Felix Grundy Stidger’s working life started at the age of 15. He worked numerous jobs – in the county clerk’s office, as a carpenter, etc. In August 1860, he took a job in Bloomfield, Kentucky, ten miles south of Taylorsville, as a store clerk. In a town of nearly 350 people, Bloomfield had only 4 Union sympathizers. With the start of the war, a Rebel flag was put in the heart of downtown Bloomfield and remained there till the end of the war. This is one even that impacted Stidger’s feeling for the duration of the war.
Confederate sentiments dominated a 5-county area comprised of Meade, Hardin, and Breckenridge, as well as Spencer County where Stidger’s family lived, and Nelson County, where he worked. Locals supported the Confederates undertaking a guerrilla war by providing food, munitions, horses, information about the enemy, and safe houses.
In September,1862, Union Gen. Buell’s corps came through Taylorsville, and Stidger signed up as a clerk and infantryman from his home. He saw action at the battles of Perryville and Chickamauga. In the winter of 1863-64, Stidger received news that his mother was sick and confined to bed. He applied for a hardship discharge, and on February 14, 1864, he was granted an honorable discharge and arrived home days later, to find his mother near death.
On March 26, Stidger went to the Pharmacy to obtain a prescription for his mother. His receipt for the purchase showed a large sum of cash. That evening around midnight, three rebel fighters with guns entered and took all his money—approximately $260.00. Just one week later, his mother died.
On April 14, 1864, Stidger went to Louisville to look for work, and on May 3, he visited a Capt. Jones of the Provost Marshall’s office. They offered him the job of a spy for the Union, a position he accepted. That employment began “The Most Gigantic Treasonable Conspiracy the World Has Ever Known.”
Stidger’s autobiography relates a story in which his term as a regular infantryman forged relationships that helped his work as a spy. Stidger recalled encountering Major Henry Kalfus, an infantry officer in need of a horse. Stidger lent Kalfus his horse, which opened the door to a friendship. When Stidger obtained a hardship discharge, the two men parted. Kalfus also attempted to leave the military, but his resignation was rejected 3 times. He left with a dishonorable discharge from the Union Army, and nursed hurt feelings over that outcome. In retaliation, Kalfus began associating with a secret organization, the Order of the Sons of Liberty, who harbored anti-Union sentiments. When Kalfus met Stidger again, Stidger was a spy. Kalfus urged Stidger to join the group, and told him to go see Dr. Bowles at French Lick, Indiana.
Stidger spied on the group, the Order of the Sons of Liberty, who were trying to arm over 75,000 rebel prisoners and continue the war through the heartland. Stidger writes in his autobiography,
H.H. Dodd told me that he was at that meeting at Chicago as Grand Commander of the Order for the State of Indiana and that the plans were all arranged, except as to the exact date, which was whether they should fix a time themselves or wait until they could receive assistance from the Confederate forces and guerillas. Judge Bullitt on the night of the 18th of July,1864, instructed Joseph Kern, in my presence, to go to the rebel Colonel Sypert, then commanding a guerilla force near Henderson, Kentucky, and consult with him as to when he could best co-operate with him (Bullitt) in the taking of Louisville.
Stidger infiltrated the group, and was among them when he was imprisoned with many of the group. Even in prison, he continued gathering useful information on the group and its members.
The trial of the Order of the Sons of Liberty brought about 100 men to court. Many of these men were leaders in their own communities or leaders within the Order of the Sons of Liberty. They included:
- Dr. William A. Bowles, owner of French Lick Springs and leader of the Sons of Liberty
- Horace Heffren, Deputy Grand Commander of the Indiana Order
- Joshua Bullitt, Chief Justice of the Appellate Court for the State of Kentucky
- Judge Andrew Humphreys, Major General for the Order for the State of Indiana
- H.H. Dodd, Grand Commander for the Order in Indiana
- J.J. Bingham, Editor and proprietor of the Indiana State Sentinel
- Michael C. Kerry, U.S. House of Representatives
The reading of the charges took place at the United States Courthouse in Indianapolis on September 27, 1864. The trial of H.H. Dodd started on October 17,1864. Between all the trials, Stidger had to make himself available as a witness. In Stidger’s final testimony, he answered questions about the Order in front of the Kentucky House of Representatives, against Hon. Joshua Bullitt on May 18, 1865, to remove Bullitt from the office of Chief Justice of the Appellate Court.
Stidger’s next contact with the government was in July 1865, when he was asked to come to Washington D.C. during the trial of Mrs. Surratt. Upon his statement that he knew nothing other than what he read in the papers, he was dismissed. As he was at the train station, a courier for Colonel L.C. Baker, head of the Secret Service, sent for him. He was asked to go to Warren, Ohio, and see what he could find out about the horse trading business with the Army and why the prices were so high. He was unable to obtain any good evidence, as someone let it be known that he was a government spy. He then informed Colonel Baker that he was leaving and going back to his printing business in Louisville. Sixteen months later, Stidger was informed of sixteen indictments of officers and citizens ,including Colonel Baker, in the horse case. Thus ended Stidger’s involvement in the Secret Service of the United States.