Local tragedies during Civil War
By Don Cosby, Local Historian
The Washington Times-Herald
October 5, 2009
Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton had his hands full during the Civil War as southern sympathizers and even some state legislatures opposed his pro-Union views. This is the second of a two-part series by local history buff Don Cosby on problems in the state and area during the Civil War. In fact, there was a time in 1863 when his Democratic controlled House of Representatives began to consider measures to diminish the authority of the governor and threatened to refuse to approve appropriations for the continuation of the war. With this, the Republican members devised a plan to intentionally be absent, thereby making it impossible to vote on the appropriation bill. They left in body for Madison, Ind., on the Kentucky border, reasoning that they could cross into Kentucky or Ohio if threatened with arrest. The Democrats expected that without state appropriations the Republicans would be forced to return back to Indianapolis due to the lack of funds to continue the war. Instead of depending on the state budget, however, Gov. Morton began to solicit funds from 19 individual counties, private people and a loan from Winslow Lanier Company, providing about $640,000. One railroad company patriotically initiated a loan of $15,000 which made a grand total of $1,026,321.31. He organized a State Board of Finance and appointed W.H. Terrell as finance secretary. These funds met and exceeded all necessary expenses for military needs as well as civil expenditures for nearly two years without any aid from the state legislature. There is no other similar case on record of any governor raising funds by his personal efforts to support a state government. Such an act was without doubt stretching the limits of the powers of the governor. This seemed to be of little interest to Gov. Morton when compared to the needs of the Union effort. This only intensified the partisan hatred for Gov. Morton and several Democrats in the end were found to actually be sympathetic with the efforts of the Knights of the Golden Circle. All disbursements by the State Board of Finance were paid personally by Gov. Morton under his personal signature. And later when audited, not a dollar was found to be misappropriated or unaccounted for. Finally in 1864 through the leadership of Gov. Morton, he was able to get legislation passed by the Indiana legislature and with the aid of a senior staff member revealed and exposed the facts related to the secret organization of the Knights of the Golden Circle. The exposure was complete, exposing the signs of the organization, the grips, the secret passwords, oaths, ceremonies as well as the purpose of the order. The total membership within the state organization was about 50,000. The officers had in their possession $200,000 earmarked for the purpose of buying arms for the Confederacy. The leadership was in constant communication with the rebels and had plans for open rebellion. The organization actually did very little damage in spite of their efforts to thwart the Union cause, however they only lacked the time, not the will. The leadership was totally committed in their opposition to the northern cause, and it was later learned that the state of Illinois also had a large number of local followers of the Circle. The Knights of the Golden Circle actually had plans in place to storm the gates of a prison camp near Chicago and free all Confederate prisoners by forming them into a Confederate fighting brigade with munitions also seized by an assault on the arsenal at Indianapolis. Railroad and telegraph lines were to be cut and Gov. Morton was to be captured and done away with if necessary. The incidents discussed here were not isolated cases within the state but were calculated attempts to disrupt, if not overthrow the federal government. Other Indiana communities had similar incidences involving the Knights of the Golden Circle, and Gov. Morton was well aware of this organization and its mode of operation. With such compelling information now made known, arrests were made of five key members. All were indicted for treason. The Grand Commander Harrison Dodd, however, was able to escape to Canada. But three others were found guilty and sentenced to death and one to prison. This brought to light a terrible chapter of little known Indiana history. At the conclusion of the war and before sentences were consummated for all those being held in prisons, Gov. Morton sent an emissary to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Johnson. In a letter presented to the President, Gov. Morton asked that the sentences of all found guilty be commuted. The recommendation of clemency was coming from a true patriot, being the target of assassination for those found guilty of treason. So bitter was the general feelings toward the traitors at this time and the hatred many felt toward the south, this act of forgiveness in Gov. Morton’s request on the surface stretched the limits of all reason and compassion. Had the request come from anyone else, Pres. Johnson would not have entertained for one minute his rejection. But clemency was being proposed from a personal confidant of a martyred Pres. Lincoln who had leaned so heavily upon his council throughout the entire war. A governor who had earned the respect of all who were acquainted with his omnipresence, first in council with Pres. Lincoln, then with his own eyes visiting the battlefields and witnessing the horrors of the conflict and his visits to the hospitals, ascertaining the wants and needs of the sick and wounded and providing assistance for widows and children of fallen soldiers. Yet the governor’s domestic duties were never compromised, such was the spirit and the hallmark of a true patriot such as Indiana’s Gov. Morton. Apparently his forgiving nature dictated that enough anger and killing had been experienced to last a lifetime. After lengthy deliberation, Pres. Johnson grudgingly honored Gov. Morton’s request. Later in Gov. Morton’s career he served as a highly respected senator and was credited with the complete destruction of treasonous organizations by arresting and convicting their entire leadership. Martin County also had a similar incident about the same time of Captain McCarty’s murder. A three-man military detail was sent to Martin County to notify men that they were drafted for service in the Union cause and also to attempt to locate deserters from the Union Army. They had reason to believe that Alan Anderson, a deserter, was in the vicinity of Natchez, which is on SR 150 a few miles north and west of West Baden and French Lick. The three-man detail composed of Lou Ritchie, Jack Ballard and O.P. Pierce were in the area for three days and had been unable to locate Anderson, but in passing the home of Bill Stanfield, a southern sympathizer who lived near what was known as Salt Peter Cave, Ballard noticed a Rebel flag on open display at Stanfield’s home. Ballard leaped from his horse and tore the flag from its fastenings, ripped it to pieces, trampling it under foot. The next morning about 6 a.m., he resumed his notification duties and manhunt. A little time later, a number of shots were heard, and Ballard’s horse came galloping back minus its rider. A search was organized, and Ballard’s body was found in the road riddled with 17 bullets, six of these from his own army revolver having penetrated his skull. Ballard was buried in the Hawkins Cemetery. Those responsible for Ballard’s murder were not immediately found, but several years later, as a result of a neighborhood row, a man by the name of Albert Quackenbush appeared before the Martin County grand jury and offered evidence causing the indictment of John G. Jones, James Archer, William Stanfield and Dr. John Stone for the murder of Ballard. There was no direct evidence other than that offered by Quackenbush, and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Two murders of Union officers so close together in basically the same area implicating the Knights of the Golden Circle, and the train wreck near Shoals was more than Gov. Morton could tolerate and felt the organization was a cancer to the community and had to be crushed. A sudden return to Martin County by Wesley Tranter, a former Martin County resident and Union soldier, caused speculation by some residents that Governor Morton had arranged for his return and concocted a fictitious story to tell the community. Tranter had said he had been drummed out of the Union Army and dishonorably discharged due to his attitude regarding the Union cause. For several weeks Tranter’s friends would barely speak to him. It was not long, however, until he fell into the good graces of the officers of the Knights of the Golden Circle. He joined the organization, secured its membership list, including the local as well as state officers. He learned the places throughout this section of Indiana where ammunition and guns were stored for shipment to the Confederate forces. Suddenly without notice, he left the neighborhood. The next day a trainload of Union soldiers came to Shoals from the east by the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, stopping about a half-mile east of Shoals, and double-quick surrounded the town of Shoals and in a few minutes the town received its first taste of military law. Steven Horsey, a resident of Shoals who lived close to the site of the train wreck involving hundreds of Union soldiers was arrested and within the next 24 hours, several other arrests were made on charges of treason. The grand commander of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Harrison H. Dodd of Indianapolis, Horace Heffren of Salem, Colonel W.A. Bowles of French Lick, John C. Walker of LaPorte, L.P. Milligan of Huntington, Andrew Humphreys of Greene County, Daniel Voorhees of Terre Haute and Thomas Hendricks were arrested. Some of those convicted were given death sentences by hanging, some to imprisonment. The sentences were not immediately carried out and all sentences were commuted later by presidential pardon at the request of Gov. Morton as previously described. Stephen Horsey, after being excused from the gallows, returned to Martin County a broken man after the cessation of hostilities and finally died in financial straits, void of self-respect and public acceptance. Wesley Tranter, the Union soldier whose undercover efforts caused the crushing of the Knights of the Golden Circle, to my knowledge was never heard of again in Martin County and apparently died without ever being recognized and honored for his undercover contributions toward the demise of the Knights. At the trials for treason, all defendants were unsuccessfully defended by James A. Garfield, a familiar name in later presidential politics. As for Gov. Morton, it would be utterly shameful for me to attempt to personally elaborate and expound upon the countless accolades offered at the death of Gov. Morton for any of my comments would be totally inadequate. It would be fitting and proper, however, to only add that few patriots could be found in history with more love of country than that of Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, and his legacy should be remembered in history as such. Sources: Daviess County Museum, Washington Carnegie Library, Indianapolis Journal’s Life of O.P. Morton, James Ford Rhodes, Volume VI 1850-1896 History of United States. Direct comments to Don Cosby, 1201 N.E. Third St., Washington, IN 47501, e-mail at doncos email@example.com.