WAR DEPARTMENT, BUREAU OF MILITARY JUSTICE,
July 18, 1865.
Bvt. Brigadier General W. HOFFMAN, U. S. Army,
Commissary-General of Prisoners, Washington, D. C.:
GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 15th instant, with which, pursuant to the direction of the lieutenant-general of the Army, you inclose the papers in the cases of Charles H. Cole and John E. Robinson (held as prisoners of war) for the opinion thereon of the Judge-Advocate-General as to their proper disposition, and in reply thereto would respectfully submit as follows:
It is clearly disclosed by the report of Colonel Charles W. Hill, U. S. Army, and the testimony accompanying the same, that Cole was an active co-conspirator with Jacob Thompson, C. C. Clay, jr., W. Norris, and others in Canada and the neighboring States of the Union, in a scheme to release in September last the rebel prisoners confined on Johnson's Island, and to seize the U. S. steamer Michigan, then stationed at Sandusky, Ohio; that Cole had, for a considerable period before his arrest (on 19th of September), been engaged in the preparatory details of the expedition, and that while so engaged he was directly in the pay of the rebel Government, receiving from Thompson, its "agent and commissioner," sundry sums of money in gold and U. S. Treasury notes, amounting in all to about $4,000; further, that Robinson was a subordinate of Cole in the general plan, and, though possessed of less intelligence, was actively employed in the plot.*
What the details alluded to precisely were, beyond passing to and fro between the representatives of the rebellion in Canada and the United States, and acting principly at Sandusky as a principal and director of the parties on the United States side of the lake who were to co-operate in carrying out the scheme, does not clearly appear. The seizure, however, of the steamers Island Queen and Philo Parsons by Canadian rebels on the same day as that on which Cole was arrested was a signal overt act of the conspiracy, for which he is no doubt to be held responsible equally with those immediately concerned therein.
The only direct testimony connecting Cole actively with the plot is, indeed, his own confession. This confession was oral, and does not appear in written form, but having been made, and, as it is understood, voluntarily, in the presence of Colonel Hill and Captain Carter, of the Michigan, and carefully noted, in substance, by the former, it may readily be introduced in evidence.
No confession or statement by Robinson appears to have been presented, and the only proof against him is found in the declarations of Cole.
Upon the arrest of the letter a communication was addressed by Thompson and Clay, from Toronto, Canada West, to Colonel Hill, protesting against Cole's being treated as a spy, and claiming that he was an escaped rebel prisoner who could merely be returned to captivity by the U. S. authorities, but could not be proceeded against for any crime.
But though there is no evidence that Cole was technically a spy, yet that he is to be treated as a criminal, and not as a prisoner of war, is abundantly shown by the papers found in his possession upon his apprehension. From these it appears that when a prisoner of war at Memphis in April, 1865, he subscribed both to a formal parole not to take up arms against the United States or give any aid or comfort to
* See Thompson's report, Series I, Vol. XLIII, Part II, p. 930.