The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
THE REASONS WHY REBEL AGENTS WERE SENT TO CANADA, AND THEIR DOINGS–VARIOUS PLOTS OF MISCHIEF, HARRASSING, PILLAGING, &c.–THE WATCHWORD OF THE REBELS IN CANADA.
The United States armies being continually pressed forward, step by step, towards the heart of the Confederacy, occupying more and more of the soil from which their commissary was but illy and scantily supplied, together with a desire on the part of the Southern people, to let the people of the North see what invasion meant, to make them feel and see the destruction and desolation following our army of invasion, determined the Richmond government, in 1863, to send its agents to the Canadas, well supplied with money, to endeavor to foment discord, and to intensify the dissatisfaction already existing in certain political circles, with the government, to such an extent that it could be made available for their own uses and purposes. Knowing that thousands of their soldiers were confined at Johnston’s Island, and Camp Douglas near Chicago, almost within twelve hours’ travel of Canada, it was the great object of the rebel government to release those prisoners of war, and in the mean time having stirred up and excited a formidable conspiracy in the North, particularly in the North-West, having in view the subversion of the government, and the securing of material aid and assistance to the rebels, and those rebel prisoners being released through the instrumentality of the rebels from Canada and those of the Northern sympathizers who could be induced to join in the expeditions for that purpose, the conspiracy was to culminate all over the North–but principally in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and New York, and effect the release of the prisoners of war confined in the various prisons in those States. The prisoners at all these places being released, were to form a nucleus around which all the dissatisfied people of the Northern States could rally, and endeavor to maintain themselves and their cause here in the North, and by rallying in formidable numbers, to cause the withdrawal of so many troops from the field in front, to establish peace at home, that it would materially change the whole character of the war, and remove the seat of war from the cotton States to the Northern States–Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. Upon the withdrawal of the troops in any considerable numbers from the front, was to follow the advance of the rebel armies into Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri.
Sterling Price would never have invaded the State of Missouri in the fall of 1864, had it not been to give all the aid and assistance the rebellion could afford, to the conspiracy just then ready to break loose, and this explains the position that Hood occupied for nearly two months in Northern Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. He would never have placed himself in such a position, had it not been deemed absolutely necessary by the Richmond Government, that his army should be placed where upon the breaking out of the conspiracy he could exercise a great influence over its prospects of success. To further the objects and views just stated, Jacob Thompson, of Miss., formerly Secretary of the Interior under Buchanan’s administration, was made a secret agent for the Rebel Government in the Canadas, and two hundred and fifty or three hundred thousand dollars in specie, or its equivalent, was placed in his hands by the Rebel Government, for the purpose of arming and equipping any expedition he might place on foot from British America, for the injury of the inland or ocean commerce of the United States, or harrassing its Northern borders, and particularly for the release of the Rebel prisoners of war at Camp Douglas and Johnston Island, and from the beginning of Mr. Thompson’s services in Canada, we may date all the regularly organized and officered expeditions from British America against the United States. Chief of all these expeditions were the two attempts, during last year, to release the prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, near Chicago, Ill., and the two different attempts to capture the steamer “Michigan” (a United States vessel of war stationed on Lake Erie, carrying eighteen guns), and release the prisoners on Johnston’s Island. All four of these expeditions failed totally in the objects for which they were organized, mainly by some friendly parties having put the military authorities on their guard soon enough to enable them to defeat the attempts, and in some instances to capture the parties concerned in them.
To aid Mr. Thompson in his nefarious efforts in Canada, several officers of various ranks were detailed from the Rebel army, by the Richmond government, most prominent among these were Col. St. Leger Grenfell, an Englishman of great military experience and daring, and Capt. T.H. Hines, a young officer, who having been one of Gen. John A. Morgan’s pets, was recommended by him for the position he held in Canada, but who was possessed of no more than ordinary military talents or genius, unless his shrewdness in getting other and better persons involved in difficulty, and condemned either to prison or death, and getting himself out, evidenced military prowess. In connection with these men, were a great many citizens, of both the United States and the South, who while they were not authorized to act in any way by the Rebel government, yet showed their zeal in the cause of the rebellion, by aiding and advising with Mr. Thompson, and advising and exhorting all the rebel soldiers in Canada, and the refugees from the Northern States, to take an active part in the different schemes there on foot, to harass the northern border of the United States. The most prominent of this class were George N. Sanders, C.C. Clay, formerly Representative in the United States Congress from Alabama, Col. Steele and Daniel Hibber. There was still another secret agent of the rebels on special duty in Canada, viz., Judge Holcombe of Virginia, who was sent there for the purpose of secretly establishing agencies for the returning of rebel soldiers, who desired to go South. However much Mr. Holcombe’s mission removed him from military matters, he nevertheless approved of the different expeditions which were then being organized, and did more perhaps, than any one else, to cause the irritation now existing between the Canadians and the citizens of the United States. His policy in establishing agencies in Canada, was to get some prominent and influential citizens of the country who sympathized with his government, to act as agents to furnish rebel soldiers who had escaped to Canada, and who desired to return South, with all the necessary clothing, rations and money, &c., to enable them to go to Montreal or Quebec, where there were regularly established rebel agencies, who upon the arrival of such soldiers so furnished with money, for all the money so advanced, with perhaps interest, was returned. In this way Mr. Holcombe enlisted, besides the feelings, the interests of a great many prominent business men, whose means had been advanced to rebels, and all along the Grand Trunk and Great Western railway, in all the principal towns and cities, he succeeded in establishing such agencies, which although at first intended only for those who were rebel soldiers, finally became nothing more than recruiting rendezvous for the rebel army, which all the skedadlers, refugees from the Northern and Border States who wished to join the Southern army, were received, fed, clothed and quietly transported to the South. Upon the departure of Mr. Holcombe south, his business was turned over to C.C. Clay, who after that acted in this capacity. It was during Holcombe’s stay in Canada, that the speculative brain of George N. Sanders, first originated the great humbug of the Niagara Falls peace conference, at which there was but one rebel official, and he was not authorized to act in any such capacity. But the speculative Sanders, having lived like Barnum nearly his whole life, upon humbugs, made his last and greatest effort to humbug the American people, into the belief that the Southern people really desired peace, and that he Clay and Holcombe, although not regularly authorized by the Rebel government, still could speak for and influence the Southern people. While in reality the whole conference was nothing on the part of Sanders & Co., but the last act of a desperate political gamester, who ventured his all upon one last throw of dice, to win or lose it all. If Sanders, Holcombe, Clay and others, could have made the people of the North believe the South really desired peace, and that the only obstacle in the way was the obstinacy of the General Government, which did not desire it, but wished to annihilate the Southern people, they could have materially affected the then coming Presidential election in the North, and perhaps elected a Democratic president, who would have added to the disasters then affecting the country–general and complete ruin. The election of such a man as Gen. McClellan, at such a time, and professing such principles as actuated the Democratic party at that time, would have insured to the South her independence, rather than further war and a dismemberment of the Union. All this these parties professing to represent Southern opinion well knew, and had they been successful, would have reaped a rich political reward. Having endeavored to give a correct outline of the characters of the rebel leaders in Canada, and the different spheres in which they acted, it is now necessary to give some idea of the different classes of individuals who were led by such men, and prompted by them to undertake the many hair-brained expeditions, which they first plotted and started. These persons are rightfully and very expressively divided into four different and distinct classes: 1st. The Rebels. 2d. The skedadlers. 3d. Refugees. 4th. Bounty jumpers and escaped criminals. The term rebel is applied only to persons who have been or are connected with the rebel army, and they again are subdivided into two classes; first, those rebels who have gone to Canada as a means of escape to the South; and, secondly, those who, having been accustomed to easy and luxurious living in times of peace, and having become thoroughly disgusted with service in the army, where they were subjected to strict military discipline, sought in Canada an asylum from compulsory service of both parties. 2d. Skedadlers, as they are called, are those persons who having been drafted, or seeing a possibility of it, in the United States army, had fled to Canada to avoid the service. This class consisted mostly of fast young men, having either their own or the pockets of their parents well lined, and accustomed to live without labor of any kind, were not disposed to take a part on either side which would subject them to the inconveniences, hardships or privations of a soldier’s life; and partly of persons who, while they sympathized with the rebellion, still did not care to make their precious bodies targets for the sake of upholding the principles which they professed to entertain. 3d. Refugees, or persons who, for the sake of expressing their opinions and feelings against the government, without fear of imprisonment, had removed to Canada where they could vent their spleen and malice against all things connected with the United States, and vaunt their pernicious principles under the protection of the outstretched paw of the British lion. 4th. Bounty jumpers and criminals who could not be pursued and brought back to this country for punishment under the existing extradition treaty between the United States and Canada. This last class exceeds by far all the others in point of numbers, and the low degree of infamy to which they are reduced–rebels, skedadlers, refugees and bounty jumpers, with a mixture of escaped criminals, forming an almost indescribable mass of people, from all nations, all climes, and of almost every imaginable description, and chiefly distinguished for being more frequently found in the bar-rooms, billiard saloons, gambling halls, &c.