George St.Leger Grenfell

British Soldier-of-Fortune

"If England is not at war, I go elsewhere to find one..."

The following is excerpted from an article by M.Foster Farley; and appeared
in Volume Two of the 1996 issue of the "Confederate Veteran" magazine:

Colonel George St.Leger Grenfell...

born in 1808, of an aristocratic English family whose members had ranged from admirals and generals to poets and novelists, he came from the town of Penzance in Cornwall. Sent to the Netherlands for his education, he then went to Paris, where he decided to pursue the life of a mercenary - a soldier of fortune. He served three years in a French lancer regiment and rose from private to second lieutenant. Next, he served as a British consular agent at Tangier. Having learned Arabic, he entered the service of the Riff Chief Abd-el-kader for four years. Desiring a more Christian and civilized kind of warfare, he returned to England and obtained a commission of lieutenant-colonel in the English service. Later he was a brigade major in the Turkish army during the Crimean war. When the Sepoy Mutiny broke out in India, he served in India during the greater part of that conflict.

When the American War began, Grenfell was in England, retired to the life of a country gentleman. Realizing that this was not the type of existence he wanted to pursue, he found it utterly impossible to deny himself such an excellent opportunity for occupation and excitement in his favorite vocation, he ran the Federal blockade. He brought letters of introduction to General Lee in the spring of 1862. Grenfell explained to Lee the kind of service to which he had been most accustomed, and would like to follow in the Confederate Army. After much thought, Lee sent the Englishman to the headquarters of General John Hunt Morgan with the request that Grenfell “be given every opportunity to gratify his rather extraordinary appetite for hazardous adventure.”
Morgan was one of the legendary figures of the Confederacy who ranks to this day with JEB Stuart in the hearts of Kentuckians as a symbol of the “Lost Cause”. Morgan became famous for his raids into Tennessee and Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio; the latter earning him the undying animosity of a large segment of the frightened north.

A short time later Grenfell, armed with letters of introduction from Generals Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, appeared at the camp of Morgan. A fellow officer compared him to the Templar in Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe':
“He was tall, erect, and of thorough military bearing. His frame was spare, but sinewy and athletic, and he preserved the activity of youth. His bold, aquiline 'features were scorched by the Eastern sun to a swarthy hue, and his face, while handsome wore always a defiant and sometimes fierce expression”.

Grenfell was dressed in an English staff blue coat and a “red forage cap”, he was riding one mount and leading another, following behind were three hunting dogs.
After meeting Morgan, who was immediately entranced by Grenfell's exotic personality, he was given a place on Morgan's staff, the post of adjutant-general. He accepted no pay for his services and regularly received money from England that enabled him to live in the style that he was accustomed to.
At this point, it might be appropriate to mention the use of foreigners with the Confederate Army, like the Continental Army, that had many foreigners in service. Foreigners served on the staff of practically every general in the Confederate service, in such capacities as adjutant, inspector- general, ordnance officer, provost marshal, scout or chief of staff.
In the last named offices, two Germans were selected as chiefs of staff, Heros von Borcke by JEB Stuart, and Colonel von Scheliha by General Buckner; and Grenfell acted for a time as General Morgan's chief of staff.

Although Morgan and his men admired and liked Grenfell (he was always referred to as “Old St. Lege”) Colonel Arthur Freemantle in his diary (he was an observer for a few months with various confederate commands) tells this about Grenfell:
“Even in this army (Confederate) which abounds with foolhardy and desperate characters, he (Grenfell) has acquired the admiration of all ranks by his reckless, daring, and gallantry in the field....
He is just the sort of man to succeed in this army and among the soldiers his fame for bravery has out- weighed his unpopularity as a rigid disciplinarian. He is the terror of all absentees, stragglers, and deserters, and of all commanding officers who are unable to produce for his inspection the number of horses they have been drawing forage for.”

During his stay of eight months with Morgan and his men, Grenfell participated in a few engagements. In one, Morgan's men attacking Tompkinsville, Ky., came up fast in single rank, holding fire within sixty yards of the Federal force. Basil Duke in his Reminiscences stated that the Confederates had to “cross open fields to get at them.”
Basil Duke continued:
“They (Union) fired three or four volleys, while we were closing in on them. At the first volley Grenfell, eager for a taste of action, spurred his horse forward between the two opposing lines, risking the fire of the enemy, leaped a low fence behind which the enemy were lying, and began lashing at them right an left with his saber.”

In another engagement, Morgan's C Company attacked Cynthiana, Ky.
Grenfell raced with the leaders of Company C, his scarlet skull cap bobbing as he raced to overrun the Federal positions. After this, Grenfell led a second mounted charge against the railroad depot --- “the last enemy stronghold."
In this second charge, eleven Yankee bullets “pierced his clothing, his cap, and in some places his skin,” but Grenfell's attack ended the fighting, and he required no surgeon to patch his wounds. Basil Duke wrote in his report that he could “not too highly compliment Colonel St. Leger Grenfell, for the execution of an order that did perhaps more than anything to win the battle.” Grenfell's example gave new courage to everyone who witnessed it.

Grenfell campaigned with Morgan and his Kentuckians for eight months. Toward the end of his tenure, the British officer dropped his efforts to apply British Army discipline to those wild Kentuckians. He declared that he had “never encountered such men who would fight like the devil, but would do as they pleased, like these damned Rebel cavalrymen.”

On Sunday, December 14, 1862, John Hunt Morgan married his sweetheart, Martha Ready at her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn. It was a gala affair with President Jefferson Davis and “all the high-ranking generals” of the Army of Tennessee present --- Braxton Bragg, John C. Breckinridge, William J. Hardee, and Leonidas Polk. Polk, an Episcopal bishop and a lieutenant general, performed the marriage ceremony.

Grenfell chose Sunday, December 20th to take leave of Morgan and his men. Why did he leave? Two reasons can be given. One, and the most plausible, was the fact that Morgan was reorganizing his troop and Grenfell wanted command of the Brigade. Instead, Morgan gave command of the 2nd to William Breckinridge. Breckinridge disliked Grenfell and the feelings were reciprocated by the Englishman. Grenfell had quarreled over the appointment.
Another reason given was that Grenfell had “had a belly full of the lack of discipline in the ranks.” He decided to move on. He sought out Bragg and was made inspector of cavalry of the Army of Tennessee. But his stay with this new assignment was short. Rigid British discipline did not work with the wild western cavalrymen of the South. In disgust he resigned.
Later, he went to Richmond in the winter of 1863.

On September 14, 1863, Grenfell was appointed to the post of assistant inspector general of the Corps of Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by General JEB Stuart. The brief association with Stuart “was not a happy one.” Grenfell was an outsider. He was not made welcome by Stuart's devotedly loyal staff. It has been suggested that the Englishman had “become accustomed to the free and easy ways of the Western cavalry,” and found it difficult to adjust to the more careful observance of military formalities in General Stuart's command. So, sometime between December 1863 and January 1864, Grenfell left Stuart's corps.
As a biographer of Grenfell declared : “The separation was neither friendly nor pleasant, and no doubt both parties were relieved when they parted company.”

On January 7, 1864, John Hunt Morgan and his bride visited Richmond along with Thomas Henry Hines. The two men had escaped from the Ohio Penitentiary on November 27,1863. They had been incarcerated in that facility after having been captured on their famous raid into Indiana and Ohio. They were the heroes of the hour.

Morgan and Grenfell met, and Morgan asked the Englishman to be his spokesman and lobbyist in the Kentuckian's quest to reconstitute his command. Grenfell accepted the assignment with gusto-but in the end Grenfell gave up the attempt due to the opposition of the Confederate War Department and from General Braxton Bragg the chief military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. Grenfell decided to leave the Confederacy and to go to England.
But, Grenfell had a long talk with Thomas Henry Hines who was a captain with Morgan and now engaged in espionage and conspiracy in the so called Northwest Conspiracy.

Hines enrolled Grenfell in his endeavor. In early May 1864, Grenfell sold his horses and wound up his affairs in Richmond and left that city for Wilmington, North Carolina where he sailed from that port on a blockade-runner for Nassau. He planned to take a ship for Halifax and from there to take a ship for England. On arrival at Nassau, he found that he had missed the ship for Halifax. The next ship was scheduled to leave in about three weeks. Having no desire to spend three weeks in Nassau, he booked passage on a ship bound for New York.
If he was to play a part in Hines' conspiracy, Grenfell realized that he had to have official sanction for his status of an innocent visitor to the North who had nothing more important in view than hunting and fishing.

His first call upon Union authority was to the military governor of New York, General John A. Dix, requesting official permission to remain in the North despite his service to the Confederacy.
Dix, declining responsibility to act on the Englishman s request, sent him to Washington and the Union War Department. So to Washington he went.

His interview with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, was one to mislead and deceive Stanton who was probably the most intelligent individual in Lincoln's cabinet; ruthless, shrewd, and above all else vindictive. He hated all Southerner's and all Northener's who were lukewarm in their devotion to the Union. There was no mercy in Stanton's heart for anyone who tried to mislead or deceive him.
In talking about the actual number of troops in each command in Virginia of Confederate armies - Grenfell inflated Beauregard's forces to thirty thousand, when actually they were closer to eight thousand. Stuart's cavalry was less than five thousand, but Grenfell told Stanton they numbered eight thousand. His greatest lie was in regard to Lee's army. Grenfell said Lee's army numbered about one hundred and thirty thousand men, when it was actually about forty-five thousand.

Thinking that he had fooled Stanton, Grenfell journeyed to New York and joined a group of sportsmen in upstate New York for a leisurely fishing and hunting trip. Later, he was in Montreal where he stayed for several days, no doubt getting in touch with the Confederate agents in Canada.

The opposition to the War in what we now refer to the states of the midwest, was or has been referred to as the Northwest conspiracy by some historians. The main states concerned were Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Kentucky. In these states the most vocal were the radical Democrats. They did not like the “Conspiration Act”, opposed the “Emancipation Proclamation” on the grounds that the freed black would work for less wages paid the white worker, hence they were against cheap labor. Their recourse was to form secret societies.

The first was the Knights of the Golden Circle complete with passwords, secret signs, and symbols. Later the KGC would be called the Order of American Knights and by 1864 was called the Sons of Liberty. The adherents wore in their lapels the head of Liberty cut from an old style copper penny Their enemies soon called them Copperheads--in reference to the poisonous snake.
The political objectives shifted from time to time, but generally they were for the Union to sue for peace “whatever the cost.” They did not want the Confederate states reunited with the Union. They also entertained the idea of an active rebellion which would force peace negotiations. Some of the more radical members even flirted with the idea of breaking away from the Union forming a Northwest Confederacy. These ideas were known to Richmond and they hoped to capitalize on this movement to help them to final victory.

Spies from the South operating out of Toronto, Canada, worked with some of the Copperhead groups in an attempt to ferment an uprising in the Northwest.
Here a word must be said about the Southern agents in Canada. They were “as incompetent as it was loquacious.” Some of the agents were George N. Sanders (then the leader of the group) who could neither see nor seize hidden opportunities. President Davis had so little confidence in him that he made only slight use of him in matters of importance. Besides Sanders, there were men like John B. Castleman, Clement Clay, John W Headley, James D. Horan, and others. One of the most daring, who was not part of the Toronto group, was Thomas Henry Hines born in 1841.

He was teaching on the faculty of Masonic University at La Grange, Kentucky when the war began. Joining Morgan in 1862 and soon promoted to captain, Hines, a “mysterious Kentuckian” would experience his most daring adventures behind Union lines in Indiana and Illinois in a fantastic plot to free Confederate prisoners. After many adventures, Hines would be ordered by James A Seddon, Confederate Secretary of War, on March 16,1864, to “forment a general uprising among the states with a strong Copperhead feeling.”
He was also instructed “to confer with the leading persons friendly or attached to the cause of the Confederacy”...and will be at liberty to employ such of our soldiers (who were in Union prison camps) as you may collect, in any hostile operation......”
Hines had already conferred with Copperhead leaders in Ohio and Indiana who promised at the “right time” thousands of men would rise up in revolt.

Hines laid his plans well, the chief target was Camp Douglas in Chicago that housed several thousand Confederate soldiers. Once they were released, Chicago was to be burned to the ground. After much preparation, the 4th of July was decided to be the day, but the boasts of the Copperheads were just that. Few, if any, offered their services, so the date of liberation was rescheduled for August 29, 1864, to be “timed with the Democratic Convention.”
No uprising occurred; the boasts of the Copperheads were in vain. But Hines would not give up. The next date for the uprising and destruction of Chicago was election day, November 8, 1864.

By this time, the Union as much as Hines. The discovery was made when Colonel Benjamin Sweet, Commandant of Camp Douglas, read and censored the letters of prisoners. On a cold night in the spring of 1864, huddled up close to his office stove, the heat brought invisible writing into view across the page. “The 4th of July will be a grand day for us. Old Sweet won't like it.”

The Federals were warned and through the use of informers and spies among the prisoners, Sweet struck the weekend of the 8th of November, 1864. Realizing he had only 796 men in his garrison, most of whom were not fit for active duty, he decided to arrest the Confederate plotters. Summoning a prisoner, John T. Shanks, an unsavory character, a forger, “embezzler, liar, cheat, traitor,” who had done odd jobs for Sweet in camp.
Sweet arranged for Shank's escape from the camp to allay the Confederate's suspicions and then had him trailed by detectives under orders to kill him at the first sign of treachery. However, Shanks served Sweet well, for most of the leaders were under arrest within thirty six hours.

Of all the leaders arrested, one man may well have been least of the group.....
George St. Leger Grenfell.

The trial that followed in Cincinnati lasted from January to April 1865. The accused were sentenced to varying prison terms, all except Grenfell, because he was a foreigner. He was sentenced to be “...hung by the neck until he is dead, at such time and place as the commanding general may direct.” But the war's end came in April 1865, and Grenfell's sentence was commuted by President Andrew Johnson to life imprisonment at hard labor.

The rest of the prisoners had their liberty restored. Grenfell was sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. Hines was able to flee when the Union’s dragnet was on and escaped the Union anger.

Fort Jefferson (the Union's Devil's Island) is located seventy miles west of Key West. Its walls are "fifty feet high and eight feet thick,” built on a sixteen acre key. It was obsolete before its construction and “has always been luckless.” It had facilities for 1500 men and 450 cannon, begun in 1846 and built by slaves and the prisoners. The death sentences of Union deserters were often commuted to work on the fort. The most famous prisoner (besides Grenfell) was Dr. Samuel Mudd, another of Stanton's victims. This was to be Grenfell's abode for the rest of his life.

Grenfell arrived at the Union's Devil's Island on October 8, 1865. The Englishman became the prison gardener and became a friend of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who attended John Wilkes Booth's injured leg and was unjustly accused of participation in the Lincoln assassination plot.

“Grenfell was treated ten times worse than any prisoner on the island” (quoting from one of his letters to his daughter in England). The following are some of the methods of persuasion the Yankee soldiers used on Grenfell (quoting again from his letters):

“On 8th April, when still stiff and sore from overwork, I was ordered to pick up bricks off the ground and load a lighter at the wharf. I could not stoop my back hurt me so, but offered to do any kind of work which required no bending of the back. I was taken away, tied up by the wrists to an iron grating, and left there in the sun from 7 a.m. to 4p.m. My hands were tied up over my head; my feet were fastened to a rope on the ground, devoured by mosquitoes and exposed to the rays of a tropical sun.” Still Grenfell refused to pick up bricks.

At four in the morning (again in Grenfell's own words):

“Irish Lieutenant Robinson, acting Provost Marshal ... with some rope and a revolver, along with two officers, ordered the guard to take me down to the sea. I was laid down on the wharf, my hands tied savagely behind me so as to cut the skin around my wrists, and I was thrown off into twenty-five feet of water. Unfortunately I could swim very well thus tied, so they hauled me on shore again and tied my legs. Still my great exertion I managed to float, and I was once more hauled in by five or six men. This time they sank me by iron weights attached to my feet, and when insensible they hauled me up again. When recovered I was asked if I would carry bricks. Upon my saying I could not, in I went until drowned. This was repeated three times until on recovering, I fainted off entirely and was put on some blankets to recover as best I could. Every time I was brought out of the water, Robinson would kick me. My ribs, elbows, and hands were stripped of the skin through these kicks.”

Grenfell endured his life at Fort Jefferson for almost three years. Attempts were made to obtain a pardon for the old cavalryman from President Johnson, but his friends were all ex-Confederates, they had little influence with Washington.

His Southern friends did not forget him. They sent him letters and small packages and Jefferson Davis, a few days before his release from Fortress Monroe, sent a packet of tobacco and 20 dollars, with a kind note expressing his sympathy. The Florida legislature passed a unanimous resolution petitioning “the President to release me in terms so honorable to me...”
He told his daughter that all “...these attempts to release me are useless; as long as Mordecai sits in the gate (Old Stanton) I shall remain here”. Stanton even refused to let a relative of Grenfell give $30 worth of clothing and comforts, although they had actually been dispatched.

On the night of March 7, 1868, the man from Penzance, along with three other prisoners attempted an escape in an open boat. As soon as they put out to sea, a storm came up and they were never heard from again.

A fitting epitaph could be in the words of a fellow cavalryman from Kentucky: “Kings, lords, and mighty warriors have gone down to graves in the briny sea, but the blue waters never closed over a braver heart than that of St. Leger Grenfell.”

The following appears in "The Last Cavaliers" by Samuel Carter III
[Notes: Chapter 5 “Kentucky Cavalier”]

“Ever in search of action, Grenfell later teamed up with Thomas Hines and the Northwest Conspiracy, and almost brought off the storming of Camp Douglas in Chicago and the release of its Southern prisoners. Betrayed by an associate, Grenfell was captured and sent to Fort Jefferson in the Gulf, where he shared a cell with Dr. Samuel Mudd, one of the several prisoners implicated in Lincoln’s assassination.

St. Leger slid out of Fort Jefferson on a stormy night aboard a stolen fishing vessel and was reported lost at sea. More fittingly, he is alleged to have surfaced from the gulf near Tampa, Florida, walked to the home of one A.W. McMullen for breakfast, and regaled the family with the same tales of derring-do that had thrilled the campfire caucuses of Morgan’s cavalry.”

~ Whatever his fate, may long live the memory of the man from Penzance! ~

The above photo of four Confederate agents was taken (aprox.) July 7, 1864 near the Table Rock Hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. From left to right: George N. Sanders; Captain John B. Castleman; Colonel George St.Leger Grenfell; and Captain Thomas H. Hines.

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