- Historic Sites
A Confederate Odyssey
All this Florida boy wanted to do was rejoin his regiment. Instead they drafted him into the Confederate secret service.
December 1984 | Volume 36, Issue 1
The boat was a slow one and we were about three days on the river. Because of a wreck, we were laid off at Lansing about one day and a half, and when we resumed our journey the next day we reached Canada. At Sarnia we crossed in the ferryboat, and when I landed, so uncertain was I as to geographical location, I went up to a little Irish depot guard, with a red cap and a red jacket, and said to him, “Are we now on British soil?”
With a smile, he replied in his Irish brogue, “Of course we are! Don’t you see the unicorn and the lion?”
I looked up, and sure enough, there it was—the coat of arms of the British Empire, and I took off my hat respectfully, to the guard and to the British shield.
It was dark when my train got into Toronto. With the dime I had left I bought some ginger cakes, and that was my supper. I had no money for lodging, did not know where the Confederate agency was located, and there was but one person in Toronto with whom I was acquainted. A Mr. Lynch, belonging to some Mississippi regiment, had escaped from Rock Island, was in Toronto, and had written to-some acquaintances there of his success in getting through. He was a shoemaker by profession, and I had intended to look him up. I drifted around that big city of forty or fifty thousand people, went into many stores, and offered to sweep out for them if they would give me enough for lodging. Some were brusque and others were polite, but from all I was turned away. I walked around until after eleven o’clock, when I saw a light from a projecting bay window, which I approached and therein saw the great, good-natured face of a butcher who was preparing his meat for the morning market before he retired. I went in to him, accosted him pleasantly, and offered to help him in return for a night’s lodging, telling him part of my story. He walked back and called his noble-hearted wife by name, telling her to give me a cup of tea and some bread and butter, and fixed the lounge for me to sleep upon. Soon my hunger was satisfied, and I found myself with friends. This little incident has broadened out my life and convinced me that God’s nobility is found in all the walks of creation.
I told the butcher about the escape of Mr. Lynch, whose face was so deeply pockmarked that having seen him you would not forget him. Either the butcher or his wife said, “Next door there is a shoe shop, and it seems to me that same man worked there.” After I had my breakfast next morning I stepped from one door to the other, and sure enough, Lynch had worked there and they gave me the address where I would find him. In a half hour’s time I had found my comrade of the prison, and he helped me to some cash, which I afterward returned, and gave me the address where the agency could be found.
I reported to Col. Jacob Thompson at the Queen’s Hotel, and he turned me over to his principal assistant, who would listen to nothing but enlistment there in their Secret Service Company. I wanted to get back to the army but could not enforce preference under the conditions. Soon after this I was enlisted with Capt. J. Y. Beall, who was preparing an expedition to raid the lakes by armed steamers, which were then equipping at the shipyard at Collingwood. Beall from the first seemed to take a strong liking to me, and we soon became intimate, and every time he crossed the line I was with him, and the same blanket covered us both.
One day I was called to the office of Colonel Thompson, and he said to me, “We want to know how many soldiers there are and what their equipment is at Buffalo, Dunkirk, Toledo, and Cleveland. We cannot detail anybody to go over there because, in that capacity of a spy, if captured, he would he be hung. Now, would you be willing to volunteer for the task?” I answered, “Yes, sir. ” I was given what money I wanted, but not a great surplus, for fear of suspicion if I was captured.
I crossed at Detroit from Windsor, and at Detroit Junction I bought a ticket for Cleveland. I turned around and saw a small man intently watching me. I appeared to be indifferent but kept my mind alert and my eye on his movements. I did not know but that I was mistaken until I saw him buy a ticket and heard him whisper something to the agent.
I walked back in a moment and said to the agent, “You gave me a ticket to Cleveland. I wanted one to Toledo.”
He said, “You asked for Cleveland.”
I said, “Well, kindly exchange it for me,” and he did so.
In a moment my suspicious friend whispered something to the agent, which I could not hear, but I heard the click of the instrument when he changed his ticket also. I knew then that I was caught, and I was frightened.
As we entered the car when the train came along, he was right up with me and had spoken to me before we got into the train. He invited me to take a seat by him, and I did so. The car was not crowded at that time, and after we got started, he told me, “I know who you are, and you are my prisoner. ”
I laughed at him and proposed that we should have a smoke together.
We chatted and smoked almost all day, and whenever he would ply me with questions, as to where I lived and what I was doing, I always said that I lived in Toronto. We traveled along together until we got to the dinner place; then we ate lunch together.