In July 1863 Lieutenant J.L. Capston, a cavalry officer, received a letter from Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin indicating that he was to be reassigned. His destination was Ireland, and his task was to use legitimate means to counteract the work of agents of the United States operating there. His ultimate mission was to prevent the Irish from emigrating to the north and enlisting in Federal armies. The letter was originally carried in the 16th July 1896 edition of the Richmond Times.
Department of State, Richmond, July 3, 1863.
You have in accordance with your proposal made to this department, been detailed by the Secretary of War for special service under my orders.
The duty which is proposed to entrust to you is that of a private and confidential agent of this government, for the purpose of proceeding to Ireland, and there using all legitimate means to enlighten the population as to the true nature and character of the contest now waged in this continent, with the view of defeating the attempts made by the agents of the United States to obtain in Ireland recruits for their armies. It is understood that under the guise of assisting needy persons to emigrate, a regular organization has been formed of agents in Ireland who leave untried no method of deceiving the laboring population into emigrating for the ostensible purpose of seeking employment in the United States, but really for recruiting the Federal armies.
The means to be used by you can scarcely be suggested from this side, but they are to be confined to such as are strictly legitimate, honorable, and proper. We rely on truth and justice alone. Throw yourself as much as possible into close communication with the people where the agents of our enemies are at work. Inform them by every means you can devise, of the true purpose of those who seek to induce them to emigrate. Explain to them the nature of the warfare which is carried on here. Picture to them the fate of their unhappy countrymen who have already fallen victims to the arts of the Federals. Relate to them the story of Meagher’s Brigade, its formation and its fate. Explain to them that they will be called on to meet Irishmen in battle, and thus to imbrue their hands in the blood of their own friends, and perhaps kinsmen, in a quarrel which does not concern them, and in which all the feelings of a common humanity should induce them to refuse taking part against us. Contrast the policy of the Federal and Confederate States in former times in their treatment of foreigners, in order to satisfy Irishmen where true sympathy in their favor was found in periods of trial. In the North the Know-Nothing party, based on hatred to foreigners and especially to Catholics, was triumphant in its career. In the South it was crushed, Virginia taking the lead in trampling it under foot. In this war such has been the hatred of the New England Puritans to Irishmen and Catholics, that in several instances the chapels and places of worship of the Irish Catholics have been burnt or shamefully desecrated by the regiments of volunteers from New England. These facts have been published in Northern papers. Take the New York Freeman’s Journal, and you will see shocking details, not coming from Confederate sources, but from the officers of the United States themselves.
Lay all these matters fully before the people who are now called on to join these ferocious persecutors in the destruction of this nation, where all religions and all nationalities meet equal justice and protection both from the people and from the laws.
These views may be urged by any proper means you can devise; through the press, by mixing with the people themselves, and by disseminating the facts amongst persons who have influence with the people.
The laws of England must be strictly respected and obeyed by you. While prudence dictates that you should not reveal your agency, nor the purpose for which you go abroad, it is not desired nor expected that you use any dishonest disguise or false pretences. Your mission is, although secret, honorable, and the means employed must be such as this government may fearlessly avow and openly justify, if your conduct should ever be called into question. On this point there must be no room whatever for doubt or cavil.
The government expects much from your zeal, activity and discretion. You will be furnished with letters of introduction to our agent abroad. You will receive the same pay as you now get as first lieutenant of cavalry, namely, twenty-one pounds per month, being about equal to one hundred dollars. Your passage to and from Europe will be provided by this department. If you need any small sums for disbursements of expenses connected with your duties, such as cost of printing and the like, you will apply to the agent to whom I give you a letter, and who will provide the funds, if he approves the expenditure.
You will report your proceedings to this department through the agent to whom your letter of introduction is addressed, as often, at least, as once a month.
I am, sir, respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
J. P. BENJAMIN,
Secretary of State.
‘Special Mission of Lieut. J.L. Capston to Ireland’ in Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. XXIV, 1896