Skip to content

1864 October 15: Treason in Indiana—The Trial of H. H. Dodd

October 18, 2014

Harrison Horton Dodd (1824-1906) was a founder of the Order of Sons of Liberty (OSL), a paramilitary secret society that was a continuation and/or extension of the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC).  The basic goal of the organization was to thwart the war efforts of the Union while still remaining citizens of the United States.  By all accounts Dodd was the most important Copperhead in Indianapolis.

On August 20, 1864, Dodd’s Indianapolis offices were raided by the Union military, who recovered thousands of ammunition rounds and 400 revolvers.  Several of his co-conspirators were arrested, but Dodd managed to escape to Canada.  Dodd and his co-conspirators—William A. Bowles,¹ Andrew Humphreys,² Horace Heffren,³ Lambdin P. Milligan,4 and Stephen Horsey5—were convicted of treason, specifically planning to steal weapons and invade Union prisoner-of-war camps to release Confederate prisoners. They were convicted by a military commission and sentenced to be hanged.   On May 31, 1865, President Andrew Johnson commuted their sentences to life in prison.  The conviction was appealed through the federal courts, and on April 3, 1866, Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase issued a habeas corpus freeing them.  The case ruled that the application of military tribunals to citizens when civilian courts are still operating is unconstitutional.

The following article from the October 15, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal has been split into three postings due to the length.


The “Sons of Liberty” in Court. 

T h e   T r i a l   o f   H.  H.  Dodd.

Democrats Conspiring with Rebels.

Arrangement for Co-operating.

Confederate Authorities to Furnish Arms.

The Case of HARRISON H. DODD, a leading Democrat in Indiana, charged with conspiring against the Government, as a member of a secret disloyal and treasonable association, began at Indianapolis on the 27th ult., before the military commission, Gen. COLGROVE,6 President. The following is some of the testimony :

Felix G. Stidger7 testified that Dr. Bowles gave him the first information respecting the order of the Sons of Liberty.  He was sent by Capt. S. E. Jones, Provost Marshal to learn the particulars of the organization, and had another interview with Bowles about the 26th of January, 1864 ;  was regularly initiated into the order of the Sons of Liberty.  This was about the 5th or 6th of June ;  was instructed in the third degree by Mr. Harrison, the Secretary of the Grand Council of this State ;  first met Dodd in the office of Mr. Bingham, editor of the Indianapolis Sentinel ;  had a letter of introduction to Dodd from Judge Bulllitt.8  The letter was produced in Court.  The conversation witness had with Dodd related to Mr. Coffin, a United States detective who was to be assassinated.  Dodd said that such men would have to be disposed of.  The persons connected in this matter at that time were Mr. Dodd, Harrison, Dr. Bowles, Milligan, Dr. Humphrey and R. J. Gatling.  There were a number of others whose names the witness could not remember.  Persons were not admitted to the meeting of the order of the Sons of Liberty without a password ;  witness was at the time Secretary of Grand Council for the State of Kentucky ;  was appointed by the chief officer of the State, Dr. Bullitt, and still holds the position if such an office exists.  The Sons of Liberty was a military organization.  It was in this organization that Coffin’s murder was discussed, and it was decided emphatically that it should be done.  There was to be a meeting at Hamilton on the occasion of Mr. Vallandigham’s return [Clement L. Vallandigham], at which Coffin was expected to be present.  At the meeting referred to, Dodd called on those who would go with him to murder Coffin.  Only  one man responded—McBride, from Evansville, Ind.—who thought he knew Coffin.  He could not join Dodd.  The witness, Bowles, Dodd and Milligan, went to Hamilton, but Coffin could not be found.  There were two meetings on the day referred to.  At the evening meeting they discussed the military organization of the Sons of Liberty.  A number of speeches were made, all full of the oppression and tyrany [sic] of the Government, and that it was to be restored by force of arms.  They expected a definite time to be set for a general uprising, in which they were to seize the United States Arsenals in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  The rebel prisoners in the States were to be released and armed with arms seized from the arsenals.  The number in the Order of the Sons of Liberty was calculated to be 60,000 to 75,000 in Indiana.  Illinois was counted on as having a considerable number, and Missouri was believed to be almost unanimous.  Ohio was not much counted on. Bowles told the witness that he had his command organized into companies and regiments.  Saw Bowles at Louisville.  He was there experimenting with R. O. Bocking in the manufacture of hand grenades and Greek fire, which were to be used in destroying Government property.  Bowles said that the Greek fire had been used for the destruction of the Government warehouse at Louisville and of the Government steamers.  The programme of the meeting of the Order in Chicago in July was given by the witness, who said Dodd had told him that Chicagoans had agreed to seize the camps and depots of prisoners in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois ;  seize the arsenals in those States ;  arm the rebel prisoners released, and also members of the Order and unite at Louisville.—The uprising was to be general in those States and in Missouri, and as much of Kentucky as possible. The date was not fixed definitely, as they were governed in regard to awaiting for the rebel armies to co-operate with them.  At a conference with Bowles, Milligan and Walker, it was determined to go ahead on the 15th or 17th of August, and carry out the plan agreed upon, and eventually unite at Louisville.  At the Chicago meeting of the order, there were present Judge Bullitt, Dr. Bowles, Pichard Barrett of St. Louis, Dodd and John C. Walker.—They agreed that the uprising was to take place from the 3d to the 17th of August, as should finally be determined by Vallandigham, the Supreme Commander of the order, whom they were sworn to obey.  Dodd was Grand Commander, and Walker, Bowles, Milligan and Humphries Major Generals for Indiana.  Bullitt had attempted to communicate with Colonel Jesse and a rebel Colonel Siphert on parole in Kentucky, was initiated into the order, and attempted to get permission to go to Canada, from whence he designed going to Mexico and into the Confederacy.  At Chicago they agreed that the order was to meet openly in the mass Democratic meetings, and on the day of the uprising, August 6th, were to have a mass meeting at Indianapolis, and carry out their programme—the design of the movement was to carry a portion of the States into the Confederacy.  Bowles talked privately about a Northwestern Confederacy.  The constitution, rituals, &c., of the order were exhibited to the witness, and identified as the genuine work of the order ;  also the roll of members of the order in Indianapolis, found in Dodd’s office, which had been shown to the witness by Harrison, the Grand Secretary.  Without concluding the examination of Mr. Stidger, the Court adjourned.

1.  William A. Bowles (1799-1873) was a physician in Indiana who served as colonel of the 2nd Indiana Regiment in the Mexican War. Bowles and others were court martialed over an incident at the Battle of Buena Vista. Jefferson Davis defended Bowles and they formed a life-long friendship. In the 1850s Bowles organized the Knights of the Golden Circle to counteract the Underground Railroad activity within the region where he lived in Indiana. During the Civil War, Bowles was made a Major General of one of the four military districts established by Dodd. Bowles was listed as a co-conspirator in Dodd’s 1864 trial.
2.  Andrew Humphreys (1821-1904) was an Indiana politician who served as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives (1849-1852 and January-March 1857); was appointed Indian agent for Utah in 1857; was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1872 and 1888; served in the Indiana Senate (1874-1876, 1878-1882, 1896-1900), and served in the U.S. Congress from December 1876 to March 1877.  He should not be confused with Union General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys (1810-1883).
3.  Horace Heffren (1832-1883) had served as lieutenant colonel of the 50th Indiana Infantry from July 1861 to September 1862 when he resigned. Heffren’s testimony at the trial was published in 1864 as “Sons of Liberty : Testimony of Horace Heffren, One of the Accused.”
4.  Lambdin Purdy Milligan (1812-1899) was a lawyer and farmer (his law class included Edwin M. Stanton) in Indiana. Milligan was outspoken in political affairs and publicly protested the Civil War and Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton. By May 1864, Federal authorities were convinced that  Milligan was in touch with Confederate agents. The Supreme Court case that eventually freed the conspirators bore Milligan’s name, Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2.
5.  Stephen Horsey was a resident of Shoals, Indiana, who lived close to the site of a train wreck that involved hundreds of Union soldiers. He was arrested and within the next 24 hours the other “conspirators” were also arrested on charges of treason. After the trial, imprisonment, and release, Horsey returned to Martin County, Indiana, a broken man who died in financial straits.
6.  Silas Colgrove (1816-1907) was a lawyer in Winchester, Indiana before the Civil War. He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 3-month 8th Indiana Infantry in April 1861, and then colonel of the 27th Indiana Infantry in September. He fought at the battles of Front Royal, Winchester, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Resaca, Peachtree Creek and the Atlanta Campaign. Colgrove resigned in late 1864 and returned to Indiana where he took part in the treason trials.
7.  Felix Grundy Stidger (1836-1908) was a young clerk who was recruited to become a Federal counter-spy within the Knights of the Golden Circle. He reported to Colonel Carrington, the Union commander at Indianapolis. He infiltrated the organization deep enough to become the Grand Secretary of the Sons of Liberty in Kentucky, second in command only to Bowles. He testified for two hours. Stidger wrote and self-published in 1903 a history of his connection with the organization, entitled Treason History of the Order of the Sons of Liberty, formerly Circle of Honor, Succeeded by Knights of the Golden Circle, afterward Order of American Knights, the Most Gigantic Treasonable Conspiracy the World Has Ever Known, 1864, available digitally on the Internet Archive. Modern reprints often go by the cover title, “Knights of the Golden Circle, Treason History, Sons of Liberty.”
8.  Joshua Fry Bullitt (1821-1898) was elected a justice on the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1861, and served as chief justice in 1864-1865. Bullitt was arrested on August 11 and again on November 22, 1864, by order of Union General Burbridge for belonging to the Sons of Liberty. He was sent to Tennessee with others suspected of similar crimes, but returned to Louisville and the Court of Appeals in December of 1864. Bullitt fled to Canada and was removed from office by Governor Bramlette. Years later the Kentucky Legislature adopted a resolution dismissing the accusations against him.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: