Before John Brown attempt at taking Harper's Ferry, Virginia, the focus of abolitionists had been on debating and trying to change the laws to abolish slavery. After Harper's Ferry, many abolitionists changed their tactics to direct confrontation and physical violence of those who supported slavery. This crucial change made violence against the practice of slavery acceptable.
At Harper's Ferry, Brown took over a town with a force of 14 whites and 5 blacks. "Shots were fired and lives taken". Brown, himself was wounded. Ironically, union forces under the control of Robert E. Lee, eventually retook the town and captured Brown. Then the union forces investigated the farm Brown had used as his headquarters and found documents which linked him to several prominent men. These documents proved that Brown had been part of a conspiracy and he was scheduled to be hanged in Charleston. The day of the hanging martial law had to be declared in Charleston and 1500 soldiers, including a group of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute under the command of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, had to guard the gallows. Brown was hanged, but became a martyr to the abolitionist cause and his tactics suddenly seemed morally correct. Brown had made violent physical confrontation over slavery acceptable, something the soldiers fighting in the civil war would experience many, many times.