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Old 01-25-2004, 05:03 PM
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Question Confederate Agitators

Bill, or somebody

Saw this in "Saginaw News" today:

"When Confederacy-backed anti-war agitators slipped into Detroit from Windsor and stirred up trouble during recruiting rallies, the Union moved its efforts to Saginaw. Here, according to a historic account, anyone trying the same "would likely wake up in an alley, pulverized."

a) Does this sound plausible on any account?

b) What is meant by saying, "Confederacy-backed anti-war agitators..." Doesn't sound right somehow. Wouldn't Reb agitators be PRO-war?

c) If the account is so, how much did this sort of thing happen in the "North".

d) To what degree was Canada amiable to the Confederate cause?
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Old 01-25-2004, 05:06 PM
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p.s.

Local Civil War Round Table meets here monthly, at Butman-Fish Library, $25/yr membership, Dan Marino (not a quarterback) coordinator #989.799.0044

Been thinking about joining up, but it could cost me my job, due to my "persuasion."
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Old 01-26-2004, 07:28 AM
Coaling Coaling is offline
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"Anti-war" agitation would be correct, as an early end to the war would have Southern Independence as a result. Southern support for Northerners against the war was not uncommon. I have read reports of money from Richmond actually being contributed to organizations and plots in the mid-west. The problem with that hope, however, was that when the Rebels said "Here's money; go do it" the northerners all of a sudden got cold feet! Not everything subversive up north was as actual as the St Albans, Vermont, raid and robbery.
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Old 01-26-2004, 04:56 PM
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Welcome Coaling!

Interesting, what you say here.... let us see what (if anything) Tamaroa replies.

Ex-Air Force brat eh?

Tell us more. please.
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Old 01-28-2004, 06:09 AM
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Actually there was a lot of activity in the Great Lakes region and east of there during the Civil war. Copperheads were extremely active and one of the most famous incursions of the war was launched from Canada into Vermont. Confederate soldiers slipped over the border from Canada and raided a town called St. Alban's Vermont. It is the farthest incursion to the north made by Confederate forces. Buildings were burnt and banks robbed. Several of the raiders were caught and hung in the ensuing months.

Regarding the Great Lakes, there was a POW camp for Confederate soldiers at Rock Island Illinois. It was little more than a piece of bedrock with a 8 foot layer of dirt and sewage on top of it. Several attempts were made to break prsioners free from there, none successful. three or four Yankee Regiments guarded the prisoners.

Operating near there (Sandusky), the Confederates tried to pull of a raid to destroy a steamer known as the Michigan. Another steamer known as the Georgian was also involved.See below:

A Great Lakes Pirate Ship . . . or Not

by Dave Swayze



One of the most celebrated pieces of Great Lakes lore is the story of the seizure of the Detroit-Sandusky passenger steamer PHILO PARSONS by Confederates who were attempting to capture the American iron gunboat MICHIGAN during the American Civil War. A lesser-known but related story is that of the Canadian-built propeller GEORGIAN, which, according to the U. S. Navy publication Civil War Naval Chronology, was intended to become a commerce raider on Lakes Huron and Erie during the same period.

The GEORGIAN was a sturdy 130 foot, 377 ton passenger and package freight propeller built in 1864 at the Potter shipyard of Port McNicoll, Ontario, at the mouth of the Severn River, in Georgian Bay. The new boat became the property of George Wyatt, who had put up the money, and A.M. Smith & Co. of Port Colborne. Her low smokestack gave her a rakish appearance - some said she had the look of a "wicked privateer" - but Wyatt claimed the stack had been truncated to improve her boiler's draft. The Smiths and their partner were avowed supporters of the U.S. Confederacy - they had previously sold at least one vessel for the purpose of blockade running - and when it was made known that Confederate agents were seeking out a Great Lakes ship for military purposes, the GEORGIAN was offered. Confederate Colonel Jacob Thompson and Dr. John Bates, an old Mississippi River pilot from Louisville, Kentucky, purchased the steamer at Toronto for about $17,000. It was reported later that their intended purpose was to arm her and strengthen her bow, making her ready for use as a "ram" in harassment of U.S. commercial vessels and fishing craft. The fact that she was built to carry heavy loads at a shallow draft for the lumber trade was a very positive factor in her selection. She could hit commerce quickly, then run for the shelter of shallow areas of Georgian Bay, where the deeper-draft iron warship MICHIGAN, which would be sure to come looking for her, could not follow. With the GEORGIAN turned into a cruiser and with Bates as her skipper, the Confederates hoped they could harass U.S. ports, destroy some American shipping, and capture a few more ships to develop a small fleet of "commerce raiders." All this was expected from a vessel with an engine of only 70 horsepower and a top speed of but eight miles per hour.

Though the GEORGIAN never fired a shot in anger, her mere existence and the rumor of her sinister intent was enough to foment a near-panic along the American side of the lakes. The PHILO PARSONS affair had occurred in mid-September of 1864, and after that the newspapers in Detroit and Buffalo began to see rebel "agents" behind every tree. Actually, there was plenty of evidence that Confederate plots effecting shipping were afoot in the North. Barely a week before the PARSONS incident, a plan had been uncovered in New York City whereby all of the steamers serving Long Island Sound were to be destroyed. By mid-October the city of Detroit was in a high state of apprehension due to the rumor that a group of Rebel sympathizers from Canada was about to stage a raid across the river. A citizen's militia was organized to defend the city, and was placed under the authority of the local police. Two weeks later a panic ensued in Buffalo over the similar rumor that a raiding party bent for the American city was being formed at Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. The mayor of Buffalo even received a letter from U. S. Secretary of State Seward that raids on U.S. lake cities were imminent. These were moments when open war between the U.S. and Canada seemed a real possibility. None of the plots, real or imagined, ever came to anything, but the populace was in a high state of frenzy.

The deal for the sale of the GEORGIAN was made on November 1, 1864, and by the third the ship was docked at Buffalo, her officers apparently ignorant of the upset they were causing. Word was passed that the GEORGIAN was designated to attack the Union prisoner of war camp on Johnson Island, in western Lake Erie and release Confederate prisoners - essentially the same mission in which the PARSONS had been involved. Though the Canadian papers indignantly denied that either the vessel or their countrymen had anything to do with any plot, many Americans would not be dissuaded. On the fifth the mayor of Buffalo wired the captain of the U.S.S. MICHIGAN of the vessel?s location and her intentions. Word went up the chain of command, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ordered that the MICHIGAN should seize the GEORGIAN on the slightest pretext. Excitement ran up to the sticking point in the American ports and two Buffalo tugs were quickly drafted and armed with cannon for defense of the lake town. Four regiments of Union soldiers were sent to Lake Erie to guard against the pirate ship. While she was still sitting in Buffalo, the sinister steamer was boarded by local officials, but no contraband or weapons were found aboard, and the GEORGIAN sailed. Plagued by problems with her screw, the steamer limped her way up the lakes, stopping in Port Stanley for temporary repairs. She lay-to at Amherstburg, Ontario, for a couple of days while the Detroit papers squealed that she could be expected to reach the city at any moment, and the MICHIGAN showed her cannon by cruising up and down the river. After leaving Amherstburg she was stopped by U. S. Custom-house officials, then a little later by the two cannon-laden tugs. They were now termed "revenue cutters" and were commanded by Lt. Col. Bennet Hill of the Detroit garrison. In neither event was contraband found, and the upbound vessel was grudgingly allowed to go on her way again. When she arrived at Sarnia, Ontario, across the St. Clair River from Port Huron, GEORGIAN's Captain Bates went ashore and ordered a new propeller be sent ahead to Collingwood. When she arrived at that port, she was seized by Canadian authorities as a possible shipping hazard. Her "owner" and her skipper pleaded that they were taking her to Georgian Bay to be fitted up for legitimate business. Lt. Comdr. F.A. Roe, skipper of the MICHIGAN wrote later, "it was given out that she was going into the Saginaw lumber trade, but this was a blind. She has not carried a pound of freight or earned a dollar in legitimate trade since she fell into her present owner?s hands."

But again, there was no concrete reason to detain her, and the steamer made her way to the Upper Georgian Bay town of Bruce Mines, where she would lay up for the winter to repair and, if American military leaders were correct, make her plans. In the meantime, the Georgian Bay ice pack would keep her at bay.

On April 6, 1865, with the American Civil War only a few days from its end and before any plans that had been made could come to fruition, the GEORGIAN was seized by Canadian authorities. Aboard they found the only concrete evidence ever assembled to link the steamer with an actual plot. A letter to Captain Bates was discovered which made reference to the use of "Greek fire" ? the launch of flaming projectiles against opposing vessels ? and the procurement of "waterproof caps for the troops." The opinion of the Canadian government was that the vessel had been equipped only to harass American fishing vessels, not to attack and destroy the U.S.S. MICHIGAN, or to decimate American shipping and liberate Confederate prisoners from Johnson?s Island, as American authorities had claimed.

Soon after the close of the war, Colonel Thompson, who had organized the whole affair, expressed complete amazement at the hysteria on the American side which had surrounded the little ship. This statement may have been just smoke, as in later life he expressed grave disappointment that his minor plot had not led to the capture of the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, as had been the plan. Overall, he said he attributed the failure of his plan and all of the "behind the lines" Confederate activities in the North, to the fact that there was too much surveillance and there was a "detective on every street corner. Two or three [people] cannot interchange ideas without a reporter." He seemed to feel that the public madness ? which he had earlier "pooh-poohed" ? had been a major reason that his plot had been foiled, for the ship could not empty its bilges without the fact appearing in the papers.

Immediately after the war, the GEORGIAN was sold to G.T. Denison of Ontario and went on to a career of more that 20 additional years on the lakes. She was rebuilt and converted to a freighter in 1874 and rebuilt again in 1882. In a bit of irony regarding the vessel's all-but-forgotten past, the Detroit Free Press expressed feigned alarm at the presence of what looked like a British naval dispatch boat docked at Windsor, Ontario, on November 14, 1882, stating that it was up to the U. S. Revenue Cutter GEORGE M. BIBB to protect the American city from attack. The vessel turned out to be Dominion Salvage Company's Clyde-built iron wrecker CONQUEROR, on her way to see to the release none other than the old GEORGIAN, then stranded in Georgian Bay.

Ironically, it was her reinforced hull that was supposedly to be used as a Civil War-era ram which finally failed the old ship. On May 9, 1888, while towing the schooner GOLD HUNTER, she collided with an ice floe and was severely damaged. After the GOLD HUNTER coasted in and picked up her crew, the steamer that many thought had made a bid to become one of the only Great Lakes "pirate ships," sank in 300 feet of water off Cape Rich, Georgian Bay.

Artwork and article ?1999, David D. Swayze, Lake Isabella, MI, all rights reserved

the whole Northern border witnessed some form of agitation. Here is an account of several fires set by Confederates in NYC in retaliation for what the Yanks did to the Shenandoah Valley:

Spies, Raiders & Partisans
New York Fires "Daring Covert Acts" November 25, 1864

Though he wasn't the only conspirator, Robert Cobb Kennedy was the only man caught and tried for one of the most daring covert acts of the Confederate rebellion- the planned destruction by fire of New York City- in retaliation for the federal ravaging of the Shenendoah Valley and the devastation of Atlanta. The fires, set on November 25, 1864, ensnared Manhattan's busiest hotels and theaters and caused panic and looting throughout the city, but failed to do the extent of damage intended.

Confederate Col. Robert M. Martin of Kentucky obtained permission from Confederate Secret Service headquarters to ignite all the city's hotels with "Greek Fire", a highly flammable substance, in hopes of causing a general conflagration. A chemist furnished the eight Confederate agents involved in the plot with a sizable supply of the substance, but none had experience using the mixture. The raiders, toting 402 bottles of Greek Fire, checked into various hotels and set to work. Rubbish and clothing were set afire, but they did not burn as expected, and the fires were extinguished by midnight. A spectacular blaze was set at Barnum's Museum, however. Miraculously, not one of the 2,500 people gathered there for a lecture was injured.

Most of the conspirators escaped into Canada, with only Kennedy- a former West Point student from Louisiana- being caught. The judgment on Kennedy from the commission of Gen. John A. Dix, commander of the Department of the East, was harsh. It read, in part: "The attempt to set fire to the city of New York is one of the greatest atrocities of the age. There is nothing in the annals of barbarism which evinces greater vindictiveness. It was not a mere attempt to destroy the city, but to set fire to crowded hotels and places of public resort, in order to secure the greatest possible destruction of human life." The punishment was equally harsh: "Robert C. Kennedy will be hanged from the neck till he is dead at Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor, on Saturday, the 25th day of March."




Regards,

Tamaroa
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Old 01-28-2004, 07:01 AM
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Tamaroa,

Fascinating. I never knew about all the Rebel incursions so far into the Northern States. Kansas and the Jayhawks I know about but never realized that the Confederacy tried operations in the North other then spies.

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Old 01-28-2004, 03:11 PM
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Wow Bill... who'da thunk it...

Bless you!
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Old 01-29-2004, 05:40 AM
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It was many years ago when I read another little tidbit. At one point, Raphael Semmes commander of the famous Confederate commerce raider, CSS Alabama entertained the thought of going into New York Harbor and creating havoc by burning/sinking as many ships as he could. I don't remember the reason why he didn't do it but I have his autobiography (Memoirs of Service Afloat Aboard the Sumter and alabama) at home. I'll have to look through it and see if I can find a reference to it.

Bill
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Old 01-29-2004, 02:14 PM
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Bill -

Nice idea, I'd like to think that I'd have had an energetic concept such as his under the circumstances.
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Old 02-02-2004, 11:53 PM
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I believe the northernmost battle of the war was fought in Vermont - and launched from Canada by Southern sympathizers. The fact that I can't remember much more about it leads me guess it didn't come to much.

My guess is they were like us: They had people who supported one side, people who supported the other, and people who were lookin' to do business and if they had to pick a side they picked one.
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