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The Invasion of Rock Island

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I suppose we do owe that big bully, Chicago, a bit of thanks. In 1864, she did save Rock Island from an invasion.

That year, the Confederacy embarked on an ambitious but desperate plan to free all 26,500 Confederate prisoners in Illinois from prisons at Chicago, Rock Island, Alton, and Springfield. The freed prisoners would be armed by the Sons of Liberty, a secret society of Northerners sympathetic to the South. These forces, joined by Northerners who would rally to the cause, would seize the seats of government in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and create a Northwestern Confederacy.

The Confederate Government in Richmond sent representatives to Canada to meet with leaders of the Sons of Liberty and plan the rebellion. A Confederate Captain, Thomas J. Hines, was put in general charge of operations.

Captain Hines set the date for the invasion as August 29th, 1864, the date of the opening of the National Democratic Convention in Chicago. The city would be so crowded with delegates that no one would notice the 4,000 Sons of Liberty already there, or the thousands expected to join them.

The Sons of Liberty would attack Camp Douglas in Chicago, where the Confederate prisoners were held. They would be aided by an invasion of boats through Lake Michigan, led by a company of Canadian refugees. Once the 8,000 prisoners at Camp Douglas were freed, they, the Canadians, and the Sons of Liberty would turn west and march on Rock Island to free the prisoners there.

However, too few Sons of Liberty showed up to make an attack feasible, and the invasion was postponed to November 8th, the day of Lincoln's second election. Plans were even bigger, now. All of Chicago was to be looted. Then, several troops were to torch all the buildings and burn Chicago down; others were detailed to open all the fire plugs and flood the city. No one apparently noticed how hard it would be to burn and flood a city at the same time.

By now, however, several members of the United States Secret Service had infiltrated the Sons of Liberty, and authorities in Chicago soon captured the ringleaders and ended the invasion.

And so, Rock Island was saved, and the Sons of Liberty were saved the embarrassment of finding out, too late, how hard it is to find one's way out of dead-end streets in a river town.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.