by Reub Williams
My country! 'tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the pilgrim's pride!
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!
---Glorious Old Hymn
My last article brought this series of sketches up to the expiration of my leave of absence, and the detail that placed me as a member of "The Military Commission" that was ordered to assemble at Indianapolis for the trial of a number of men who had been arrested for treason. As may be inferred the reader can easily guess that I entered upon that duty very reluctantly but there was no escape. Necessarily, the commission selected for the trial had to be officers above a certain rank. General Silas Colgrove--by the way, still living, though well into the eight decade of a long and useful life, and was the same individual whose troops found General Robert E. Lee's "order book" for the battle of Antietam, and at once perceiving the value of such a document placed it in the hands of General McClellan, the commanding officer of the Federal army. General Colgrove then commanding a brigade, directed that the document should be sent to General McClellan post haste, and it was said that the trooper dispatched to find McClellan rode his first mount to death and was compelled to provide himself with another horse to finish the trip. General Colgrove will also be remembered by the older readers of these "Memories" as having had a knock-down in the halls of the Indiana Legislature with "Lard Oil" Robinson previous to the breaking out of the war--a scrimmage that created much talk and a great deal of excitement throughout the State, and in fact was only a personal forerunner in a small way of a contest that was only a short time afterwards to shake this continent, and cover all the States of the Union with marching troops, assembled on both sides to settle the question for all time, whether the United States was a Nation with a big "N" or merely a body of independent States whose people might or might not determine for themselves whether they would or would not obey the laws passed by a Congress selected by the people of all the States--the North deciding that all the States of the Union formed a nation, the South contending that the States were supreme.
General Colgrove was named in the detail as President of the Commission, he being a lawyer and one who was very highly respected as a man at the head of his profession in the State, and as a citizen was held in high esteem all over the State as a man of ability and probity. With Gen. colgrove at the head of the Commission and Major Henry L. Burnett, of Cincinnati, Judge Advocate of the Department of the Ohio to conduct the trial in the same position of what would be in a civil court, the prosecuting attorney, the reminder of the Court was made up as follows: Colonel Wm. E. McLane, 43rd Indiana Infantry; Colonel Thomas J. Lucas, 16th Indiana Infantry; Colonel Charles D. Murray, 89th Indiana Infantry; Colonel Benjamin Spooner, 83rd Indiana Infantry; Colonel Richard P. DeHart, 128th Indiana Infantry; Colonel Ambrose A. Stevens, Veteran Reserve Corps; Colonel Ancil D. Wass, 60th Massachusetts Infantry; Colonel Thomas Bennett, 69th Indiana Infantry; Colonel Reub Williams, 12th Indiana Infantry; Colonel Albert Heath, 100th Indiana Infantry; Benn Pitman, of Cincinnati, author of Pitman's system of phonetic reporting, was employed by the government to take down the proceedings in short-hand, and right here is an excellent place to say that during the trial, every question asked a witness and the reply was taken down verbatim and with the utmost accuracy, care and close attention. Consequently the book known as "The Trials for Treason at Indianapolis, Disclosing the Plans for Establishing a Northwestern Confederacy" is an absolute and faithful presentation of the Commission proceedings. Mr. Pitman overlooked and supervising every page of the book as it passed through the press. I make this statement so emphatic because the leaders of "The Knights of the Golden Circle" and their sympathizers sent the charge throughout the country, that the trial was incorrectly reported and that the book was filled with falsehoods; while on the contrary it can be boldly asserted that there never has been a case so voluminously reported, so free from errors or mis-statements of any kind whatever.
John C. Walker of Laporte, this State was among the list furnished to General Carrington by his detectives for arrest and being a high-up officer in the order of "The Golden Circle," he of course anticipated that his arrest would follow and consequently flew the State. The first man to be placed under arrest was Harrison H. Dodd, of Indianapolis done while I was at my home in this city, but after being arraigned before the commission as the latter was then constituted, and the trial had been in progress for several days. When, however, the commission began its session on the morning of October 7, 1864, Judge Advocate Major Burnett, as soon as the court came in order, announced that the prisoner, Harrison H. Dodd had escaped from confinement and therefore asked for an adjournment of the commission for a few hours and of course the suggestion was complied with. It seems that Dodd had petitioned General Alvin P. Hovey--who had been but recently placed in command of the military district of Indiana--to be allowed to occupy a room in the postoffice building rather than be confined in the military prison. He had given his parole of honor that he would make no attempt to escape, and Dodd's own brother also pledged his word and stated that he would risk all that he was worth, that Harrison H. Dodd would not try to escape if the privilege was granted, and it was under this double pledge that the favor was permitted, and it was for the same reason that no guards were placed on the outside of the building. After securing this favor Dodd was confined in a room on the third story of the postoffice building and it was about 4 o'clock on the following morning that he succeeded in gaining his liberty. Of course, there was collusion with outsiders, and further developments showed that one of his visitors the previous afternoon had slipped a ball of twine to the prisoner. After dark this string was let down from a window in the room in which Dodd was confined and accomplices below, after first darkening the street lamps in the vicinity, attached the twine to a heavy rope and thus enabled the prisoner to pull it up, and after fastening the end of the rope to an iron bed, which was held fast between his bed and the iron window shutter and after that Dodd had no great difficulty in reaching terra firma and make his escape, for no doubt the friends who had helped him thus far in his escape, would not fail to provide means for him to get out of town. Of course, the escape of the prisoner on trial necessitated an adjournment of the court assembled for this particular case, and it was in making up the second commission that it fell to my lot to be one of the number. As I was in Indianapolis the day before Dodd's escape--or at least about that time--on my way to my regiment, then at Atlanta. In making up the second commission, my name was forwarded to the Secretary of War, either from General Hovey's or Governor Morton's office, and all at once I was confronted with a dispatch detailing me as a member of the commission, the regular detail in writing to follow the dispatch from the Secretary of War.
Well, as no one gave me an inkling of the matter so that I could have taken an earlier train, there was nothing left for me to do but obey the order I had received, though I would far have preferred to have accompanied "the march to the sea" than to have remained behind. Surely there was enough excitement at the time here in Indiana. Those who were at the head of affairs in the State in both their civil and military departments were well aware that there was great danger of an outbreak here at home. The situation had reached, if not a crisis, certainly a condition that might at almost any moment kindle a flame of insurrection right here in Indiana. At that moment there were over a hundred thousand Indiana soldiers in the field, a condition in and of itself quite dangerous, and leaving the advantage very greatly in the hands of those who among the masses, were opposed to the war on general principles, but more dangerous for the reason that the leaders of this class, very many of them favored an insurrection here at home as a means of assisting the South, by not only an attack in the rear, but also by compelling the Federal government to withdraw troops from "the front" and thus weaken the main lines of the Union cause in the field. At any rate the condition seemed so grave that it was thought best to place General Alvin Hovey in command of the district of Indiana, as one of the wisest moves to make just at that time. General Hovey had already won the reputation of a fighter in the field, yet was a careful, competent leader. In doing this, it also gave Gen. Carrington an opportunity to exhibit his qualities as a first-class detective, for it was through him and the brave, active, fearless body of men who had the wisdom to employ as detectives, that the far-reaching schemes of the Valladinghams and Bowles, Milligans and Horseys, and all of the leaders of the movement in favor of the "Northwestern Confederacy" were uncovered and the doings of that particular branch of Democracy was unearthed and exposed. I have said that the period of which I am writing was full of excitement and such was certainly the case. Following the escape of Harrison H. Dodd, soon after he was placed on trial, and the new commission had been formed--or rather, the making up of the first ones, who had been excused for various reasons, additional arrests had been made, and the second commission soon commenced the trial of a set of men who have since the war come to be called "The Indiana Conspirators."
The names of those placed on trial following Dodd's escape and the consequent disbandment of the court that was to try him were William A. Bowles at that time owner of the Indiana French Lick Springs; L. P. Milligan, a prominent attorney of Huntington, Ind.; Andrew J. Humphreys, a Democratic leader in Sullivan county, this State; Horace Heffren, an attorney of Salem, Washington county, and Stephen Horsey of Shoals, Indiana, who might be classed as "general utility" man for the "Knights of the Golden Circle," for it was proven on trial that he had gathered up a number of muskets, rifles, revolvers, etc., and had stored them away in some secret place, and about a thousand pounds of powder for the use of the members of the order. The trial of these men was going forward here in Indiana, but at the same time "Old Pap Thomas," as the men he commanded dearly loved to call him, as stated in last week's sketch, was placed in command by Sherman of all the troops that he himself would leave behind him in his "march to the sea." It was not an easy thing to gather up all of the many detachments of troops stationed at--I am going to say a hundred different points, and I believe I will adhere to the statement--and out of these consolidate the whole into an army to face General Hood in his rearward march into Tennessee; but the steady-going and greatly loved old General did it, and in a way most satisfactory. I remember how eagerly the member of the treason-trial court perused the morning paper when they gathered in the room set apart for the trial in the postoffice building--a structure, by the way, soon to give way to the new building that the government is now engaged in erecting at Indianapolis, the finest inland city the country contains--and the first question asked by the one who had no newspaper of his own was: "Well, where is Thomas now? I sometimes fear that General Hood will get the advantage of the 'Old Man' while he is engaged in concentrating his forces." but Hood's men never surprised the wary and loyal old Virginian. On the contrary--big effort as it was--he got all his troops within supporting distance of one another and then, at what is known as "the battle of Franklin," fought the most gallant contest of the war, and following this victory, concentrated all his little army at Nashville and there awaited the approach of the Confederate General Hood and all his army. At the same hour, Sherman and his men were buried in the pine forests of Georgia, so deep that for six weeks not a word came from an army whose last successful work was the capture of Atlanta. I should say, and can truthfully repeat that those were exciting times. The arrest of these men for treason had the effect to dispirit the opposition to the war very greatly. Many who had belonged to the "Knights of the Golden circle" in more subordinate capacities, became so alarmed over the fact that their leaders had been arrested for treason that they became frightened for themselves and withdrew from the respective lodges to which they belonged.
While the excitement to which I have referred was very great, through it all there was a perceptible under-current of belief that the war was approaching its end. This idea was not assertive, but it existed, and gave much--even thought it was faint--strength to the Union cause. the treason trial "drew its weary length along" for ninety days. As it went forward every day, Sundays excepted, it drew larger and larger crowds of spectators. The newspapers faithfully and clearly reported every word that was uttered in court from day to day, and the perusal of the evidence created wonderful excitement and indignation throughout the State especially, but the country at large as well. The attendance finally became so great that it became impossible to admit the number of visitors who every day packed and crowded the rather small room on the second floor--or was it the third?--of the government building and it was finally decided to remove the court to a larger one in the old State House on the first floor. This was done at a good time even though few know that Horace Heffren, one of the gentlemen who was then on trial for his life on the charge of treason, was about to "turn State's evidence" and reveal under oath the whole murderous, treasonable plot that was in course of preparation and organization when General Carrington's detectives exposed the whole villainous conspiracy. I could not, if I desired to do so, undertake to reproduce the damaging evidence of witness to the heinous crime these men with many more, were "found guilty," and all of them, save Andrew Humphreys, were given the death penalty. In his case the one act in his career as a member of "the order" that created a favorable impression for him was when a body of men in Sullivan county--Mr. Humphrey's own county, at any rate--had assembled to take final measures against the enforcement of the draft to the number of four hundred--and it should be remembered as the reader proceeds that there had already been five of the government's enrolling officers waylaid and killed in that section of the State--Mr. Humphreys, an officer of the body of men referred to --when they were formed in line, advised them not to violate the law in such a way as it would be almost sure to get them into trouble, and closed his remarks by urging the men before them to disband and go back to their homes, for the time, at least. His advice was heeded and when the commission came to make up its verdict, Andrew Humphreys was given a life sentence to prison, while all of the rest were given the extreme penalty --death by hanging.
To sum up the whole affair, the trial developed many crimes and many phases of it beside that of treason, and it can be safely asserted as fully proven at the trial that all of the charges were sustained. It was fairly and fully shown that there were a large number of Democrats here in Indiana and elsewhere who were engaged in plotting for a "Northwestern Confederacy" --not so much that they desired such a Confederacy, but its organization, as such would greatly aid the Southern Confederacy in winning their independence. It can also be said that it was proven that the principal officers of "The Knights of the Golden circle" were conspiring with officers and soldiers then in the service of the Southern Confederacy and that at one time there were seventeen Confederate officers, in disguise stopping at the Bates House, in Indianapolis. These officers were to take command of the Confederate prisoners then confined in Camp Morton, and of which there were 6,000 at the time. The plan was to release the prisoners and others attack the Indianapolis arsenal and there secure the necessary muskets to equip each prisoner. They were then to march on Louisville and with the aid of Confederate soldiers in the field capture that city. Then, again, there was a plan to assassinate Governor Oliver P. Morton and a committee of ten were appointed for the purpose. This fact and many more on other subjects of great moment to the loyal people of the land came out in the testimony of Horace Heffren, who had turned State's evidence, and who it was said at the time, and has since been corroborated, made a "clean breast" of everything he knew. There was not a dissenting voice in the commission as to the guilt of the men on trial, and the only difference of opinion was as to the form of punishment--one of the members of the commission favoring a life imprisonment for one and all, the evidence being clear as to the guilt of the prisoners not a member of the court dissenting on that point.
I started out by saying that people of Indiana of today were not generally aware of how near--how very near, indeed--the State came to having an insurrection in 1864--the closing months of that year, at least. This sketch only sets forth the prominent features of what was secretly taking place in the State. A careful reading of the evidence in full would astound any one who has never perused it, and convince any fair-minded person that Indiana only escaped an insurrection by the prompt action of Governor O. P. Morton and his military assistants during the last half of 1864.
Northern Indianian February 11, 1904
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