Friday, March 15, 2013

The Forbes-Aspinwall Mission

Fun Fact: On March 15, 1863, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles met with my Great- something grandfather William Aspinwall and John Forbes at the Fifth Avenue Hotel to discuss sending the two to England to buy suspected Confederate gunboats, specifically two ironclads under construction by Laird Brothers. For plausible deniability of what would be a covert action in direct contradiction to both Lincoln administration policy and international law, Chase only told two other people in the Union government about it.
To lay groundwork, Forbes and Aspinwall personally funded the English activities of Lincoln’s spymaster Thomas Haines Dudley, whose network quickly identified a number of potential targets.
Chase provided $10 million in 5-20 treasury bonds to obtain capital in England. Forbes sailed on March 16, and Aspinwall came two days later, bearing his trunks full of bonds. where in early April Forbes and Aspinwall obtained a £600,000 ($3 million) loan from Baring Brothers. Unfortunately, on April 7 the Times of London reported on their mission, which rendered it less than stealthy and ultimately, unsuccessful. However, Confederate agents never seemed to catch on that it was a Union-sponsored mission and in fact, it was 40 years before the truth was known.
The Forbes-Aspinwall Mission was successful in working with Dudley on counter-Confederate espionage. They remained in Europe until the end of June, 1863, during which time Forbes went to Germany and Aspinwall to France, where they were almost certainly at work in an effort to recruit foreign soldiers.
Aspinwall, incidentally, was a friend and advisor to General McClellan, and not particularly a fan of Lincoln, with whom he disagreed on economic policy.

“Men are governed by steel or gold.”
–William Aspinwall

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