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Marine Corps Museum puts Harpers Ferry artifact on display

Wednesday - 5/23/2012, 8:15am  ET

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The sledgehammer on display at the Marine Corps Museum. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)
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Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

TRIANGLE, Va. - A unique artifact is now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps that ties the Marines to a pivotal event in American history.

A sledgehammer used by the Marines at Harpers Ferry is now available for public viewing at the Prince William County Museum.

It was used in October 1859 to help capture John Brown during his raid, according to Gretchen Winterer, assistant curator of the general collection.

The Marines were called in to quell the uprising of abolitionist John Brown who was holed up in the engine house of the U.S. arsenal in Harpers Ferry where he was trying to arm slaves and incite a slave revolt, says Winterer.

She says even though the sledgehammer weights 28 pounds, it made a huge impact on American history.

"It's small. But to relate it to such a large event that subsequently led to the civil war. It's overwhelming."

The Marines captured Brown who was tried and hanged for treason.

Three sledgehammers were used in the event, according to the museum. But only two are still around. One is in the John Brown Museum in Harpers Ferry, and the other is on display at the Marine Corps Museum.

Winterer says even though the Marines did not play a major role in the Civil War.

"They wielded the sledgehammer that led to John Brown's capture."

The sledgehammer at the Marine Corps Museum was donated in August 2011 by the Rissler family. It had been in that family for nearly 100 years.

The Marine Corps Museum is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway in Triangle, Va. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)