Trip To Carlisle Illinois To Unravel A Fraudulent Claim





We closed our headquarters in December, 1865, packing all records in

finely arranged cabinets, which were then transferred to the War

Department in Washington.



When my relation with the government was terminated, through the

instrumentality of General Woolley (Woolley had recently been

brevetted), I was engaged by Mr. Archibald Sterling, an attorney (a

prominent Union man), to go to southern Illinois to ravel out a

contested will case. The contestants were a group of neighbors, headed

by a shrewd woman.



If I remember right, under the Maryland laws, if a child died before

maturity, there was no inheritance. Mr. Sterling claimed that the young

man was not of age when he died, and that he died in 1835; but he had no

evidence to prove it. He had only a death notice clipped from some paper

with no date on it. But he had an anonymous letter signed: "Veritas,"

postmarked at Carlisle, Illinois, in which the writer, for a

consideration, offered to put Sterling in possession of evidence that

would defeat the claim; this letter was a few months old. Mr. Sterling

could not comply. He could pay for no evidence without compromising his

clients. With these facts only and equipped with the following letter of

introduction, I started West:





Headquarters,

Middle Military Department,

Office Provost Marshal General,

Baltimore, Dec. 27, 1865.



Capt. Silas F. Miller,

Burnet House,

Cincinnati, Ohio.



My Dear Sir.--I shall be greatly obliged if you will make

Lieut. Smith, the bearer, acquainted with one or more of the

conductors of the O. & M. R. R. Co.



Lieut. Smith is one of my officers, and comes west on business

which takes him on the line of that road.



This is not for the purpose of securing a pass, but in order

to get information. I have the honor to be,



Very Respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

JOHN WOOLLEY,

Bvt. Brigadier General U. S. Vols.

Provost Marshal General M. M. D.





The field was entirely new to me. All the way to Cincinnati and the rest

of the way to Carlisle, Illinois, I put in much of my time in

speculating as to the best course to adopt on landing in a small town,

among a lot of villagers, who were banded together in this scheme. My

name was to be Comings, and I came from New York; that was all settled

in my mind; but what was my business there? I expected to be there a few

days, and there was the rub; finally, after failing to fix up a story I

concluded to "keep mum," entirely. Later you will see the fix which that

conclusion came near leading me into.



I arrived there at night. I asked the landlord not to put me high up in

the hotel, and he didn't; I learned the next morning that the hotel was

only two stories high. I lounged about the tavern and the village two or

three days, making myself aware of the surroundings. I tramped out to

the fork of the Kaskaskia river, where the affidavits alleged the boy

was buried in 1836. The river was a muddy little brook. No grave was to

be found, but some little distance away was a burying ground. I went

there searching for the grave. I found it not, but lying up against a

fence was a headstone having the boy's name on it, and the date of his

death.



In walking about the village I had many times passed the residence of

the woman who had framed up the claim; she had noticed me. I wrote one

of my old officers in Baltimore to wire me, in language about like

this:



"See Mrs. ----, confer fully and write me."



I instructed him to sign John H. Ing's name to it. Mr. Ing was this

woman's attorney.



Equipped with this telegram I would be prepared to introduce myself to

the woman as apparently having come there in the interest of Mr. Ing,

her attorney, to look over the ground to see if matters alleged in the

affidavits were susceptible of demonstration.



While waiting for the telegram I obtained the confidence of the

postmaster. I impressed him that I was an agent of the Post Office

Department, seeking to learn if he remembered a letter coming to his

office addressed to "Veritas" (Sterling had replied to Veritas); he,

having the too frequent curiosity of a village postmaster, said he

remembered it well, and told me who the recipient was, and where he

lived. He promised to keep secret my mission, and he did.



Mr. Truesdale, the proprietor of the tavern, kept horses, and I hired

him to carry me to this man's house, quite a drive of three or four

miles. On our way I found it desirable to seek his confidence too, and

impress him I was an agent of the Post Office Department, etc. Mr.

Truesdale seemed much relieved. He then told me he was so glad to know

my true character. Being the only "unaccounted for" man in the village,

I had been the object of suspicion, which, unrelieved, might have

proven uncomfortable.



Carlisle was on the edge of the prairie. Live stock (marked) ran wild,

until taken in; much had been stolen. A vigilance committee had been

organized to punish the thieves. These people were about to conclude

that the only "unaccounted for" man about was the "look out" for the

thieves. Truesdale was wonderfully pleased to stand sponsor for me to

them, without divulging my mission. Keeping perfectly mum came close to

being poor judgment under these circumstances.



I saw Mr. "Veritas" and had a private talk with him. He promised to meet

me in Carlisle the next day, which he did. Before communicating the

information which he said he had, which comprised the name of the

storekeeper who sold the material used for preparing the coffin in 1836,

and who had books to sustain the statement, he demanded a promise in

writing to pay him a large sum of money. Having a smattering of "legal

lore" I drew up a bond to pay the required amount, in event of success.

I kept a copy of the bond to show Mr. Sterling. It was signed by "George

Comings." It was satisfactory to Mr. "Veritas," and he in an impressive

manner wrote on a piece of paper, in large bold letters, the storekeeper's

name: PARMENUS BOND. We agreed to drive over to Mr. Parmenus Bond's place

the next day, and we did.



I found Parmenus to be very old, over eighty. He confirmed the statement

after he learned Mr. "Veritas's" greed had been satisfied. (I guess he

was to divide with the old gentleman, in fact.)



Having disposed of this part I was ready to use the telegram I had

received, meantime, upon the woman schemer. I called upon her,

presenting my telegram from Ing. She was charmed to meet me, saying she

had observed my presence about the village. I told her I had surveyed

the ground pretty well. I asked her about the tombstone, where did she

get it? She said she got it from Harrisburg, Pa. (about one thousand

miles away), and would have it set up in the spring, I advised her that

I concluded the evidence was presentable, provided her witnesses all

stayed in line. She assured me that they would, as they all had a money

interest in it, in the event of success. We then parted, and it did not

take me long to get out of town. I went to St. Louis, thence to

Baltimore.



When I arrived in Baltimore, I at once called on Mr. Sterling, but had

to introduce myself, I was so unkempt, and my apparel so dirty. He was

anxious to know my report; I told him I had the evidence but had to

agree to pay for it. His face was a sight. He concluded I had ruined his

case. I handed him the copy of my bond, "George Comings's" bond,

assuring him that "Veritas" would have a difficult time finding the

bondsman; that he would not want to find him until after success, that

he would not speak of it in Carlisle, for his life. Mr. Sterling then

laughed heartily. I made a full report, advised Mr. Sterling to call in

Mr. Ing confidentially, and show him his fix. The claim was withdrawn,

and "George Comings" was never called upon to settle.



The use by me of Colonel John H. Ing's name was not unwarranted. I had

previously had a "run in" with him, which led me to believe that he was

a criminal party in this scheme. At one time he was deprived of the

right to practice before military tribunals in our Department, because

of unprofessional actions. He appealed to General Wallace, who referred

the matter to me to make an examination. Pending the examination a lunch

was given at which Ing and I were present. I presume the lunch was to

give Ing a chance to reach me.



He tried to, but the lunch did not answer its purpose. Upon my report he

was practically disbarred from practice in military courts, based upon

the evidence obtained. Therefore when I met his name in connection with

this case I felt warranted in assuming he was the "promoter" of it. The

use of his name was not forgery. He was deprived by it of nothing

except, perhaps, an "unearned increment."





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