On the night of October 17, 1859, John Brown and his followers attacked the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Besieged by militia, Brown and his followers had barricaded themselves in the arsenal's windowless brick engine house with a dozen hostages by the next day.
That afternoon Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aid-de-camp Captain J.E.B. Stuart arrived with a detachment of Marines from the Washington Navy Yard. Stuart attempted to parlay with Brown through the engine house door but failed to obtain his surrender. Then, in the words of Lieutenant Israel Green, the commander of the Marine detachment:
Suddenly Lieutenant Stuart waved his hat, and I gave the order to my men to batter in the door. Those inside fired rapidly at the point where the [sledge hammer] blows were given upon the door. Very little impression was made with the hammers, as the doors were tied on the inside with ropes and braced by the hand-brakes of the fire- engines...
Just then my eye caught sight of a ladder, lying a few feet from the engine-house, in the yard, and I ordered my men to catch it up and use it as a battering-ram...The men took hold bravely and made a tremendous assault upon the door. The second blow broke it in. This entrance was a ragged hole low down in the right-hand door, the door being splintered and cracked some distance upward...
Lieutenant Green jumped through the hole and battered Brown into submission with the dress sword he had mistakenly placed in his scabbard. The Marine who entered behind Lieutenant Green, Private Luke Quinn, was fatally shot in the abdomen. Private Matthew Ruppert, the third Marine through the door, was shot in the face. The Marines bayoneted two of Brown's followers to death and captured the remainder of his group alive. All hostages were freed, while Marine casualties were limited to Quinn and Ruppert.
Matthew Ruppert had emigrated from Herbstein, Germany as a boy and joined the Marines at age twenty-one, just one year before Brown's raid. He miraculously recovered from his wound and returned to his adopted hometown of Washington, DC, where he became a prosperous tavern-keeper in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood. In 1904, he commissioned Architect Julius Wenig to design a house for his family at 611 K Street NW. Wenig's rowhouse with a pyramidal roof and spire harks back to the style of the Gilded Era. It was here that Mathew Ruppert died at age eighty-three on May 3, 1919. After the death of its patriarch, the Ruppert family occupied 611 K Street into the World War II years.
611 K Street NW has been a commercial building for many years. It occupies what is now a prime location in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood,which is undergoing massive redevelopment.
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