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Johnson's Island.

Thrilling story a visit thereto recalls. ‘Thompson conspiracy.’

The desperate exploit of Major C. H. Cole—the capture of the Philo Parsons —Execution of Beall.

The following appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette September, 1902:

More than thirty years have passed since the earth was tossed into the last Confederate grave on Johnson's Island. Thirty years have cooled the hot blood of the South and temporized the temper of the North. The bayonets of the Civil war are rusting now; the saber's edge is turned, and the heavy cannon that thundered o'er the battle-field is molded into implements of peace. Thirty years have blotted out the evil memories of the past and brought forth the dawn of the new morn and the new South. The Stars and Bars are amalgamated with the Stars and Stripes. But as the events of those thrilling times are slowly but surely fading from view some little incident now and then recalls, with a vividness that smacks of yesterday, a great epoch in the war, forming the rivet that connects the chains of history.

An old gray-haired man, with his wife leaning on his arm, wandered through the Confederate cemetery, on Johnson's Island, during the recent encampment of the Ohio G. A. R., at Sandusky. The couple passed before each stone and scanned the inscriptions with apparent interest. Three times had the narrow avenues between the graves been traversed. The old man rested wearily upon his walking stick.

“Not here,” said he, ‘not here.’

The words had barely passed his lips when his wife, falling on her knees, cried out: ‘Oh, father! father!’

The old man hastened to her side. She was supporting herself by a marble slab, which bore this inscription:

Lieutenant Company G,

John C. Holt,

Sixty-first Tennessee Infantry. [257]

For thirty years the father and mother, who live near Nashville, Tenn., have sought their son. They found him during a reunion of the North and the South, in the graveyard of a northern prison.

John Holt died in 1865, and was one of the three thousand or more officers who looked for liberty through one of the most stupendous plots of the war of the rebellion—an uprising in the North. The finding of his grave by his parents the other day brings back to mind the great conspiracy to liberate 20,000 Confederate prisoners in the North, seize the northern frontier, and put a period to the struggle in the South by one grand stroke of arms. Sandusky was the theatre of these tragic events, and Johnson's Island was to be the first point of attack. As one looks over the peaceful little island to-day, as it lies in the pretty land-locked bay three miles from Sandusky, he can scarcely realize that it was once peopled with troops; that the flower of the Southern armies was imprisoned there, behind a strong stockade, and that it was the scene of one of most sensational events of the late war. Yet the block-house, the powder magazines, the officers' quarters, the old church and the little cemetery are still there, and the earthen embankments of the two forts are forcible reminders that heavy ordnance were once planted there, commanding a sweep of the entire island.

While the people of the North were resting in fancied security, John Holt and his companions were watching and waiting patiently for the signal that would inform them of the capture of the manof-war Michigan, the throwing open of the prison gates at Camp Douglas, near Chicago, where 8,00 Confederates were confined; at Camp Chase, near Columbus, O., where there were 8,000 more, and at Camp Morton, Indianapolis, with about 4,000. The 3,200 officers on Johnson's Island were to command this army of newly liberated Confederate soldiers and sweep the North across its entire breadth, carrying havoc and panic throughout its course, and possibly turning the tide in favor of the South. The time was ripe for such a gigantic conspiracy. It was in 1864, when the Democrats of the North were preparing to declare in national convention that the war was a failure; when the North was filled with discontent, and Canada was flowing over with Southern sympathizers under the leadership of Jake Thompson.

The time arranged for simultaneously releasing all of these prisoners was to be guaged by General Early's attack upon Washington, so that it would be impossible to send troops to the North. [258] About this time the Democratic convention was held in Chicago, and it was at first the intention to take advantage of this meeting to make the attack. Four thousand Confederates were in Chicago during the session of the convention, waiting for the word to strike the blow, but Early's delay in attacking the capital caused a postponement of the plans in the West. This delay and the miscarriage of the plot at Johnson's Island saved the North.

The man who figured most proliniently in this movement was Major C. H. Cole, a man of wonderful coolness, nerve and courage. He was barely of medium height, but his frame was wellknit and muscular, and his cold gray eye indicated firmness and daring. An estimate of his reckless bravado may be formed when it is known that shortly after his capture, upon being arraigned before Major-Generals John A. Dix, Heintzelman and Hitchcock, he attempted to drop a lighted cigar into the powder magazine of the Michigan, and blow all on board, himself inclusive, into eternity. This was the man selected by Jake Thompson to strike the keynote in the great conspiracy.

Cole was a member of the Fifth Tennessee Confederate Regiment, of which his brother was colonel. He was called to Richmond, and there assigned to the secret service, with orders to report to Jake Thompson, formelly Secretary of the Interior tender Buchalllan, but at that time supposed to be the Confederate leader, with he; adquarters in Canada. Major Cole was given command of the Department of Ohio, with headquarters at Sandusky. Major Tom Hinds, afterwards a judge at Bowling Green, Ky., was in command in Illinois and located at Chicago, while Major Castleman had Indiana, with headquarters at Centralia. At all these places Northern allies were working in conjunction with the Confederates. The plan was to make the attack on Johnson's Island, Camp Douglas, Camp Chase, and Camp Morton simultaneously, on Monday, September 19, 1864. Major Cole's part was to capture the Michigan, release the prisoners on the island, cut all the telegraphs wires, seize a train, run down to Columbus, help release, the prisoners at Camp Chase, return to Sandusky and establish temporary headquarters of the Confederate Department of the Northwest. General Trimble, of Maryland, who was ranking officer on Johnson's Island, was to have been made commander-in-chief. Major Hinds, of Chicago, in addition to attacking Camp Douglas, was assigned to capture one of the iron steamers that ran between Grand Haven and Milwaukee.


Systematic work.

Cole went about his work systematically and skilfully. He established himself at Sandusky under the guise of a wealthy oil speculator of Titusville, Pa., and organized the Mount Hope Oil Company. Judge Filmore, of Buffalo, being elected president, and Cole secretary. The day the Major reported to Jake Thompson he received $60,000 in gold, part of which was deposited in a bank at Sandusky, to Cole's credit. Accounts were also kept in Philadelphia with Drexel & Co., in the name of John Bell, and at Belmont, N. Y. The Confederacy had ample means in its secret service, one authority placing the amount at $86,000,000.

With such comfortable bank accounts to his credit, Major Cole at once took rank as a substantial business man. He became noted for his good dinners, his fine brands of cigars, and the excellent quality of his wines. He assiduously courted the friendship of the officers of the man-of-war Michigan. In Sandusky he was known as a jolly good fellow. He managed to have two Confederates enlisted as seamen on board the Michigan, and ten were enlisted as soldiers and stationed for duty on Johnson's Island. By this means he kept thoroughly posted as to what was going on inside the lines of the enemy's stronghold.

Associated with Cole was John Yates Beall, a native of West Virginia, and a college-bred man. When the war broke out Beall was the owner of a large plantation in Jefferson county, W. Va., and was estimated to be worth nearly $2,000,000. He organized Company G, Second West Virginia Infantry, which was afterwards a part of the ‘Stonewall Brigade.’ Beall was a man of unquestioned bravery.

Another character who played an important part was Annie Davis, an English woman, who acted as a messenger between Cole and Jake Thompson.

On the morning of September 19, Cole had his plans for striking the final blow all complete. He left Detroit for Sandusky, where he had arranged to dine with the officers of the Michigan on board the ship that evening. The wine was to be drugged, and Beall, at a given signal, was to attack the man-of-war from a steamer which was to be seized that same day. Just before he left Detroit, Major Cole sent the following telegram to Major Hinds' assistant, Charlie Walsh, of Chicago: [260]

Detroit, September 19, 1864.
Close out all of the stock in the Mount Hope Oil Company before 3 o'clock to-day. Be prompt.

This meant that the attempt to capture the Michigan was to be made that afternoon, and that attacks should be made on Camps Douglas, Chase, and Morton. In company with Beall, Cole boarded the Philo Parsons, which ran between Detroit and Sandusky. She stopped at the various places on the Canada side of the Detroit river. At Windsor and Maiden the Confederates got aboard. At the latter place there were twenty men who brought with them an old-fashioned trunk tied with ropes. This, however, did not excite suspicion, as at that time there were any number of men fleeing into Canada to escape the draft, and others forced to return for want of money.

Major Cole, who had become well acquainted with the commander of the vessel, Captain Atwood, was in the pilothouse. When all was in readiness Beall gave the signal and Cole covered the captain with a revolver.

A bold exploit.

“You are my prisoner,” he said, coolly. ‘I take possession of this ship in the name of the Confederate States of America.’

In the meantime the ropes around the old trunk were cut, the hatchets and revolvers which it contained distributed among the Confederates, and in a trice the crew of the Philo Parsons were prisoners below the hatches. The Stars and Stripes were hauled down, and the Stars and Bars floated from the flagstaff. Shortly after noon Put-in-Bay was reached. At the wharf lay the steamer Island Queen, bound for Cleveland, with 300 passengers, mostly unarmed soldiers, on their way to be mustered out. The Parsons quickly ran alongside, made fast, and captured her. The two vessels were then steered to Fighting Island, and the prisoners compelled to land. The steamers then proceeded toward Sandusky, and when within a short distance of the Michigan, Cole was rowed to her in a small boat in order to keep his engagement with the officers. Everything was working like a charm, and no one had the slightest suspicion that anything was wrong. Arrangements had been made to have men come off from the shore in a little fishing boat, and at a given signal from Cole board the Michigan, while the officers were below at dinner, put on the hatches, and capture the man-of-war without the loss of a man. At the same instant a cannon discharged [261] from the quarter deck was to notify the prisoners at Johnson's Island that the moment had come, and they were to rise immediately in insurrection. Their escape was to be covered by the captured Michigan, which was to shell the fort and Federal quarters. It was expected that at this same hour the blows would be struck at Camps Douglas, Chase, and Morton. All points failed.

Sure of his prize, Cole played with it as a cat tantalizes a mouse. He delayed one second too long. He was pledging his last good health when an officer from Johnson's Island entered the ward-room. Tapping Cole on the shoulder, the officer said:

Major, I arrest you as a Confederate spy.’

Cole laughed lightly, but his heart sank within him. He knew that the whole plot was frustrated. Upon being searched, papers were found on his person that proved his guilt beyond a doubt. With remarkable presence of mind he implicated a dozen or more innocent citizens of Sandusky, and during the excitement occasioned by the adroit move his friends and accomplices made good their escape. Beall scuttled the Island Queen in sight of the Michigan, and running the Philo Parsons over the Canadian shore, sank her also. Beall was shortly after captured, and, despite the persistent efforts of his friends, was executed on Governor's Island, February 24, 1865. In his farewell letter to his brother, he wrote:

‘Remember me kindly to my friends. Say to them that I am not aware of committing any crime against society. I die for my country. No thirst for blood nor lucre animated me in my course. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay.” Therefore, show no unkindness to the prisoners; they are helpless.’

Cole was betrayed by a Colonel Johnson, of Kentucky, who afterward so suffered from remorse that he cut his throat in the barracks at Cincinnati while being held as a Federal witness. After being tried and convicted of the charge of piracy and of being a spy, Cole was sentenced to be hanged on Johnson's Island, February 16, 1865. He was subsequently moved to Fort Lafayette, and in the mean time public feeling had greatly softened toward him. General M. D. Leggett, afterward Commissioner of Patents, two of the ladies who were on the Island Queen when Cole captured her, and many other sympathizers petitioned successfully for a commutation of life sentence to life imprisonment. In 1866 he was released on a writ of habeas corpus, at the instance of Jake Thompson, escaped to Canada, and thence to Mexico, where he served under Maximilian. [262] He was finally pardoned by the President, returned to the United States, and at last accounts was an honored citizen of Texas.

So the great conspiracy ended, and John Holt died a prisoner on Johnson's Island.

Historic interest.

Aside from its natural beauty and choice location, Johnson's Island has an historic interest that makes it dear to patriotic Americans. The island is about one mile in length and half a mile in breadth, and rises to a height of fifty feet above the lake level, containing about 300 acres. In its original state it was covered with a heavy growth of oaks, and is said to have been a favorite resort of the Indians. It was formerly owned by a man named Bull, and was then known as Bull's Island, and was the site of the old custom-house of the port, removed here from Port Marblehead. L. B. Johnson, of Sandusky, purchased the property in 1852, and rented it to the government in 1861 as a depot for Confederate prisoners, Company A, Hoffman Battalion, taking possession January 1, 1862. Companies B, C, and D were shortly after added, and in 1863 six more—all known as the One Hundred and Twenty-eight Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The first prisoners were brought here in April, 1862. The prison was eventually used almost exclusively for Confederate officers, the number varying from 2,000 to 3,000. During the full period of its occupancy about 15,000 prisoners were confined here, nearly all of whom were at one time or another exchanged. Two were shot in retaliation for executions in the South, one was hanged as a spy, and one was shot in an attempt to escape. One was also shot by a guard for getting over the ‘dead line.’ On September 7, 1865, the last prisoners on the island were sent to Fort Lafayette by order of the War Department, and the place was abandoned as a military post.

The most striking memento of these sad days is the little cemetery on the north shore, where 206 Confederates were buried. Twenty of the bodies have been removed, and doubtless many others would be taken away if friends and relatives knew the resting place of the missing ones. A complete and correct list of the prisoners buried at Johnson's Island has never been published, and for the purpose of assisting friends in the South to locate dead comrades, the following, compiled from the report of the commissary-general of prisoners, is herewith subjoined. Several of the graves are marked ‘unknown,’ [263] but as far as possible the full names have been obtained and are now for the first time made public.

For many years the graves were only marked by rough, wooden headstones cut out and inscriptions carved upon them with jackknives by comrades of the dead Confederates. Those letters were skilfully engraved and usually gave the name, rank, birth, and date of death, in fact, being the chief authority from which the official list was made up. A short time ago, however, a party of Georgia journalists visited the little cemetery, noted that the wooden headstones were fast going to decay, and, in order to rescue from oblivion the identity of their soldier dead, the newspapermen, upon their return home, raised by popular subscription in the South enough money to defray the expense of erecting a marble tombstone at the head of each grave. Only a few of the original wooden headboards are now in existence, and these are kept as souvenirs of the love that the soldiers bore for their dead friends.

The following is the list of graves:

J. E. Cruggs, Colonel Eighty-fifth Virginia.

E. M. Tuggle, Captain Thirty-fifth Georgia Infantry.

A. E. Upchurch, Captain Fifty-fifth North Carolina Infantry.

J. P. Peden, Second Lieutenant Hamilton's Battery.

Joel Barnett, Lieutenant-Colonel Ninth Battalion, Louisiana Cavalry.

William J. Hudson, Lieutenant Second North Carolina Infantry.

D. E. Webb, Captain First Alabama Cavalry.

J. W. Nullins, Lieutenant First Mississippi Infantry.

W. E. Hansen, First Georgia Infantry.

H. D. Stephenson, Captain Fifteenth Arkansas Infantry.

R. D. Copass, Lieutenant Sixth Tennessee Infantry.

J. D. Caraway.

C. B. Jackson, Virginia.

J. Huffstetter, Lieutenant First Battalion Arkansas Infantry.

L. B. Williams, Lieutenant Sixty-third North Carolina Infantry.

W. P. Harden, Lieutenant North Carolina Infantry.

J. M. Dotson, Lieutenant Tenth Tennessee Cavalry.

D. D. Kellar, Private Second Tennessee Cavalry.

S. G. Jetter, Alabama Infantry.

C. W. Gillespie, Captain North Carolina Cavalry.

B. Anderson, Private Missouri S. C.

W. W. Veasey, Lieutenant Tenth Kentucky Cavalry.

J. W. Gregory, Captain Ninth Virginia Infantry. [264]

Peter Cole, Private Sixtieth Virginia Infantry.

William Johnson, Private Poindexter's Missouri Cavalry.

E. L. More.

Daniel Herrin, Poindexter's Missouri Cavalry.

J. W. Collier, Lieutenant Eighteenth Kentucky Infantry.

John M. Kean, Captain Twelfth Louisiana Artillery.

L. W. McWhirter, Captain Third Mississippi Infantry.

John Dow, Pulaski, Ohio.

R. Hodges, Memphis, Tennessee.

E. Gibson, Lieutenant Eleventh Askansas Infantry.

D. Christian, One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Virginia Infantry.

L. Raisins, Forty-sixth Virginia Infantry.

Samuel Fox, Colonel.

J. Ashbury, Kentucky.

J. Reeves, First Georgia Cavalry.

J. A. McBride, Lieutenant Sixtieth Tennessee Infantry.

S. R. Graham, First Lieutenant Third Texas Cavalry.

S. W. Henry, Captain Nineteenth Tennessee Cavalry.

E. M. Orr, Lieutenant Sixty-second North Carolina Infantry.

Mark Bacon, Captain Sixtieth Tennessee Infantry.

J. B. Hardy, Captain Fifteenth Arkansas Infantry.

Hugh Cobble, Private Fifth Kentucky.

J. B. Cash, Lieutenant Sixty-second North Carolina Infantry.

J. W. Johnson, Captain Green's R. Missouri S. G.'s.

J. U. D. King, Captain Ninth Georgia Infantry.

M. R. Handy, citizen, Hopkins county, Ky.

E. Morrison, Private Eighth Alabama Infantry.

Charles H. Matlock, Colonel Fourth Mississippi.

W. W. Davis, Private Thirty-fifth Mississippi Infantry.

W. N. Swift, Lieutenant Thirty-fourth Georgia Infantry.

A. Kelly, Lieutenant Tenth Askansas Infantry.

J. D. Conaway, Private Nineteenth Virginia Cavalry.

J. Middlebrooks, Captain Fortieth Georgia Infantry.

J. B. Hazzard, Captain Twenty-fourth Alabama Infantry.

J. P. Vance, Captain Bell's R., Arkansas Infantry.

D. H. McKay, Lieutenant Forty-sixth Alabama Infantry.

John R. Jackson, Captain Thirty-eighth Alabama Infantry.

H. B. Dawson, Lieutenant Seventeenth Georgia Infantry.

D. D. Johnson, Lieutenant Forty-eighth Tennessee Infantry.

J. B. Hardy, Captain Fifth Arkansas Infantry.

W. T. Skidmore, Lieutenant Fourth Alabama Cavalry. [265]

M. D. Armfield, Captain Eleventh North Carolina Infantry.

E. W. Lewis, Captain Ninth Battalion Louisiana Cavalry.

J. N. Williams, Lieutenant (or Captain) Sixth Mississippi Infantry.

J. T. Ligon, Lieutenant Fifty-third Virginia Infantry (or Twenty-third Arkansas).

F. G. W. Coleman, Lieutenant Seventh Mississippi Artillery.

J. E. Threadgill, Lieutenant Twelfth Arkansas Infantry.

J. G. Shuler, Captain Fifth Florida Infantry.

B. J. Blount, Lieutenant Fifty-fifth North Carolina Infantry.

J. D. Arrington, Lieutenant Thirty-second North Carolina Infantry.

Joseph Lawske, Lieutenant Eighteenth Mississippi Cavalry.

John C. Holt, Lieutenant Sixty-first Tennessee Infantry.

Samuel Chormley, Blount county, Tennessee.

J. W. Moore, Lieutenant Twenty-fifth Alabama Infantry.

D. L. Scott, Second Lieutenant Third Missouri Cavalry.

William Peel, Lieutenant Eleventh Mississippi.

J. L. Land, Lieutenant Twenty-fourth Georgia Infantry.

N. T. Barnes, Captain Tenth Confederate Cavalry.

John F. McElroy, Lieutenant Twenty-fourth Georgia Infantry.

John Q. High, Lieutenant First Arkansas Battalion Infantry.

J. C. Long, Lieutenant Sixty-second North Carolina Infantry.

B. C. Harp, Lieutenant Twenty-fifth Tennessee Infantry.

W. S. Norwood, Lieutenant South Carolina Infantry.

R. K. C. Weeks, Second Lieutenant Fourth Florida Infantry.

S. P. Sullins, Captain First Alabama Infantry.

P. J. Rabeman, Captain Fifth Alabama Infantry.

R. H. Lisk, citizen.

F. F. Cooper, Captain Fifty-second Georgia Infantry.

W. E. Watson, Adjutant First Tennessee Infantry.

Albert F. Frazer, Fifteenth Mississippi.

W. E. Killem, Lieutenant Fourth Virginia Infantry.

F. T. Coppeye, Lieutenant Tennessee Infantry.

J. L. Dungan, Private Twenty-second Virginia.

S. T. Moore, Second Lieutenant King's Regiment, Alabama Infantry.

John J. Gobeau, Lieutenant Tenth Mississippi Infantry.

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