J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “William Seward”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 12)

Rose O’Neal Greenhow  

“Wild Rose” 

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Rose O’Neal Greenhow was the perfect example of a Southern martyr. She was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817, and acquired her nickname at an early age. Rose’s father was murdered by his slaves the same year she was born, so her mother was forced to raise four daughters and take care of the family farm. When Mrs. O’Neal died, Rose and her younger sister were sent to Washington D.C. to live with an aunt, who ran a fashionable boardinghouse at what would later become the Old Capitol Prison. Now a teenager, Rose learned the art of social etiquette. Considered to be educated, refined, loyal, and beautiful, with olive skin and a rosy complexion, she was the epitome of high society, and cultivated relationships with politicians and military officers, including Daniel Webster and James Buchanan. Her closest confidant, however, was John C. Calhoun, the powerful statesman from South Carolina who served as senator, secretary of state, and vice president.  

“I am a Southern woman,” Rose wrote, “born with revolutionary blood in my veins, and my first crude ideas on State and Federal matters received consistency and shape from the best and wisest man of this century.” When Calhoun succumbed to his final illness at the Old Capitol, Rose was in constant attendance.  

In 1835, she wed wealthy Virginian Dr. Robert Greenhow with the blessing of famed society matron Dolly Madison. Rose was 26, and Greenhow was 43. The couple had eight children. In 1850, the family moved to Mexico City with the promise of greater financial gains, and then to San Francisco. Dr. Greenhow died from an injury in 1854, so Rose and her children moved back to Washington D.C., where she resumed the role of popular socialite. 

When the War Between the States broke out in April, 1861, she was 44 years old. Staunchly pro-slavery, Rose immediately set to work contacting Confederate friends with information she obtained from pro-Union contacts. She and a close associate, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jordan, formed an extensive spy ring that included both men and women. 

 In July, Rose obtained one important piece of information that she sent to General P.G.T. Beauregard prior to the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run). Written in secret script, she sent the ten-word message via her assistant, Betty Duvall, who carried the note wrapped in silk and tied up in the bun of her hair. The note stated that the enemy, 55,000 strong, would commence from Arlington and Alexandria to Manassas. Because of this vital information, Beauregard and General Johnston were able to deflect the Union army’s advance and win the battle. Afterward, Jefferson Davis commended her achievement. 

Rose’s activities raised the suspicions of Allan Pinkerton, head of the newly organized federal government’s Secret Service. After he spied into the windows of her home on 16th Street NW, and thought he had enough sufficient evidence, Pinkerton placed Rose on house arrest in August. Union soldiers showed her no dignity as they ransacked through her belongings, discovering maps, letters, notes, ciphered messages, and papers that she had attempted to burn. Rose didn’t hesitate to let everyone know about her plight by writing to Mary Chesnut and Secretary of State William Seward, whose letter was leaked to a Richmond newspaper. Defiantly, she still continued her spying activities, so Pinkerton sent her and her youngest daughter, 8-year-old “Little Rose,” to Old Capitol Prison in January. Rose reportedly wrapped the Confederate flag around her torso as she was being led to prison. Ironically, she and her daughter were contained in the same room where she spent hours with John C. Calhoun while he was dying. Needless to say, Confederate propaganda mills were given ammunition about the “brutal Yankees who would imprison a mother and child.” 

While she was in prison, “The Rebel Rose” waved the Confederate flag from her window nearly every day, and continued her espionage. After a judge decided in March 1862 that it was too volatile to put her on trial, Rose was exiled to Richmond in June, once again draping herself with the Confederate flag upon her exit from Washington. She was greeted by cheering crowds as a heroine. In August 1863, President Davis appointed her to a diplomatic mission in France and England, and while there, she penned her memoirs, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington in an effort to gain European support for the Southern cause. The book immediately became a best seller. She was received by Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, was granted an audience with the Emperor at the Tuileries, and became engaged to the Second Earl of Granville. 

Rose missed her home, however, so in September, 1864, she decided to return to America with classified information for the Confederacy. Sailing aboard the blockade runner Condor, she and her traveling companions attracted the attention of a Union ship on October 1. In an attempt to outrun it, the Condor ran aground on a sandbar at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Afraid that she would be captured, Rose convinced the captain to let her take a lifeboat. Regardless of the stormy weather, he relented, and she set off with two others and $2,000 in gold sovereigns that she had earned from book royalties. Tragically, the tiny rowboat capsized, and the three people aboard were drowned.  

The following day, Rose’s body washed up on shore. A Confederate soldier discovered it and took the gold, then pushed the body back into the sea. It washed up again, however, and was recovered and identified this time. (The soldier was so wrought with guilt that he returned the gold.) Rose’s body was taken to Wilmington, North Carolina, where it was laid out in state in a hospital chapel with a Confederate flag for a shroud. She was given a full military funeral, and her coffin was also draped with the Confederate flag. The marble cross marking her grave bears the epitaph, “Mrs. Rose O’N. Greenhow, a Bearer of Dispatchs to the Confederate Government.” 

Rose’s diary, dated August 5, 1863 to August 10, 1864, and describing her mission in detail, is held in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. The National Archives has digitalized and made available in the Archival Research Catalog 175 documents that the U.S. Intelligence Service seized from Rose’s home in August 1861.

(The photograph of Rose and “Little Rose” was taken during their incarceration at Old Capitol Prison by Matthew Brady Studio.) 

 

 

 

 

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Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 10)

Mary Surratt

The only woman convicted and hung for the role she played during the War Between the States. 

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Mary Elizabeth Surratt became a widow at age 42, during the summer of 1862. Her husband left behind 287 acres in what is now Prince George’s County, Maryland. He had constructed a two-story house on the land that became known as Surrattsville. The house was converted into a tavern that served as a way station for the clandestine Confederate network. Mr. Surratt also left his wife a boarding house on H Street in Washington D.C. In October 1864, Mary and her three children permanently moved to that location and rented out the tavern to a man named John Lloyd.  

Over the course of the next few months, 541 H Street would become the focal point in what is considered to be one of the most influential crimes in American history. John Wilkes Booth, who frequented the Surratt home, hatched his original kidnapping conspiracy there. Other players who were involved included Mary’s son John, George Atzeroldt, who was supposed to assassinate Vice President Johnson, and Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Paine), who was responsible for the vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward the night of April 14, 1865, (the same night that President Lincoln was assassinated). David Herold, who was a friend of John Surratt and John Wilkes Booth, rode with Booth following the assassination. He was later captured at Garrett’s Farm, where Booth was shot to death by Sergeant Boston Corbett, who was part of the 16th New York Cavalry that cornered the two men inside a barn. Also participating in the conspiracy were Samuel Arnold, who was an original plotter in the kidnapping scheme, Michael O’Laughlen, who was had been sent to kill Secretary of War Edwin Stanton but failed, and Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth’s injuries after he escaped from Washington.  

Booth intended to kidnap President Lincoln in order to force the Union to surrender captured Confederates. His plans were solidified by March 1865, but were postponed for various reasons, and proved futile once General Lee surrendered on April 9. Mary Surratt traveled to her tavern on April 13, where she allegedly told her renter, John Lloyd, “to have the shooting irons ready; there will be some parties call for them.”  

Following the assassination, a woman whose niece worked for Mary contacted police, saying that suspicious men had been seen at Mary’s boarding house. Subsequently, everyone in the house, including Mary, was arrested. Before leaving, Mary was caught in a lie, denying that she knew Lewis Powell, who just happened to show up with a shovel, claiming that she required his services for digging a ditch.  

At the trial, several eyewitnesses testified to her involvement in the assassination scheme, including George Atzeroldt. Some claimed that they had seen Mary conversing with Booth, who gave her a wrapped package containing field glasses that she was to leave with her tenant, John Lloyd. Although her son escaped conviction because he was in New York at the time, Mary was not so lucky. Tried before a military commission, the conspirators were found guilty. Mary was one of four sentenced to death by hanging. No one believed she would actually be put to death because of her gender, but regardless of her lawyers’ issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, the federal judge’s order to have her delivered to his courtroom on the morning of her execution (which was ignored), and pleas from her daughter, Anna, President Johnson refused to commute Mary’s sentence. Two days before her execution, the judge advocate general delivered a plea for her clemency to President Johnson, who later claimed that he received no such request until after the hanging. 

Mary Surratt died in Washington’s Arsenal prison yard on July 7, 1865 with Lewis Powell, David Harold, and George Atzeroldt. As army personnel crowded into the yard to watch, the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government fell through the gallows’ trap doors alongside her co-conspirators. Whether she was actually guilty of the crimes she was accused of committing, or whether her sentence was unjustified and unfair, remains a topic of debate.  

A film directed by Robert Redford, entitled “The Conspirator,” tells the story of Mary Surratt, and is set for release in March 2011. If you have the opportunity, visit Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. In the basement is housed a unique museum containing descriptions and artifacts surrounding this inauspicious act. 

 

The Plot to Burn New York City

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In the closing months of 1864, with the Federal noose ever tightening, the Confederate government began to contemplate enacting a so-called, “War of Attrition” in an effort to bring about negotiations to end the conflict. One such strategy would involve the burning of New York City. November 1864 would see a hand- picked group of former Southern soldiers leave their Canadian base and arrive in the city to carry out the deed. Commanded by Col. Robert Martin, the eight men were determined to bring to the North some of the horrors being suffered by the citizens of the Confederacy.

Armed with 144 bottles of “Greek Fire,” each man was detailed a specific location to set ablaze, mainly around the Broadway district. However, when the appointed time came, only a few of the group stepped up; the others were frightened by the arrival of large numbers of Federal troops to garrison the city when rumors of an attack leaked out. These bluecoats would leave the city by November 15, believing that danger had passed.

Election Day, November 25, 1864 came and the Southern plan went into effect; each remaining man was given 10 bottles of the incendiary and went from hotel to hotel setting fires before quickly making their escape to an appointed place. James Headley set fire to his room in the Astor House before continuing onto the City Hotel, Everett House and United States Hotel. As he left the last, he heard fire alarms ringing across the district and saw the consternation on the streets.

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Also, on fire was Barnum’s Museum, a place that was not part of the original plan. One of the raiders, Capt. Robert C Kennedy, having carried out his mission, paid a visit to a local hostelry, where his patriotism was restored, and still armed with the fiery liquid, Kennedy went into the museum and set it ablaze. Amazingly, no casualties ensued despite there being over 2,500 people attending a theatrical performance. Throughout the night, firemen rushed to quench the fires, dawn revealing that the Southern plot had done very little damage to the city while the search for Martin, Headley, Kennedy and their accomplices began. They would make their escape to Toronto before returning to the South, all successfully, except one; Capt. Robert Kennedy.

Between 1861 and 1864 there were at least three plots discussed in Canada; individuals involved in these were Clement Clay, Col. Jacob Thompson and John W Booth. One was the “Kidnapping Plot” whereby President Lincoln was to be taken captive and brought to face President Davis. This plan was shelved as it was considered too dangerous to carry out. A second plan was to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson and Secretary Seward led by John W. Booth. The third plan was the destruction of as many Northern cities and towns as possible.

(Irish In Blue & Gray: Remembering the Irish in America 1861-1865, editors: Liam and LaDona McAlister)

Additional information provided by this editor:

“Robert C. Kennedy was tried as a spy for his part in the setting of numerous fires in New York City in November, 1864. Places burned by him and others (who were never tried) included a number of hotels and Barnum’s Museum. He was executed on Governor’s Island. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the island in New York Harbor. All of the bodies buried on the island were disinterred in the late 1870’s and re-buried in Cypress Hills. It is probable that he is buried in an unmarked grave in the National Cemetery ” – John F Walter

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey camp 1452, Sons of Confederate Veterans, vol. 42, issue no. 11, Nov. 2018 ed.)

 

Age Old Debate

On this date in 1863, Secretary of State William Seward rejected France’s offer to mediate peace and end the War Between the States. Needless to say, because of his decision, millions more died, and some of the worst battles fought on American soil took place. Some of those battles still hold records today in the number of casualties they claimed.

This brings us to that familiar old adage: What would have happened if the South had won the Civil War? There have been numerous books written on the subject, as well as ongoing blogs and discussions. One thing is for certain, however. If the war had ended at the onset of 1863, millions of American men would have kept their lives.

Seward was criticized for his decision, and despised by some because of it. An accomplice of John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, nearly killed Seward at the same time that Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. After the war, Seward was criticized by the press for purchasing Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, calling it “Seward’s Folly.” He got the last laugh though, when gold was discovered five years later, in 1872.

Age Old Debate

On this date in 1863, Secretary of State William Seward rejected France’s offer to mediate peace and end the War Between the States. Needless to say, because of his decision, millions more died, and some of the worst battles fought on American soil took place. Some of those battles still hold records today in the number of casualties they claimed.

This brings us to that familiar old adage: What would have happened if the South had won the Civil War? There have been numerous books written on the subject, as well as ongoing blogs and discussions. One thing is for certain, however. If the war had ended at the onset of 1863, millions of American men would have kept their lives.

Seward was criticized for his decision, and despised by some because of it. An accomplice of John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, nearly killed Seward at the same time that Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. After the war, Seward was criticized by the press for purchasing Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, calling it “Seward’s Folly.” He got the last laugh though, when gold was discovered five years later, in 1872.

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