1863 Detroit prepared for attack


There was “word” in 1863 that an attack by Confederates (and escaped Confederate prisoners) from Canada was going to occur. Author Mary Karl George related the details of the story in her book Zachariah Chandler: A Political Biography (Michigan State University Press, 1969). The rumor was that Clement Vallandigham had planned it. He was then living in Windsor, Canada. He had been exiled. Students of the Vallandigham issue with Abraham Lincoln are familiar with the background of that. Anyway, it was being passed on that Confederates were conspiring to effect a jailbreak of Confederate prisoners on Johnson Island in Sandusky Bay, Ohio. The newly formed forces were to then (among other things) seize the arsenal at Dearborn, Michigan for it’s supplies. Then total havoc was to occur- the cities of Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit were to be burned down.

Upon hearing of the planned attacks, Michigan’s Zachariah Chandler advocated to Secretary of War Stanton to protect the Great Lakes region. He begged for “heavy guns.” Other notables made similar requests. Detroit was rife with the possibility of the “impending attack.” To help protect Detroit, defensive redoubts were erected on Belle Isle in the Detroit River. The “Forest Queen” commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. R. Smith-was sent out to investigate for information. Apparently nothing was found. The attack didn’t happen. The rumors faded away…

If that attack was actually planned or not is not mentioned in book. Such an attack (at the time of the Civil War) could have been disastrous for the north had it been successful. There were Confederate “operatives” in Canada. Even John Wilkes Booth spent some time there. It’s also interesting that Detroit, itself, was a last stop of the Underground Railroad on the American side before escaped slaves made it into Canada. Ironic that Canada was the site of such opposite activities. As always, history is truly fascinating.





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