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McIlvaine concerned about a clergyman and his son who could be spies




letter, McIlvaine, Chase, Civil War, spy


Elyria, September 18, 1861

My dear sir,

At the expense of being in danger of being troublesome, I must discharge my mind to you about that Rev. personage of whom I write last. The more I think of his case, the more I am impressed with the necessity that an eye should be kept on him and especially on his son, and both with reference to one another. The communication I enclosed from a clergyman of Kentucky speaks of the son as having been first, after a course of [?] in the Rebel army deserting, giving information to Gen. [Serth], now in our army. How far the last is true I know not. But all of it and the suspicion of my correspondent that father and son are spies with us makes me think a great deal more than I had thought before, of what the father said to me. I found him at Washington the second time I was there. He called himself Chaplain to Colonel Young’s Kentucky Regiment of [?], which Regiment I found was not raised. He was to my surprise, or professed to be, very busy at the War Department about that Regiment, evidently was much there, and had talked a great deal and had heard a good deal. He asked me if I could get him access to the [?], he asked to go to talk with them he said and persuaded them of our kindness of feeling and what we were fighting about. I gave him a line to General Mansfield, calling him Chaplain to Col. Young’s Regiment. He did not deliver it, and I suppose it was because I called him so, because Mansfield would know, what I did not, that no such Regiment was then formed enough to choose a Chaplain.

About that time he told me he had a son in the Rebel army, who he supposed was at the Junction and had been imprisoned and whom he wanted to get released. [?] he told me he supposed his son was in the [?]. [Several] times I asked if he had learned anything of his son, and all the while I was made to say to myself how [suspiciously] cool he is about it, how can a father be so little anxious when he does not know whether his son has not been killed. About midway of these days he told me the strange story which I mentioned in my last, namely that he hired a buggy, drove through our lines, up to the enemy’s pickets, told them he had come to see his son, and asked to be let in or taken as a prisoner. They “very civilly” (he said) declined both, saying their orders were very strict. He said they seemed like new recruits, or recently [conscripted] men, and he turned back. Now is not that most improbable? First, that a sensible man should have supposed that he, a clergyman of Kentucky, a [?] Chaplain, engaged with an [?] regiment in our service, passed through our lines by Gen. Mansfield’s [?], to which of course he had signed the oath of [?] could be allowed to pass their lines, or should have been willing to have been made a prisoner for the sake of trying to get his son released, that he should have supposed that they would, for him, or anyone else, release a soldier who could tell so much of their condition, and the father as he said to me having not heard a word from his son and not knowing whether he desired to be released or not. Then again that the pickets should have talked with him so civilly and let him come back, without suspecting him for a spy and taking him to headquarters for examination. It all looks as if he had some communication to make and did make it and back to do so again, in some other way. Whether that visit to their lines was before or after the battle I do not remember, but my impression is that he said it was before. Connect it with the statement that his son has left the Rebels, and is now said to be in our service and probably father and son are together or in easy communication, and I confess the case looks mighty suspicious.

Another thing stuck to my remembrance which I could not account for: intimacy with persons in the confidence of the Rebels–for instance he told me that a gentleman had been at his house in Kentucky, who had been with Bishop Polk in his way to take command at Memphis, and that the Bishop related to him how he had been persuaded to take his commission, his having been send for by Davis to go to Richmond and the considerations Davis [?] in him. Now would Gen. Polk [thus] talk to any but a Confederate, and would that Confederate be a guest at the house of and tell what Bishop Polk had said to a person who was supposedly an Union man to be known as such? Must not the Reverend gentleman have been at least a doubtful personage?

In true, my impression strongly is that father and son have need to be watched, and that perhaps they might explain how certain things have got to the enemy.

Yours affectionately,

C. P. Mcilvaine

I shall be at home again on Monday, 22nd

Letter to S. P. Chase