Some people called it "the Northwest Conspiracy", others referred to it as "the Chicago Conspiracy". But Belle Rutledge, perhaps the only person who knew the whole truth, called it a "conspiracy of knaves"; and there were, from the outset, "three sets of deceivers, each trying to flimflam the others". It was a bold plot, cooked up by Confederates and Copperheads (Notherners who sympathised with the Southern cause). If it worked, it would free Rebel soldiers held captive in Chicago and use them to force the Northwest Territories out of the Union.
Belle Rutledge, an ambitious young actress from Kentucky whose career was cut short by the war, is recruited as a Union spy. She is actually a double agent, reporting to Colonel Fennell of teh Confederate Intelligence Service. Posing as husband and wife, she and fellow-conspirator Charley Heywood smuggle themselves and the money for the rebellion into the North. The money for the plot was provided by John Truscott, a Confederate captain who robbed a Union payroll and was subsequently betrayed.
He and his hardy band of maurading Confederates are themselves now languishing in the Chicago prison. If the thousands of promised Copperheads can be mobilized, and if the thousands of Confederate soldiers can be freed, the plan will have a chance...and Truscott will have a major part to play.
The complex strands of Belle's relationships with Heywood, Truscott, and Fennell, the ambiguity of her role as a double agent, and the endless scheming of the Copperhead "enemies" with fanciful names like Knights of the Golden Circle, Sons of Liberty and Butternuts, makes this tale both rousing and romantic. The Rashomon-like search challenges the reader to discern the ultimate truth.