might warrant, and it is this fact that gives special significance to the whole affair. The occasion was favorable. The circuit court of Coles County, Judge Constable presiding, was to open on Monday, the 28th of March, and Mr. Eden, member of Congress from that district, was to make a speech. It was known that the Fifty-fourth Regiment was about to return to the field, and that a number of soldiers belonging to that regiment would take the cars on that day at Charleston for the rendezvous at Mattoon. There was thus an excellent pretext for a large gathering without exciting suspicion, while the number of soldiers would be comparatively small and in no condition for defense.
On the appointed day the court convened. Sheriff O'Hair was present attending to his official duties; the court-house square was thronged with people, including notorious secessionists from the adjoining county of Edgar, whose sheriff is brother to the sheriff of Coles County. Mingling with the crowd, an unarmed with one or two exceptions, were some 12 or 15 soldiers of the Fifty-fourth, who were residents of Charleston and vicinity, quietly conversing with their acquaintances while waiting for the train for Mattoon. Presently, without cause of provocation, a desperado named Wells fired upon and mortally wounded a soldier. Sheriff O'Hair instantly rushed from the court-room, marshaled the insurgents, put himself at their head, and directed all their subsequent moments. Every man of the assailants was found to be armed. Pistols were drawn and fired in all directions. When these had been discharged they rushed to wagons near by and brought forth guns and ammunition, which had been lain concealed beneath the straw, &c. In one minute, as Colonel Mitchell reports, 100 shots were fired and nearly every soldier was either killed or wounded, although scattered about over the whole square; every blue coat or brass button, without distinction, became a target for the assassin.
I think all this admits of but one solution, a deliberate plot on the of the leaders to murder the soldiers of the United States. This view is confirmed by several witness, who swear that the purpose of "cleaning out" the soldiers and Union men on that day had been avowed by the ringleaders several days before, and preparations had been extensively made to execute the threat; and I am satisfied that but for the timely action of Colonel Mitchell in ordering up his regiment from Mattoon, and the prompt measures subsequently taken to check the progress of the insurgents and thwart their designs, it would have proved the beginning of an extensive and dangerous emeute in that part of the State.
I have directed personal knowledge that some at least of the gang were members of a treasonable secret society, kindred in its character and objects with that known as the "K. G. C.," or Knights of the Golden Circle, and I have little doubt that the outbreak was planned and executed in great part by and through that organization. There is also reason to apprehend that through the same agency an extensive and formidable conspiracy is being formed against the Government, and that it is only awaiting a fitting opportunity for developments. It is therefore not so much on account of the intrinsic importance of these disturbances, desperate and bloody as they were, as from a sense of their revelation of and bearing upon future and more daring machinations against the Government, that I am desirous that these prisoners and the leaders, should they hereafter be taken, may be tried and (if found guilty) punished by the military