An Aspiring Writer's Blog Site

The Gideon Plan Mystery

In 1865, during the closing days of the American Civil War, Union troops descended upon the Confederate Capitol of Richmond. The soldiers found Confederate officials burning government documents. What was salvaged exposed a Confederate initiative known as the Confederate Secret Service. The documents contained many projects that were deemed uncivilized for 19th century warfare including missions of espionage and covert operations. One of these documents mentioned a special project known as the Gideon Plan. Information is scant, but it is noted that William Yancey, Confederate diplomat to Europe in 1861, was able to secure two loans from private investors in France and England to finance this plan.

There had been many theories what the Gideon Plan may have entailed, but for the remainder of the 1800s and all of the twentieth century, the Plan was shrouded in mystery. In the fall of 2008, the estate of William Porcher Miles, the Chair for the Confederate Congress’s Military Affairs, discovered previously undisclosed memoirs written by Miles in his later years. These memoirs were donated to the National Civil War Museum on Christmas 2010 and shed considerable light on the Gideon Plan. Some historians are saying the documents will turn Civil War history on its ear.

The memoirs reveal that in addition to the Yancey loan, as part of the Confederacy’s Partisan Ranger Act of 1862, a special appropriation was set aside to fund the Gideon Plan. Historians were stunned to learn that in all, almost 15% of the Confederacy’s military budget was spent on this project from 1862 to 1863. Miles explained that the plan encompassed the use of a small squad made up of elite sharpshooters recruited from the regular Confederate army who were equipped with experimental weapons and trained in espionage and infiltration techniques. The members of the plan were responsible for no less than a dozen particularly dangerous behind-the-line actions during the Civil War between 1862 and 1863 including the destruction of the Gatling Factory in December of 1862, a failed attempt to destroy the Springfield armory in 1863, a rescue of Stonewall Jackson a week before he was accidently shot by his own men and involvement in the assassination of President Lincoln. The project was abandoned when the Confederacy’s faltering economy could no longer support the project and the congress repealed the Partisan Ranger Act. Miles made special note that some of the squad members committed treason and defected to the side of the Union shortly after the squad was disbanded. It was Mile’s opinion that these members had an important hand in the planning of Grant’s Overland Campaign that led to the eventual end of the War. Additionally, he espoused the theory that these members continued in the service of the United States military and were responsible for extraditing many of the Confederate officials who went into hiding after the war. He also believed that these members had military covert roles in Mexico, Santo Domingo, Cuba, and elsewhere in later years.

Miles’s belief seems to be substantiated by a mystery that has plagued Western Union archivists for years. Between the dates 1865 until 1904, over 300 instances of coded messages written in American Morse code were intercepted as far away as Istanbul and Seoul.  Though these messages remain to this day undeciphered, all make use of the word “Gideon.” As of yet, neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of State’s archivists have commented on any of these documents.

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28 responses

  1. Remy Emery

    INTRIGUING AND I’LL BUY A COPY WHEN AVAILABLE, BUT THE CHRONOLOGY SEEMS A LITTLE UNLIKELY- THE ERLANGER LOAN WASN’T UNTIL 1863; FUNDS FOR EXTENSIVE OPERATIONS (OR EXOTIC WEAPONS) WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN AVAILABLE EARLIER. PERHAPS A PETTY OBJECTION BUT I OFFER IT FOR VERSIMILITUDE’S SAKE.(AND TO LET YOU KNOW SOMEONE OUT HERE IS LISTENING).

    January 19, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    • Thanks, Remy. Its nice to see someone drop in and give a comment. Glad to know you like the story idea! You are a Civil War buff I take it? This early synopsis of the Gideon Plan is getting dated and I probably should put up another one. As I’ve researched, it seems more likely that this type of thing would have been the idea of a wealthy individual acting as a partisan rather than the CS government. Good point about the weapons. As the war drags on, money and resources become short and the group does not make any more technology advances. It actually becomes a struggle just maintaining what they have working. Thank you so much for commenting! Please stop by from time to time.

      January 20, 2012 at 12:21 am

      • Remy Emery

        Possibly Turner Ashby with an Uzi? although in truth, I thought him more a symbol than an
        effective force. I would love to see Harry gilmor fictionalized: he was a menace to the north;
        plus he had a sense of humor.
        If money is a problem, the McNeill Rangers had a substantial force and seem to have been self-sustaining (And bank robbery was considered patriotic).
        Anyway, I want as much history as possible with my steam-punk, so Judah Benjamin still has
        to be in charge.
        You are a brave man to ride a Penny Farthing with only a derby as protection.

        January 22, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      • I do want to include some historic characters. I’m not sure which, though. Probably secretaries of war throughout the time period. Probably Davis as he was heavily involved in the war department. Maybe a famous general or two. I haven’t decided. Robbing a bank is a good idea, actually. The person who started the plan, Charles Gideon, is a wealthy Mississippi planter, former filibuster, and a leading member of the Knights of the Golden Circle. He has substantial wealth in the beginning, but it fizzles quickly. If you don’t mind, I’d like to bounce ideas off you from time to time. This is actually good feedback for me. I want to meet reader expectations. Where did you find out about my site, btw? Civil War Talk?

        January 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm

  2. Remy Emery

    I believe I was browsing for civil War related pictures and chanced upon “the Gideon Plan”, I
    actually thought it was a real discovery at first! I was then more intrigued than disappointed.
    I also like the idea of the various secretaries of war: After Benjamin, Randolph and Breckinridge
    are my favorites. Randolph was a good organizer, concerned about logistics and tactics and hated Davis’ interference. Breckinridge wasn’t a dark personality, but was around when the
    Confederate “dirty tricks” became more aggressive. Lots of potential lurking in the secret- tary’s
    office.
    I have a book from 1911 called “a Knight Of The Golden Circle” by U.S. Lesh. It’s a fictional
    oddity that I chanced upon years before I chanced upon your website. You might want to look
    for the title.
    Finally, of course, I welcome your ideas and wish you well with your book.
    Why does my personal icon look like a rosy swastika?

    February 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    • I’ll need to take a look at that book. Good suggestion! I’ve read “An Authentic exposition of the K.G.C.” which was written in 1861. That gave me a lot of ideas on the Knights of the Golden Circle which I plan on incorporating into the story. I’m currently reading a book about Jefferson Davis. I figured he would be a good place to start because of his involvement in the military aspect. Also, the antagonist is from Mississippi and also would have known him from the Mexican War.

      The problem that I have right now is trying to figure out how someone like Davis or any of the other leading military men would agree to such a crazy scheme when many of them believed partisan/guerrilla warfare was uncivilized. Right now I’m taking the tack that the antagonist (Gideon) is so good at what he does (after proving it several times without their consent), that they agree to his plan.

      I have no idea why you have a rose-swastika. That’s kinda funny. Didn’t look at it like that!

      February 3, 2012 at 10:30 pm

  3. Remy Emery

    http://www.lwfaaf.net/cwdata/ltrc_hwm.htm The attached link letter would suggest a strong motive for Sec.. Randolph to take extraordinary action.
    There is also an article about Randolph at JSTOR -which I as an indivudual cannot access; perhaps you, as an academic, can. It claims him to be the best sec. of war, despite his brevity.; that he studied the Ital. wars of 1859: “the geography of the scene of the war” and “planned campaigns”.
    He was a Southern patriot, an intelligent, motivated man, who probably knew he had little time left; and he certainly argued with Jeff. Davis about strategy. He was instrumental in setting up con-
    scription- certainly distasteful but practical- as would be a secret force.
    Hope the above is useful.

    February 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    • Very interesting. So, you are suggesting that a motive for creating a secret force would have been to capture escaping slaves. Hadn’t thought of that. I need to mull it over a little. Perhaps they start off catching slaves and do it so well they are moved into other things. I also need to look more into Randolph, as you suggest. He might be what the Doctor ordered. Lee and Davis did not like irregular warfare, so that would not bode well for my team. They’ll need a champion in the government somewhere. Perhaps its Randolph, but once he’s gone, things start going bad for them. Hmmmm . . .

      February 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm

  4. Remy Emery

    I wasn’t suggesting the group started as slave catchers- I doubt any of your readers would
    accept that- only the nightmarish threat of armed slaves or a returning black army would
    provide added impetus to do something-anything now! Randolph would have been hard-pressed to accomplish something. Health failing, at war land and sea, logistics and politics.
    Seddon, after him, was a great diplomatic juggler- Davis, the anti-Davis politicians and the feuding generals; why not some successful coups -albeit minor and secret- to balance? Those successes
    can also turn sour- in keeping with your long-term plans

    February 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    • Right now, the biggest missing piece of the puzzle is a champion within the government that will pull for the team and get them what they need. Gideon (the leader of the secret force) performs missions on his own accord, but knows his team’s skills would be better served if he could work at a strategic level with the army. Meanwhile, those in power over the military, primarily Davis and Lee, are wary of what Gideon can do and what he has. They’re men who want victory with honor. Gideon thinks they’re fools. After doing a little more research, I think Gideon’s inside guys could be William Yancey and William Porcher Miles. Both were fire-eaters. Seems to me they would be willing to use ‘uncivilized’ means to achieve their objectives. Yancey was popular and had some clout, though died shortly after Gettysburg. This could be a blow to the team’s government support. Miles was the chairman for the House’s committee of Military Affairs. Regardless, both seem like historical figures who could pull some strings for Gideon. What do you think? I guess if push comes to shove, I can always make up a fictional character, but it would be nice to have some historical people involved.

      BTW, check out Yancey’s speech here in 1862. He was a firm believer in individuals protecting themselves from an invader using any means necessary: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/speech-by-william-l-yancey-senator-from-alabama-to-the-confederate-senate.32886/

      February 7, 2012 at 9:10 pm

  5. Remy Emery

    You couldn’t do better! Yancey’s comments about the Spanish guerilla warfare against the
    invading French seems a credo to me.
    The chronology also seems to allign with your intended time-line: Yancey dies; the war is going
    badly and your group is beginning to stray. Miles would, as a hard-liner, still be supportive, albeit
    with very dwindling resources.
    I really like it! I agree: real people- unusual ones, at that, makes the book “real”
    Were you aware that author, W. Patrick Lang is writing a fictional trilogy of the Confederate Secret Service? The first book: “The Butcher’s Cleaver” has Judah Benjamin as a central character.

    February 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    • Glad you approve! The chronology does line up nicely too. I was pleasantly surprised to see that. I’ve seen Butcher’s Cleaver about. I do need to add that to the list. Geez, so many things to read! Here is the way I imagine the government becoming involved in the project. Tell me what you think!

      When Gideon returns from the U.S., he is actively seeking to find a way to use his military methods to support the southern cause. William Yancey, an influential member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, arranges for a meeting with new president, Jeff Davis. Davis is skeptical of Gideon’s plan and suggests Gideon raise a regiment of volunteers instead (like other experienced military men are doing). To demonstrate his abilities, Gideon destroys essential supplies that delay’s McDowell’s invasion of Virginia and gives Beauregard time to reinforce his armies before the battle of Manassas. The plan actually backfires, as Davis feels his hand is being forced. Its further complicated when Gideon refuses to reveal his methodologies and the weapons he is using (he fears the government will seize them). It’s not until Yancey and William Porcher Miles, another influential member of the Order, is able to make a deal with Davis– incorporate Gideon’s Plan into the overall military strategy in exchange for Yancey and Miles support of Davis’s suspension of Habeus Corpus and the Conscription Act. Davis agrees and the Gideon Plan is secretly incorporated into the Partisan Ranger Act of 1862.

      February 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

  6. Remy Emery

    It sounds exactly as it happened ( or should have) ! I totally approve.
    An idea occurred to me when I re-read your first chapter: that of using footnotes, when actual
    history is injected or for technical elaboration. Ref. : ” it shoots 12 rounds a minute…and just
    point it north” You could cite Private Toby etc. Flashman did it with great success. It adds
    reality (albeit specious) and informative fun. it would also, obviously, add a ton of work to the project.
    I did not mention previously: I love the telegram: it presages more post-war adventures to come.
    The golden Circle was influential in the 1850’s but my personal feeling is “the KGC Exposition” is about as fictional as Lesh’s book, which quotes from it. Something like Ayer’s Great north-Western
    Conspiracy.

    February 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    • Thanks for the idea Remy. I’ve been thinking about some type of footnote, actually. For instance, I think some characters may make reference to something off hand, like mentioning a person by their first name, and I’ll footnote who the person was. Still thinking about it.

      That first chapter is so antiquated at this time. I really need to put up something new. I don’t think the hornet gun is even going to make an appearance (which is a shame, because I love it) and none of the main characters are in there anymore (only Henry Miller remains). That’s a shame too, because Thomas Braxton was a pretty good character. I don’t know. Maybe I can take some of his traits and move him over to the new protagonist, Locke Bowens, who I am still developing (he’s a former Texas Ranger–figured if there was going to be a 19th century special ops team, a Texas Ranger would be in it).

      I appreciate all your feedback and being a sounding board, Remy. I’m still researching and writing as I go. Now that I got the political particulars down, I need to focus a little on the characters. I have the love interest for both the antagonist and protagonist who is a Union spy, the protagonist, and the members of the original team (a New Orleans bare knuckles brawler/knife fighter, a sharp shooting mountain man, a Cherokee tracker, and a British adventurer). I’m looking for real life characters to base them on. For instance, Nathan Bedford Forrest is the inspiration for Gideon (with a dash of Stonewall Jackson and Chatham Wheat). If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

      February 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm

  7. Remy Emery

    In my search for the sharpshooter candidate, I could find no “mountain man” but the real-life
    adventures of Jack Hinson and his special rifle, reads like florid fiction. Alas, he was a total loner, but, I think, you could pattern on him.
    Berry Benson was considered ” a crack shot, a natural leader and a fierce Southern partisan”.
    Again, not a mountain man AND regular army. But he certainly had some fantastic experiences.
    You might want to investigate Major Eugene Blackford- who organized the Corps Of Sharp-
    shooters (they used Enfields but he carried a Sharps and was considered the best shot in the
    company)
    Finally a quotation which begs to be used is the sound of the Whitworth : “a long shrill whistle”
    which killed General Sedgwick. Possibly Gideon could contract Sir Joseph Whitworth for more
    advanced weapons- since the Brits rejected his rifle. Forget about his cannon!

    February 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    • Yeah, I’ve heard of Hinson. Sounds like an interesting guy. I’ve read parts of Benson’s “Memoirs of a Confederate Scout and Sharpshooter.” It was an interesting read, though I didn’t see much scouting or sharpshooting in there (admittedly, I didn’t read it all). Blackford would be a good one to investigate. I’m always on the look out for how real life elite units in the Civil War trained and recruited. I’ve taken a keen interest in Berdan’s Sharpshooters. I’ve tried to incorporate some of their methods into Gideon’s Rangers. I may use the long shrill whistle for the the “sniper” rifle, or something similar. Right now it is a modified Sharpes. The team has a brilliant, though very odd, inventor who puts the steam in the punk, if you know what I mean, and has made all their weapons, explosives, and other equipment. He’s actually based upon someone I know.

      Gideon’s first generation of rangers have experience outside of the Civil War. He and Locke Bowens were in the Mexican War and basically started the outfit. Their ideas on irregular warfare has evolved over the years with their experience. The others were picked up here and there during their filibustering/adventuring days. That helps put some of the scope a decade or two before the Civil War. For the sharpshooter, I’m think of a guy who used to hunt and trap in his younger days, served as a scout, was a 49er for awhile, hunted bears in California, and is probably the oldest guy in the Rangers, but still has the stuff. He kind of symbolizes an era that is slipping away in American History. So far, I’ve looked primarily at Seth Kinman. He’s only a minor character, but I like giving all characters some type of sense of depth, so they feel real to the reader.

      Know anything about the Texas Rangers? Locke Bowens, the protagonist, needs a template as well.

      Geez, theres a lot of research to do here. Little by little . . .

      February 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

  8. Remy Emery

    I like the way you’re going. “fleshing” out the fiction with real people gives depth and color.
    I don’t know much about the Rangers pre-war, but in 1861 the Texas Mounted Rifles (more dragoon than cavalry) was formed. They stayed in Texas as border guards, protection against the Indians and rounding up Unionists! They disbanded in 1862 and many of the group joined the newly formed 8th cavalry: “Terry’s Texas Rangers”. The 8th was all Texans, all volunteers but only those from “The Rifles” were Rangers, as such. Semantics. The 8th was arguably the best cavalry unit in the war. Certainly the best in the west.

    My favorite Ranger, and he has to be a role model, is “Rip” Ford- John Salmon Ford. He was involved with Texas history from early days. He fought in the Mexican war, was a Ranger, Indian
    fighter, poitician and was the commanding (victorious) colonel at Palmito Ranch.

    Pleas do check out Blackford. I think there’s usable stuff there. Especially read Shock Troops by Fred Ray: http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/articles.html

    February 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

    • Excellent. I’ve read a little about RIP. I’ll check ’em out. Shock Troops is towards the top of my reading list was well.

      I have a question to bounce off you: If you were the south and had access to a special ops team, what high value targets would you neutralize? Sky’s the limit here. So far, I’ve had folks tell me capture Grant, Lincoln and his cabinet, destroy west point and the cannon foundry across the river from it, destroy Mount Clare Shops in Baltimore, and have the team commit atrocities against northern civilians and frame escaped slaves for it.

      I really appreciate you taking an interest in this, Remy!

      February 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm

  9. Remy Emery

    No question at all- only one real target: Lincoln. Capture or kill, depending on how bloody-minded
    the team is. In early days- probably right up through the first day of Gettysburg- maybe as far as
    the 1864 election. He was the initial driving force for war and the impetus for continuing it. Most likely would have stopped the war.
    Grant, the pig-headed butcher would be the second target (only if they didn’t get Lincoln). Grant
    was willing to sacrifice thousands of his own for dozens of the Rebs because he had a seemingly
    endeless supply of new immigrants who were lured by the promise of free land.
    The monster Sherman, who was doing Lincoln’s bidding, has to be a prime target.
    I think most of the targets you listed would be great symbolic victories but not strategic. I do like
    the idea of West Point. Certainly would be an embarassment!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    • Ok. Lincoln it is. I’m thinking that Lincoln has been the number one target for the team since day one. As a matter of fact, they attempted to assassinate or capture him while he was on his way to Washington DC. However, word leaked of their plan and security stiffened and they weren’t able to get to him (they eventually find the source of the leak and eliminate him). Later in the war, Gideon approaches the powers that be about an assassination attempt, but the plan is refused, being deemed as a cowardly and uncivilized action. Gideon is still determined to do it though, despite contrary orders, particularly as the war turns bad for the south. He has a hand in the actual assassination towards the end. What do you think?

      February 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm

  10. Remy Emery

    I love it ! . By any chance, was Gideon one of Booth’s shadowy contacts in Montreal in ’64?
    You are setting yourself quite a project if you take that route. You will have to include Booth and co.
    Kudos to you. I can’t wait to read it.

    February 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    • I’m not sure how Booth and Gideon know each other– I’m assuming through the Knights of the Golden Circle. I’ll have to puzzle it out. In the story, Gideon has his original band of rangers, who I call the first generation. They recruit and train a second generation from the regular Confederate army who completely eclipse the first. The second are southern fanatics and follow Gideon like he is the south’s messiah. The first generation become disillusioned with Gideon and join the Union. This sets up a showdown between the two groups. I’m thinking one of the things the first generation is trying to do is stop Lincoln’s assassination, but are unsuccessful. They actually are no match for the second generation’s skill and get their asses handed to them on a plate. I’m still puzzling out how they end up winning the day.

      March 2, 2012 at 9:43 am

  11. Remy

    I WISH YOU WELL ON YOUR JOURNEY THROUGH THE ABOVE DARK, COMPLICATED MAZE.
    ALAS, I CAN OFFER NO SUGGESTIONS, BUT I THINK YOU WILL WORK IT OUT. IT DOES SEEM
    THAT YOU HAVE ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR A SERIES, NOT JUST ONE BOOK.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    • Oh no! Remy, you aren’t leaving me are you? 🙂

      My goal is to have a first draft for people to read by October. I’d love for you to read it!

      Take care.

      -Dan

      March 10, 2012 at 10:26 am

  12. Remy Emery

    My above comments don’t mean goodbye- just good wishes. Of course I want to read your first draft as well as the published edition. I’ll hang around. Especially after seeing Percy!
    Confederate grey and steampunk, oh my! Whatever he’s holding is great. And I want one.
    Rose, the seductive spy… as in Rose Greenhow?
    Have you read Dee Brown’s “Conspiracy Of Knaves” ? ( About the Northwest conspiracy) His spy character: Belle Rutledge, is the protagonist and double agent. Great fun read.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    • Whew. Glad you’re sticking around!

      There you go again giving me something else to read. 🙂 I just finished Bernard Cromwell’s “The Rebel.” He gets a lot of hype, but I wasn’t impressed. Killer Angels is still my Civil War fiction Bible. I’m reading Rainbow Six right now to get a better insight on special ops fiction.

      Rose is still in development. I’ve known for awhile that there is a love triangle in the mix and that she is a spy, but I haven’t figured her details yet. Actually, I was doing research for her and ended up getting ideas for the Union character that is trying to catch Gideon (currently named Joshua Lucan). Allan Pinkerton will make a cameo because they trade information towards the beginning of the story because Gideon’s men had made plans to assassinate Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. Pinkerton basically turns the case over to Lucan. I actually have some of these scenes written out.

      Percy’s just going to have a few scenes, but he should be fun to write about. I didn’t go into too much detail about what Percy is holding, because I am still doing research on it. I have a friend who works at the local lighthouse as the historian and her specialty is 19th century technology. She loves steam punk. She actually gave me the idea for Percy. What he has is basically a sheet of glass or tin-type that he draws on with a pen filled with a special chemical compound. Its invisible until you mix it with a certain chemical. It allows him to sneak things through quite nicely, like maps.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:53 pm

  13. Remy Emery

    THERE IS A 1951 FILM, CALLED : TALL TARGET, WITH DICK POWELL. iT’S ABOUT THE
    INAUGURAL TRAIN RIDE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. DICK POWELL IS A DETECTIVE, NAMED……. JOHN KENNEDY!
    I QUESTION THE REALITY OF AN ACTUAL ATTEMPT. PINKERTON WAS PRONE TO EXTREME SELF-SERVING EXAGGERATION.
    I WILL BE GLAD TO SEND YOU ” CONSPIRACY OF KNAVES” NO OBLIGATION. YOUR MAILING ADDRESS,PLEASE. YOU CAN E-MAIL IT TO ME IF YOU DON’T WANT TO POST IT HERE.
    I READ A FEW CORNWELL’S, INCLUDING “THE REBEL” AND THOUGHT THEM BOISTEROUS
    BUT SHALLOW.
    IS PERCY EVEN VAGUELY BASED ON ST. LEGER GRENFELL?

    March 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm

  14. Hey, Remy. Have you read “April ’65: Confederate Covert Action in the American Civil War” by William Tidwell? Wow. This sounds like my guys. The part about the War Department Strategy Bureau is especially fascinating. Sounds like something Gideon was behind.

    March 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm

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