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1864 October 15: Details of the Insurrectionary Movement in Indiana

October 19, 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—especially as epitomized in the war policies of Abraham Lincoln and his close political and military allies—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, including William A. Bowles, were arrested, but Dodd managed to escape to Canada.  Dodd and his co-conspirators were convicted of treason by a military commission, and sentenced to be hanged.   On May 31, 1865, President Andrew Johnson commuted their sentences to life imprison. 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.  This is the middle section.


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, President.  The following is some of the testimony :

[Part 2]


Felix G. Stidger, a witness for the government, continued his testimony.  Saw Mr. Harrison¹ at Dodd’s.  He complained that the Order was dilatory in their uprising against the government ;  believed that they had not arms enough to be of service ;  Dodd said if they did not openly resist he’d be d—d if he would live under the present administration.  This was about the last Friday in July.  Harrison was Grand Secretary of the State of Indiana.  In respect to the contemplated assassination of Coffin, he said they expected to find him at Hamilton, at the Vallandigham meeting ;  pick a quarrel with him, if possible, and shoot him.

The roll of the Parent Temple of Marion county, Ind., was here shown to the witness, when he was asked to designate the names of such members as he knew belonged to the Order of the Sons of Liberty.  He named W. M. Harrison, H. H. Dodd, Joseph Ristine and Dr. Athon.²  A letter was written to Dodd, Bowles and Ristine, signed Dick, supposed to be written by Dick Bright, warning them against Coffin, saying that he was a United States detective, and reported everything they did.  Wilson met other persons in the Grand Council from other parts of the country:  an old gentleman by the name of Otey, Dr. Lemmers, a Judge Borden from Allen county, Mr. Everett of Vanderburg county, Mr. Leech of the Burnt District, Union county, Mr. Myers of Laporte county, and Mr. A. D. Koga of New Amsterdam.  The witness became acquainted with these persons on the 14th of June ;  was not sure that Mr. Lasalle, of Cass county was there.  He was elected a member of the Supreme Council of the United States.  John G. Davis was elected on the same day.  Mr. H. Heffren was a member of the Order ;  witness met him in Salem, Ind., twice ;  he was the Deputy Grand Commander of the State of Indiana.  He was formerly a Lieutenant Colonel of an Indiana regiment ;  and he told witness that he and Dodd had the right to call the Order together at any time that they might think proper ;  and he also said that the object and intent of the organization was to co-operate with the Confederate forces.  The first time he saw the witness he took him for a commissioner from the Confederate forces ;  told witness that there were seven regiments of Forrest’s men disbanded in Kentucky to remain at home for a time, and to concentrate when necessary.  A gentleman asked Heffren why a certain lady was sent to Salem, Indiana.  He said they expected trouble in Kentucky, and it would be safer in Salem, Indiana, than in Kentucky.  He met a man by the name of Piper in Louisville, who said he resided in Springfield, Illinois.  He was a member of the Order, and said he was on the staff with Vallandigham.  Piper was present at the meeting of the Grand Council in Kentucky, and assisted in opening the meeting.  He said that James A. Barrett, formerly of St. Louis, was their chief of Vallandigham’s staff, and that Captain Hines, of the rebel army, had had charge of the releasing of the rebel prisoners at Johnson’s island.  Piper said he had a communication from Vallandigham to Bowles, giving him charge of the releasing of the rebel prisoners at Rock Island, which was to be done at the same time.  Hines was then in Canada waiting for the order to be given and the time to come.  Hines was afterward captured with John Morgan.  Piper also said that he had attended a meeting of the Grand Council of Illinois ;  that they had passed a resolution that if Kentucky considered it advisable to resist the enlistment of negroes, the members of the Order would prevent the Illinois regiments, or Loyal Leagues as they are called by the Copperheads, from being sent out of the State by the Government to enforce it ;  that the resolution was unanimously passed by the Grand Council of Illinois.

A conical shell about the size of a 32-pounder, was here handed to the witness.  He said he saw a similar shell to that at Bocking’s room at the Louisville Hotel, about the 29th or 30th of June.  Bowles, Colfus, Charley Miller and others were there.  The lower part or butt of the shell, which being unscrewed, showed another, inside of which was an iron case to contain the powder.  Round this was an aperture to contain the liquid Greek fire, and this inner shell being loose and furnished with a percussion cap, caused an explosion on its striking or falling on any object.  This infernal machine was intended to be used for the destruction of Government property.  A spherical hand grenade about three inches in diameter was here produced, which being unscrewed in the center, showed an inner shell furnished with several nipples for percussion caps.  The inner shell was to contain the powder and bullets, and the aperture between the inner an outer shell the liquid Greek fire.4  The shell or hand grenade on being thrown at any object would explode immediately when it touched any object.  Everything near it would be ignited.  This infernal machine was also explained to those persons named.  Bowles told the witness that Greek fire had been used for the destruction of two boats at Louisville in the spring, and also for a number of boats down the river in April or May.  This Greek fire on breaking, he said, would ignite instantly or it might be made to ignite sometime afterward.

 The order known as American Knights had been changed, as Dodd said, by Judge Bullitt and Mr. Colfus, to the Order of the Sons of Liberty, and Dodd wanted me to distribute a new pamphlet or ritual of the Order throughout the State.  The commands of the chiefs of the Order were paramount to all other laws or orders, and were to be obeyed in opposition to any civil laws or orders of the Government.

The cross examination was lengthy.  Stidger’s testimony was strengthened, many new points against the prisoner and the Order being developed.  The witness had joined the order as a detective, but was supposed to be a bona fide member by the Order.  He had been assigned this work by Provost Marshal Jones, of Louisville.  He did not give any opinion of his own as to Coffin’s assassination, but Judge Bullitt’s opinion.  Dodd and others concurred in that opinion.  He never met Coffin in lodges.  He knew him, but did not communicate anything to him.  Gatling was present at the meeting of the Order where Coffin’s assassination was discussed.  The witness was asked for a description of Milligan and Humphrey [sic], which was quite correct.

In reference to the military character of the Order, he testified that he did not know, personally, that they were armed or drilled, but was told that at the West they were arming, while from the East they expected money.  It extended over Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Kentucky.  Dodd told him that he was at Chicago at the meeting of July 26th, and said “we came to such conclusions there.”  Their design was to confine the war to Kentucky by marching their forces there and co-operating with the rebel forces against the Government, and join then at Louisville.  It was a scheme in aid of the rebellion.  Dodd and Bowles were confident of success.  Dr. Athon counseled caution.  He was present at the meeting of the Grand Council, June 14th.  He advised delay until they were more thoroughly organized, and till they could see what they could do at the polls.  The counsel asked the witness whether Athon did not counsel delay until they know whether the election was to be controlled by bayonets.  Witness replied :  He said they should use their military power at the polls if the Government undertook to control them, and that there would be a time when it would be proper to use their military power against the Government, but it was best to wait till after the election.  Athon so stated to me at his office.  Judge Bullitt told me Athon gave him the same opinion.  Before that, Mike Bright, Jesse D. Bright’s brother, had given Butler the same opinion.  He thought twenty thousand men could be raised in this State for insurrectionary movements.  Vallandigham was elected Supreme Commander in New York, February 22d.  The witness understood from Piper that Vallandigham had knowledge of this insurrectionary movement ;  had given his sanction to it and had supreme control.  The particular day to rise was to be designated by him.  Wilson did not know that he knew of the action in this State, but understood he did of the action in Chicago.  The unwritten work of the Order is its signs, &c., and its secret insurrectionary designs, and armed cooperation with the South.  Dr. Bowles said he knew of a man who would furnish arms of any kind and quality any time the Order would designate.

The committee of thirteen appointed on the 14th of July were to act in the recess of the Grand Council, and their acts to be as legal as those of the Council itself.  Bocking explained his Greek fire at his room in the Louisville Hotel.  Bowles said he was a member.  Assisting the South was discussed before him, and he said his machine was the very thing they needed.  Bowles said they had tested Bocking and sent him to Canada, and made him spend his money in testing this machine for the benefit of the Order, and to experiment with it for the destruction of Government property.  Bowles, Dodd, Bullitt, and a chemist, experimented with Greek fire in a basement at Indianapolis one Sunday.

1.  William H. Harrison, Grand Secretary of Indiana.
2.  James S. Athon (abt. 1812-1875).
3.  B. B. Piper, Grant Missionary.
4.  Greek fire was an incendiary weapon developed by the Byzantine Empire in the 7th Century. The term has been used generally since the Crusades for any kind of incendiary mixture.


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