Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8, 1861 (Monday): A Ruse Gone Wrong

Fort Lafayette

                                                                        FORT LAFAYETTE, September 8, 1861.
    Dear Sir:  By means of a letter written my son-in-law, N. R. Mendenhall, and which fell into the hands of the Government, I was arrested and, as the Times and Herald state, for building a rifle battery for the South.  You have known me for many years and are fully aware that I am in every sense of the word a Union man.  You are also aware that I own some property, mining and otherwise, in North Carolina.  I accordingly wrote the letter in which I stated that I had built a machine and would be glad to dispose of it South, and that were it not for my family I would be South in order to assist in driving back abolitionists, &c.  I intended it as a ruse in order to prevent the confiscation of my property, knowing that Mendenhall would make the contents known in Greensborough, N.C, and at the same time trusting of my own true and loyal feelings to shield me from suspicion, in which I erred.
   Now, sir, in candor and in the presence of the Almighty I do solemnly aver that I have never built any battery for the South nor was I building or intending to build one for them.  Neither have I ever in any way, shape or form furnished any drawings or information regarding the same to any parties South nor intended doing so.  The battery I was building is a small 16-inch model which in accordance with my cousin’s instructions would first go to Washington (perfected with self-primers) in order to exhibit it (as I did the large one now in Washington) before the President and officers of the Government, and then to take the same to General Fremont via Chicago and Saint Louise.  These are the facts and still those papers have made the above assertion.
   Will you, Mr. Sturgis, oblige myself and family by having those papers state the facts, and also to write Mr. Seward, Secretary of State, stating the facts in the case?  I am willing and ready to act for the Union and not talk as too many are doing, and I stated openly in Washington if the battery met with the approval of the Government and they would purchase it, to take my portion of it and at my own expense fit out and go with a troop of cavalry and offer the same to President Lincoln.  These facts can be substantiated by Mr. Halsted and other gentlemen in Washington.
    My family of course are in deep distress, but knowing my own innocence in the matter and trusting to my friends to aid in my release, I am content to wait with resignation their efforts.  Your kindness will be ever remembered in this affair.
     Yours, very truly,
                                                                                                E. B. WILDER

Official Records, Series II, Vol. 2, Page 695

Wilder was a 45 year old engineer in New York who had designed a small artillery piece to be used by cavalry troops.  He met with no success selling his idea to the government, but did use a description of his idea in a letter to his son-in-law in the South, hoping an offer to build such a device would help to avoid confiscation of his property in North Carolina.  His letter was intercepted and he was sent off to Fort Lafayette in New York, already crowded with suspected disloyal persons. He mounted a letter writing campaign which eventually resulted in his release in late October after he took a loyalty oath. 

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