The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO RELEASE THE PRISONERS OF WAR AT CAMP DOUGLAS–THE CHARACTER IN WHICH THEY CAME–UNDER THE LEAD OF CAPT. HINES–THE REASONS WHY THEY FAILED TO EFFECT THEIR OBJECT–REBEL OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS DRILLING COPPERHEADS IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS AND INDIANA.
It is the writer’s intention to speak first of two expeditions to Chicago, for the release of the prisoners confined there. The first of these took place during the Chicago Democratic Convention, when it was hoped that the rebels from Canada and their sympathizers from Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, who came armed to assist them in their projects, would be enabled to go quietly into the city without fear of detection, in the vast crowds who were then assembling there, from all parts of the United States, and under the guise of friendly visitors, were to be ready at a moment’s notice whenever their leaders called upon them to spring out before the people in their true light, and effect the release of those rebels confined at Camp Douglas. As early as the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth of August last, at the request of Jacob Thompson, secretly and quietly circulated all through the Canadas, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, all the Rebels, Skedadlers, Refugees, and others who could be relied upon to take part in the expedition, began to assemble in Toronto, Canada West, at the different hotels and boarding houses; of these, at that time, it was generally reported that there were about three hundred; but so far as positive evidence goes, out of this number only about seventy-five men were induced to join this expedition and go to Chicago. At Toronto the objects of the expedition were made known to nearly all of them, and arms furnished them–arms manufactured in New York city and shipped to Canada for that express purpose. The details of the affair were only known to a few of the leaders, who maintained the strictest silence upon the subject, and enjoined upon the men the most implicit obedience to their orders, pledging themselves for their safety and the feasibility of their plans. On the nights of the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth of August, these men began to leave Toronto, by all the different routes leading to Chicago, in squads of from two to ten, and began to arrive at the Richmond House in that city, as early as the Saturday before the Convention. They were all pledged to fight to the last, and never under any circumstances surrender, as their lives would be forfeited, if caught. The whole expedition was under the charge of Capt. Thomas H. Hines, who had a commission as Major-General in the Rebel army, to take effect and date from the release of the rebel prisoners of war at Rock Island or Camp Douglas. Hines is the person who is said to have effected the escape of General John H. Morgan himself, and others from the penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio, and although it is not generally known in the North or South how Morgan escaped, and there not being one word of truth in his report, he has enjoyed for a long time the reputation of having been the author of it, and of being a desperate shrewd character. The real facts in the case were (and it does not do the service of the United States much credit to mention them,) that General John H. Morgan “was bribed out.” It was absolutely necessary however for General Morgan to make some report of his escape to the public, that would hoodwink the United States Government and save the officers, whom his friends in the North had bribed to let him out, from punishment by the authorities, and therefore a very romantic tale was made up, and Morgan’s pet Capt. Hines, was made the hero of it; and it was the object of the rebel government in sending Hines to Canada to give an air of truth to this romantic tale, to secure the United States officials who have failed in their duty to their country. Hines was assisted in his efforts by Col. St. Leger Grenfel an English adventurer of great military experience, personal bravery and daring, who has had a romantic connection with nearly every important war in America, Europe, Asia and Africa for the past thirty years, and served in the Southern army with the rank of Col., as Adjt.-Gen. to Morgan, and afterwards on General Bragg’s staff; but who pretended to have resigned his commission in the rebel army and was living quietly in Canada; also by one Capt. Castleman of Morgan’s command, from Kentucky, who acted as Quartermaster of the party, and about seventy-five, rank and file, (nearly all of whom were officers) of the rebel army from Canada. These men were to be met here in Chicago by parties from nearly all the middle, western and border States, who came armed like themselves and for the same purpose. Of those citizens who came to Chicago, armed and ready like the rebels, there were over a thousand persons organized and officered, camped in this city, just waiting for the command, and there were in the vast throng then assembled in Chicago five or six thousand, who, while they would not attach themselves to any organization, and were afraid to risk the first attempt, yet if the first attempt had been successful they would have joined the others in their work of devastation and destruction. The above is most too low an estimate of the number of these malcontents who did not join any military organization, but would have eventually joined if it had been successful; for rebel officers have been heard to say in Canada, after the Convention was over, that if they could have “started the thing right,” they would have had an army of twenty-five thousand in a week. With such a force, or even a force of ten thousand, in possession of the city of Chicago, almost every city and large town where there were many Democrats, and where the Sons of Liberty, the Illinois Societies, Illini, &c., had full sway in Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, were to raise the insurrectionary cry, and endeavor to bring all peace men and Democrats under their banners. They were also to endeavor to maintain themselves in their respective neighborhoods, districts, States, etc., were to seize upon all the railroads and public buildings, and in the event they were not strong enough to hold all the country, they were to rally around the liberated rebels and their friends at Chicago, Camp Chase, Camp Morton, and other places, after destroying all the public works, railroads, etc., that would be of any service to the Government, in following them up, or baulking their movements. In the meantime, however, the military authorities in Chicago had not been idle, and the rebels and their abettors looked with dismay upon every fresh arrival of troops and artillery, as it was reported in their headquarters by spies, who had the temerity to go to the observatory just opposite the camp, from which they could see almost all over it, and send up hourly reports of everything taking place inside.
They not only had their spies, one might almost say, in Camp Douglas, but in the telegraph offices, and were in or so near Post Headquarters, that they were able to chronicle nearly every event of any importance to them, that transpired, in any of those places.
On the third day of the Convention, it was announced from rebel headquarters at the Richmond House, that the expedition was a failure, that owing to the precautions taken by the military authorities, and the non-arrival of a thousand or two of other Copperheads, who had promised to be in Chicago, ready to assist in the undertaking, and owing to the want of sufficient discipline and organization among the Copperheads, who were on hand, that an attempt at that time upon the garrison of Camp Douglas would involve the destruction of the lives of too many prisoners, and perhaps the killing and capturing of all those who made the attempt to release them. As soon as it was generally known among the rebels that they had failed in attaining the objects for which they came to Chicago, Col. Grenfell and Capt. Castleman made their appearance among them, and stated that it had been generally agreed upon that all who were willing should go to Southern Illinois and Indiana, to drill and organize the Copperheads for the coming struggle, which they thought would take place very soon, or in other words, as soon as Gen. Lee should have Gen. Grant’s army in full retreat towards Washington city, or should have inflicted some other almost irreparable disaster upon the Union arms, which event both they and the Copperheads with them, were not only wishing to take place, but confidently expecting every day; that they with Hines and others were going home with some delegates to the Convention, where they could live quietly and work to a great advantage. On the fourth day of the Convention, the men and officers were paid various sums from twenty to one hundred dollars, and it was left to their option whether they would go to Southern Illinois, Indiana, or return to Canada. Some fifteen or twenty went to Canada, and about fifty went to Southern Illinois and Indiana. Thus ended the first attempt to release the rebel prisoners of war at Camp Douglas. It was certainly a bold movement, both on the part of the rebels, who exposed themselves to such great risk of suffering a disgraceful and ignominious death, and the citizens who aided them in their nefarious designs. But it seemed that an angel of an all-seeing Providence stretched its protecting wings over the fair city, which was doomed by the rebels and their friends at the North first to see and feel the demoralizing influence of an insurrectionary force. What expression, or what degree of contempt is most appropriate for the citizens connected with these rebel efforts;–persons owing a true and faithful allegiance to the Government, yet aiding and abetting its public enemies, persons who while professing a common fealty with their fellow citizens, would welcome to their homes incendiaries, and incite them to murder and plunder those very fellow citizens, and compel them to suffer all the horrors of a cruel warfare! No epithets that human ingenuity could heap upon them would be too harsh, or too undeserved, no contempt too humiliating for a people so devoid of honesty and all the qualities essential to render them prosperous and happy.