The Counterfeit that Nearly Stopped the Heart of the Nation
When the country entered the fourth year of the war it had grown apparent that the North was losing the support of the populous, that a swift end was going to fuse the two halves of the nation together once again. In March of 1864 it had pinned its last hope on the newly appointed General in Chief of the Armies of the United States while continuing to hold their breath for exuberant news that the longsuffering nightmare would finally be over. On the morning of May 18th, 1864; however, the republic was awoken to the frightening news of the printed word.
The New York World enjoined by the associated press had published a Presidential Proclamation, the content of which caught the rattled eye of the military commanders throughout the Union, and immediately disturbed over its authenticity. Proclaimed by the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln and sealed by the State Department, the reprinted document announced only two weeks from its commencement the close of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's campaign in Virginia. The state of affairs along the Rapidan River, the disaster of Red River, and stalemate at Charleston; lead the Chief Executive to call upon the northern states to raise another four hundred thousand volunteers from ages eighteen to forty five. It set a mandate of June 15th for the respective state governments to provide the numbers, otherwise for the country to submit to an immediate draft to make up the quotas.
Major General John Adams Dix immediately asked for clarification from the Secretary of State as that the content would have detrimental effect on public outlook and morale. An immediate public response was forthcoming from the desk of William Seward which announced that the paper bearing the date of May 17th was an absolute forgery. No proclamation of any kind had been proposed by the President or endorsed by the State Department and or any other department for that matter. The announcement had been likewise sent across the Atlantic to both Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain, as well as William L. Drayton, Minister to France. It was still necessary to ensure the foreign powers that the national government had not lost their grip on the war effort.
Word soon reached the Executive Mansion. The President had penned a reply to General Dix confirming that the publication found in the New York World and New York Journal of Commerce was a false and spurious proclamation borne of a treasonable nature and designed simply to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States and to the rebels now warring against the government. He therefore commanded his major general to arrest and imprison in any fort or military hold within his jurisdiction the editors, proprietors and publishers of the faulty periodicals with the intent of bringing them before a military commission for trial at a later date. Furthermore, military force within his power was to take possession of the New York World and Journal of Commerce, holding them until further orders were received to prevent any further publications.
The Independent Telegraph Company, which after the war would merge with Western Union, was likewise militarily seized by executive order, the managers, operators and superintendent arrested and held until ordered otherwise. A copy of the same went out to the respective commanders at Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
The paper was reported to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton that it had been handed into the newspaper offices at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on thin manifold paper like the dispatches received from the Associated Press. As soon as the fraud was discovered the New York World had offered a five hundred dollar reward for the identity of the author. The proclamation was likewise found to have been delivered to the New York Herald; however, its fraudulence had been discovered before their copies hit the streets. As General Dix was reporting his findings to the War Department the presidential order to have the editors of said newspapers arrested had been received. He requested further instructions should the information just submitted have changed the President's mind.
In his typical business like demeanor, the Secretary of War reminded the department commander that it was his obligation to obey the order that the Commander in Chief issued calling for the arrest of the editors and publishers. He was not directed to make any investigation but only to execute the order, the investigation was to be handled by an assigned military commission.
General Dix; however, felt it necessary to point out to the war secretary that his investigation was made as commanding officer of the department before the President's order had been received as he had already stated. There had been no delay in executing the order the telegraphic offices were seized as soon as his officers could reach them. Two staff officers were already engaged in the arrest of the editors and publishers with a steamer standing by to take them to Fort Lafayette.
Stanton was later lead to believe the forged proclamation had originated inside of Washington City and if the same was concluded in New York, Dix was thus authorized to suspend the executive order. Satisfied that the publishers of the World and Journal of Commerce had no prior knowledge of it, the federal soldiers under Dix simply took possession of the offices and the publishers and editors were free from charge.
Within forty eight hours, and after a large number of telegraph offices were seized and controlled by the army, Major General John A. Dix discovered the culprit behind the forgery. Joseph Howard, known as "Howard of the Times" had been very frank in his confession made to the department commander. He accepted complete responsibility for it having exonerated the Independent Telegraph Line. He was arrested and sent to Fort Lafayette. However New York deemed best, they were warned to exercise better caution in regards to the public welfare in the future, armed with the iron fist of central government.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com