The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
MEETING OF THE SUPREME COUNCIL, F.O.S.L. AT THE RICHMOND HOUSE, CHICAGO–TWO MILLION DOLLARS DISBURSED AS CONSIDERATION FOR THE GOOD OF THE ORDER–TRAITORS TO BE KNOWN TO EACH OTHER BY BADGES, AND THEIR PROPERTY SAVED BY DISPLAYING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG.
We have already shown that the three degrees in the Sons of Liberty had each their specific province. The lower strata composed of the rough material from which the Grand Council was made up by selections or choice of the brighter and more shining lights,–persons whose political views were up to the standard of treason, whose qualifications of intellect, shrewdness, cunning, caution, promptness, and firmness of purpose fully met the requirements of this degree of the order. The Supreme Council was composed of the Supreme Commanders–the ruling spirits of the order. This council was the body, therefore, from which all important measures must emanate, and the secrecy of their movements, even from the order below them, except such business as was regularly transmitted, was quite equal to that of the lower order, from the rest of the world. Such being the nature and character of this royal degree, and the fact that an uprising had been determined upon, it will be seen how essential it was to the Government of the United States, to be advised of their plans, and the old adage that “where there is a will there is a way,” was not a fallacy in the present case. On or about the 20th of July, 1863, agreeably to a private notice which had been extended to the Supreme Council, a meeting of that body was convened at the Richmond House, Chicago. During that day, as well as on the day preceding, members of that organization arrived in the city, and among the notables present on that occasion was Col. Barrett, who was a Major-General of the Sons of Liberty, in command of the District of Illinois, but who on the present occasion appeared in another character of no less moment, that of representative of the Confederate States Government, and charged with certain important instructions. Among the members present were Captain Majors, from Canada; Brig.-Gen. Charles Walsh, of Chicago; Judge Bullitt, of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, who acted as Chairman; Dr. Bowles, Mr. Swan, Mr. Williams, Mr. Green, Mr. Piper, Mr. Holloway, H.H. Dodd and James B. Wilson, Auditor of Washington County, Indiana. The last named person and Mr. Green were present as members of Dr. Bowles’ staff. After considerable discussion upon minor matters, Major-General Barrett, (commonly called Colonel Barrett, who had served the Rebel Government with some distinction, and was a first class rebel), made a formal proposition to unite Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Indiana with the Confederate States, through the agency of the Sons of Liberty, and as to the other States, their relations would be an after consideration. The enterprise, he stated, would be attended with no little expense, and would necessarily involve extreme caution, prudence and firmness. He added, that the Southern Confederacy had placed in his hands the snug little sum of two millions of dollars, which had been captured from a Federal paymaster on the Red River, in Arkansas, to be applied in furtherance of this proposition. Captain Majors was also, by his own statement, a representative of the Rebel Government. It was proposed to distribute the two millions of dollars through the Grand Commanders of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois, and that the money was by them to be distributed through the Major-Generals to the subordinate officers, according as might be deemed expedient. This money, says Mr. Wilson, (and we have the best of reasons to credit his statement,) was expended for arms. Well do we remember that an oral report was submitted one evening at the Temple of the Illini, by the Grand Seignor presiding, that the pro rata for Illinois had been so expended, and that the weapons had been started for their destination, which was Chicago. These arms consisted of muskets, carbines, pistols, pistol belts and ammunition. At the Council meeting, of which we have spoken, the whole subject of revolution was freely discussed, and received the unanimous support of all present, and a time was named and agreed upon, but not until after much debate, several dates being named by different parties, and reasons given for fixing upon each. It was arranged that the Order in Indiana were to rendezvous at Indianapolis, also at Evansville, New Albany (opposite Louisville,) and Terra Haute, that they would seize the arsenal at Indianapolis, and the arms and ammunition would be distributed among the members. Wilson, before the military commission in Cincinnati, states that he learned from Dr. Bowles, that it was the purpose of the Order to free the rebel prisoners at Indianapolis, and that the same had been agreed upon with respect to other rebel camps, in other States, on the supposition that they would unite with the Sons of Liberty, in overturning the Government, and if they were found willing to do this, arms were to be placed in their hands. At that meeting it was a matter of discussion in what manner it was feasible to communicate with Gens. Buckner and Price, in order that they might co-operate, and have their forces near St. Louis and Louisville. The approach of their troops to those cities was the favored moment for beginning hostilities in the North. Mr. Wilson testified that he received a thousand dollars of the two million fund, but that instead of appropriating it according to the programme, he used it for buying substitutes, but the rightful owner can have the same upon call. Maj.-Gen. Barrett, the party having the fund in trust, has left the country, doubtless for his health, and the thousand dollars is still without an applicant.
At this memorable meeting, as it was the last meeting of this body ever held in Chicago, it was agreed that at the time of the uprising, friends (rebels and copperheads) should appear with red and white badges, and the property of such persons would also be saved from destruction by displaying from their buildings the Confederate flag. Thus were ample and definite arrangements made, and as that meeting adjourned it was the deliberate end and aim of all the persons there assembled (with a single exception) to effect their objects at all hazards. All who were present, as well as the rebels then in Richmond, conceded that of all points in the several States embraced in the proposition with which Col. Barrett was entrusted, Chicago was by far the most important post, and the one which, of all others, should first fall. The facility and ease with which Camp Douglas could be taken, was a matter of remark among the traitors in every section, and it was understood that communication could readily be made with the prisoners, as Mrs. Morris, wife of Judge Morris, and others who were known to be in the interest of the Confederacy, had never been denied access to the camp, and such prohibition was scarcely expected, as of course the plans of the conspirators must be a dead secret from the commander of the post. In the temples of the Sons of Liberty it was a matter of congratulation that it was impossible for a detective to obtain their secrets, yet all this time Col. B.J. Sweet was well acquainted with every move that had the least importance, for the writer made it an invariable custom to send dispatches regularly to Col. Sweet, who thus came into full possession of the plans and designs of the Order, as soon as they were announced, and hence was at all times in a position that he could not have been surprised by any assault upon the Camp. The Colonel is at all times perfectly cool and self-possessed, prudent in the highest degree, and inflexible in purpose, when once resolved upon a line of action. His arrangements were made with all celerity and completeness, and though his little force was quite too small to offer great resistance in case of surprise had not the facts been known to the commandant, yet the interior arrangement of the camp, the disposition of his forces, and above all, the perfect discipline which had ever been maintained by him, now offered a silent barrier which caused the conspirators to entertain direful apprehensions, as to the disaster to themselves when they should make the undertaking, for the movements of the camp were noticed from the observatories near by, and on one occasion Brig. Gen. Walsh, accompanied by an attaché of the Chicago Times, made a personal visit to the camp, and being received as gentlemen by the gallant Colonel, they were able to make certain discoveries of a disagreeable nature. The greatest precaution, of course, was observed in the transmission of dispatches by the writer to Col. Sweet, for had it been supposed for a moment, that the commander of the post was cognizant of their acts, it would most certainly have precipitated the uprising, as the leaders of the conspiracy could not hope for so favorable a time again. The camp was enclosed by only one thickness of inch boards, not over twelve feet high, and a little force of less than eight hundred men were to guard some eight or ten thousand prisoners, many of them being the lowest class of raiders and ruffians.
During the latter part of July, at a meeting of the Sons of Liberty, Colonel Walker, of Indiana, was present, and in a speech referred to the recent seizure of arms in Indiana, and said a formal demand had been made upon Governor Morton of that State for them, and if they were not forthcoming they (the copperheads) would compel restitution by the bullet, and said Morton would be assassinated if he refused. At this time a man named James A. Wilkinson was Grand Seignior of the temple. The question of supplying our quota to avoid the draft, agitating the community, it was proposed to resist the draft, and all the members were required forthwith to arm themselves with firearms, and Charles W. Patten and Wilkinson both offered to supply all who could not afford to purchase firearms. Wilkinson was a very efficient member of the order, and very zealous. Much of his time he passed in the organization of temples in different sections of country; and it was often stated as encouragement for the members that the temples were rapidly multiplying, and being filled with the “best kind” of men. It was earnestly requested of the members, as the time was short–Judge Morris saying the purposes of the organization would be fulfilled within the next sixty days–to bring in as many new members as possible, and the injunction was duly heeded. The temple in Chicago thrived remarkably, and arrangements were made by which individuals could initiate members, and the initiated increased in numbers rapidly.