The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer

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Chap. XVI


The services of Brig.-Gen. B.J. Sweet, in relation to the Northwestern Conspiracy, have already been briefly mentioned, and the reader will perhaps find the report of that officer’s testimony full of interest. After the communications by the writer to Gen. Sweet (then Colonel) in command of Camp Douglas, which were made by request of Gen. Paine, dispatches were regularly forwarded to that officer, who never failed to receive them with gratification. The service was one of extreme danger, difficulty and delicacy, requiring the most careful attention, unceasing vigilance, and only the consciousness of discharging an important and imperative duty to the country, and the confident belief that invaluable aid might thus be rendered, could have induced the writer to enter upon and pursue a line of service, a thousand times more distasteful and perilous than active service upon the field.

The recognition of the writer’s services by Brig.-Gen. Paine, and subsequently by Maj. Gen. Hooker, in commendatory letters, will ever be remembered, showing as it did, a grateful appreciation by those gallant officers, of services of which, from their character, the public could have no knowledge for the time being.

The following is the testimony of Gen. Sweet, as substantially given before the military commission in Cincinnati:


My name is Benjamin J. Sweet; I am and was, during the months of September, October, and November of last year, Colonel of the 8th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps; I was also, and still am, Commandant of the Post of Chicago, including Camp Douglas. The post I command extended, I suppose to the limits of the surrounding posts.

The Judge Advocate.–What are the geographical limits of the command of the Post of Chicago.

Mr. Asay objected to the question, as involving a matter of law and not of evidence, but his objection was overruled by the Court.

Witness continued.–My jurisdiction extends to the limits of the posts north at Madison, Wisconsin, southwest to Rock Island, south, or almost south, to Springfield, and east to Detroit, Michigan. The Commandant has jurisdiction over everything pertaining to military affairs in the jurisdiction, over the command of all troops, and for the protection of the property of the Government and of the people. Chicago is one of the first military depots of supplies in the country. There are ten depots in charge of a Colonel, and Chicago is one of them. The Depot Quartermaster at that time was Colonel Potter. From the commencement to the latter end of August, the number of troops under my command, fit for duty, was from 800 to 900. Towards the end of August, I was reinforced by about 1,200 men, consisting of four companies of one hundred days’ men, and the 196th Pennsylvania Regiment, which numbered 750 men, also one hundred days’ men; these remained with me sixty or seventy days. I telegraphed for these reinforcements. There were between 8,000 and 9,000 prisoners in camp up to November. On the 6th of November, the morning report shows 796 men, rank and file, fit for duty. There were always on duty in Chicago about sixty men acting as provost guard; this left 736 men in camp to do guard duty. The sixty men in the city performed service in looking after deserters, guarding property, &c. The depot for supplies is in the city, and is in charge of the depot quartermaster. Troops were used for doing camp duty, and guarding prisoners of war, and forwarding deserters to various camps. The entire guard in Camp Douglas was about 500 men, 250 on duty at a time, and 250 off. These were changed every other day. The camp is within the city limits, and is about three miles from the Court House.

The conveniences to reach the camp are by way of street cars. There were buildings on the north side of the camp; on the opposite side of the street, also on the east side, there was a hotel and other dwellings. Walsh’s house was about one-fourth of a mile from the camp, with three or four houses between Walsh’s house and the camp. My duties are two-fold; I have to report to Gen. Cook, at Springfield, commanding in the State, and to Gen. Hooker, at Department headquarters. In relation to prisoners of war, I am under the instructions of the Commissary General of prisoners at Washington. These prisoners were arrested at my order. Messrs. Walsh, Cantrill and Daniels were arrested by Lieut. Col. Skinner and a detachment of troops, at Walsh’s house. Grenfel and the witness Shanks were arrested at the Richmond House, and Mr. Marmaduke was arrested at the residence of Dr. Edwards, No. 70 Adams street. Judge Morris was arrested by Mr. Keefe and members of the police. These arrests were made on the 6th of November. They were arrested upon information which led me to believe that there was on foot a conspiracy to release the prisoners, and get up a revolution in Indiana and Illinois. I regarded the emergency as immediate, and therefore acted promptly. I dared not trust the telegraph and the railroad, for I understood that the Sons of Liberty had men employed upon them. There were one hundred and fifty men arrested in all. They were principally from the South and Central Illinois, and had lately arrived in Chicago. These were mainly from Fayette and Christian counties, Illinois. These were arrested in grog-shops, boarding-houses, under the pavements, and in every part of the city. All of these men were arrested from their appearance and description, and by their looks were taken to be vagabonds. There were but few of them armed. They asserted that they came to Chicago to see the city. Some of them stated that they belonged to the Sons of Liberty, and some from the Southern army; about one tenth came from the Southern army. These bushwhackers were arrested partly by the city police, partly by citizens, and some by soldiers.

I have heard of such an organization as Klingmen’s men. Most of them coming from Christain and Fayette counties. It was chiefly made up of deserters from the Federal army and those who ran away from the draft, and was intended to resist the draft and all the operations of the Provost Marshal and the General government in the prosecution of the war. I succeeded in capturing the Captain and Lieutenant, and the principal men of the organization. It was not an organization under the United States or State law. I received all of these men up to the 8th of November, and all being strangers, I took them in.

I do not know the exact size of Camp Douglas, but believed it comprises from 60 to 70 acres of land. The prisoners square proper, covers about 20 acres. In November last it was enclosed by a board fence 12 feet in height and made of lumber an inch and a quarter in thickness. The boards were placed endways and were nailed from the inside. The outside sentinels were stationed on a parapet about three feet from the top of the fence on the outside. The camp was more easily assailable from without and less defensible than if the attack was made from inside.

The Judge Advocate here exhibited to the witness a plan of the camp found on the person of one of the conspirators.

Colonel Sweet.–The map is very roughly drawn and is a little out of proportion in detail, but is a correct drawing of the camp as it was in August and September of last year. The outlines are precisely the same. As shown on the map there were then 40 barracks in the prison square. This number is now increased. The Guard-house and small tents on the west side of the camp are also moved now. The barracks marked “Yankee Barracks” is the correct position of the barracks occupied by the garrison in Garrison Square. The building marked “Douglas House” on the South side of the camp is, I suppose the Douglas University. It is a magnificent building and is located about eighteen or twenty rods from the camp fence, and overlooks the entire camp. One hundred men, or even fifty men, stationed in that building, would command Camp Douglas, and almost make it untenable to any force. During the session of the Democratic Convention, and until the danger was over, I stationed two companies near that building. I had in my charge a prisoner named John T. Shanks at that time; he was there when I assumed the command of the camp, on the second of May, 1864. He was a clerk in the office for the commissary of prisoners. He applied to me to take the oath of allegiance during the summer. His application went through me to the Commissary General of Prisoners with my approval. I never approved these applications unless I was fully convinced that the applicant was desirous of becoming a loyal citizen. The application was not granted, but I made it the basis of communication to Commissary General that Shanks desired to serve the United States, and to take the oath. In this camp there were some men who were more largely entrusted than others. Shanks was a paroled prisoner, having the freedom of Garrison Square during the day time. There were others there in the same condition– a man named Grey, and clerks in the medical department. Shanks was allowed to go to the city two or three times in company with an officer. The prisoners are never permitted to have any funds. I gave Shanks a dollar.

Shanks never used a nomme de plume that I am aware of. The prisoners were not allowed to have any money, nor did they possess any unless they obtained it secretly. Shanks, however, had, I believe, one dollar, which I gave him. When a prisoner is brought to camp he is thoroughly searched, and any money taken from him is placed in bands of the Prisoner’s Accountant, to be drawn, if required, in provisions from the sutler. Letters are all opened, and any money they contain similarly applied. I sent Shanks to the house of Judge Morris on the 3rd of November, because five men had just escaped from the camp, and I traced them, I believe, to that house. I asked Shanks if he would not like to do the government a service. He replied that he would, when I told him that I wanted him to go to the house of Morris and represent that he had violated his parole and escaped, and if possible must be secreted with the other prisoners. I then sent for Keefe, and the two went to the city in a buggy. I followed on the street cars, and went to my office, No 90 Washington street, where I had told Shanks to report if he could not find the prisoners. After I had been there a short time, Shanks came to me and gave me $30, which he said Mrs. Morris had given to him, with the exception of one dollar. I do not think he had any money when he went to her house.

I know Maurice Langhorne. He introduced himself to me on the 5th of November, by showing me a letter from Secretary Seward to Secretary Stanton, recommending that he be allowed to take the oath of allegiance. He gave me some information regarding the plot, but I did not know whether or not to take him into my confidence. At a subsequent meeting, the next day, however, at the Tremont House, I determined that he was an honest, reliable man, and one who could be trusted. He has been of great value to me, and his information was ever correct. On the 12th of November, after the first arrests were made, I first offered to employ him. I asked him to identify all who he remembered having seen in Canada, in connection with the conspirators, and arrest them. He personally arrested the witness, John Maughan, at the Tremont House. He gave me information of the ammunition in Walsh’s house, and subsequent facts proved that his information was perfectly correct. I gave him the fictitious name of Johnson. He never acted as a detective, but simply aided in arresting men he had known before. Shanks worked for the Government ever since I knew him. Up to the 12th of November, he received no pay, and after that got $100 a month as his salary. I believe, however, that I previously gave him one month’s salary, to purchase some citizen’s clothing. Of the arms seized at Walsh’s house I have the shot guns at camp. The pistols were entrusted to Col. Hough to arm a citizens’ patrol, and he has not returned them. I do not know the exact number of arms we captured. There were about 354 revolvers and 200 double barreled guns found in his house, and thirty cavalry carbines in his barn in the city; the latter weapons were not loaded, but those found in his dwelling were. There were also from 14,000 to 15,000 rounds of cartridges, and some roughly made buckshot cartridges, the number of which I do not remember. We also obtained some arms from other persons arrested, I mean the bushwhackers. I do not think that any arms were found on any of the prisoners at the bar, except, possibly, Grenfell.

It will be interesting to the citizens of Chicago, if not in other localities, to peruse the following report from a newspaper, which has perhaps done more than any other in the United States, to aid and promote the interests and cause of the rebels–a paper, the baneful influence of which Gen. Burnside well knew, and would have crushed out; but the editor of that print was suffered to proceed on his dirty and devilish work, and most industrious has he been. The most loathsome reptiles, as we see in the economy of nature, have their uses; “the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head;” the spider, cunning and fierce, is not without his uses; the wily serpent has his office, the viper was not made in vain, and as the mighty plan of the Great Creator of the Universe is above the comprehension of man, we may wonder at, but never understand why beings in the guise of men, were ever formed, who know no patriotism, no gratitude, none of the nobler attributes of man, and whose mission seems but destruction to his race, and deadly enmity to his country. The Times, who in these days of victory and triumph of Union arms, would “steal the livery of heaven to serve the devil in,” and prate of its devotion to the Union, furnishes us some information it were well for good citizens to know, and which we will presume is (unlike most statements in that concern) reliable.


We extract the following from the Chicago Times of October 20, 1864. It will do to keep for reference. The comments which preface the list are from the pen of the editor of that delectable print. The only comment we need make is, that almost every man whose name is upon the list, was a member of the Chicago Temple of the Sons of Liberty, in good and regular standing with the order:

“There is at present a thoroughly organized and efficient McClellan club in nearly every ward in the city. The good that has resulted to the democratic party from these organizations is more than can be readily imagined. They have done much to stimulate men to an interest in the issues of the day which never would have been felt but for the exertions of the clubs. In those wards where these organizations have not already been formed, meetings are appointed to take place this week for the purpose of forming them, and by the next Sabbath there will be one in every ward in the city. Ordinarily the clubs meet once a week, but they convene oftener for special purposes. There are always speakers ready to address these meetings, being local candidates, speakers residing in the wards where the meetings are held, or speakers from abroad. Below will be found a list of the McClellan clubs now in effect, together with the names of their officers:”


President, Chas. W. Patten; Vice-Presd’nt, P.D. Parks; Secretary, J.O. More; Executive Committee, George S. Kimberly, William Y. Daniels, Dr. J.A. Hahn, Augustus Banyon, Andrew Schall.


President, William Baragwanatle; Vice-Presidents, Anton Berg, Dr. E.W. Edwards, Samuel Duncan; Secretary, James Rattray; Treasurer, F.E. Barber; Executive Committee, F.E. Barber, James Rattray, C.C. Strawn, J. Schlossman, P.M. Donelan, H.L. Stewart, F. Cahill, Thos. Tilley, William Hull.


President, Geo. A. Meech; Vice-President, Stephen A. Barrett; Secretary, Benjamin F. Smith; Treasurer, John Dalton; Executive Committee, Joshua L. Marsh, John Schank, James McGrath.


President, A.A. Campbell; Vice-President, M.L. Kuth; Treasurer, Thomas Horless; Secretary, L.W. Binz; Executive Committee, J.H. Ferrell, Mark Kimball, Charles Walsh.


President, Mark Sheridan; First Vice-President, M.C. Quinn; Second Vice-President, Jas. Brennan; Secretary, Christopher Dennis; Assistant Secretary, James Fox; Treasurer, John Reid; Executive Committee, Constantine Kanu, John Keyes, John Myers, L.J. Prout, John Lyons, Michael McDermott, Michael Finucan, Thomas Barry.


President, E. Gilmore; First Vice-President, D.W. Quirk; Second Vice-President, Gotthard Schaaff; Secretary, M.A. Donahue; Treasurer, Joseph Sherwin; Executive Committee, John Comisky, J.K. Boland, P. Caraher, T. Tully, and T.E. Courtney.


President, S.S. Elson; Vice-President, R. O’Malley; Secretary, A.S. Morrison; Treasurer, P. Moran; Executive Committee, E.F. Runnison, P.S. Hade, Michael Gerrity.


President, Hiram M. Chase; Vice-President, H.N. Hahn; Secretary, A.L. Amberg; Treasurer, T.T. Gurney; Executive Committee, D.W. Manchester, M. McCurdy, Joseph Hogan.


President, Joseph Kuhn; Vice-President, P. Stech; Treasurer, John Schierer; Secretary, J.B. Winkelman; Executive Committee, B. Docter, Fred. Licht, N. Gerten.

The Times adds:

“The above list gives all the names that have ever been published. In some of the wards there are two clubs, and yet the permanent organization of either has never been given. In some other wards they have no permanent organization, but elect officers at each weekly meeting. In the other wards clubs will be formed within a few days. It should be borne in mind that the above clubs are independent of the Invincible Club, which is not a mere ward organization, but represents the whole city.”


Introduction.  •  Chap. I.  •  Chap. II.  •  Chap. III.  •  Chap. IV.  •  Chap. V.  •  Chap. VI.  •  Chap. VII.  •  Chap. VIII.  •  Chap. IX  •  Chap. X  •  Chap. XI.  •  Chap. XII.  •  Chap. XIII.  •  Chap. XIV.  •  Chap. XV.  •  Chap. XVI  •  Chap. XVII.  •  Chap. XVIII.  •  Chap. XIX.  •  Chap. XX.  •  Chap. XXI.

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The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
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