

Montel Williams
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You'll never think of Montel Williams as a mere daytime talk show host again. He's actually an incredibly accomplished veteran, serving 22 years in the military before leaving as a Lieutenant Commander. He started his career in the Marines, then was discharged when he was accepted to the Naval Academy. After earning a degree in General Engineering there, he spent years as a cryptology officer, notably during the invasion of Grenada. He has a slew of awards and medals under his belt.

21. GLENN MILLER

Miller really wanted to serve his country. Because he was too old (age 38 at the time), the Navy turned down his services. The noted band leader and composer actually had to convince the Army Air Forces to accept him, by saying he wanted to lead a "modernized army band." And it worked. He and his band would go on to do a weekly radio broadcast that was so successful, he was upgraded to a special 50-piece band that traveled all over the world playing for troops. In England alone, he and his group gave 800 performances. On December 15, 1944, Major Glenn Miller was on his way to Paris when his plane disappeared. Neither Miller or the plane have ever been found.

22. CHARLES BRONSON

Charles Bronson
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You know Charles Bronson for his roles in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and Death Wish (1974), but did you know he probably never would have become an actor if it weren’t for the military? Bronson, whose last name was Buchinsky before he changed it during the Red Scare of the 1950s, grew up in poverty—so much so that as a child, he once had to wear his sister’s dress to school because there were no other clothes for him in the house.

In 1943, Bronson was drafted into the Army Air Corps, where he started out working as a truck driver, but eventually became a tail gunner in a B-29. After the war was over, he was awarded a Purple Heart for an injury he received in the service and used the GI Bill to study acting, which eventually helped him become the action hero we are all familiar with.

23. SUNNY ANDERSON

Future Food Network personality Sunny Anderson got her start in broadcasting in the U.S. Air Force. After growing up an Army brat, Anderson decided to continue her family's military tradition and enlisted in 1993. She traveled the world working as a radio broadcaster and journalist for the Air Force, and her experience there paved the way for her to host her own cooking shows like Cooking for Real.

24. DON ADAMS

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Don Adams was best known for his portrayal of the bumbling Agent 86 in the classic '60s sitcom Get Smart. However, his stint as a Marine wasn’t quite as fun: After fighting in WWII’s Battle of Guadalcanal, Adams contracted a case of blackwater fever (a severe strain of malaria with a 90 percent mortality rate). He made a full recovery, and spent the rest of his military career rectifying the bumbling of others—as a drill instructor.

25. C.J. RAMONE

When forced to replace founding bassist and legendary drug addict Dee Dee Ramone, The Ramones turned to an unlikely source: Christopher James Ward, a young Long Islander who was AWOL from the Marines at the time. Seeking a discharge from the Corps, he was first imprisoned for five weeks before serving a nearly seven year tour of duty with the seminal punk band.

26. SHAGGY

Shaggy
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The dance-hall superstar also known as Orville Burrell partially credits his stint in the Marines for his successful music career. "Being in the Marines didn't influence my musical career artistically. I think it did it as far as discipline, as far as preparing me for the rigorous schedules that was gonna come with doing music because I had no clue," he said in an interview for the Grammys in 2011. He served in Desert Storm and though he has called himself "a skater" and "not your model Marine," he would eventually serve as a Field Artillery Cannon Crewman.

27. ED WOOD JR.

The B-movie legend signed up for the Marines in 1942, just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He claimed that he participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal, and later claimed he was terrified not of death, but of being injured—because he didn’t want anyone to know he was wearing a bra and panties underneath his military fatigues.

28. AND 29. THE EVERLY BROTHERS

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The legendary rock duo enlisted in the Marines reserves in 1961 (they even went to basic training together). During their six-month stint with the Corps, two of their songs—“Crying in the Rain” and “That’s Old Fashioned (That's The Way Love Should Be)”—cracked the Top 10, but they were unable to tour or otherwise capitalize on their success, due to their military commitments. Though Don and Phil had racked up 12 Top 10 hits by that time, they would never crack the Top 10 again.

30. JAMES ARNESS

James Arness played Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke over five decades, as the show spanned from 1955 to 1975 and then there were five more made-for-TV movie follow-ups shot in the eighties and nineties.

Arness (or Aurness before he started acting) enrolled in the US Army in 1942. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, but with a height of 6’7”, there was no way that was going to happen – the maximum height of pilots at the time was 6’2”. So instead he served as a rifleman. Unfortunately, his height made him a good candidate for one of the most dangerous jobs, walking point. He was one of the first off the boat to test the water depth for the other men and look out for enemies, leaving him to be the first target. As a result, Arness was injured less than a year into his service during an invasion on Anzio, Italy, when he was shot in the right leg.

On the upside, his time in the hospital led to his work in television… eventually. While he recovering, his brother came to visit him and encouraged him to study radio drama. After he returned home from service with a Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star, he got a job as a disc jockey in Minneapolis, which is where he finally decided to try his luck as an actor in Hollywood.

31. EILEEN COLLINS

Eileen Collins
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Eileen Collins is famous for being the first woman astronaut to pilot and command a space shuttle. But before entering NASA, Collins served as a member of the U.S. Air Force. She joined the military with dreams of serving as a pilot at a time when opportunities for women to do so were just starting to open up. At the age of 23, she became the Air Force's first female flight instructor and went on to fly C-141 cargo planes overseas.

32. GEORGE CARLIN

The comedian dropped out of high school in 1954 and joined the Air Force. He was stationed in Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and became a radar technician. Carlin later used the GI Bill to cover the cost of broadcasting school.

33. JIMI HENDRIX

Jimi Hendrix
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Hendrix joined the Army in 1961, but it wasn't necessarily by choice. After being caught stealing cars in Seattle, the police gave him a choice: Join the Army or go to jail. He joined the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served for one year before being discharged. The musician claimed he parted ways with the organization after a parachuting accident, but decades later, biography Room Full of Mirrors by Charles R. Cross claimed that he was dismissed for "homosexual tendencies," a lie the star concocted to get out of his service and focus on his career.

34. NATE DOGG

Best known for his guest appearances on pretty much every G-funk track known to man, the West Coast rapper, otherwise known as Nathaniel Hale, had one life to give to his country. Which he did, dropping out of high school at age 16 for a three-year stint in the Corps before he went AWOL and was dishonorably discharged.

35. HUGH HEFNER

Hugh Hefner
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Before becoming a publishing titan, Hefner enlisted in the Army in 1944 as a writer for the military newspaper. He was stationed at Camp Adair in Salem, Oregon, and Camp Pickett in Virginia, where Hefner would draw comics for the Army newspaper. It wasn't all desk work though—during his two-year tour, Hefner won a sharpshooter badge in basic training.

BONUS: BUGS BUNNY

Really. Warner Brothers produced a cartoon called “Super-Rabbit” where Bugs says, “This looks like a job for a real Superman!” then jumps into a phone booth to presumably change into his Superman costume. When he emerges, though, he’s in a Marines uniform singing the Marines' Hymn. The Marine Corps loved the homage so much they officially inducted the fictional rabbit as a private, even producing real dog tags for him. He was officially discharged at the end of WWII as a Master Sergeant.An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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