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1864 October 15: The Military Aspects of the KGC’s Treasonous Plan

October 20, 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 third, and final, 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:

[Park 3]


Cross examination of Felix. S. Stidyer [sic: Stidger], witness for the Government, by J. W. Gordon, counsel for the defence.  Was engaged as a government detective.  Had served in the army in the 15th Kentucky for sixteen months.  Had met Dr. Bowles in the lodges, where the ritual and colloquies of the Order were gone through with.  Witness then gave his name J. J. Grundy.  All the members of the American Knights were not admitted into the Order of the Sons of Liberty.  The latter Order was in all its essentials exactly like the Order of the American Knights, but they admitted into the Order of the Sons of Liberty only such as were considered true to the principles of the Order and were deemed reliable and worthy of admission.  The title of the Order was changed from O. A. K. to O. S. L. and some additions were made to the ritual of the Order, among which was the motto “Resistance to Tyrants is obedience to God,”¹ which was introduced as a part of the colloquy or secret sign of recognition between members ;  the two persons pronouncing the alternate words.  This motto was said by members, to have been introduced by Vallandigham.  The New York committee had revised the ritual.  Dr. Bowles gave the witness a programme of the operations of the Order.  Illinois was to furnish fifty thousand, who were to concentrate at St. Louis, and to co-operate with Missouri, which was to furnish thirty thousand ;  and these combined forces were to co-operate with Price [Sterling Price], who was to invade Missouri with 20,000 men, or what force Jeff. Davis could furnish, and that the 100,000 in all were to hold Missouri against any Federal force brought against them.  Indiana was to furnish 40,000 to  60,000 men to co-operate with whatever force Ohio might send, and all these then to be thrown into Louisville, and were to co-operate with whatever force Jeff. Davis could sent to eastern Kentucky, under Buckner [Simon B. Buckner] and Breckinridge [John C. Breckinridge], or whoever Jeff. Davis might deem best to conduct the operations.  This was the programme which Bowles gave the witness on his first visit, in the early part of May, 1864.  The object of witness’ visit to Bowles was to know what he knew of the conspiracy.

At Salem, Ind., he became acquainted with Heffren, who was formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in an Indiana regiment.  He told witness that he was expecting a commission in the Confederate forces then in Kentucky, and some of the forces of Forrest [Nathan B. Forrest], who had disbanded after the massacre at Fort Pillow.  He thought witness might be his commissioner.  Before being introduced to Heffren, he had a conversation with John           , who spoke of Heffren as one of the Butternut tigers of that county.  He said he had been at Indianapolis a few days before, consulting with H. H. Dodd about calling a meeting of the Grand Council of the State, and that it would be between the 13th and 17th of June.  He further told witness that he and Dodd were the only two men who had a right to call the members of the Order together, and that it would number between 75,000 and 80,000 men.  With this information witness went to visit Dr. Bowles a second time.—Bowles had been from home, but no one at the house knew where.  Bowles had been to Indianapolis where there had been a meeting of some of the chiefs of the Order.  Judge Bullitt, of Kentucky, Barrett, of Missouri, and some of the chiefs of Indiana, were there.  The occupation on Sunday was testing and experimenting with this Greek fire in the basement of some building.  The matter Bowles said they had got to answer perfectly.  At the Indianapolis meeting, Missouri was pledged for thirty thousand, and Illinois for fifty thousand, to co-operate with Price.  Indiana, Bowles said at that time, would furnish forty thousand.

With respect to this contemplated assassination of Wm. Coffin, the United States detective, Judge Bullit, Mr. Piper, Mr. Chambers, of Gallatin county, Tenn. ;  D. C. Whips, of Louisville, Ky. ;  Dr. Kolfus, and myself had a conference.  Some others were present.  This was the first or second of June.—The witness told them that it was the decision of Dr. Bowles that Coffin should be murdered, or, as Bowles said, that he had been instrumental in getting him into the Order, he ought to assist in getting him out of it.  Bowles told witness to tell Dodd to set two men on his track, and that he was to be made away with.  Dr. Gattling was present in Dodd’s office when he was speaking of the murder of Coffin, but did not think he took part in it.  He was invited to the house of Wm. Harrison, and had some conversation about the Order.  About forty or fifty members were present.

At the Grand Council at Indianapolis on the 14th of June, Dodd said that if Coffin had penetrated the secrets of the Order, he ought to be made way with.  Gattling was present at the Indianapolis meeting when they expressed a unanimous opinion that Coffin ought to be murdered.  There was no vote taken on the subject.  Dodd was the only one who volunteered to go to Hamilton to assist in the assassination of Coffin.  McBride said he would like to go, but circumstances prevented this.  McBride was a large, fleshy man, of medium height, 40 years of age or more.  Dodd, Bowles and the witness went on the cars to Hamilton, and Milligan met them there, but they did not find Coffin.  They spent nearly all of one day in Ristine’s office, waiting for young Ristine to point out Coffin, should he pass.  He saw Coffin toward the latter part of the day ;  knew Coffin before, and merely feigned ignorance ;  did not know why the uprising failed, but got the programme from Dodd.   Bullitt was arrested on Saturday, and Dodd gave witness the programme on Wednesday or Thursday of the same week.  Witness went to Bowles, who told him they had agreed on it at Chicago.—He understood that Bowles had a message from Dodd that the programme would not take place.  That message was sent by a boy thirteen or fourteen years old, whom he knew.  He met him between Paoli and Bowles’ residence.  Bowles said he might yet consent to the uprising if they got the co-operation of the rebel colonels, Jesse, Sippert and Walker, in Kentucky.  Dodd confided the insurrectionary scheme to but few.  He said he talked freely about such matters only to Harrison and witness.  He did not confide much in Vorrhees, who seemed to be in the confidence of the organization.  The rebel officer who got the work of the order in Kentucky, was Col. Anderson, of the 3d Kentucky Cavalry, who knew Dr. Kolfus, who gave him the vestibule and first degree.  Witness gave him the second and third degrees by order of Kolfus.

George E. Pugh, of Cincinnati, was sworn and examined as to whether certain letters to Dodd and Voorhees [Daniel W. Voorhees] offered in evidence were in Vallandigham’s hand-writing.  He identified them as such, because he had seen him write many letters and had received many from him.  The counsel for the defense were satisfied on that point.  The only letter of Vallandigham’s yet admitted is as follows :


H. H. Dodd, Esq. :

DEAR SIR :  That District Convention is at last fixes–Hamilton, Butler county, June 15.  Be there and brings friends and speakers.  Don’t fall [fail].    (Signed)        C. L. VALL.

Your letter with names received all right.

Jos. Kirkpatrick, of N. Y. City, a dealer in arms, was sworn and examined in reference to purchase of arms shipped to J. J. Parsons & Co., of this city.  He identified the arms found In Dodd’s office, as those sold by him to a man who represented himself as Harris.  They were marked by Harris, who paid for them. “J. J. Parsons & Co., Indianapolis, Indiana.”  He sold him 290 revolvers, and contracted to furnish him 2,500 more, and 135,000 pistol cartridges. He judged from what Harris first said that they were to be shipped to Mexico.

Wm. Clayton, a witness for the Government, was then introduced.  He resided in Warren county, Illinois ;  was a member of the Order of American Knights, and since that, of the Order cf the Sons of Liberty ;  was initiated into the three degrees ;  entered and continued in the Order in good faith ;  was admitted a member on the 1st of July, 1863.  He was initiated by Dr. McCartney and a man by the name of Griffith, residing in Monmouth county, Illinois ;  couldn’t remember the obligation he took on entering the Order, but bad the ritual of the first degree of the O. A. K.  The concluding portion of the obligation is as follows :  “I do further promise that I will, at all times, if needs be, take up arms in the cause of the oppressed of my country, first of all against any Monarch, Prince, Power or Government which may be found in arms against a people or peoples who are endeavoring to establish or have inaugurated a government for themselves, of their free choice in accordance with, and founded upon the eternal principles of truth which I have first sworn on the vestibule, and now in this presence do swear to maintain inviolate and defend with my life.  This I do promise without reservation or equivocation of mind, without regard to the name, station, condition or designation of the invading or coercing power, whether it shall arise from within or came from without, all this I do solemnly promise and swear sacredly to observe, perform and keep, with a full knowledge and understanding, and with my full assent that the penalty which will follow a violation of any or either of these most solemn vows will be a sudden and shameful death, while my name shall be consigned to infamy, while this sublime Order shall survive the wrecks of time, and even until the last faithful brother shall have passed from earth to his service in the ‘temple.’ ”  Witness took the second degree in the fall of 1863, and the third degree in the spring of 1864.  There was no essential difference between the O. A. K. and O. S. L.  After he took the second degree in the O. A. K., the Order was changed to the Order of the Sons of Liberty.  The same officers controlled both Orders.  He was still in the Order and met last, two weeks ago.  The place of meeting was in the woods.  He had held an office in the Order :  namely, that of Lecturer of the Vestibule.  The organization was first contemplated to bring the Democratic party into power, and was only understood to be a political organization.  Afterwards the officers informed the members that it was a military organization.  The authorities who had control of the Government were said to be tyrannical ;  that they were trampling us under foot, and that we should have to resist by force of arms, and the members of the Order expected to rise to maintain their rights.  The O. S. L. frequently drilled, and have been drilling for a year.  About two-thirds of the Order were armed, some with rifles and others with revolvers and shotguns.  The muster roll of their township was over one hundred.  Dr. McCartney, who is the Grand Seigneur of the county, informed the members that there were forty thousand in the Stats of Illinois, well armed, and that they could depend upon eighty thousand in that State.  There were about forty thousand in Missouri, twenty thousand being in St. Louis and the vicinity.  The officers said that between May and June there was to be an invasion at three points into Ohio, to be led by Morgan or Wheeler ;  into Indiana, to be led by Longstreet, and into Missouri, to be led by Marmaduke or Price, and, in case the rebels came into Illinois, the brethren of the organization were to shake hands and be friends.

An assessment was made on the lodges for the purchase of arms.  Their lodge was assessed for two hundred dollars.  It was collected by a Colonel Barry, or Barrett, of St. Louis.  The arms were to come from Nassau to Canada, and were to be brought to the Canada line by the Confederate authorities, but the Order was to pay the cost of transportation from Nassau to the Canada line.  It was understood in the Order that the signal for the uprising would be given by the Supreme Commander, C. L. Vallandigham.  Next to him in command was Robert Holloway, of Missouri.—There were lieutenants and captains, or colonels, in the Order, and a major-general for each Congressional District.  The penalty for divulging the secrets of the Order was death.  Since the exposure of the Order in St. Louis, and especially of this case, the Order was disposed to be quiet and do but little.  The present invasion of Missouri was made known to the Order in his locality by one of Quantrell’s men, who said that Price would be in Missouri by October 1st, and stay there until after the election, and as much longer as he could.—The Order in Illinois made no effort to assist him, if he came in.  The late exposure had stopped their operations.  Their Temples met, but had quit drilling.  The American Knights were organized in Illinois by P. C. Wright of Mississippi or Louisiana, who came to Springfield (Ill.), to a Mass Democratic Convention, June 17, I863, and organized Lodges and instituted a General Council, which appointed two officers for each county to organize County Temples.  Wright is editor of the New York News now.  He sent a circular to our lodge.  A lithographed copy of this circular, dated January, 1864, in which he spoke of the News as the O. S. L.’s especial organ, and asking their aid in circulating it, was identified by the witness as the same shown to the Lodge by Dr. McCartney, of Monmouth (Ill.), the Grand Seigneur of the Warren County Temple.  The witness gave the mode of testing a brother in the Order.

Without closing his testimony, the Commission adjourned to 2 P. M., Monday.

1.  A quote from Thomas Jefferson, the third U. S. president.

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