Civil War Subversion Investigations

Records: 62,819 · Complete: 100%


Several organizations had general investigative functions during the Civil War. From the outbreak of the war until early in 1862 the Secretary of State, acting through U.S. marshals and other Government officials, caused the arrest and imprisonment of many persons suspected of engaging in treasonable or disloyal activities. By an Executive order in February 1862 the authority to make such arrests was transferred to the War Department.

The offices in the War Department concerned with the investigation of subversive activities were those of the Judge Advocate General and the Provost Marshal General. Although a Judge Advocate for the Army had been authorized as early as March 2, 1849 (9 Stat. 351), increased demands arising from the expanded military operations after the outbreak of the Civil War required the services of more than one judge advocate for the administration of military justice. By an act of Congress approved July 17, 1862 (12 Stat. 598), the President was given authority to appoint a Judge Advocate General and several subordinate judge advocates.

AGO General Order 140, September 24, 1862, announced the newly created post of Provost Marshal General. An act of Congress approved March 3, 1863 (12 Stat. 732), created the Provost Marshal General's Bureau and provided for the appointment of a provost marshal for each congressional district. The provost marshals were military police one of whose duties was to arrest deserters and who could also be assigned to detect subversive activities. In addition, the War Department employed special provost marshals, detectives, and other agents when necessary.


Maj. Levi C. Turner was appointed as Associate Judge Advocate for the Army Around Washington by AGO General Order 95 of August 5, 1862. Under the terms of the order all cases of State prisoners and also cases of military arrests in the District of Columbia and the adjacent counties of Virginia were to be specially assigned to Turner for investigation and determination.

On August 8, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issued an order to prevent evasion of military duty and to suppress disloyal practices. The order provided that all citizens liable to be drafted into the militia should be prevented from going to a foreign country and that any person who might be engaged by act, speech, or writing in discouraging volunteer enlistments or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy or engaged in any other disloyal practice against the United States would be arrested and imprisoned. All arrests made by U.S. marshals and superintendents or the chiefs of police were to be reported to Judge Advocate Turner in order that the apprehended persons could be tried before a military commission. As a result of an order dated August 11, 1862, and issued by Turner, he established direct contact with all Federal and local law-enforcement officers in the United States by instructing them to properly execute the order of the Secretary of War.

The Turner case files reproduced in this microfilm publication relate to the arrest, parole, and release of suspects. Included in the case files is correspondence with provost marshals, U.S. marshals and detectives, chiefs of police, Governors of States, and military commanders. The records relate both to civilians and to soldiers who were investigated and arrested on such charges as being disloyal, giving aid to the Confederacy, defrauding the Government, resisting the draft, discouraging enlistments, and trading in contraband. Also investigated were men arrested as deserters from the Confederate Army, blockade runners, and State prisoners held in Federal prisons.

In October 1865 Turner reported that he himself had conducted 7,748 examinations, including those relating to deserters from the Confederate Army as well as those relating to aliens, prisoners, and soldiers whose cases after investigation were reported to the Secretary of State. Turner investigated accounts of recruiting officers that were referred to him as "false and fraudulent" and he was responsible, by direction of the Secretary of War, for the transfer of women, children, and Federal prisoners by boat between Annapolis, Md., and City Point, Va. Two such trips, in January and July 1863, were reported.

Turner stated that in the execution of his orders he had traveled extensively throughout the country. He became a Colonel in the Volunteer Army on March 13, 1865, and served in the War Department as a judge advocate until his death on March 13, 1867.


In February 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln transferred the power to make extraordinary arrests from the Department of State to the War Department, Secretary of State W. H. Seward recommended Lafayette C. Baker, "a capable and efficient officer," for possible employment by the War Department. Baker officer," for possible employment by the War Department. Baker had previously been employed in "detective" or "secret" services for the Commanding General of the Army and for Secretary of State Seward. He was a special agent for the War Department from February until September 1862, when Secretary of War Stanton appointed him as special provost marshal. After Baker was relieved from duty as a special provost marshal on November 7,1863, he continued his activities as a special agent of the War Department. On June 29, 1863, Baker was appointed Colonel of the First Regiment, District of Columbia Cavalry, a regiment formed because, according to Baker, "The importance of the bureau, and its rapidly accumulating business, rendered a military force, exclusively under my control, a necessity." On April 26, 1865, he became a Brigadier General in the Volunteer Army. Baker's official connection with the War Department ended when he was honorably mustered out on January 15, 1866. He died 2 years later.

The Baker case files, containing fewer papers than the Turner files, include reports submitted by private persons and Government officials relating to suspicious persons and alleged subversive activity, and correspondence concerning cases resulting from the War Department order of March 30, 1862, for the confiscation of abandoned rebel property around Washington, persons reported to be secessionists, detectives employed to ferret out contraband trade, frauds upon the Government, and prospective employees for Baker's detective force.

Many of the Baker case files contain correspondence of Col. H. S. Olcott, special commissioner for both the War Department and the Navy Department, who was appointed to investigate fraudulent claims and contracts. Many files contain reports to and correspondence with Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana. Included in these files are Baker's reports to Secretary Dana, who spent much time investigating cases involving disloyalty to the Government and fraud by contractors for supplies. Baker's work for the War Department included investigating cases of disloyalty, treason, vandalism, and conspiracy. He was also involved in espionage on behalf of the Government.

There are few records in the Baker case files reflecting other of his activities, such as the investigation of frauds in the recruiting service of the Regular Army and of the Navy, the apprehension of John Wilkes Booth and the other conspirators in the Lincoln assassination, the imprisonment of Jefferson Davis, the trial of Henry Wirz, and at the request of the Treasury Department the investigation of its system for issuing currency.


Civil War Subversion Investigations, the "Turner-Baker Papers" are digitized from microfilm: Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette C. Baker, 1861-1866. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Publication Number M797; National Archives, Washington.