The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
REBEL OFFICERS IN THE TEMPLES OF SONS OF LIBERTY–MURDERERS, BOUNTY JUMPERS, DESERTERS, FELONS, VAGABONDS AND TRAITORS IN COUNCIL–PLANS OF ATTACK ON CAMP DOUGLAS–FIRES TO BE KINDLED IN THE CITY–BANKS AND STORES TO BE ROBBED–NAMES OF SPEAKERS–HATRED OF UNION SOLDIERS.
At a meeting of the Sons of Liberty in September, 1864, a plan was reported, much to the relief of those who had a horror of conscription; it was arranged that such of the members as might be drafted, should report within three days to the Grand Senior of the Temple, and they would be supplied with means to defray their expenses to the southern part of the State, where they would remain till their services should be required, and that they would find friends there, strong enough in numbers, to defy the officers of the law. Such persons were to form military organizations, and to be drilled and disciplined by rebel officers sent thither for that express purpose. The “Sons” of Chicago expressed their extreme regret at the very open and defiant manner of their brethren in the southern part of the State, and believed that it would be prejudicial to the prosperity of the Order. Our readers have not forgotten the Coles county tragedy, the murderers and their victims. There is not a particle of doubt that those murders were premeditated, and first the subject of discussion in the temples of the Sons of Liberty. The assault was made without provocation, and the thirst for the blood of Union men was the motive for the deed. We have never advocated or countenanced mob law, but if there was ever a time in the history of our government in which it was justifiable, it was in the cases of the Coles county murderers. The times seemed, perhaps, to have demanded a vigilance committee of citizens, who would administer justice fast enough to suit the emergency of the cases upon which they might be called to adjudicate, and having “cleaned out” the murderous scoundrels in that locality, they might have found a demand for their services in Chicago. But it is better that the people controlled their just indignation and left it to time, to punish the infamous wretches who turned their arms and their all against the country, to whom they are indebted for all the blessings which they proved themselves to be utterly incapable of appreciating. It was the boast of the “Sons” that their numbers embraced many of the officers of our armies, and the names of several were mentioned, who had sworn that they would never fire or order their commands to fire upon “our Southern brethren,” and it was added that such officers could serve the cause of this order better in the field, than in any other manner. As time passed on, the plans of the villains belonging to the Chicago Temple, or the plans of the order throughout the State for the attack upon Camp Douglas became more complete in their details. The policy of obtaining positions for members upon all the railroads and in telegraph offices, was very popular with the order, and it was confidently stated, that upon the release of the prisoners the leaders would at once take full possession of the railroads and telegraph offices. It was arranged that the attack upon the camp should be made the night after election, as it now became fully apparent to all that there was not a shadow of a chance to elect either National or State ticket by the Copperheads. Fires were to be kindled in different parts of the city, and these were to be so numerous that they would necessarily divert the attention of the citizens, while the attack should be made. Near the camp is a growth of small oaks and other small wood which offered a fine retreat or hiding place for those who would attack the camp. The attacking party were to go singly or in groups which might not attract attention, and when they were in readiness, they were suddenly to spring forward and commence an assault simultaneously on three sides of the enclosure. The risk to the invading party was not considered large, as the whole undertaking would be but the work of a few moments, and it was confidently believed that some communication could previously be established with the rebels by their desperate friends and allies upon the outside; and it is now quite certain that some intelligence was communicated to the rebels, and well understood by them, as not long before the election, supposed signals in the way of rockets, blue lights, &c. were at one time exhibited by a small group of persons, without any apparent design, which could have been distinctly seen at camp. Mrs. Morris, who has confessed her complicity with the rebel sympathizers, was a frequent visitor to the camp, and it was thought that she might be very useful in conveying letters, messages, &c. Indeed it was morally certain that there was an understanding between the rebels inside, and the cowardly dogs on the outside of the post. It will be remembered that fire arms for at least ten thousand men were safely and secretly stored in Chicago, and that there was a perfect understanding between the members of the higher degrees of the Sons of Liberty, and the leaders of the invading party from Canada; Had the attack been made, however good the understanding between the “Sons” and the rebels might have been, the former would soon have found, to their surprise and to their dismay, that their glory would suddenly have departed, for the released rebels would instantly have obeyed the commands of their own officers, and Northern Sons of Liberty would have been compelled to fall into line, whether they would or not. A few of the Sons would have received some consideration, and this would especially have been the case with Brig.-Gen. Charles Walsh, but in the main the “accursed democracy,"–as one rebel writing to another was pleased to speak of the order–was to be kept in the front, or in other words, used as circumstances might require to do the vilest offices of this vile and devilish conspiracy. As the time of the election was drawing near, the Sons of Liberty expressed a wish to have a man at their head, in the place of Wilkinson, who would command respect, and whose appearance of dignity and years would impress new comers most favorably. This man was found in Obadiah Jackson, Jr. Esq., as Grand Seignior, and so much gratified were they with his peculiar fitness for this distinguished honor, that they resolved to find a second officer, or Ancient Brother, and Lewis C. Morrison gave place to a Mr. Hoffman. Things were now working smoothly, new members were rapidly joining, and it was evident that the new organization was most favorable for the growth and unity of the Order. The rapidly increasing number of Temples in every part of the State, would have been truly alarming to the friends of the Union. New comers were introduced at every meeting, and large numbers were initiated at Judge Morris’ residence, where favored individuals were also initiated in the mysteries of the higher degrees; so that there were hundreds of persons, in good standing with the Order as bona fide members, who seldom or never visited the lodge room; this was especially the case with the higher grade of persons–the politicians, lawyers and others. At a meeting in the autumn, Judge Morris was present and made a speech in response to the request of several members, who asked information concerning the immediate purposes of the Order. He spoke, as was his custom, of the tyranny of the President; he said the rights of the people had been trampled upon, and the constitution had been violated by him. He referred to the suspension of the habeas corpus, and said many of our best men were at that moment “rotting in Lincoln’s bastiles;” that it was our duty to wage a war against them, and open their doors; that when the Democrats got into power they would impeach and probably hang him, and all who were thus incarcerated should be set at liberty; that thousands of our best men were prisoners in Camp Douglas, and if once at liberty would “send abolitionists to hell in a hand basket;” he said the meanest of those prisoners was purity itself compared to “Lincoln’s hirelings.” He added that the tyranny of “Abraham the First” was fast drawing to a close, and those who were anxious to fight, would not have to wait long. He also spoke in favor of retaliation.
The Judge’s speeches were always marked by vehemence, profanity and violent gesticulation; he never spoke except to condemn the administration, and to express his confidence in this Order to remedy all the evils of the administration, and that we should very soon–"in sixty days,” have the power, and yet on several occasions he expressed the belief that McClellan would not be elected. No one, not even the most stupid in the first degree of the Temple, could fail to understand how the Copperheads were to have the reins of the General Government in sixty days, and yet that the party could not hope for success at the polls. A man named William Hull, connected with the Order, rebuked such speeches in unqualified terms, and as a consequence drew down upon himself the odium of the Order. Mr. Hull expressed himself in favor of compliance with the Constitution and the laws, and of the Union. His denunciations of the rebels excluded him from the confidence of the leaders, who began to regard him as a “dangerous man,” and expressed the belief that he would turn against them, and therefore required watching. Mr. Hull was a man of good common sense, and made several Union speeches in the Order, which confirmed the suspicion that had been expressed by some, that he was a spy and detective, and it was said it would be far better to put him out of the way, or in other words to kill him, lest he might betray them, and further as the time of the election was so near at hand, it was voted by the Sons of Liberty to destroy all their records, so that in case of arrest no documentary evidence could be brought against them. While the motion was pending, Mr. Richard T. Semmes, one of the prisoners tried at Cincinnati, moved an amendment, that the names of members be retained, so that in case any one should betray the Order they might be known and hung, but it was not deemed safe to preserve the record, and most of the memoranda was destroyed, but for the edification of the members, we will add that we have on deposit in Chicago an entire and correct list of names of the Chicago, and most of the prominent Temples, and it may be deemed expedient to publish it hereafter; this will be determined by the general behavior of the members themselves.
In regard to Mr. Hull, to whom we have alluded, it should be said that his death was fixed upon by the members. Felton and Morrison agreed to do the work, but afterwards another proposition was made, to give him money and induce him to leave for parts unknown. This peaceable disposition of the man was not satisfactory. Said they, “dead men tell no tales,” and at an informal meeting, a vote was taken and all, with a single exception, present were in favor of death. That exception required more satisfactory evidence that Hull was the informer, and thus the murder of the man was prevented. The writer has not a particle of doubt, having been present at this meeting and heard the proposition and the vote taken, that the murder would have been perpetrated within twenty-four hours had not a single person been so exacting in regard to the facts. It may readily be believed that the writer never mingled in this murderous company without a brace of revolvers in his pocket, ready for instant use, and it may be no stretch of credulity to believe, that in case of an assault, the instruments would have been called into requisition.
About the first of October, the restrictions upon the purchase and sale of firearms were removed, and the trade in the city in this department became very active.
“Who has fought in every clime, the man who advised raising the Black Flag and murdering Union soldiers, and who was to have assumed command of the Rebel prisoners upon being released from Camp Douglas, and to whom the citizens of Chicago would have had to appeal for mercy."]
The intensity of hatred of Union soldiers, by the Copperheads would almost challenge credence. It was a common thing to seek to embroil them in personal altercations, and to fall upon them with violence and malice, and it is our opinion, that in almost every case where soldiers ever became involved in personal difficulty, the provocation came from Copperheads. We may mention an instance in point. During the summer, a Union soldier presented himself at our office and required surgical aid. His head was bleeding copiously, and his hair matted with blood, and so mutilated was he that he could scarcely speak or walk. He was perfectly sober, and evidently a very quiet, worthy man. It was doubtful how his injuries might terminate, but the poor fellow received our best attention, and thanks to a kind Providence, recovered after a long and painful illness. It appears that he was beset by a party of Copperheads, without the least provocation, only that he was a Union soldier. For our act of humanity in rendering professional aid, we were gravely suspected for a time of being “a dangerous man,” and received several lectures of censure from the Sons of Liberty. He was but a “Union soldier,” and his death, they said, was a matter of congratulation rather than of regret.