The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
ARRESTS–GREAT EXCITEMENT–GENERAL CONSTERNATION OF THE COPPERHEADS–NEW VICTORIES IN THE FIELD–DEATH-BLOW OF JEFF. DAVIS’ SECRET ORGANIZATION AND HOPES IN THE NORTH–FINDING OF ARMS–THE EFFECT ALL THROUGHOUT THE NORTH-WEST.
Before the morning of Monday, November 7th dawned, a dispatch, embracing the most important features of the Sunday night meeting, had been prepared by the writer, and forwarded to the commandant of Camp Douglas, who, during the night, arrested Judge Morris, Brig.-Gen. Charles Walsh, and others, and a large number of “butternuts,” who had been the subject of discussion at the Sunday night meeting, and these prisoners were safely lodged in Camp Douglas. The news of the arrests, and the charges upon which they were made, caused intense excitement among all classes, loyal men rejoicing for the promptness and wisdom of the measure, while the Copperheads howled fearfully, and denounced it as a fresh evidence of “Lincoln’s tyranny.” As the facts became generally known, there was an unanimous expression of approval on the part of all good, loyal citizens. The consternation of the Copperheads was truly great; they felt that, notwithstanding their many precautions for secrecy, the eye of the government had been upon them in their most secret places, and this consternation was not by any means relieved when they read in the morning papers an extract of Brig.-Gen. Charles Walsh’s speech before the order in the Invincible Club hall. They felt certain that they were watched, and that they were under careful espionage, and the effect was precisely what we had expected and desired. It was telegraphed in every direction, that the government bad a complete knowledge of their designs and proceedings, and such a tremor and quaking with fear the Copperheads had not previously exhibited. It completely deranged their designs, and caused an utter abandonment of the plot, for the leaders in Chicago having been arrested, no one knew how soon his turn would come, and it is a general and well-established fact, that however sanguinary and fiendish a rabble may prove when attacking their victims by surprise, the mass of such beings lose their brute courage when discovering, to a certainty, that the details of their strategy are known, and the party upon whom an assault is contemplated is prepared, and will repel the attack with that fury, vigor, desperation and perseverance that will surely carry death to many of the assailants. They lack zeal, because they know their cause is a bad one, just as one honest man will put three rogues to flight. It was telegraphed that the heads of the government were fully advised of the conspiracy, and that officers were freely visiting all the more important temples in the North-West, mingling in the “business” of these meetings, and apprising the military leaders of every move which had been made, which was being made, and which was contemplated. Suspicion was aroused, and so general did this distrust soon become, that no one was willing to trust his neck in a halter, and any one of his associates having possession of the other end. Suddenly a most wonderful reform was apparent, as rats disappear from view after a few have been captured. Those who were at Invincible Club hall, and made secession speeches, declared they were all drunk, or were not in earnest, and other equally flimsy excuses;–these are the apologies members made to each other, presuming they were addressing the party who had surrendered them to the government. It was amusing to notice their trepidation. They were variously affected. Capt. P.D. Parks, of the Invincible Club, really cried, like a whipped schoolboy, from fear; many ran away with all possible speed. Doolittle, the man of valor, who was to lead a party against Camp Douglas, was the first to run away, and from certain “surface indications,” we rather think he is running yet. James A. Wilkinson, the valorous Past Grand Seignior, has gone to look after Doolittle; Silver has gone to Canada; Strawn has turned a summerset into the Republican party; S. Corning Judd helped to convict the prisoners in Cincinnati, although called by the defense; Amos Green, the Major-General of the Order in Illinois, has quietly subsided, and is no longer belligerent; Vallandigham gives the Order the cold-shoulder, and affects pious horror upon the recital of its aims and purposes–and, indeed, the whole organization, as formidable as it was in numbers, was soon in the most terrible condition, and died in great agony. The complications of the disease of which the order came to its death, would puzzle the most profound pathologist. It might, perhaps, be set down as a disease of the heart, induced by corrupt morals, with the following complications: Softening of the brain from the study of State sovereignty; extreme nervous debility from the reproach of a guilty conscience; injury to the spine by suddenness of fall; weakness of the limbs from bad whiskey, and impurity of the blood from contamination. The child of secession is dead–as dead as the cause of the Southern Confederacy! Jeff. Davis’ pet institution was decently buried within the enclosure of Camp Douglas. There being no provision or service in the ritual for this occasion, we may only exclaim, as we look upon his last resting-place, “Requiescat in pace.“
The arrest of General Walsh and others, and the discovery of a great number of revolvers, etc., all loaded and ready for use, and the rather unpleasant discovery that the Brigadier-General had actually employed a Government detective to go to his house and give instructions in making cartridges, were rather mortifying to the order, and when it appeared that the Chairman of the Vigilance Committee, whose province was to take the balance of the arms, which we learned were in Walsh’s barn, and with all possible haste remove them to a place of safety, and the Chairman (who makes this record for the edification of his constituents), deemed the safest place he could find the retired locality of Camp Douglas, and if the inquisitive eyes of Gen. Sweet, and his grasping propensities, should take possession of all the valuable carbines, Enfield rifles, muskets and revolvers, let them moderate their wrath, and find consolation in the thought that in their last hour it will be a pleasant reflection that all those bristling warlike implements fell into the hands of men who will not put them to base uses.
When it was announced, with all confidence, that beneath the hay in Charley Walsh’s barn was a large number of firearms that must be speedily removed, a new idea of the value of ladies’ hoops burst upon the world (not “The Wide-Wide World,”) but the few who were present when James L. Rock, one of the editors of the Chicago Times announced that his wife (and Mr. Rock ought to know), and some other ladies could quickly remove these weapons by concealing them under their hoops, Colonel Sweet, with his usual gallantry, spared the ladies the inconvenience and trouble, and removed them quite as well and as quickly.
After the first arrests, other followed, but after a time many of these worthies were liberated, not because of their innocence; and they may now one and all consider themselves on their good behavior.
After the first arrests, the hall of the “Temple” in Chicago was deserted. It was not thought to be exactly safe, and meetings were held occasionally wherever they could find a place of safety, where it was morally certain Gen. Sweet would not know of their gatherings or of their business, and where it would be a dead secret forever; and they one and all swore that whoever had exposed them to the Government should die by assassination. This was their fixed purpose, and when suspicion fastened upon Hull, no less than three persons volunteered to do the deed, those men were Lewis C. Morrison, old Felton, the Outside Guardian, and, by his own confession, detective of the order, and James L. Rock, one of the editors o the Chicago Times.
Two of these “gentlemen” visited the office of the writer of this book during the progress of the trial, and used the following language. “If it be true, (he having inferred from Alexander’s testimony that the writer had been in the interest of the General Government), a thousand times you had better be Charley Walsh than Dr. Ayer.”
A project was considered to rally the order and carry out the original programme, but as well might an attempt have been made to infuse life into a body that had been buried a fortnight. A messenger who went to Lewiston, Ill., to “see what the order would do about it,” were coolly told by their Grand Commander, S. Corning Judd, Esq., that “they wouldn’t do a thing." This unsatisfactory report proved two things–that S. Corning Judd, Grand Commander, and candidate for Lieut. Governor of Illinois, (who might have got the election, if the “ballot and bullet” butternut machinery had only proved available), considered the institution as “gone up,” and 2d–that he was ungrateful to a people who had at least made him their nominee. Gentlemen who, by request, visited the different sections of the State and of the Northwest, all reported that immediately after it was known that the Government knew their secrets as well as they did themselves, they tacitly agreed not to regard themselves as a “secret” organization in future, and we have the best of reasons to believe the entire order is so completely uprooted that it can never again spring up to curse the land. Home traitors have been taught, and it is well if they profit by the lesson, they cannot form any society or order based upon treason, that can for any considerable time continue “secret.” Its purposes will transpire, for the all-seeing eye of Him who reads the hearts of men, and will not suffer “a sparrow to fall to the ground without his notice,” that God who hath decreed that this nation shall be re-united, shall be prosperous, free, happy, and truly great, will not suffer traitors to be successful, but will give them into the hands of those who reverence His mighty and terrible name; and their cunning shall be a reproach, and their machinations shall be known of all men, and they shall blush with burning shame that they were ever false to their country.
A prominent lawyer and citizen of Chicago, a bitter and strong advocate of Democratic faith and the peculiar notions of the Sons of Liberty. He was arrested at the same time with Walsh in his own house. He was a strong Southern man in his feelings and openly sympathized with the rebellion, and so strong were his sympathies that he frequently furnished escaped rebel prisoners of war with clothing, food, and money, and otherwise aided them in escaping from the country. B.S. Morris was at one time judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and was a candidate for Governor of the State of Illinois. He was born in Kentucky, and is about sixty years of age. Out side of his treason, Judge Morris was generally regarded as possessing many noble qualities of heart.]