It was quite likely used by operatives in Canada, where the plot to kidnap Abraham Lincoln is known to have been advanced .
In February 1864, the Confederate Congress passed a bill that authorized a campaign of augmented sabotage against “the enemy’s property, by land or sea.” The bill established a large Secret Service fund to finance the sabotage, one million dollars of which was specifically earmarked for use by agents in Canada in...
In February 1864, the Confederate Congress passed a bill that authorized a campaign of augmented sabotage against “the enemy’s property, by land or sea.” The bill established a large Secret Service fund to finance the sabotage, one million dollars of which was specifically earmarked for use by agents in Canada in a broad program of clandestine action, a corresponding effort to encourage and assist in the organization of an effective antiwar political movement in the north, and a major operation to capture Lincoln as a hostage. Jefferson Davis himself signed the requests for disbursements from the fund, which according to the book “Confederate Covert Action in the American Civil War” by William A. Tidwell, numbered 63 from the war’s start. Of these, 3/4 of the monies were requested in the little over a year after the February 1864 law went into effect. The forms for Davis’s signature generally cited the enigmatic term “Necessities and Exigencies,” though sometimes “Secret Service” was used. Most of the forms specified that the funds requested were to be issued in gold or in British sterling. The originals signed by Davis went to the Treasury, where a warrant was issued; the request form was then returned to the State Department. After the war, the originals of these documents were dispersed, though records of them remained.
Necessities and exigencies … to be issued to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin and “charged to him on the books of the Treasury
Partly-printed Document Signed as Confederate President, on Department of State letterhead (which as usual was hand-altered to read “Executive Office”), Richmond, January 30, 1865, being one of the allocation requests mentioned above. It orders Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm to “cause a warrant“ for the sum of $1,500 in gold for “Necessities and exigencies under laws already passed or which may be passed &c. &c.” to be issued to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin and “charged to him on the books of the Treasury…” The exact use of this disbursement is not referenced. However, a review of the requests contained in Tidwell’s book shows that those designed for miscellaneous locations other than Canada tend to reference those locations (such as saying “Exchange on England”), while Canada is not specifically referenced. Thus the lack of a designation here, the amount corresponding to known sums sent to Canada, and the large amount of money left in the Canadian fund at war’s end all suggest that this allocation was destined for Canada as well.
How was this money utilized? It may have been sent to England or Southern cities with active blockade-running operations to purchase arms and supplies, but ues was different if it went to Canada. Not far from the Canadian border were three large prisoner of war camps holding Confederate soldiers – on Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio in Lake Erie; at Fort Douglas in Chicago; and at Elmira, New York – and operations against these were a prime goal. Confederate agents in Canada were also busy with other operations. They seized a U.S. steamer near Detroit but then had to abort the mission. Soon after, 20 agents in civilian clothes entered St. Albans, Vermont and robbed three banks of about $200,000. In November 1864, Confederate Commissioners Jacob Thompson and Clement Clay authorized the boldest operation yet: the torching of New York City by eight agents. Their agents set fires in 19 hotels, a theater, and P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. However, the fires did not amount to much and the action was unsuccessful.
On December 6, 1864, Secretary of State Judah Benjamin named Edwin Gray Lee, second cousin of Robert E. Lee, to run the Canada operation. Gray met with Benjamin in Richmond pursuant to his new assignment and there received some or all of $1,500 in gold charged to “Necessities and Exigencies”. Lee then ran the blockade, went to Montreal, and from there rode herd on the fund of cash in Canada. He was the likely recipient of these funds. There is another, and more sinister, possible use of the $1,500 allocated here: funding for the conspiracy to kidnap Abraham Lincoln that would eventually lead to his assassination. John Wilkes Booth went to Montreal in late 1864 to meet with Confederate operatives there. Then he met John Surratt in Washington on December 23, 1864, and told him of his plot to kidnap President Lincoln. Surratt willingly joined Booth’s group of conspirators and brought in George Atzerodt; eventually his own mother, Mary Surratt, became implicated. On the night of Wednesday, March 15, 1865, Surratt met with Booth and other conspirators to discuss the possible abduction of the President. Booth and his associates tried to capture Lincoln on March 17, 1865, but the enterprise failed and they gave up the abduction plan. On March 31, as Surratt related, “I was told that Mr. Benjamin, the then Secretary of War of the Confederate States, wanted to see me…He asked me if I would carry some dispatches to Canada for him. I replied ‘yes.’ That evening he gave me the dispatches and $200 in gold…I took the cars for Montreal, arriving there the next day. I put up at the St. Lawrence Hotel…I saw General Edward G. Lee, to whom the dispatches were directed, and delivered them to him…” This meeting took place April 6 and the dispatches concerned disposition of Confederate funds in Canada. So Surratt met with Booth, then with Benjamin and then went to Canada to see Lee. All of these men must have had knowledge of the abduction conspiracy.
At the trial of Booth’s associates on May 26, 1865, one Henry Finnegass, a former Union officer, testified. He said that he had been in the St. Lawrence Hall in Montreal on February 14 or 15, 1865, and that he had overheard a conversation of a Confederate operative: “If the boys only have luck, Lincoln won’t trouble them much longer…Oh, yes. Booth is bossing the job.”
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