Monday, July 25, 2011

July 26, 1861 (Friday): The Imprisonment of a Public Man

William Henry Hurlbert (LSU)

RICHMOND, VA., July 26, 1861.
SIRS: I beg leave respectfully to invite your attention to the following statement of facts connected with my arrest at Atlanta, Ga., on the 18th ultimo; my journey to Richmond on the 21st ultimo; my rearrest in this city on the 24th ultimo and my imprisonment continued up to the present date without a hearing on the merits of my case; without the appearance of any responsible accuser against me and with no definite charge offered to account for or to justify my confinement…..
A native of Charleston, my relatives reside mainly in the Southern States. June 3, 1861, I left New York for Richmond with the intention of visiting my friends at Richmond and in Charleston, S. C., and of enabling myself better to prosecute a course of opposition to the existing war policy of the United States Government which I had independently pursued ever since the beginning of the movement of secession. I had not then nor have I had for many months past any connection whatever with any journal in New York or elsewhere, having dissolved my editorial relations with the New York Times, the only salaried relations which I have ever sustained with any newspaper, when that journal gave itself to the support of Mr. Lincoln. I advocated the election of Mr. Douglas down to the autumn of 1860 when I acceded to what was known as the "Fusion Ticket" in New York….In the end of May I published at my own expense a pamphlet on the "financial aspects of the war", of which I deposited several copies with my friend, Mr. Robert McLane, of Baltimore, for transmission to a high functionary in this city.
From Mr. McLane I received, June 4, a long verbal communication for the President of the Confederate States and a note of introduction to General Johnston at Harper's Ferry. From this officer I came with a pass to Richmond, arriving here Saturday, June 8. I that day called on the Assistant Secretary of State, with whom I had long been in familiar correspondence, and him in the evening related to Mr. Toombs in his own rooms the substance of Mr. McLane's communications to myself….
On Monday, June 17, my brother-in-law, a citizen of Charleston, coming home advised me to hasten my departure North, as he had learned that certain persons calling themselves a vigilance committee had determined to annoy me if I should stay. I was indisposed to accept this advice, but my sister being in delicate health earnestly deprecated my remaining any longer I accordingly consented to leave via Louisville the next morning….
At Augusta stopping only to dine I did not register my name at the hotel until I was requested by one Mr. Evans, calling himself a councilman, so to do. I then did so, stating to this person who I was, and exhibiting to him my address and letters in my possession. I reached Atlanta at midnight and was there arrested by the marshal, who exhibited a telegram from the mayor of Augusta describing my baggage, giving my name as Hilt, and denouncing me as a suspicious person. I at once demanded an examination. This was accorded to me by the Honorable B. C. Yancey, who pronounced the charge unfounded and recommended my immediate release. I voluntarily proposed to await replies to telegrams which I dispatched to friends in Charleston, and to Messrs, Browne and Benjamin at Richmond.
On Wednesday, June 19, Mr. Browne and Mr. Benjamin replied that I "was unjustly accused and should be immediately released". Mr. Yancey having also of his own motion telegraphed to Mr. Toombs (a note from whom lay among my papers), that officer replied that he had no personal knowledge of me. This circumstance, taken in connection with the arrival on the same day of a violent personal attack made on me in the Richmond Examiner of June 17, excited so much popular feeling against me that Mr. Yancey advised my waiting a day hotel in Atlanta. The next day brought another article denouncing me as a spy in the Charleston Mercury, with telegrams to the same effect from several persons, none of them personally known to me…..
I then proposed to leave for Richmond, asking an escort of the mayor and offering to pay the expenses of any intelligent person who would go with me to relate the true state of the case to the authorities here. This offer of mine was accepted by one Mr. W. S. Bassford, and Mr. Yancey and the mayor finally coincided in my proposition. The marshal was detailed to accompany me, and one or two citizen of Atlanta going to Richmond joined the party. We left Atlanta June 21st in the midst of a tumult excited by ill-disposed persons, who profited by the presence on train of an Alabama regiment, commanded by Honorable Colonel Hale, a member of your body. This gentleman soon reduced his troops to order and entering my car rode with me to his destination, Dalton.
I reached Richmond June 24; went to the Suptswood, took a room myself and sent Mr. Bassford to the President. Mr. Browne soon after came to me with Mr. Bassford and stated to me that Mr. Toombs having gone by request of the President to the governor of Virginia that gentleman had ordered me to be at once committed to jail. They both assured me that I should be released at once, the Confederate Government merely wishing to avoid any conflict with the Virginia authorities. For two days I remained in jail, having no communication with any one and my baggage lying at the hotel.
On the third day Mr. Crane visiting the jail on business I engaged his services at once as my counsel. He put himself in communication with my friends in Charleston and in this place and took steps to sue out for me a writ of habeas corpus. This writ was granted me by Judge Meredith, who appointed July 4 for the hearing….The judge July 6 decided in favor of the governor's jurisdiction and remanded me to jail, but after seeing the evidence only in part recommended an application to the governor.
This I made on the same day through Mr. Attorney-General Benjamin. The governor promptly declared that he had no charge against me; that he had committed me at the request of the Confederate Government and would discharge me at once, "if they would state that they had not charge against me". Mr. Cane took this declaration to Mr. Toombs, who in his presence stated that I had been committed merely to take me out to the hands of a rabble; that he had not and never had had any charge against me, and that be condemned all the proceedings against me as illegal and disgraceful. Mr. Cane' statement to this effect will be found hereto appended…..
Tuesday, July 9, my counsel in obtaining from Mr. Toombs a statement to the effect that the Confederate Government had "no jurisdiction" in my case. Governor Letcher maintaining his point first taken declined to act on this, but leaving town soon after he deposited with on of his aides an order for my release to be executed immediately on the receipt of a more explicit statement from Mr. Toombs. My counsel notified Mr. Toombs' chief clerk of this, and I have myself addressed a brief sketch of the facts through Mr. Cane to the President.
But I still remain here incarcerated in the jail appropriated to felons. On the face of Governor Letcher's committal I was held to await a requisition from the authorities in Charleston. No such requisition has been made, and I have reason to know that the acting attorney-general of South Carolina and his honor Judge Magrath refused to have anything to do with any such requisition.
Born in Charleston in 1827, I removed thence with my parents in 1831, returned there on the death of my father in 1843 and remained there till July 1, 1845. …I have abundant evidence from persons officially connected with the Confederate Government to show that my whole course since my native State seceded has been one of friendship to and sympathy with her, and I have challenged the severest scrutiny.
I have made this statement because I cannot think it right that in any country at any time a citizen traveling on his lawful occasions and willing to render an account of himself to any proper authority should submit in silence to the treatment which has been inflicted upon me.
I have the honor to be, your most obedient servant,
Official Records, Series II, Vol. 2, Page 1492
Hurlbert was a gifted writer for the New York Times (and brother of Union General Stephen Hurlbut), born in Charleston, S.C.  He split with the Times over its endorsement of Lincoln and came South to visit relatives.  Under suspicion as a secret correspondent for the Times, a notion encouraged by Southern newspapers, he was hounded out of Charleston and arrested in Atlanta.  But a letter taken from a civilian named Wilson, captured around the time of the battle of Manassas, was addressed to Hurlbert (from a New York address) and disparaged the Confederacy.  It appeared to be in reply to a letter from Hurlbert, although Hurlbert denied knowing the writer.  In January of 1862 Governor Letcher of Virginia ordered his release from the charges with the provisio he remain in the Confederacy, essentially under house arrest.  He escaped in August of 1862 and returned to New York.  He continued his involvement in newspapers, traveling to Europe and even becoming chairman of the London “Central News”.  It is speculated he was the “Dear Boss” of the Jack the Ripper letters.  He was involved in scandals involving women in Europe and died in Italy in 1891.  In a final postscript to his remarkable career, in 2010 historian Daniel W. Crofts established to a high degree of probability that Hurlbert was the author of the famous, 1879, “Diary of a Public Man” which recounted private conversations with Lincoln, Douglas, Seward, and others in the last few weeks leading up to the Civil War.

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