Confederate Agent: A Discovery in History

Confederate Agent: A Discovery in History

Confederate Agent: A Discovery in History

Confederate Agent: A Discovery in History


This is the story of a grand conspiracy, a lost cause and the men and women who believed in it. At times it seems so incredible that one wonders if it ever happened. The existing records, some of them sealed by government orders for almost ninety years, tell us it did.

The full range of human emotions-love, hate, cowardice, courage and frivolity-runs through it, and, like a bright pattern in a crazyquilt, is the love story of its young leader.

Let us first examine this Northwest Conspiracy in all its far-flung ramifications. Relatively little about it has appeared in print. The reason is simple: it was a secret plan and the men who took part in it kept their lips sealed, many until their deaths. In 1864 the New York Times hinted that it had been a vast Confederate plan to spread "a siege of terror from Maine to Minnesota." This was only partially true; the objective was not just to make raids on northern cities. The overthrow of the United States government by revolution was the principal goal of the Conspiracy.

Next, the cause. Of course it was the Confederacy-in the agonizing months when her gray columns began their slow but inevitable retreat. Most of her leaders knew she was doomed. Exchange Commissioner Colonel Robert Ould said to Mrs. Mary Boykin Chesnut, famous for her Diary from Dixie , in a memorable whisper, "We are rattling downhill."

And now, the men. They were young and handsome, mostly hardbitten veterans of General John Hunt Morgan's command. The Rebel raider, as the North knew him. They were scholarly and men of good breeding. Those whom the court-martial boards convicted died in high Roman fashion. One of them, John Yates Beall, told the hangman, "As someone has said, we may be as near God on the scaffold as elsewhere."

This is their story. It begins on an April morning in 1861, with fifteen young men trotting south on the Newtown Turnpike. The riders were all neatly dressed in broadcloth, linen shirts, cocked hats and shining jackboots. They were armed with a strange assortment of weapons . . .

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