Monday, January 30, 2017

Into the Circle

I am continuing with the story of how Felix Grundy Stidger became an unlikely spy in Kentucky and Indiana during the Civil War. In his autobiography, Stidger begins by writing how only seven people knew what he was doing while in the Secret Service. First, Josephine McGill, "a young lady whom I had known for eight years, and to whom I was engaged to be married, and although every one of her family were the bitterest enemies of the Government I fully advised her of every move I made, and everything I did, having full confidence in her - which confidence she proved herself worthy of - and at the end of my work for the Government she became my wife."

The next person who knew of Stidger's work was his brother, John Harmon Stidger, who acted as his confidential assistant in making reports in Louisville. Third was Captain Stephen E. Jones, Provost Marshall General of the Military District of Kentucky, who engaged Stidger in the assignment. Fourth was Colonel Thomas B. Fairleigh, 26th Kentucky Veteran Volunteer Infantry, who was in command of Louisville and who received Stidger's reports. Fifth was James Prentice, Sergeant in Company H, 25th Michigan Infantry, who had been assigned as a confidential assistant to Stidger. Sixth and seventh were Brigadier General Henry B. Carrington and Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton.

On 5 May 1864, Stidger met Captain Jones in Louisville, and provided him with a report of some information he had learned. Jones needed a reliable Kentuckian for a special, hazardous mission to infiltrate an organization called the Sons of Liberty. Stidger's old friend from Bloomfield, the Deputy Provost Marshal, had connected him with Captain Jones. On this day Jones told him General Carrington had learned that Doctor William A. Bowles, owner of French Lick Springs in Indiana, was one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty and he would be coming to Kentucky soon to organize lodges of the Sons of Liberty in the state. Jones wanted a reliable Kentuckian to watch Bowles, observe his movements and report.

They gave Stidger a crash course in the rituals of the Sons of Liberty, a new name, J. J. Grundy, a cover story about him being a neophyte in the order, and sent him on with a new suit, glasses and an introduction letter to Bowles. Two days later he was riding a train from Louisville north into Indiana. Not knowing the way to French Lick Springs, he got off the train one stop too early, but this proved to be a good coincidence as he managed to meet a lawyer the town who was the Deputy Grand Commander of the Sons of Liberty who was expecting a messenger from Kentucky and assumed Stidger was the messenger. The lawyer, Horace Heffern, told him about plans to rally 1000-1500 armed men on behalf of the Sons of Liberty in Indiana.

Stidger arrived at French Lick Springs on 8 May and was introduced to Bowles, who told him of plans to arm 100,000 men to invade Missouri and use forces in Indiana and Ohio for a battleground in Kentucky. Stidger spent the next four days at French Lick Springs learning plans from Bowles, and then he returned to Louisville on 12 May 1864.
Richmond Palladium-Item, 29 Mar 1955

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