Colonel Thomas Key, alter-ego of Union General George McClellan, held secret high-level back-channel talks with Howell Cobb, prominent Confederate, on the Mechanicsville Bridge (image above) near Richmond, Virginia in June 1862.
Colonel Key had been a protégé of Alphonso Taft, infamous co-founder of the Skull & Bones secret society. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Key resided in Cincinnati, at that time headquarters for the Knights of the Golden Circle, a powerful secret society of the time. Neighbor and close friend of Key in Cincinnati was George McClellan, later to become the “young Napoleon” of the Union army. (Background: “Colonel Key is the Key”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of April 1, 2013)
There are no known photographs of Colonel Key, who preferred working from the shadows. It was Colonel Key who wrote the original draft of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862. Then, once the local slaves in Washington, DC had been freed, the problem became “What next?” (Congratulations, you are free. Now go stand in the unemployment line.) The sudden unemployment of the “Freedmen” in Washington, DC led to discussions in Lincoln’s Cabinet about a “Chiriqui Scheme”, whereby the “Freedmen” were to be deported and made to dig coal in a tropical climate. (Background: “The Chiriqui Scheme”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of March 31, 2013)
The Peninsula Campaign was underway in southeastern Virginia during the time frame of March-July 1862. It was during this major Union aggressive operation that Colonel Thomas Key, “evil genius” of General McClellan, met secretly with Howell Cobb on the Mechanicsville Bridge. Frank van der Linden, author of “The Dark Intrigue” (Fulcrum Publishing, 2007), gives the date for this Key-Cobb meeting as June 15, 1862. “We do not wish to subjugate the Southern states,” said Colonel Key.
General McClellan and Colonel Key were Democrats. Even back then, many of the Democrats were “peaceniks.” On the opposite side of the fence was the “radical” abolitionist faction of Lincoln’s Republican Party. Old Abe himself played both sides of the fence: above all else, Abraham Lincoln wished to preserve the Union. The “peacenik” Democrat faction wanted to quickly end the war, by almost any means including a promise not to interfere with slavery in the Southern states.
The “Seven Days’ Battles” were the culmination of the Peninsula Campaign. Afterward, President Lincoln met with General McClellan at Harrison’s Landing on the north bank of the James River in Virginia. It was at this meeting that McClellan handed to Lincoln the notorious Harrison’s Landing letter. Old Abe took the letter from McClellan, read it, and said only “Much obliged.”
The Harrison’s Landing letter was not written however by General McClellan, but by Colonel Key, according to author William Styple (“McClellan’s Other Story”). That letter reads, in part…
“This rebellion has assumed the character of a War: as such it should be regarded; and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.”
When Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and the “radical” abolitionist faction read the Harrison’s Landing letter, they were furious! For a military officer to be advising his Commander-in-Chief about such things was “unadulterated impudence.” (Source: talk given by author William Styple at the Library of the Chathams in Chatham, New Jersey.)
Was General McClellan, upon whom so much depended, secretly aligned with the Copperheads, a faction of the Democrat Party? In McClellan’s camp, among his closest advisors, serious consideration was even given to turning his army towards Washington, DC and demanding the eviction of Edwin Stanton from the Cabinet as well as a “no interference” policy on slavery. Peace feelers may have been underway with Confederate General Robert E. Lee to arrange a 90-day truce which would enable a mutiny of McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, intensely loyal to that General, and a march on Washington, DC!