Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, near Charles Town (not Charleston—it's 220 mi/355 km northeast of there), was the site of John Brown's 1859 attempt to seize a federal arsenal so that he could lead a slave revolt.
Brown's small force battled U.S. troops under the command of Robert E. Lee but was quickly defeated. Brown was captured and later executed. The rebellion may have been ill-starred, but it further inflamed the country's division over the issue of slavery and helped set the stage for the Civil War, which began two years later.
There are museums and shops in the area—including a wax museum depicting Brown's struggles. Regularly staged events re-create moments from that troubled period in U.S. history.
Civil War buffs will also want to visit Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, which is just north of Harpers Ferry, and Charles Town, where John Brown was hanged. Charles Town is also home to the Charles Town (Thoroughbred) Races and Slots.
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