From Russ Smith:
I first encountered the following story while transcribing the diary of Mary Gray Caldwell of Fredericksburg. On September 17, 1864, she recorded, “Day before yesterday, our city was astonished by the news that the son of one of our most respected citizens (Mr. Knox) had stolen $1,500 and, in company with another man who had stolen $800,000, had gone to the Yankees.” Further information was found in the Richmond Daily Dispatch and the Richmond Enquirer. Thanks to Beth Daly of the Central Rappahannock Regional Heritage Center who is a font of information on the Knoxes through her work with the Knox Family Papers. The Knox Papers will be published this spring by the Heritage Center and Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.
Thomas Stuart Knox was the second-oldest of six sons of Thomas and Virginia Soutter Knox. Earlier in the war he had enlisted in the 30th Virginia Infantry, but later found work in Richmond.
On Saturday, September 10, 1864, Captain Thomas Stuart Knox traveled north from Richmond. On his arm, wearing dark goggles, was a supposedly blind brother who Knox was escorting home to Fredericksburg. Knox had obtained the necessary passes from the Provost Marshal in Richmond, so their travel was uninterrupted. However, the pair didn’t stop at Fredericksburg, but pressed on hurriedly to Union lines!
Captain Knox and his perfectly sighted partner, George W. Butler, were absconding with a large sum of money stolen from the Confederate treasury. Knox, in his role as Commissary at Camp Jackson hospital, and Butler, who had been a Treasury Department pay clerk, had colluded to draw some $700,000 from the Treasury.* They had then exchanged the Confederate currency in Richmond for gold, Federal greenbacks, jewelry and just about anything else that would hold its value. (At this time, twenty-three Confederate dollars equaled one dollar in gold, so their total take was about $30,000.)
Butler had good reasons to abscond. He had been suspended from his position in the Treasury Department and had only been allowed back in to settle his accounts. He had also run up huge debts carousing in Richmond. In addition, he had been ordered to report to the army at Camp Lee.
On the other hand, Richmond Examiner described Knox as having more “reticence and circumspection than Butler” and that he “kept a wise tongue in a wise head.” He also came from a prominent Fredericksburg family. What his motive was remains unknown, but perhaps an August 1864 letter offerssome hints. He expressed intense displeasure at his post and indicated that he’d suffered some sort of mishap that left him with diminished memory. ”My mind is not as strong as it was before I had that fit,” he wrote. “I cannot recollect a thing now hardly to save my life, like I could before.” All this may have been explanation for what followed.
Captain Knox’s father, Thomas Fitzhugh Knox, must have been shattered by his son’s crime. The elder Knox was a leading citizen and entrepreneur. (His substantial home still stands at Princess Anne and Lewis Streets. It now houses the Kenmore Inn.) He was a firm supporter of the Confederacy. In May of 1861 when two men voted against secession, he declared that “the man who next so voted should be hung,” thoroughly dampening the ardor of any other anti-secessionists. He sent six sons into the Confederate Army and was taken hostage with other leading citizens by the Union Army in 1862 and again in 1864. Virginia A. Knox, Thomas Stuart’s mother, was also a Southern patriot, being member of the “Mutual Aid and Soldier’s Relief Society.”
Butler and Knox made a clean getaway, each of them abandoning a wife and child. By 1900, Knox and his first wife, Mollie B. (Crouch), were divorced and he was remarried, had a fourteen year-old daughter, and was living in Brooklyn, New York. At that time, he was a bookkeeper and served as an enumerator for the U.S. Census. He died in 1904.
*The newspapers reported various amounts as being taken. I use here the amount mentioned in the September 15, 1864 Richmond Enquirer. The detail in their report is convincing.