The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
SABBATH EVENING IN INVINCIBLE CLUB HALL–A SCENE NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN–PLANS REHEARSED–ARMS INSPECTED–REPORT OF THE BRIG.-GEN. OF THE SONS OF LIBERTY–REVOLUTION AND BLOODSHED WITHIN THE NEXT THIRTY-SIX HOURS–DISTRIBUTION OF FIREARMS UPON OUR STREETS.
The evening of the 3d of November, 1864, found a large representation of the Sons of Liberty in their lodge room in Chicago, for as the time drew near for the Presidential election–the period fixed for the carnival of crime–the members of the organization realized the importance of the utmost vigilance–lest their plans should be discovered–and of the most entire concurrence with their leaders, and concert of action in obeying the commands that might be given. At this meeting, the Brigadier-General of the Order was present, as were also Captains and Lieutenants of the Invincible Club, and a more exciting meeting had rarely ever been held in the Temple. Speakers were vehement and earnest, and their theme was the proposed uprising. As had ever been their policy, certain important facts were withheld from the fledglings in treason, who had not yet tried their wings, but there was no discord, no dissention, and all exhibited enthusiasm and confidence. Brig.-Gen. Walsh called a meeting of the Order, to be held in the hall of the Invincible Club, on Sunday evening November 6th, the hour being fixed for eight o’clock. All were exhorted to be “on hand,” as the Brig.-General had an important communication to make. Friday and Saturday an immense number of pistols, and much ammunition were sold, and many were given away in quarters, where it was certain material aid might be expected, when the time should arrive for the inauguration of revolution. To the few of us having the interests of the country at heart, who were cognisant of the acts, preparations and intentions of the Order, it will readily be believed the days were tedious, and the nights sleepless. So well had the principal secrets of the Order–the details of the uprising–been kept from the lower degree of the “Sons,” that but few of the members had a definite idea of the infamous part they were expected to perform, and it was to communicate enough information to secure harmony among the men, and that concert of action which promised the most complete success of the terrible scheme of villainy before them, that the meeting was called for Sabbath evening. It will be seen by the report of Gen. Sweet’s testimony, before the military commission, to what peril the city was exposed. With but a handful of men to garrison the post, without the ability to obtain adequate reinforcements, with ten thousand veteran rebels in a camp, so incomplete in its structure, with the certainty that our secret enemies were upon the railroads already, and seeking positions in the post-office, in telegraph offices, if, as there was good reason to apprehend, the telegraph stations were not already under their control, that by Judge Morris’ official report to the Temple, two full regiments of Sons of Liberty, all well armed and disciplined, were ready at an hour’s notice, and that a third regiment was almost complete, the knowledge also that the entire body of Copperheads in the State, and in the northwest, would rise simultaneously with the traitors in our city, with good reason to believe it impossible to safely communicate with the head of the State military department–in this most unenviable position, to know that the fatal moment was fast coming, when the infernal machinery was to be set in motion, and to make arrangements to avert the catastrophe so quietly as not to arrest attention, or excite the alarm of the leaders of the plot, which would have instantly been executed, had it become apparent that the movements of these traitors were watched; these considerations and the discharge of the fearful responsibilities resting upon the only parties who could then hope to avert the danger, occupied the mind and hands of the commandant of the post, and employed the utmost vigilance of the writer and able assistants. Every few hours orderlies and special couriers were despatched to the headquarters of the camp, with such reports as could be obtained. We have read Eastern tales of travelers, when accident had discovered them in closest proximity to the deadly cobra de capello, the breathless horror with which they contemplated its motions, and saw it slowly coiling itself upon their limbs, or upon a table at their bedsides, and knowing that a single motion on the part of the imperilled person would be but to invite certain death, the vigilance and eager solicitude, the distressing anxiety with which they regarded the movements and intent of the venomous creature, but never till a full realization of our position in regard to this organized band of traitors, did we ever experience sensations akin to those of the unfortunate traveler; and when the loathsome reptile had got into a position where it was safe to attempt its destruction, and when this attempt was successful, no greater relief or deeper emotions of gratitude could have been felt by him–a moment before exposed to instant and terrible death–than were experienced by us when the danger had been averted.
Sunday evening came. Our citizens worshiping in the churches, or in peaceful repose in their own residences, little knew of the imminent peril to which they were exposed, or of the gathering of their fellow citizens in the Invincible Club Hall to arrange the details which, if successful, would bring ruin, desolation and death to thousands of our unsuspecting people. Up the entrance to the hall, cautiously crept the members of the order, peering behind them, and advancing one by one, or in groups of two or three, till they reached the hall. The door was guarded by a sentinel, so that intrusion was out of the question. At nine o’clock, the assemblage was called to order by Obadiah Jackson, Jr., Esq., the Grand Seignior. Patrick Dooley, Secretary, was in his place on the right of the Grand Seignior. The meeting was large, and a more desperate looking collection of men have rarely assembled in a convention in our city. Such desecration of the evening of the Sabbath has never before been witnessed here. After the opening of the meeting, one of the members took early occasion to remark substantially, that it must have been noticed by all present, as well as himself, that the city was full of strangers, and that he had noticed many of them were dressed in butternut clothes, and had good reason to believe that they were Abolitionists in disguise; that it was advisable to watch them, it being his confident opinion that they had come to the city for the purpose of fraudulently voting the Abolition ticket; and the speaker was proceeding in this strain, much to the amusement of the members of the higher degree, to whom the men in butternut clothes were no strangers. The speaker had scarcely taken his seat, when James A. Wilkinson, Past Grand Seignior, rose and stated that the suspicious looking persons were “our friends,” and that he himself had brought a company of sixty of them to the city, and that they were entitled to every attention, as they would do good service for “us,” and stated that he was going back for more. The strangers who were the subject of discussion, were from the counties in the Southern part of the State, and all bore the same general appearance of vagabonds, cut-throats, felons, bounty-jumpers and deserters. They had all seemed to appear simultaneously in our city, unheralded even to the “Sons,” and their advent was as much a subject of remark, as would have been a shower of toads and tadpoles. They did not take up their quarters at respectable hotels and private houses, but sneaked away stealthily to the lowest dens of vice, and resorts of criminals unwhipped of justice. They came to help perform infamous work, and had a part of the price of their guilt upon their persons, or had already invested it for the poorest quality of intoxicating liquors. They had been collected together from the various country towns in the Southern part of the State, where they had been in training under the command of rebel officers, and many of them were the same parties who had come to Chicago at the time of the Democratic National Convention, hopeful and confident of the uprising, and who had been so wofully disappointed, and turned their backs so reluctantly upon our banks and stores, from which they had intended to glut their avarice, and amply remunerate themselves with the property of our citizens. Nothing on earth is more positively certain than, had the work not been arrested at the moment it was, these devils would have pillaged every bank and rifled every storehouse in Chicago; and it is equally certain that beyond Colonel Sweet and the writer, with his assistant, Robert Alexander, none knew of the intricate deadly plot in detail, although Major-General Hooker, Brig.-Gen. Paine, Governor Yates, Hon. I.N. Arnold, and William Rand, Esq., of the Tribune had been informed by the writer of the general intent of the organization. But to return to the secret convention at the hall. The explanation of J.A. Wilkinson not being satisfactory to Mr. Hull, some curt remarks were banded between the speakers, which Obadiah Jackson, Jr., Esq., the Grand Seignior could not well control, Brig.-Gen. Charlie Walsh rose to his feet and said unhesitatingly, that he had by his own order “brought these men here to vote and to fight,” and he added, “by God they will vote early and often, and they will fight.” Gen. Walsh desired that all the “brethren” would extend the hospitalities of the city to the visitors, for they were “our friends.” While this discussion was going on, there was a Confederate officer in the hall, and within ten feet of Walsh. The joy upon the announcement by Walsh, found expression in a rude and boisterous manner. It having been definitely settled that the wretches who had been the subject of discussion were good for any number of votes, and fully prepared to take part in the attack, so soon to startle our city; the convention proceeded to ascertain who among its members were unarmed, and to supply such delinquents forthwith. The members generally exhibited revolvers of various patterns, but upon inspection by the officers, preference was expressed for the pattern like those which were subsequently found in the house of Walsh, by the officers, at the time of his arrest. There were several who had not the approved pattern, and such persons were instructed to apply next morning at the store of James Geary, corner of Wells and Madison streets, and they would be supplied, but upon consultation it was remarked by Geary, that as he was already suspected he feared it would hardly be expedient for Walsh to send arms to him for distribution, and it was agreed by J.H. Hubbard, the treasurer of the Invincible Club, that he would receive possession of the revolvers, and give them to all who might apply, and such persons were to call at the door of the Invincible Club hall, at 9 o’clock the next morning, when they would be supplied. It was arranged that a guard of not less than fifty or one hundred men, all well armed, should remain all day on Tuesday, (election day,) at the polls in each ward, making not less than one full regiment in the aggregate, thus detailed for special “service.”
To distinguish friends and members at a time when trouble should break out, was a subject now raised for debate, and it was finally agreed that the members should wear McClellan badges upon the left breast, attached by red and white ribbons. It was understood that orderlies were to be constantly reporting from each ward at the headquarters of Gen. Walsh, and thus a regular line of communication would be kept up, which in case of trouble, would be greatly to the advantage of these ruffians. They were all advised to deposit their vote with one hand, and present their revolver with the other. It was confidently asserted by individuals, but with how much truth we know not, that an Invincible Club from Philadelphia, would also be present and help do the voting, but as no Philadelphia Roughs were reported in the city, the help expected from Philadelphia probably did not arrive. The most violent secession speeches were made by Duncan, who was then connected with the Mercantile agency in McCormick’s block, Walsh, Wilkinson, and many others.
The meeting adjourned at a late hour, and many of the leaders, prominent among whom was James Geary, proceeded to a secure retreat, and then in the quiet hours of Sunday night, gave away a great number of revolvers of the same style and pattern with those subsequently seized by the authorities.