Posted February 19, 2003
©2003 G. E. Rule
No reproduction or distribution without consent of author.
Missouri and the Northwest Conspiracy
G. E. Rule
Copyright G. E. Rule, 2002
“So boys answer when we call; make our legions strong.
Knights of the Golden Circle come and join the Rebel throng.
We’ll raise the banner high once more and give the rebel yell;
Come follow us to victory or march with us through hell.”
–Bob Dyer, “The Last Great Rebel Raid” (1993),
Joseph W. Tucker was one of the hottest “fire-eaters” in Missouri. Thirty-eight years old when the Civil War began, he is described as a well-built man of two hundred pounds, six feet tall, with blue eyes and dark hair. Lawyer, devout Methodist deacon, educator, St. Louis newspaper editor, and ally of Governor Claiborne F. Jackson and General Sterling Price, Tucker would be near the center of Confederate Missouri affairs over the course of the war.
Joseph Wofford Tucker was born on October 4, 1822 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina to Samuel Willis Tucker and Laodicea Tucker (nee Howard). His father was a man of means, with slaves to work the farm and do the household chores. Young Tucker chose the law as his profession and was admitted to the bar in 1844, the same year of his marriage to Miss Emily Barry, also of Spartanburg. In 1847, he was elected to the state legislature. His Wofford relatives had a proud history in the area, and he chose to emphasize the connection, calling himself “J. Wofford Tucker”.
In 1850, his uncle, Reverend Benjamin Wofford, passed away, bequeathing $100,000 for the establishment of a college in Spartanburg to be run under the authority of the state Methodist Conference. Several members of the late Reverend’s family were named to the provisional board of trustees, including 28 year-old J. Wofford Tucker. The Methodist Conference elected him to the first permanent Board as well. More than one hundred fifty years later, Wofford College is a respected and successful private institution on the same grounds as the original campus.
Besides a lucrative law practice and the state legislature, Tucker also became an editor of the Carolina Spartan. Continuing his interest in education, in 1855 he was elected president of the newly established Spartanburg Female College. A serious financial setback in 1858—cause unknown—became the impetuous for a move west.
In an attempt to revive his finances, Tucker moved his wife and three children to St. Louis, changing the form of his name to “Joseph W.” or “J. W.” at the same time. He opened a law practice with Thomas C. Johnson on Olive Street, joined a local Methodist church, and started a newspaper. His interest in education undimmed, by 1860 he was a member of the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri.
As the secession crisis began to build to a climax in early 1861, Tucker and his Missouri State Journal were stridently engaged in the debates over Missouri’s future course. Pro-secession Governor Jackson and his allies were deeply concerned about their ability to control St. Louis, and Tucker was their champion in the press, smiting Unionists and “submissionists” wherever he found them.
While Tucker, in deference to his status in his church, was usually known as “Deacon”, his personality reminded no one of the kindly stereotype usually associated with that position. One of his ecclesiastical colleagues, Pro-Union Baptist minister Galusha Anderson, once found himself on the pointed end of a Tucker diatribe:
Believing with all his heart in the righteousness of secession, and wishing both in season and out of season, to strike telling blows against all advocates of Unionism, he came out in an editorial, one Saturday evening, in which he said: “The devil preaches at the corner of Sixth and Locust Streets, and he is just the same sort of a being that he was more than eighteen hundred years ago; he wants everybody to bow down and worship him.” Now since that was just where I preached, the editorial was rather personal, and was intended to be offensive. The deacon, fearing that I might miss reading his highly complimentary words, and so lack the stimulus that they might impart to my Sunday ministrations, early on the morning of the Lord’s day, sent a copy of his paper to me by special messenger, having thoughtfully marked his amiable editorial with his blue pencil. Instead of demanding satisfaction of the pious editor as almost any hot‑blooded Southerner of that day would have done, the blue‑penciled editorial was read at my breakfast‑table amid roars of laughter.
Happily, Anderson chose to laugh off Tucker’s broadside, and thus spare St. Louis the spectacle of two devout men of the Lord resorting to the code duello to settle their differences.
As events continued to slide inexorably toward war, the State Journal was widely considered the leading secessionist paper in Missouri. Letters poured in from Unionists across the state to Pro-Union congressman Frank Blair’s Safety Committee in St. Louis, complaining bitterly that Tucker’s paper was providing aid and encouragement to the secessionists in their areas.
Tucker worked closely with the other secessionist elements in St. Louis, including Basil Duke’s Minute Men. Union spy reports identified two leading Minute Men, Arthur McCoy and his brother-in-law Robert Louden, as “the head and front of all mischief” in the Minute Men’s efforts to keep the Unionists of St. Louis in an uproar and inflate estimates of their own strength. Tucker and Louden would later be linked together in much more serious “mischief” at Union expense.
On the morning of May 10, 1861, the storm clouds that had been gathering over Missouri for months finally burst. Almost a month after armed hostilities had begun between the United States and the Confederate States at Fort Sumter, S. C., Captain Nathaniel Lyon led roughly seven thousand Missouri Volunteers and U. S. Reserves to surround approximately seven hundred state militiamen at their camp, named for the governor, on the outskirts of St. Louis. Outnumbered ten-to-one, militia general Daniel M. Frost had little choice but to surrender his command at Lyon’s demand. Lyon believed, correctly, that the camp was hostile to the U. S., and siege weapons, intended for use against the federal arsenal in the city, had been received from the Confederate government. However, a bloodless victory turned into tragedy and political capital for the secessionists when Lyon’s troops, goaded by throngs of onlookers while marching their prisoners back through the city to the arsenal, fired on the crowd. When the smoke cleared, twenty-eight people were dead, including women and children. Lyon later argued enraged secessionists in the crowd had fired first, wounding several of his soldiers, but most historians have concluded the Camp Jackson affair was a major blunder by the Unionist leaders of St. Louis.
A telegram that afternoon from Deacon Tucker to Governor Jackson brought the news of the events at Camp Jackson to the State legislature at Jefferson City, causing scenes of wild confusion and the immediate passage of the long-stalled Militia Bill giving the governor control of a newly strengthened Missouri State Guard. Former governor Sterling Price, long a Pro-Union/Pro-Slavery Democrat, now rushed to Jefferson City to offer his services to the state. Jackson named Price Major-General commanding the State Guard on May 12, 1861.
Tucker’s relationship with the governor would lead to serious trouble for both of them. In the wake of Camp Jackson and the consolidation of Union control in St. Louis, Blair and his allies decided it was time to move against Tucker. Union authorities searched his office on July 12, 1861 and found a letter from the governor written on April 28. Jackson’s letter indiscreetly advocated secession for Missouri, and opined the state “ought to have gone out last winter when she could have seized the public arms and public property and defended herself”. This letter, along with Tucker’s public exhortations in defense of “state’s rights” and against “the murderer Lyon”, lead to suppression of the State Journal. Formal charges of treason against Tucker soon followed. James O. Broadhead, a Blair ally and by now Assistant District Attorney for Eastern Missouri, was the prosecutor.
Interestingly, a footnote in Christopher Phillips’ Missouri’s Confederate hints—based on analysis of the handwriting—that the Jackson letter found in Tucker’s office may have been a forgery. While this is an intriguing theory rife with the possibility of bad faith and abuse of office by Union officials, it is unlikely. Thomas L. Snead, another St. Louis newspaperman who would “go south” first as aide to Governor Jackson, then as adjutant to General Price, and finally as a Confederate congressman for Missouri, worked closely with Tucker and Jackson both before and during the war. More than one hundred fifteen years after its publication, Snead’s The Fight For Missouri (1886) remains the best single source for political events in Missouri during 1861. Yet Snead breathes not a hint of skullduggery involved with Jackson’s letter to Tucker. It is highly likely if the letter were a fake and/or a plant, one or both men would have apprised Snead of the fact at the time or shortly thereafter. Such a juicy story at the expense of Union officials could hardly have failed to be included in his book. Genuine or fake, this letter would be one of the justifications cited by the Missouri Convention for removing Claiborne Jackson from the governor’s chair and replacing him with Unionist Hamilton R. Gamble.
Less than confident in his ability to win a trial in Unionist St. Louis, Tucker jumped bail and fled, forfeiting a $10,000 bond. He joined Governor Jackson in the fall of 1861 and started a new paper, the Missouri Army Argus to support Jackson and the State Guard. The first issue was published on October 28, 1861 at Neosho with an editorial note explaining “this little newspaper is paid for by the State, expressly for the use of the army.” Tucker continued to rail against the Union “oppressors” infesting the state. He also used his newspaper as a recruiting tool for the Missouri Confederates. The Argus would follow the Missourians on their travels over the course of the war, known first as the official organ of Governor Jackson. After Jackson’s death in late 1862, it became “universally regarded” as the voice of General Sterling Price.
In December 1861, while the Guard and the Argus were in camp at Osceola, MO, a curious incident occurred. Two men were arrested in St. Joseph for distributing copies of a pamphlet promoting a new anti-Union secret society known as “The Emmanant”. The editors of the Missouri Republican quickly saw the hand of Deacon Tucker in the new society, basing their conclusions on the style of the diatribe in the pamphlets, the content of the oath required of new adherents, and the quantity and quality of the professionally printed material. By this time the Union had a firm hand on the presses of Missouri, and it was believed Tucker’s rebel press with the Argus at the camp of the State Guard was the most likely source of the pamphlets. It would not be the last time Tucker would be linked to an anti-Union secret society.
After victories at the battles of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, the war began to go badly for the Missouri Confederates. Forced by the burgeoning Union army into Arkansas, they made a credible bid to reclaim the state at the battle of Pea Ridge in March of 1862. A close-run affair that may have been decided by the untimely deaths of two senior southern officers, the Confederate defeat at Pea Ridge (also known as Elkhorn Tavern) had far-reaching consequences. Shortly afterwards, the Richmond government ordered the cream of the Missouri Confederate forces, the 1st and 2nd brigades, to cross the Mississippi in order to help stop Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s drive on Vicksburg, Mississippi. Tucker and his newspaper followed them, setting up shop at Jackson, Mississippi.
With the mass of Missouri Confederate forces shifted to the east, regular organized resistance to Union rule diminished, and irregulars and guerrillas such as William Quantrill, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Sam Hildebrand, and others became the main Confederate presence in the state. Spies and saboteurs infiltrated Union lines to maintain contact with the pro-southern elements and to harass Union communication & supply lines.
The longer the Union controlled Missouri, the more of a problem it would be for the Missouri Confederates. Although admitted by the Confederate congress on November 28, 1861, Missouri’s claim to be a Confederate state was of dubious legitimacy. While the Deep South and Virginia could afford to pursue a policy of “winning by not losing”, this strategy carried little comfort for the Missourians. Even if successful, they would be in a poor position to win their freedom from the Union at the eventual peace conference.
The Confederate Missouri leadership recognized this, but dealt with it in different fashions. Price and Tucker lobbied incessantly to return all of the Missouri troops to the west side of the Mississippi and use them and other Confederate troops to liberate the state. Thomas C. Reynolds, who had been elected Lt. Governor of Missouri in the election of 1860 and became Confederate Governor upon the death of Claiborne Jackson in 1862, tried a different tack. Reynolds chose to embrace the Davis administration as closely as possible so as to make it more difficult for them to toss Missouri over the side at the last minute. This difference in approaches brought tension between General Price and his lieutenants on one side and Governor Reynolds and the Richmond government on the other.
Tucker’s naturally combative personality made him particularly well-suited to the gadfly role, and raising hell with those who disagreed with him his instinctive response. His relationship with Price might remind the modern reader of the relationship of James Carville, known as “the ragin’ Cajun”, with his patron President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Price could laugh off Tucker’s antics, providing plausible deniability for the General. Price availed himself of it whenever Richmond complained to him that Tucker’s needles in the Argus struck too deeply into President Davis’ hide.
Meanwhile, the Confederate Missouri leadership used spies to keep itself informed of what was going on in the state. In 1862 and 1863, one of General Price’s most important couriers was the St. Louis Minute Man, Robert Louden. Louden became a courier for Price in the summer of 1862, having been recruited by Absalom Grimes, “Official Mail Carrier” for Price and the Missouri Confederates. While Grimes specialized in letters between the troops and their families, with a lesser amount of courier work of an “official” nature, Louden’s work load seems to have been exactly the opposite in proportion. He had a regular route and schedule from Price in Arkansas, up the Mississippi to St. Louis, along the Missouri River through the Boonslick stronghold of the southerners, and then reverse the route back to Price.
In late 1862, elections in the north went poorly for the Republicans, while the anti-war Democracy scored impressive gains. This was due in part to dissatisfaction with the war, particularly in the Northwest (today’s Midwest), and in part because the Northern states had not yet instituted policies allowing for absentee voting by their soldiers in the field. Ironically, this meant hundreds of thousands of the strongest Union supporters, those giving their blood and lives to support it, were not able to vote for like-minded candidates. Their absence in the 1862 polling was a significant factor in the Democrats’ success.
By early 1863, anti-war politicians in the North were in a much stronger position than they had been in 1861 and 1862. A new name began to be heard across the Northwest—Order of American Knights, or OAK. Formed in early 1863, the nature of OAK would fuel a controversy that continues to this day.
In March 1863, a book titled “A Voice From the Camp” was published in Missouri. The author, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander M. Woolfolk of the Missouri State Militia, was a prominent Missouri Democrat, and would be a delegate to the infamous 1864 copperhead-dominated Democratic national convention at Chicago. Woolfolk was arrested, and his book suppressed, when it came to the attention of the Union authorities. It advocated Missouri join a new Northwest Confederacy instead of being in the Union or the Southern Confederacy. Tucker would later tell Jefferson Davis the formation of a Northwest Confederacy was the main goal of OAK. Tucker’s Argus would call for a Northwest Confederacy as well, implying Missouri should be included, and worsening relations between his patron Price and Richmond. Ironically, the Southern Confederacy did not believe in secession—at least not so far as its own states were concerned.
Judge Advocate General of the U. S. Army Joseph A. Holt would conclude OAK had its roots in the moribund “Knights of the Golden Circle” existing in the South before the war, but that Sterling Price had revived it in 1863 first as the “Southern League” and then as the Order of American Knights. Price would have been a uniquely attractive partner in the eyes of Northern peace Democrats, and thus particularly well-suited to serve as a bridge between the northern and southern wings of the movement. To what degree Price was a prime mover in the scheme—or more of a figurehead for the ambitions of his zealous and talented lieutenants—will probably never be known. It seems likely Price’s political lieutenants, Tucker and Thomas L. Snead, played a significant role in originating and pushing forward the Northwest Conspiracy. By early 1863, OAK was holding meetings in St. Louis at the offices of Charles L. Hunt, “Supreme Commander for Missouri”.
Meanwhile, the Missouri troops under Brigadier-General John S. Bowen (Price having since returned to Arkansas without the 1st and 2nd Missouri Brigades) on the east side of the Mississippi continued to guard the southern approaches to Vicksburg. On May 1, 1863, they were attacked by Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army at Grand Gulf and fought a slow retreat back towards the city, eventually being trapped with Confederate Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton’s troops inside Vicksburg as Grant invested the city on May 18.
As the siege of Vicksburg continued, Confederate department commander Joseph E. Johnston received a proposal offering to help. The author of the proposal was J. W. Tucker.
Tucker’s patron, Price, had been shackled by his immediate commander in Arkansas, General Theophilus Holmes, and prevented from doing anything to interrupt Grant’s communications with the Northwest. Tucker blasted Holmes in a letter to the editor of the Jackson Mississippian on June 19, 1863. Among other failings, Tucker was incensed Holmes had “thwarted” others best efforts to disrupt Grant’s supplies. If Holmes could not see what needed to be done, perhaps Johnston would be more amenable to supporting a strong course of action.
Johnston and Tucker knew that a lack of supplies could force Grant to loose his hold on Vicksburg. The year before, Grant’s drive on Vicksburg from the northern side had been aborted when a successful cavalry raid destroyed his supply base at Holly Springs. Something similar this time could make Grant turn back again.
The river was the key. St. Louis was the top of the supply chain in the theatre, and if the river supply line could be cut, Grant might have to give up for the year and take his army back north. Unfortunately for the Confederates, interdicting a river supply line is a much more difficult proposition than disrupting a railroad supply line. A single successful cavalry raid can tear up miles of railroad track and make the line useless for weeks or even months. Further, this could be accomplished without destroying a single train.
With a river, this method is simply not practical. Even when the Confederates held strong-points at Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Union navy managed to pass those points successfully. It would be necessary to go after the boats themselves, particularly the supply boats.
During the Civil War, the privately owned commercial steamboats of the Mississippi River valley were in actual practice completely at the government’s disposal. One expert opined under oath “I consider every boat on the river to be in the government service, directly or indirectly.“ Unfortunately, seldom was effort made to segregate military cargoes and passengers on the steamboats. Civilians often traveled on a boat that also carried Union soldiers and supplies.
Johnston later reported to his superiors on Tucker’s plan:
During the siege of Vicksburg, Governor Pettus [of Mississippi] proposed to me the adoption of a plan suggested by Judge Tucker, to be executed under that gentleman’s direction, to cut off supplies from the besieging army. He required $20,000 to inaugurate it. I drew a check for that sum on the assistant treasurer in Mobile, in favor of Governor Pettus, who indorsed it to Judge Tucker. After considerable delay, caused by reference of the matter to the Treasury Department, the money was paid. While I remained in Mississippi, Judge Tucker was, I believe, using this money against the enemy’s navigation of the river. About the end of October, I wrote an explanation of the case to the Secretary of the Navy, to be delivered by Judge Tucker, who had large claims against that Department for enemy’s property destroyed on the water. 
What did Tucker tell Johnston that made the latter willing to contribute $20,000 to the effort? The support of Governor Pettus would have been helpful in this regard, and Johnston must also have known Tucker acted as a surrogate for General Sterling Price. Still, it seems likely the Deacon gave Johnston some idea of how he intended to accomplish the mission and the organization he could bring to the job.
Steamboats had been burning with regularity and in suspicious manners since late 1861. It would have been easier to sell Johnston on the capabilities of an already existent organization that merely needed more resources and the imprimatur of official government sanction in order to expand its activities, than to convince him such an organization could be started from scratch in a useful timeframe.
Approximately two months after Tucker’s proposal to Johnston, too late to save Vicksburg, steamboats began to burn with great frequency. Twenty-one boats, the majority of which have been confirmed to be strikes by Tucker’s group, burned over the next eight months. (See Appendix A)
On September 3, 1863, General Price’s courier, Robert Louden, was arrested by Union authorities in St. Louis. Louden had been quite active in his year as Price’s courier. His trips included Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York City. In his possession at the time of his arrest were two letters in his own hand, signed “R.L” and “OAK”. One of these letters was addressed to “Major Pleasants”, who would later be identified by the Federals as “principal disbursing agent” for what the Union came to know as Tucker’s group. Louden told Pleasants, “I have engaged the secret organization in the work. It will be a powerful lever for us, but funds will be required.” Another letter advised one of his key Memphis contacts that he was trying to get one OAK team to strike again soon in St. Louis, and would be taking another one to Ohio as soon as possible, probably the next day. He also claims, “the Ruth was a small affair comparatively, if all goes well”. His partner, Grimes, confirms Louden was responsible for the burning of the steamer Ruth near Cairo, Illinois the previous month, killing twenty-six, destroying a $2.6 million Union payroll, and initiating a reign of fire on the Mississippi.
Although Louden was now in Gratiot Street military prison, and would be sentenced to death by a military commission in Dec, 1863, his colleagues with Tucker’s group continued burning steamboats. Two weeks after Louden’s arrest they struck at the St. Louis levee, destroying four boats. A few weeks later they did it again, burning another three boats at St. Louis.
Between the battle of Gettysburg in the east, and the loss of Vicksburg in the west, 1863 had been a disastrous year for the young Confederacy. As 1864 began, the worsening military situation caused Confederate strategies to turn increasingly toward unconventional methods for winning their freedom from the Union. Tucker, on his way to visit his family in South Carolina, wrote a letter on February 16, 1864 to Confederate Secretary of War Joseph Seddon requesting financial help for his boat-burners. (See Appendix B) Tucker referred to a meeting with Seddon the previous December and proposed his boat-burners coordinate their efforts to strike in several places on the same day in the March 1-15 timeframe.
While boats continued to burn in the Mississippi River valley, some of which were certainly the work of Tucker’s crew, there is no evidence a concerted effort was made in the first half of March. The closest incident to the time mentioned confirmed to be the work of Tucker’s group is the destruction of the J. H. Russell, burned by Isaac V. Ayleshire at Plaquemine, LA on March 28, 1864. Ayleshire, an Indiana man, would also be credited by Union authorities with the destruction of the Robert Campbell, Jr. and the City of Madison, both with heavy loss of life.
March of 1864 found Tucker in Richmond with his lieutenant Minor Major, a former member of the Missouri State Guard. They were staying at the Spottswood Hotel, a popular venue for visiting officers and others with official business. Also residing at the Spottswood in this period was another Missouri Confederate, Captain Thomas E. Courtenay. Courtenay had been a prominent businessman in St. Louis before the war, and had served as sheriff for a time in 1860.
Courtenay had been detached in Aug. of 1863 on secret service by an order of General Price, signed by his adjutant, Major Thomas L. Snead. By early 1864 he was in Richmond and building a supply of his hollow cast iron “Courtenay torpedoes”, bombs designed to look like lumps of coal. Filled with explosives and then covered with tar and coal dust, they would be indistinguishable from the real article. Deposited by Tucker’s saboteurs in a coal pile used by Union controlled steamboats, when shoveled into the furnace they would cause a devastating explosion of the boilers, destroying the boat. In a letter from Richmond dated January 19, 1864, Courtenay promises to send some of his torpedoes to a colleague at General Price’s headquarters.
While in Richmond, Tucker lobbied Jefferson Davis directly in a very interesting letter. He described OAK to Davis, claiming nearly 500,000 members in the Order, talked about some of the assistance to the war effort they had provided by their sabotage efforts, and asked for $100,000 for Union property already destroyed (See Appendix C).
There are elements of disingenuousness to Tucker’s letter. In March of 1864 he is finally telling Davis of the existence of a secret and violent organization that he had been in close contact with since early the previous year. Tucker knew Davis trusted neither himself nor Price, and one suspects if the Deacon didn’t need Richmond’s gold to further his schemes he wouldn’t be saying even as much as he did about OAK and its goals. Certainly he was careful to leave Missouri off the list of states proposed for the new Northwest Confederacy he described as the aim of OAK.
Another interesting feature of this letter is Tucker’s reference to two non-steamboat sabotage operations:
“a week ago we burnt $500,000 worth of hay at the Memphis wharf, to embarrass Sherman; not long since Colt’s pistol and gun Factory became an earnest of what can be done”.
The Colt fire, on February 4, 1864, did $2,000,000 in damage to their factory in Hartford, Conn. A report at the time stated “Many believed that it was the work of an incendiary, and among them were some of the most prominent contractors in the concern.” Hartford is certainly a long way from the boat-burners usual haunts in the Mississippi River valley, but Tucker appears to be taking credit for the Colt fire. Union authorities, in piecing together Tucker’s organization from captured correspondence, spy reports and arrested agents who agreed to talk, would later claim a “land operations” section headed by ex-congressman J. Richard Barret of St. Louis.
Two days after Tucker sent this letter to Davis from his Richmond hotel room, Captain Thomas H. Hines of John Hunt Morgan’s Kentucky raiders was dispatched to Canada by order of Secretary of War James A. Seddon. Hines was instructed “In passing through the United States you will confer with the leading persons friendly or attached to the cause of the Confederacy, or who may be advocates of peace, and do all in your power to induce our friends to organize and prepare themselves to render such aid as circumstances may allow. . .”. This is the point traditionally given for the beginning of the Confederate government’s formal involvement in the Northwest Conspiracy.
Certainly Missourians and Kentuckians—the two Confederate states most deeply interested in the success of the Northwest Conspiracy—were prominent in its attempted execution. Hines and John B. Castleman of Kentucky wrote of their involvement, and their participation is better documented than most of the Missourians. But everywhere one looked, there were Missourians—Emile Longuemare, early member of the Missouri State Guard, involved in the attempted burning of New York City by the Confederate secret service; Colonel Vincent Marmaduke, brother of Missouri Confederate General John S. Marmaduke, involved in the attempt to free all of the Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas in Chicago; James A. Barret, of the powerful St. Louis family, “grand lecturer” of the national OAK/Sons of Liberty, and bagman for their connections to the Confederate secret service; J. Richard “Missouri Dick” Barret of the same family, former congressman from St. Louis, suspected of being “head of land operations” for Tucker’s group; Charles L. Hunt, OAK Supreme Commander for Missouri, one of the most militant of the copperhead leaders; Robert Louden, Price’s courier, delivering Rebel mails in northern states in late ’62 and the first half of ’63; and, of course, Price and Tucker.
The Missouri Confederates recognized they were in the precarious position where the south could “win” and Missouri might very well remain in the Union. Unsurprisingly, this was entirely unacceptable to them. The answer Price, Tucker, and Snead devised was two-pronged: Internal revolution and armed invasion by regular Confederate forces. Tucker’s close contacts with OAK would provide the first, and General Price would provide the second. Price was so insistent he be allowed to invade to “reclaim” Missouri that Governor Reynolds was concerned the general would give up his Confederate commission and “bushwhack it” back in Missouri if he was not allowed to make the effort. The threat worked, and Price received permission to go forward with planning an invasion of Missouri for the summer of 1864.
While all this skullduggery was going on, the Union authorities in Missouri began to realize something unpleasant was brewing. General William S. Rosecrans, who became department commander in January of 1864, had a history of placing a high value on an effective intelligence service. Rosecrans’ new Provost Marshal, J. P. Sanderson, began to infiltrate his agents into OAK. Two of the principal Missouri OAK leaders, Charles L. Hunt and Charles E. Dunn, were arrested and questioned.
The result of these investigations, published in the newspapers in July of 1864, is known as “The Sanderson Report”. Sanderson’s agents claimed OAK had 500,000 members, mostly across the Northwest, that General Price was the military head of the order, that a new invasion of the state by Price was in the offing, and it would be timed to coincide with an internal uprising by OAK. The 500,000 number matches remarkably well with what Deacon Tucker had earlier reported to Jefferson Davis as the membership of the Order as of Dec. 1863. This is hardly surprising, as it was Tucker’s organization Sanderson’s agents had penetrated.
While Sanderson’s agents worked to uncover the conspiracy in Missouri, Governor Oliver Morton and General Henry B. Carrington of Indiana worked to forestall the Order’s activities in that state and Kentucky. Their star spy was Felix G. Stidger of Kentucky who managed to get himself named Grand Secretary of the Order for Kentucky and worked closely with the leaders of both states. On May 9, 1864, Stidger reports that Dr. William A. Bowles, a “General” of the Order for Indiana, disclosed to him the goals of the conspiracy:
He told me that the forces of Indiana and Ohio would concentrate in Kentucky, and make Kentucky their battle-ground, and that the forces of Illinois would proceed to St. Louis, and cooperate with those of Missouri; that Illinois would furnish 50,000 men, Missouri 30,000 men, and that the rebel General Sterling Price would invade Missouri with 20,000 troops, and that with the 100,000 men they could occupy and permanently hold Missouri. . .
Stidger’s work would result in the breaking up of the Order in Indiana and Kentucky, with most of the leaders arrested in August of 1864. Several, including Bowles, would be sentenced to death by a military commission in Indianapolis later that year, but would escape the hangman by presidential intervention. Tucker’s “head of land operations”, Dick Barret, would be listed as one of the co-conspirators in the charges against Harrison H. Dodd of Indiana, Grand Commander of the Order for that state. Dodd did not require presidential clemency, however, as he escaped from custody and fled to Canada during the trial.
Tucker’s organized boat-burners continued to be active as well. On July 15, 1864, six steamboats were destroyed at the St. Louis levee. This was almost certainly the work of the Deacon’s men. His lieutenant, Minor Major, had shown up in Canada not long before to solicit a contribution from the newly-arrived Confederate Commissioners in support of the Tucker group’s activities. He received only $2,000 for his trouble, but it is interesting to note that Commissioner Jacob Thompson reported Major arrived at his doorstep not long after Thompson had reached Canada, showing Tucker’s saboteurs knew just where to go in order to tap Richmond’s gold set aside for the Northwest Conspiracy.
The “land operations” section of Tucker’s crew continued their activities too. On July 2, they burned $800,000 of government medical supplies at Louisville and then headed for Richmond to claim their reward. Once there, they negotiated with Secretary of War Seddon and Secretary of State J. P. Benjamin for remuneration for their sabotage on behalf of the Confederacy. They settled for $50,000. After leaving Richmond, they went to Mobile before re-entering Union lines near Memphis. Tucker’s newspaper, by now renamed the Argus and Crisis, had moved from Jackson to Mobile sometime before, and this side-trip was probably for the purpose of reporting to him the results of the negotiations in Richmond and distributing the money. Tucker had affidavits from all his saboteurs on their strikes at his offices in Mobile, and these were used to distribute reward money.
General Price’s long-awaited invasion to reclaim the state for the Confederates began on September 16, 1864. Price moved slowly north towards St. Louis, then without entering the city, westwards toward Kansas, along the Missouri river bypassing Jefferson City. As Price’s invasion worked its way leisurely through Missouri, OAK finally acted as the Confederates neared St. Louis. Charles L. Hunt’s successor, John H. Taylor, called the membership to arms just as the Sanderson Report had predicted. (See Appendix D)
Taylor told the membership General Price’s invasion had been made at OAK’s invitation, and that Price had been named “major-general to command the members called into the military service”. Taylor promised “at least 20,000 true men” to support Price’s invasion and announced until further notice the headquarters of OAK would be in General Price’s camp. He ended with the Order’s motto, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God”, a sentiment Deacon Tucker could support wholeheartedly.
Unfortunately for the Missouri Confederates, it was too little too late. The fall of Atlanta in early September had demoralized the copperheads, making it all too clear the Confederacy was unlikely to survive. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising most of the rank and file copperheads of OAK (those who were needed to do the actual fighting and dying) declined to participate in Price’s invasion. Thousands of southern sympathizers joined him, but OAK had promised—and he expected—tens of thousands. After several weeks in the state—during which Price moved slowly waiting in vain for OAK to swell his ranks—the Missouri Confederates were finally checked bloodily at the battle of Westport near Kansas City on October 23, 1864. Defeated, they turned south for the long march back to Arkansas.
|See also Hell and Maria|
Invasion may have failed again, but the sabotage would continue. On December 11, 1864, a Cincinnati-owned steamer entered river lore as an epithet for generations of rivermen. Lying at the landing at Carondelet, MO, making moderate steam, Maria’s boilers suddenly exploded. Carrying parts of two Union cavalry regiments at the time, the resulting inferno would kill twenty-five and give rise to “Hell and Maria” as an expletive. A relatively new boat, Maria’s engineer insisted her machinery was working fine just before the blast. The second mate, Andrew Acker, reportedly was “confident he smelled burning powder” at the time of the explosion. Several of the boat’s officers were convinced “that some fiend has placed a shell, or other explosive missive, among the coal used for fuel, which was thrown into the furnace and produced the disaster.” The descriptions of Maria’s demise strongly suggest another successful operation by Tucker’s crew, using one of the coal torpedoes Captain Courtenay had promised to provide them.
The overriding fact of 1864 for the Missouri Confederates was the failure of Price’s invasion. This, coupled with the fall of Atlanta, painted a grim picture for their future. Internal bickering escalated, with Governor Reynolds and General Price trading insults in the press.
As 1865 began, there was a new commander and a new Provost Marshal for the Department of Missouri. Major-General Grenville M. Dodge was named department commander in December 1864. As had been customary during the war, a new commander also meant a new Provost Marshall. Dodge named Col. James H. Baker of Minnesota to the post. Baker began to turn up the heat on Tucker’s boat-burners, and the organization began to unravel. In February, Baker had ten suspected OAK boat-burners in custody, and two of them would agree to talk.
William Murphy voluntarily turned himself in and confessed to being responsible for the burning of the Champion at Memphis in 1863. Murphy named Tucker as the paymaster of the group and admitted to receiving $3,000 from the Deacon for Champion’s destruction. Offered immunity for his cooperation, Murphy told his story and then disappeared.
Edward Frazor was a St. Louis steamboat striker, and the second member of the boat-burners to turn state’s evidence. Frazor told Baker of the Louisville fire and the subsequent trip to Richmond and Mobile. He also admitted to being one of the saboteurs responsible for the St. Louis levee fires in 1863. Murphy and Frazor helped Baker map Tucker’s organization and assign credit for the various acts of sabotage.
|See also Provost Marshal J. H. Baker’s report on the Boat-Burners|
Baker’s report claimed sixty-one steamboats “owned in Saint Louis” had been destroyed in suspicious circumstances since the beginning of the war. He told his superiors most of them had been destroyed by Tucker’s group “or similar emissaries of the rebel government”. Recent investigations into the matter using sources both contemporaneous and modern have produced a list of approximately one hundred Union-controlled boats destroyed under suspicious circumstances in the Mississippi River valley during the war. Approximately eighty of these were destroyed in 1863 or later. Certainly not all were sabotage, but Baker’s estimate is not unreasonable.
As the Confederacy entered its final days, the Missouri Confederates were amongst the last to give up the fight. Richmond fell on April 3, and General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on the 9th, but still the Missourians would not lay down their arms. This was due in part to the belief they would not be allowed to return to their homes in peace.
|See also The Boat-Burners|
One of those sure he would not be allowed to return to his home in St. Louis was the convicted saboteur, Robert Louden. He had escaped from Union custody while being transferred from Gratiot prison to Alton prison during General Price’s raid the previous October, but a death penalty still hung over him should he ever be captured again. After the war, Louden would claim that on the night of April 26-27 he engineered the most gruesomely spectacular strike any of Tucker’s saboteurs ever attempted. Using another of Thomas Courtenay’s coal torpedoes, Louden said he had snuck aboard the Sultana at Memphis and deposited the bomb in the coal piles near her furnace. Shortly after leaving Memphis, Sultana’s boilers exploded, resulting in the deaths of over 1,700 Union POW’s returning to their homes from southern prison camps.
Jefferson Davis, having escaped from Richmond before its fall, tried to make it to the Trans-Mississippi to continue the fight. Union troops were in hot pursuit of the rebel President- without-a-capital. Dispatched to help in the hunt was the famous detective, Allan Pinkerton. He was also instructed to see if he could track down Tucker, Louden, and their colleagues. Pinkerton reported back to Washington on June 6, 1865 rumors both men were on the move. Circulars were dispatched as far away as California alerting Union authorities to keep a close eye out for them.
In the spirit of retribution gripping the North after the assassination of President Lincoln, the trials of the conspirators were full of accusations against the Confederate government for sponsoring various heinous acts in their desperation to stave off defeat. One of the witnesses was the steamboatman from St. Louis, Edward Frazor. Baker’s newest list of sabotaged steamboats had grown to include Sultana. His organization chart of the boat-burners had President Davis at the top, followed by Secretary of State J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War Seddon and J. W. Tucker.
While General Sterling Price did not make Baker’s chart, it is simply not credible his surrogate Tucker could have sponsored the group on his own without the General’s knowledge and support. Price loyalists like Louden would not have been involved with something so controversial without the General’s blessing. Sterling Price must go down in history as the boss of Tucker’s saboteurs, even if Richmond was paying most of the bills.
Joseph W. Tucker managed to avoid Pinkerton and the rest of the Union authorities in the spring of 1865, escaping to Bermuda. There he stayed for several years, waiting for Union ire to cool. While in exile, Tucker returned to one of his first loves, serving as superintendent for education of the British colony.
While Tucker found safe haven in Bermuda, most of the Missouri leadership went to Mexico, including General Price and Governor Reynolds. There Reynolds, refusing to let the feud over the failed invasion of 1864 die, wrote a poison pen manuscript entitled General Sterling Price and the Confederacy. In it Reynolds detailed his suspicions about Price and the Northwest Conspiracy, leaning heavily on the doings of Tucker and the relationship between the two men. Reynolds alleged Tucker’s paper was “universally regarded as an ‘organ’ of General Price” and called Tucker himself Price’s “confidential friend”. Reynolds’ main complaint was the conspiracy might result in a Northwest Confederacy, and Price intended Missouri to be a member of it. Reynolds’ claimed such had been the consistent tone and some of the articles in Tucker’s paper during the war.
On Christmas day, 1868, President Andrew Johnson granted an unconditional pardon to all but the highest ranking members of the Confederacy. Shortly thereafter, Tucker and his family returned to the United States. Instead of Missouri, they chose Florida, settling in Sanford.
Tucker made Sanford his home for the rest of his life, taking up his old profession of the law and enjoying the family life that had largely been denied him during the war. He returned to using the old form of his name, “J. Wofford Tucker”, as well. The Deacon remained active in the Methodist church, serving as a delegate to the First Ecumenical Methodist Conference held at London in September of 1881. In 1893, he returned to his native South Carolina for the first time in nearly thirty years, speaking at Wofford College, which he had helped to found forty-two years before.
Joseph Wofford Tucker passed away in Sanford after a full and eventful life. A friend since his boyhood days in South Carolina, Reverend Charles A. Fulwood, eulogized him for The American Illustrated Methodist Magazine in the monthly issue for October of 1901. Fulwood wrote that Tucker had “hoped, prayed and labored to prevent bloodshed and a disruption of the Union”, an assertion which would have elicited howls of derision from the Unionists of St. Louis. On much safer ground historically, Fulwood continued, “but when he saw that the catastrophe was inevitable, he sought to unify the South and at least a portion of the West, so that they might stand together in the conflict.”
|Ruth||1863/08/04||Cairo, IL||Burned||Louden. 26 dead. $2.6M Union payroll destroyed.|
|City of Madison||1863/08/18||Vicksburg, MS||Exploded||Baker says Isaac Elshire (Ayleshire)|
|Champion||1863/08/21||Memphis, TN||Burned||William Murphy. Received $3k from Tucker in reward.|
|Diuranal||1863/09/12||St. Charles, ARK||Burned|
|Hiawatha||1863/09/13||St. Louis, MO||Burned||4 boats burned. OAK|
|Imperial||1863/09/13||St. Louis, MO||Burned|
|Jesse K. Bell||1863/09/13||St. Louis, MO||Burned|
|Post Boy||1863/09/13||St. Louis, MO||Burned|
|Henry Chouteau||1863/09/26||Columbus, KY||Burned|
|Robert Campbell, JR||1863/09/28||Cairo, IL||Burned||Approx. 40 dead (Ways 22 dead). Baker says Isaac Elshire received $5k from Tucker.|
|Catahoula||1863/10/04||St. Louis, MO||Burned||3 boats burned. OAK|
|Chancellor||1863/10/04||St. Louis, MO||Burned|
|Forest Queen||1863/10/04||St. Louis, MO||Burned|
|Sunny Side||1863/11/13||Island 16, Miss. R.||Burned||“Considerable” loss of life|
|Science No. 2||1863/12||Portland, KY||Burned|
|Thomas J. Patten||1864/01/25||Memphis, TN||Burned||Walker’s Bend|
|Daniel G. Taylor||1864/02/05||Louisville, KY||Burned||JAG Joseph Holt says sabotage. One person killed. Frazor says sabotage at Lincoln trial.|
|Des Arc||1864/03/22||Memphis, TN||Burned|
|J. H. Russell||1864/03/28||Plaquemine, LA||Burned||Isaac V. Ayleshire. Trial in St. Louis Oct-Nov 1865. Boat formerly “Cherokee”.|
Note: The above table is part of a larger spreadsheet prepared by G. E. & D. H. Rule that includes approximately one hundred Union-controlled boats destroyed under suspicious circumstances during the war. It is a work in progress. We have attempted to exclude from the list boats known to be Confederate-controlled, destroyed by regular military action, guerrillas, or other causes clearly inconsistent with sabotage (“snagged and lost” being the most common of these). We have another list of approximately thirty boats that were removed from the original list as we were able to confirm their destruction by means other than sabotage. As an example of this latter, we were beginning to be very curious about a group of boats burned at Johnsonville, TN in early November 1864, until we realized what we were seeing was the result of Hood’s great invasion of Tennessee, and saboteurs had nothing to do with it. Lastly, this table is not meant to suggest there were no boats sabotaged by agents affiliated with Tucker and the Missouri Confederates prior to August of 1863. U.S. Quartermaster Charles Parsons named the E. M. Ryland, October 10, 1861, as the first boat sabotaged, and there are thirty-three boats on our list before the Ruth on August 4, 1863. However, the period shown above contains the highest concentration of steamboats known to be destroyed by Tucker and his saboteurs, and coincides with their receiving official sanction and funding to do so by General Johnston. Activity prior to August of 1863 would have been under the authority of General Price and probably unknown to higher levels of the Confederate hierarchy.
AUGUSTA, GA., February 16, 1864.
Hon. JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War:
Mr. SEDDON: I beg your permission to write a few words, after the style of a plain, unofficial, but earnest man, writing to a man of practical wisdom. I feel, as intensely as it is possible to feel, the vital necessity of striking hard blows now, and striking at as many points and in as many ways as possible, so as to aid our cause and save our country.
I have perfected my plans and distributed my men, with means improvised for the purpose (since the Government has not as yet paid our force any money), and between the 1st and 15th of March, on the same day, I propose to destroy the enemy’s transports, arsenals, navy-yards, stores, &c., in accordance with the outline of the plan I gave you in December.
I beg that this plan be borne in mind as our link in the chain of testimony in favor of our force. On the same day at all points we mean to strike effectually, so as to exert an influence upon the spring campaign.
Hon. John B. Clark did me the kindness to advise me by letter that the Senate had passed a bill—he did not state its provisions—which might aid in facilitating my plans, which he supposed would also be passed by the House. This led me to conclude it was the bill which you informed me in our latest interview you would propose and submit to the Military Committee, for the purpose of putting this secret service upon a systematic and legal footing, and then would give me those facilities which I asked in some written propositions submitted at your suggestion.
Mr. Seddon, please do me the kindness to take ten minutes of your overtaxed time, and give me the commission or order or direction or authority or recognition which will enable me to prosecute this work vigorously and systematically, and I promise you to render a good account of our labors.
I visit my family for a few days, with whom I have spent one week in two and a half years. I shall be much gratified to receive your orders, and for twenty days to come my address will be Hebron, S. C.
With great respect, &c.,
JOSEPH W. TUCKER.
J. W. Tucker to Jefferson Davis.
(From Confederate Memorial Hall.)
(Spotswood Hotel 14th March, 1864.)
Confidential statements; for the President alone.
1. There exists in the North West and North a secret political organization, having a Lodge in St. Louis with one thousand members.
2. The principles and objects of the organization are, among others, the following:
(1) The preservation of state rights and free representative government; (2) everlasting opposition to Black and Red Republicanism; (3) self-preservation against the unscrupulous and bloody purposes of the war and plunder party of the North; (4) the distinct recognition of the Southern Confederacy, and aideing that government in all practicable ways, because, it is contending for the same rights; (5) the distinct recognition that all the slave states, including Kentucky and Missouri, of right belong to the Confederacy; (6) the formation of a North West Republic including Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio; (7) the institution of the most friendly relations, commercially and otherwise, with the Confederate States; (8) and making open war with the perverted government of the United States, if that become necessary to carry out these objects.
3. That organization numbered, on the 3rd December 1863, Four hundred and ninety thousand men, distributed as follows:
New York, …………………………..40,000
New Jersey, …………………………15,000
and other numbers proportionate to population in other states, chiefly in the North West.
4. A deputation, under the authority of the order, was sent to confer with me in Mobile in relation to the destruction of the enemy’s marine service, together with armories, arsenals, depots of stores, etc. etc., as a means of weakening and paralyzing the military strength of the Federal Government. The Order is desirous of thus aideing our cause. In the Lodge in St. Louis there are seventy-two Engineers serving on the Western Waters, by whom we destroyed ten Federal Transports in ten days. But a doubt arose whether our work was prosecuted by the approval of the Confederate Government; and whether the men employed in this perilous service would be compensated by any provision of law, and especially when officers in the marine service were thrown out of employment by the destruction of the vessels on which they were employed.
5. Our future plans, if sanctioned and aided by the Government, embrace the destruction of that transport service upon which Grant must rely in the great coming struggle of the spring campaign; a week ago we burnt $500,000 worth of hey at the Memphis wharf, to embarrass Sherman; not long since Colt’s pistol and gun Factory became an earnest of what can be done. We design to strike a blow on the same day, at many points, that will paralyze the foe. To do this confidence in the countenance and approval of our government must be inspired. To do this an adjustment for work already done must be had. The final agents are often ignorant, and sometimes vicious men. No argument but money will avail with them. If a settlement now be practicable, and a sum of money, say $100,000, of a character of funds current within the Federal lines, greenbacks, or Foreign exchange, can be placed in the hands of Lieut. Gen. Polk, for disbursement, some in advance, and the rest as the work proceeds, I am most confident we shall be able, through this association, to render important and telling service to our government in the ensuing campaign.
We had sent through a young man, Mr. Major, now with me, to make himself a member of the order; this induced the coming of the deputation to confer with me personally, since I was known to very many of its members. No mere stranger can by possibility work through the order, or in connection with it. It is the most perfect and the most secret the world has known. Out of 490,000, only two individuals have ever shown a disposition to betray the secrets of the order; and these two men disappeared mysteriously. I could give more information, but fear prolixity and tediousness. I beg respectfully to commend the subject to the notice of His Excellency the President. I know that by a recent enactment the question of secret service is transferred to the War Department.
But there is an important sense in which the Chief Magistrate of the Republic is the Government; and this ought to be so; since to him attaches the responsibility of failure, and to him pertains the glory of success.
I have the honor to subscribe, with great respect &c.
J. W. TUCKER.
O. A. K.
Saint Louis, Mo., October 1, 1864.
To THE MEMBERS OF THE ORDER OF AMERICAN KNIGHTS OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI:
SIR KNIGHTS: Morning dawneth. General Price with at least 20,000 veteran soldiers is now within your State. Through your supreme commander (and with the approbation of the supreme council) you invited him to come to your aid. He was assured that if he came at this time with the requisite force you would co operate and add at least 20,000 true men to his army. He has hearkend to your prayer and is now battling for your deliverance. Sons of Liberty, will you falsify your plighted word? I know you will not. You are strong in numbers—full 30,000 strong—and your influence is potent. It requires but prompt action on the part of the members to insure the ultimate triumph of our cause. As you value your property, your liberties, your lives, and your sacred honor, fail not to give a helping hand in this crisis. Under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by section — of the code of the O. A. K.s, authorizing the appointment of a major-general to command the members called into the military service, I shall appoint that brave and true soldier, Missouri’s favorite son, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, military commander of the O. A. K.s of the State of Missouri.
All able-bodied men of the O. A. K.s are hereby called upon and required to render military service in behalf of our cause. All true knights will yield prompt obedience to the orders and commands of General Price. Meantime do all possible damage to the enemy. Seize all arms and munitions of war within your power. Take possession of and hold all important places you can, and recruit as rapidly as possible. If you cannot sustain yourselves fall back upon the army of occupation. In townships and counties where you cannot concentrate on account of the presence of the enemy repair singly or in squads without delay to the army, or to points where your brethren may be marshaling their forces, and in all cases be ready to obey the commands of your chieftain and unite with the forces when an opportune moment others. Ye knights, who belong to the militia, a change of government is now impending and you possess peculiar advantages for doing good service, and it is believed you will not fail to act efficiently. You joined the militia that you might the better protect yourselves under Radical rule. Now prepare to strike with the victorious hosts under General Price and aid in the redemption of the State. Already hundreds of militiamen, arms in hands, have taken position beside the brave and gallant soldiers under General Price. In no event permit yourselves to be arrayed against your brethren. I enjoin it upon the district and county commanders and the grand seniors to be vigilant and active in the discharge of their respective duties. Let each one feel that upon him depends the successful issue of this contest, and that it is paramount duty to immediately enter the service. I address you perhaps for the last time. You have honored me and given me your confidence. I have endeavored to merit as I appreciate that consideration. Danger has not deterred me from the discharge of duty, and the period of my intercourse and collaboration with you and brethren of other States I shall ever revert to with feelings of pleasurable emotion. I have rejoiced to note the unanimity of sentiment and earnestness of purpose evinced to put forth every effort, with force of arms if need be, to establish the great principles of liberty and free government and States rights, so soon as the event which is upon us transpired. Brethren, the time for action has come. We must now meet the hosts of the tyrant in the field and sustain our friends and our cause. Be assured I shall buckle on my armor, and I trust I shall greet many thousands of you in the camp of our friends. If we do not sustain General Price, and our cause in consequence fails, all will be lost. We must fight. Honor and patriotism demand it. Then remember your solemn oaths. Remember the sacred obligations resting upon you and resolve, individually and collectively, to do your duty knowing it full well.
Until otherwise ordered headquarters of the O. A. K.s will be hereafter in the army of General Price.
All officers of the O. A. K.s are charged to use the utmost dispatch in communicating this letter to the members. Absence from the city prevented an earlier issue of this communication. Remember our motto: “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”
Given under my hand and seal of the O. A. K.s of the State of Missouri, this 1st day of October, A. D. 1864.
JOHN H. TAYLOR,
Supreme Commander of the State of Missouri.
Dr. J. B. O. Landrum, History of Spartanburg County, 1900; 1860 St. Louis census; 1880 Florida census; NARA provost marshal records.
Wofford College website, www.wofford.edu. The college’s Board of Trustees is still selected by the state conference of the United Methodist Church. Family genealogy records in Landrum, History of Spartanburg County, suggest that Reverend Wofford was actually J. Wofford Tucker’s paternal great-uncle.
Rev. Charles A. Fulwood, D.D., “The Late Hon. J. Wofford Tucker”, The American Illustrated Methodist Magazine, October, 1901. Fulwood hints that Tucker was a soft touch where money was concerned and may have been taken advantage of in some way. The Spartanburg Female College would eventually fail in 1871, and an email to author from Wofford College archivist R. Phillip Stone suggests that the women’s college’s shaky finances might have had something to do with Tucker’s own financial problems.
Fulwood, “The Late Hon. J. Wofford Tucker”, 1860 St. Louis business directory; “University of Missouri Installation Exercises, Address by J.W. Tucker, Esq., of St. Louis, Member of the Board of Curators, and Response by Benj. A. Minor, A.M., President of the University, Delivered in the Chapel, October 2, 1860”, Columbia, MO., William F. Switzler, Publisher, Statesmen Office, 1860
Galusha Anderson, The Story of a Border City During the Civil War, 1908
James O. Broadhead papers, Missouri Historical Society
Union spy report, James O. Broadhead papers, Missouri Historical Society. Letter from Basil Duke to Thomas L. Snead, Letter from Colton Greene to Thomas L. Snead, Thomas L. Snead papers, Missouri Historical society.
James Peckham, General Nathaniel Lyon and Missouri in 1861, 1866, 165-169. Chris Phillips suggests an alternate scenario for how the news got to the legislature in Missouri’s Confederate, 252-253. Peckham was an Unconditional Unionist member of the assembly for St. Louis at the time, and his account reads like straight first-hand reporting including little details like who was peeking over whose shoulder to read the telegram.
James O. Broadhead papers, Missouri Historical Society; Christopher Phillips, Missouri’s Confederate: Claiborne Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West, 2000, 249. Peckham, Lyon and Missouri, 202.
Phillips, Missouri’s Confederate, 249-250; Thomas L. Snead, The Fight for Missouri, 1886; Civil War researcher Kirby Ross, in an email to author, points out that Tucker published a series of newspapers over the course of the war and had ample opportunity to trumpet any duplicity on the part of Union authorities regarding this letter. One of these, the Missouri Army Argus, was funded by Governor Jackson. While few copies of Tucker’s newspapers have survived, secondary sources would have reported the fact had Tucker ever made the claim.
James O. Broadhead, St. Louis in the Early Days of the War.
James Melvin Lee, History of American Journalism, 1923 revised edition, 301
R. S. Bevier, History of the First and Second Missouri Confederate Brigades 1861-1865, 1879, 76-77, quoting a Tucker editorial in the Missouri Army Argus of Dec. 12, 1861.
Thomas C. Reynolds, General Sterling Price and the Confederacy, unpublished manuscript, Missouri Historical Society
“Another Secret Society”, Missouri Republican, Dec. 29, 1861. “Another” being a reference to the old Knights of the Golden Circle. “The pamphlet itself, judging by the mechanical execution, was printed at Price’s camp, Osceola, and Deacon Tucker has, no doubt, exercised his leisure moments in getting up this infernal society.”
Robert E. Shalhope, Sterling Price: Portrait of a Southerner, 1971, 236
Albert Castel, General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West, 1993 (reissue of 1968 edition), 63-64, 132-133, 135, 194; Reynolds, Price and the Confederacy.
D. H. Rule, “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage”, North & South, Volume 5 Issue 1; Absalom Grimes, Confederate Mail Runner, 1926
Trial transcript of Robert Louden, NARA
David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln’s Re-election and the End of Slavery, 1994 (1997 Da Capo press edition), 43-44
Frank L. Klement, Dark Lanterns, 1984, 66. An account provided by Missouri Confederate secret service agent Emile Longuemare, Mary K. Maule, “A Chapter of Unwritten History”, Western Reserve Historical Society, suggests a birth date for O.A.K. in early 1862. While this would be interesting if true, no other confirmation for such an early date can be found, and I believe it likely that Longuemare, giving his account as an old man, misremembered the year.
The works of Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (1960), The Limits of Dissent (1970), Dark Lanterns (1984), and Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads of the North (1998) argue that the copperhead societies were really a misunderstood and overestimated “loyal opposition” whose sins were only of the venial and “indiscreet” (a favorite word Klement uses to minimize what he cannot ignore) variety. Before Klement, it was generally understood that the copperheads were dangerous and serious. See Wood Gray, The Hidden Civil War, 1942, for an example of this earlier understanding. Several historians have expressed reservations about Klement’s work, with Long, The Jewel of Liberty offering the strongest and most convincing attack. Two “state-specific” experts who have also demurred on Klement’s findings, at least in their own states, are G. R. Tredway, Democratic Opposition to the Lincoln Administration in Indiana, 1973, and Louis S. Gerteis, Civil War St. Louis, 2001. Klement touches just briefly on Tucker’s saboteurs in Copperheads in the Middle West, without naming any names or showing any awareness of the ample evidence –Confederate and Union– for their existence and considerable success in burning government steamers and supplies. He refers to it as “the legend of the boat-burning conspiracy” (pg 204), as if Tucker and his crew had as much historical evidence for their exploits as Robin Hood and his Merry Men.. In Dark Lanterns, Tucker makes the barest of cameos –without mention in the index– as a Missouri editor who was in favor of the Northwest Confederacy.
“The Scheme of a Northwest Republic”, Missouri Democrat, Aug. 2, 1864
Castel, Sterling Price; Reynolds, Price and the Confederacy
Report of Judge Advocate General Joseph A. Holt, OR S2 V7 pp930-953
Before the war, Price, a former governor of the state, had been a leader of the Pro-Union/Pro-slavery faction of Missouri’s Democracy, and had only reluctantly been moved to the secession side by the Camp Jackson massacre. His near religious faith in the Democracy’s mission to preserve—including slavery—“The Union as it was; the Constitution as it is” would have made him seem a perfect partner for the Peace Democracy of the North. See Shalhope Portrait of a Southerner for a discussion of Price’s fervent belief in the mission of the Democratic Party before the war. It is worth noting, however, that Price’s dedication to a “Northwest Confederacy”, with or without Missouri, is not as well documented as his involvement with figures associated with the “Northwest Conspiracy”, which isn’t quite the same thing. It is possible that Northwestern Democrats saw what they wanted to see in Price’s involvement, or even that Price (or his lieutenants) lead them on. A revolt in the Northwest had significant benefits to the Missouri Confederates whether or not it resulted in a separate Northwest Republic.
The evidence of Snead’s involvement is almost entirely circumstantial and the most speculative element of this article. He did sign the order on behalf of General Price detaching T.E. Courtenay on secret service against Union shipping in the summer of 1863. What it comes down to is an analysis of Snead’s talents and personality and his relationship to Price and Tucker during the war. It is nearly inconceivable that Snead, as Price’s adjutant until May 25, 1864 when he went off to Richmond as a Confederate congressman, could have been kept in the dark on something of this scale. By all reports, Price leaned heavily on Snead, and after the failed invasion of 1864 Snead wrote Price that he never should have left him at such a time. The Northwest Conspiracy was, at its heart, a political operation and Snead had been a political operative before the war. Therefore I believe it likely that he was an active player. See Robert E. Miller, “Proud Confederate: Thomas Lowndes Snead of Missouri”, Missouri Historical Review, Jan. 1985. The Northwest Conspiracy is not touched on in the MHR article, but it does nicely cover Snead’s talents, devotion to Sterling Price, and hostility to Governor Reynolds and Confederate policy vis-à-vis Missouri. Interestingly, even a planned second volume of The Fight for Missouri would have stopped short (Summer of 1862) of the period where Snead would have been required to either go into detail or suppress whatever he knew about the Northwest Conspiracy. So far as is known, Snead never wrote about any of these issues, not even to defend his old hero Price from Governor Reynolds’ accusations on the subject.
Shalhope, Portrait of a Southerner, 237. Shalhope says this letter was reprinted in the Richmond Whig of June 29, 1863. I have not been able to acquire a copy of this letter yet, so I am staying very close to Shalhope’s characterization of it, including the use of “blasted” to describe Tucker’s broadside. Indeed, Shalhope gives a whole paragraph of adjectives and insults against Holmes in describing Tucker’s wrath. Given the pattern of sabotage of Union steamers both before and after this date, and the Deacon’s role in those efforts, the charge of “‘thwarted’ the best efforts of others to do so” (an exact quote from Shalhope) is very suggestive that Tucker was taking Holmes’ obstruction personally.
Trial transcript of Robert Louden, NARA, testimony of prosecution witness C. C. Ferguson, insurance investigator.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (OR) Series 1 Volume 24 Part 3 page 1066. Letter is dated January 31, 1864.
It will be noted that Tucker is referred to here as “Judge Tucker”. That “Judge Tucker” and “Deacon Tucker” were indeed the same man can be confirmed from documents both Union and Confederate. See OR S1 V52 P2 p763; OR S1 V48 P2 pp195-197. The former is General Price’s adjutant Maj. Thomas L. Snead noting in a letter to the General from Mobile that “Judge Tucker is here editing the Argus.” The latter is Union Provost Marshal James H. Baker noting the “Judge Tucker” in charge of the boat-burners was formerly editor of the Missouri State Journal. Landrum, History of Spartanburg County notes that J. Wofford Tucker, “entered the special secret service of the Confederate States, in which he remained to the close of the war.” The excellent Come Retribution, William A. Tidwell, James O. Hall, and David W. Gaddy, chapter 7 “Department of Dirty Tricks” provided the epiphany that the “Judge” and the “Deacon” were one and the same. Landrum, History of Spartanburg County, pg 229, claims that Tucker became a judge after moving to Missouri. I have been unable to confirm the details on how Tucker earned the distinction of being addressed as “Judge Tucker”. There is no dating for Tucker’s proposal more specific than Johnston’s “during the siege of Vicksburg” (May 18-July 4, 1863). I believe it would have been shortly after Tucker gave up hope on Holmes allowing anything to be done on the same subject, about the same time as the appearance of his letter in the Mississippian referred to previously.
Charles Parsons (U.S. Quartermaster at St. Louis) papers, Missouri Historical Society
NARA RG 109, M345, roll 170, 171 / RG 94, M797, roll 40; Grimes, Confederate Mail Runner. While Grimes is silent on the purpose of Louden’s trips in northern states, Federal authorities document in at least two instances (Indianapolis and Philadelphia) that he delivered “Rebel mail” while on these trips. If, as I believe, Price, Tucker, and Snead were busy making contact with northern Democrats in this period for the purpose of coordinating with the northern wing of the movement, then these trips by Louden are the most likely conduit for that contact. It is interesting to note that the strongest anti-war protests in Philadelphia during the war occurred immediately after Louden’s visit there in May of 1863.
OR S1 V32 P2 p13
Trial transcript of Robert Louden, NARA
Grimes, Confederate Mail Runner
OR S1 V48 P2 pp194-196; Frederic Way, Jr., Ways Packet Directory, 1848-1994, 78, 223, When talking about saboteurs, I am using “Tucker’s group” and “OAK” interchangeably from the summer of 1863 forward as there is no distinction worth making between the two.
OR, S4 V3 p125
Way, Jr., Way’s Packet Directory, 1993, 231-232
OR S1 V48 P2 pp194-196; J. H. Baker Report on Steamers Burned, Edward Steers, Jr. collection. Ayleshire is alternately spelled as “Elshire” and “Alshire” in some sources, including James H. Baker’s provost marshal reports.
Compiled service records, NARA, RG109 M253
OR S1 V22 P2 pg970
J. Thomas Scharf, History of the Confederate States Navy; “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage”, D. H. Rule, North & South Volume 5 Issue 1. Of course other saboteurs than Tucker’s could use them too, and there are at least two accusations that Courtenay’s torpedoes were used on the east coast as well. See Milton F. Perry, Infernal Machines, 1965
Navy OR S1 V26 pp186-187.
Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist, Vol. 6 pp 204-206
“The Fire at Colt’s Armory”, New York Times, February 7, 1864, reprinting Hartford Courant of Feb. 5. “Incendiary” at the time would refer both to the device and the man who used it. As given in this article it would be a clear suggestion of sabotage. If Tucker isn’t taking credit for the Colt fire in the Davis letter, then the other reading would be simply pointing out that much good could be done with “land operations” as well, and that his group could do either. The use of “earnest” is interesting in this context as Tucker was a very educated man, and must have known that “earnest” would suggest to Davis that Tucker’s group had done the Colt fire “free of charge” as it were just to prove their capability to do future operations of the same type. Combining the Colt fire reference in the same sentence with the Memphis wharf fire, which he very clearly was taking credit for, makes a claim of credit the most likely reading.
John B. Castleman, Active Service, 1917; James Horan, Confederate Agent, 1954
Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861, but the Kentucky Confederates’ legitimacy to speak for their state was even more tenuous than the Missourians, and their motivation for supporting the Northwest Conspiracy was at least as strong.
Castleman, Active Service
John W. Headley, Confederate Operations in Canada and New York, 1906
Klement, Dark Lanterns; Castleman, Active Service
Castleman, Active Service; Horan, Confederate Agent
Correct spelling seems to be “Barret”, but most records use “Barrett” instead. There is some confusion in the records between the two men and it is often difficult to be sure which of them is being referred to. See Benjamin Perley Poor, editor, The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President, Vol. III, Arno Press reprint, 1972, pp 424-431 where the questioner is clearly trying to lead witness Edward “Frazier” (Frazor) to J. Richard Barret (“Missourian… formerly in congress”), and Frazor seems just as clearly to be answering in relation to James A. Barret (“adjutant-general… Illinois”). It doesn’t help that apparently both men were entitled to be called “Colonel Barret”. Also, James A. Barret is sometimes referred to as being from Illinois instead of Missouri.
Klement, Dark Lanterns, p107
Reynolds, Price and the Confederacy
William B. Feis, Grant’s Secret Service, 2002, 112
OR S2 V7 pp. 228-340
Felix G. Stidger, Treason History of the Sons of Liberty, Formerly Circle of Honor, Succeeded by the Knights of the Golden Circle, Afterwards the Order of American Knights, 1903, reprint edition by Dogwood Press, pg. 37
Way, Jr., Ways Packet Directory, entries for Edward F. Dix, Cherokee, Northerner, Glasgow, Sunshine, Welcome. Entry for Sunshine, #5234, notes “dreaded rebel steamboat burners” believed to be responsible. Baker’s report in OR S1 V48 P2 pp194-196
OR S1 V43 P2 pp930-936, report of Confederate commissioner Jacob Thompson. In trying to control the scope of this article, I’ve chosen not to go into the role Thompson, Clement Clay, and J. P. Holcomb played as Confederate commissioners to Canada. See William A. Tidwell, James O. Hall, and David W. Gaddy, Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, 1988 and Headley, Confederate Operations in Canada and New York for more information on their role in the Northwest Conspiracy and Confederate sabotage in the last year of the war.
Burlington Iowa Weekly Hawkeye, Saturday, July 9, 1864, “A great fire occurred in Louisville on Saturday of last week. . .government stores to the value of $800,000, belonging to the Medical Perveyor’s Department. . .” One of Tucker’s saboteurs, Edward Frazor, would refer to this as a “hospital fire”, crediting the saboteur as a man named Henry Dillingham. Frazor also said that no one was killed, which seems incredible when considering all the immobile individuals in a war-time hospital at all hours of the day. Felix Stidger, in his Treason History, refers to a “warehouses” fire destroying government supplies at Louisville in July of 1864, but says nothing about a hospital fire that would have been equally interesting to Stidger. The Hawkeye article unscrews the inscrutable. These two seemingly separate incidents are really the same single incident; Frazor’s “hospital” was really a large store of medical supplies stored in government warehouses.
OR S1 V48 P2 pp194-196; RG109 M345 roll 97
OR S1 V41 P3, pp975-976
Shalhope, Portrait of a Southerner, 266-267
“Destruction of Steamer Maria”, Missouri Republican, Dec. 12, 1864
OR S1 V48 P2 pp194-196
Charles Parsons papers, Missouri Historical Society. There is some dispute about just how much “immunity” Murphy received from Baker in early 1865. Murphy was later captured and tried for his boat-burning activities.
D. H. Rule & G. E. Rule papers
J. M. Bundy, “The Last Chapter in the History of the War”, Galaxy, 1870
D. H. Rule, “Sultana: A Case for Sabotage”, North and South, Vol. 5, Issue 1, December, 2001; “Blew up the Sultana”, Missouri Democrat, May 6, 1888. Louden’s claim is a matter of some dispute. See our Sultana section for more information and documentation.
NARA, RG 109, M345, roll 270, Provost Marshal’s file on Joseph W. Tucker, report of Allen Pinkerton dated June 6, 1865 from New Orleans.
Edward Steers, Jr., “Terror 1860’s Style”, North & South, Volume 5 Issue 4; Baker list of steamers sabotaged, Edward Steers, Jr. collection.
Fulwood, “The Late Hon. J. Wofford Tucker”
Landrum, History of Spartanburg County, pg 229, says after the war he was “lay delegate to the great Ecumenical Conference held in London”. E-mail to author from R. Phillip Stone, Wofford College archivist, identifies this as being a reference to the First Ecumenical Methodist Conference at London in September of 1881. Nolan B. Harmon, editor, “Methodist Conferences”, The Encyclopedia of World Methodism, Volume II.
Fulwood, “The Late Hon. J. Wofford Tucker”; Atlanta Constitution, June 15, 1893
Tucker died in 1897 and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Sanford, FL. American Illustrated Methodist Magazine eulogized him in Oct. 1901, including a picture captioned “on the day of his death”. Unfortunately, the article does not state what day, or even year, that was. Landrum, History of Spartanburg County, which was published in 1900, pg 201-202, has this to say about Tucker’s wife Emily, “Emily Augusta [Tucker, nee Barry], born 1824; died 1898” and “…died in Sanford, Florida, her husband having preceded her a short time.” Sanford Historic Trust cemetery search website, at http://www.sanfordhistorictrust.org/cemeterysearch.html confirms Landrum’s account for both Joseph Wofford Tucker and Emily Augusta Tucker.